Some of the analysis is helpful to novices, but much is so superficial that serious players ignore the chatter. This summer, however, one handicapping program has been must-see TV for the entire spectrum of the racing audience. When Andy Serling dissects the Saratoga card on “Talking Horses” at 11:45 a.m., high-rolling professionals as well as casual fans watch intently, either on television or at www.nyra.com/Talkinghorses. Serling has acquired such a following that he has had an unmistakable impact on the tote board at America’s premier race meeting.
Even the most self-reliant horseplayers took notice when, on the second day of the season, Serling picked five winners, paying $11.80, $11.40, $16.80, $7.50 and $9.10. On the day of a Pick Six carryover, his top selections captured the first three legs of the wager, paying $11.60, $15.80 and $10, and then he nailed an impossible-looking $27.60 winner who helped produce a Pick Six return of $78,716.
Of course, any handicapper can have hot days and hot streaks that make him look temporarily like a genius. But Serling is valuable even on days when he goes 0 for 10. His goal is not merely to make picks but to uncover information that other bettors don’t have. “To make money at the track,” he told his viewers, “you have to be cleverer than the rest of the betting public.”
To do so, Serling scrutinizes films of horses’ past races. He studies the performance of trainers in specific circumstances by using the Daily Racing Form’s Formulator software. He researches pedigrees — particularly those of horses running on the grass for the first time. He overlays the basics of handicapping with a healthy skepticism and a reluctance to jump to obvious conclusions.
Almost any horseplayer looking at the fifth race on Aug. 1 would have concluded that Counterparty was virtually unbeatable. A month earlier at Belmont Park, the 3-year-old filly had won her racing debut impressively, earning a speed figure that dwarfed those of her rivals. She was trained by Todd Pletcher, who dominates the racing at Saratoga. Case closed?
Serling thought not. He had mined the Formulator database to find this information about Pletcher: With horses who had won their career debut as a 3-year-old and were now making their second start, the trainer’s record (by his lofty standards) was mediocre. Most of these horses went off at low odds, but they won only 16 percent of the time. Serling then showed a film clip of Counterparty drawing off to victory over a very wet track. Wet? The official chart had labeled the Belmont track “fast” but the visual evidence showed otherwise. Serling argued that Counterparty should be viewed with a double dose of skepticism because she was still unproven on a true fast track and because of the weak Pletcher stats. He went on to make a case that Precious Soul was the best alternative to the favorite. Finding vulnerability in an odds-on favorite is valuable even if you’re only right half the time, and this time Serling was right: Precious Soul won at 6 to 1 while Counterparty finished out of the money at odds of 3 to 10.