NBC Ky Derby telecast needs pro horse betting insights

Andrew Beyer, Mike Watchmaker, Steve Haskin and other lesser know pundits across the country spent this week trying to make sense of Mine That Bird’s mind-blowing win in the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

They cite jockey Calvin Borel, the rail bias, the sloppy track and Mine That Bird’s new running style where he drops far back early and makes one big run. Haskin even surmises that the gelding had a competitive advantage because he trained in the high altitude at Sunland Park in New Mexico.

But of all the theories out there, the most logical one is that the rail at Churchill Downs was much faster than the rest of the racetrack.

One reason Mine That Bird’s win was such a shock, is that almost all of the horse selectors in the Daily Racing Form and on NBC television pick their horses the same way. Predominately, they look at Beyer Speed Figures, class and connections — and Mine The Bird scored absurdly low in all three.

Newspaper and television analysts influence the public, especially on Derby Day. I have often wondered if any of these analyst make serious money betting horses over the long term. In the past, I assumed that they did, but now I think they are simply authors and personalities who talk about racing.

It was widely reported that track maintenance sealed the track and it was causing the inside part to play quicker than other parts of the running surface.

Alexandra Pitts, a Virginia breeder and owner who I talked with on Twitter, told me that she attended the Derby and walked on the backstretch of the Churchill Downs track during the week, and the only part her feet didn’t sink into was near the rail.

Overall, most handicappers put little weight into new information, like the changing conditions that the rain caused on Derby Day. But I am sure that successful horseplayers are out there that took the sealed track into serious consideration and made huge profits.

I am not one of them.

In the future, it will be helpful to Kentucky Derby viewers if NBC Sports broadens its Kentucky Derby telecasting crew to include proven successful horse bettors who are more qualified to analyze late-breaking information from a wagering perspective.

In the same way CNBC talks to stock traders throughout the day, NBC Sports could challenge these winning bettors to point out important wagering information  — preferably not pulled from the pages of the Daily Racing Form — that viewers might be overlooking. 

On NBC’s telecast, Hank Goldberg, Randy Moss and Gary Stevens provided horse racing commentary. Goldberg is OK, but nobody can convince me that he makes money betting horses. His strength is that he’s an experienced on-air personality. And Gary Stevens is an ex-jockey who is an informative, insightful host, but again, not a winning horseplayer.

Finally, Randy Moss is a former newspaper reporter and ESPN host who is now making Moss Pace Figures for the Daily Racing Form. Maybe he wins money on horses and maybe he doesn’t.

What the Kentucky Derby pre-race telecast needs is some fresh blood and new ideas, so that a racing result like Mine That Bird’s does not come as such a shock. Maybe cut to professional bettors like Jimmy “The Hat” Allard of Los Angeles, Ca. or Mike Maloney of  Lexington, Ky. for five minutes. These guys bet millions of dollars a year on horses and I’m sure they’d provide insights based on sound logic that others ignored.

For instance, the Kentucky Derby telecast could have gone more like this:  Goldberg runs down the race and gives out his usual low-priced runner. Then the telecast cuts to three different professional horse bettors on a split screen who are challenged to come up with logically-based opinions.

About 20 minutes before the Derby, a handicapper might have said something like this.

“Folks, the track maintenance crew has had the track sealed up all week, which is common practice to allow the water to drain off quicker. Sometimes, this causes the inside portion of the running surface to become much firmer, while the outside lanes remain soft.

“If this is the case today, horses on the inside will run without their feet sinking in the mud while the others on the outside could be bogged down in the slower going. This would be like running a race for human milers with the inside portion of the track being made of concrete, while the rest is a sandy beach.

“Today, if the rail is the place to be. We should ask ourselves which horses and jockeys are most likely to take advantage of it, and what odds do we need to compensate for the risk of being wrong?”

Of course, any speed horse breaking from the inside would have been one possibility, and another would have been any jockey who seemed to notice the bias and steered his mounts toward the rail during earlier races on the Churchill card.

But one obvious horse would have been whoever jockey Calvin Borel was riding. He, of course, has made his living on the rail. He feeds his family by riding the rail, makes his car payment that way, and pays his mortgage on only one part of the track — the rail. He always has. And whether there is a bias or not Borel looks to come up the fence first, and goes outside second.

If Mine That Bird winning the Kentucky Derby teaches us anything about betting the horses, it should be this: that past performances are simply a blueprint and to cash big tickets bettors need to open their minds  to see the race differently than almost everyone else sees it.

© Maiden King, 2009.

Pick Six pro Jimmy “The Hat” says —


Flickr photo by Yausser

Pick Six pro Jimmy The Hat says, action “without it, life seems pointless”

Photo by Yausser on Flickr

What would life be without action?

Not worth a damn, if you live for the Pick Six and your name is Jimmy “The Hat.”

“The name of the game is action, my friend. Action is the drug, the elixir, the buzz. Guys got to have the action, the juice. Without it, life seems pointless,” said Jimmy “The Hat” Allard, a professional horseplayer in Southern California.

Allard, a former small-time actor and boxing promoter, is the featured horse-betting wiseguy on the “Jockeys” television series, which has been airing on Animal Planet over the last several weeks. And watching him on TV got me thinking, just who is this cat they call Jimmy The Hat?

So I found a few stories about him through Google and noticed that Horseplayer Magazine wrote a feature on him in the March/April 2009 edition.

During my research, I found that Jimmy The Hat hit the Pick Six more than 200 times and is the only known gambler to win with tickets that paid more than $1 million in three consecutive years, according to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story by Larry Lee Palmer.

Allard, a dapper dresser — who likes designer Italian shoes, leather jackets and Derby hats in the style of 1930’s — is an extremely likable chap.  A big part of his edge is that Jimmy The Hat has access to the barn area and he’s friends with jockeys as well as top trainers like Bobby Frankel, Bruce Headley, Adam Kitchingman, Vladimir Cerin and Jeff Mullins.

“If I see something or have a question about a horse, I have no problem discussing it with them,” Allard told Joe Kristufek of Horseplayer Magazine.

He also is aware that some trainers will be less than truthful with him or avoid answering his questions all together. So in Allard’s business, it’s essential to have the instincts to separate fact from fiction.

Allard is also in the paddock every race, often with trainer Kitchingman, studying racehorse body language, which helps him eliminate lame runners.

During his interview, reporter Palmer of the Seattle P-I walked with Allard through Santa Anita and the gambler was greeted with smiles and friendly chat from staff members like waitresses and maitre d’s.

But not everybody thinks Jimmy The Hat is good for the game. Bill Nichols, a former racing writer for the Press-Democrat , of Northern California wrote on March 9 that he emailed the Santa Anita publicity department recently inquiring about the potential conflict of interest Allard may have by associating too closely with jockeys and trainers. But Santa Anita officials defended The Hat.

“Jimmy Allard is friends with everyone at the track. He’s appreciative of jockeys and the danger they face daily. He’s the guy with an opinion who is well-liked, respected and owes no one. I wish we had another 10,000 of him here every day,” a Santa Anita publicity department rep wrote.

Allard rose to prominence in 2002 when he organized a class action lawsuit stemming from the Breeders Cup Pick Six scandal. Several employees of Autotote, the computer company that processes horse bets, conspired to tap into the computer system to take home the $3.1 million Breeders Cup Pick Six prize.

Allard believes that it was not an isolated incident.

“The idea that they only did it once was ludicrous,” Allard said in Horseplayer. “The government didn’t do anything about it, and neither did anybody in horse racing. The guys like myself, who split giant jackpots with those guys for nine years, all got screwed.”

Not only does Allard bet for himself, but his telephone rings throughout the day with other horseplayers seeking his opinions and trying to buy a piece of his Pick Six ticket.

“I got a stable of guys (who) want to know which entries I single in races, what I think of track conditions, what certain trainers say about their horses on the day of the race,” Allard told the Seattle P-I.

Allard considers himself a horseplayer, not a gambler. Southern California horse owner Don Stanley told me that one time he showed The Hat a football wagering ticket while at the track and Allard scoffed at the notion of betting NFL games.

In 2008, a reporter from the San Diego Union-Tribune followed Allard around Del Mar on a day with a $5 million Pick Six pool caused by numerous carryovers. Allard bet 25 horses on his $4,032 ticket, but he was not one of the 59 winners who collected $60,499.40 each.

Allard takes pride in knowing that he has developed a way to get a significant information edge on most of the other horseplayers. However, he needs to have the confidence to bet insane amounts of money to make it all worth while. One of his favorite sayings comes from trainer Brian Lynch “money lost, nothing lost; confidence lost, all lost.”

Racing fans admire Allard and often tell him that they dream of living the life of a professional horseplayer. But he knows that few people have nerves hard wired enough to handle it.

“Try walking out of the racetrack four or five days in a row stuck $30,000 with your stomach tied in knots, and you tell me how much you’d love to do what I do,” he told Horseplayer.


Series focuses on seven jockeys at Oak Tree

What is being called a doc-u-drama, a new television show called “Jockeys”  captures an inside look at the relationships, risks and rewards of thoroughbred race riding.

The Animal Planet television network will begin airing the series at 9 p.m. E/P on Friday, Feb. 6.

The show was filmed during the 2008 Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet and it focuses on seven jockeys: Aaron Gryder, Jon Court, Joe Talamo, Alex Solis, Mike Smith, Chantal Sutherland and Kayla Stra.

Others seen during a sneek preview on the Animal Planet website, are jockey Corey Nakatani, trainer Jeff Mullins and bettor Jimmy the Hat.

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