Moreover, the blogosphere was filled with nasty comments suggesting that members of the pro-Bodemeister camp were making alibis after losing a bet. The popular reasoning was: I’ll Have Another won, so he’s the best horse; he’s the best horse, so he’ll win the Preakness.
Many of these people appear not to understand the rudiments of handicapping. When serious bettors evaluate what has happened in a race, they don’t necessarily focus on who won and who lost. They understand that outcomes are determined not only by horses’ talent but by race dynamics — pace, traffic trouble, ground loss, all the things that constitute a horse’s “trip.” They try to consider all of these factors in order to judge after the fact who ran best, because that conclusion may be the key to betting a future race — such as Saturday’s Preakness.
In the bestselling book on probabilities, “Fooled by Randomness,” author Nassim Taleb says that to evaluate a particular outcome we must consider its “alternative history” — other outcomes that might reasonably have happened. He was writing principally about investments, but the concept is relevant to horse racing.
If, in a theoretical world, the 2012 Kentucky Derby were contested 100 times, it would be run in a variety of ways and produce a variety of results. One of the less likely scenarios might be this one: I’ll Have Another gets a perfect trip after breaking from post 19, saving ground on the first turn and avoiding any traffic trouble, while many of his main rivals are encountering adversity. If they run the Derby 100 times, I’ll Get Another may get such an ideal trip only a few times; it’s wrong to leap to a definite conclusion about his superiority based on the scenario that unfolded on May 5.
Handicapping the Preakness demands a clear-eyed analysis of the Derby. All of the realistic contenders at Pimlico are colts who ran at Churchill Downs, and NBC’s aerial-camera shot made it possible to see them all from start to finish. Here’s what I saw:
Daddy Nose Best (10th in the Derby) and Optimizer (11th) both “steadied,” according to the official charts, but any mishaps were either invisible or inconsequential. They had no excuses.
Went the Day Well (fourth) had some traffic trouble early in the race, raced wide on the final turn and outkicked everybody else to finish fourth. On paper it looks like an impressive performance. But when longshot Prospective bobbled in front of him in the early stages of the race, Went the Day Well was already in 17th place and the incident cost him virtually nothing. His flying finish was an illusion often common in the Derby. After a hot pace, the field is slowing down in the stretch, and somebody almost always passes the deadwood with what looks like a powerful late run.