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Systems All Go for Them

Bettors are willing to go with science, math or superstition -- whatever will help them pick a winner.

October 25, 2003|Mike Penner | Times Staff Writer

Gary Margolis will be at Santa Anita Park again today, scribbling in the margins of his Daily Racing Form, same as usual, except with maybe a slightly shakier hand and quicker pulse.

Margolis has a small stake in Ten Most Wanted, one of the leading contenders in today's Breeders' Cup Classic. He says he owns about 5% of the horse, give or take.

"Just say 'one of the 10 largest listed owners,' " he says, scripting his own bio blurb. "Like, the ones who get the publicity."

Beyond that, Margolis is an avid horse player, a self-described "contrarian" whose driving passion is "finding the 20-to-1 longshot that has a shot." And for him, the Breeders' Cup is the Super Bowl covered in Christmas wrapping paper and served up with heaping helpings of Thanksgiving turkey, Easter ham and Fourth of July apple pie.

"It's definitely a great day for betting," he says. "The fields are really big. That helps anybody. Because you get value.

"Take the Classic. Right now, they have us and Medaglia d'Oro at 7-2. There may be one or two 4-to-5s or 6-to-5s. There's really good horses that are going to be 9-, 10-, 15-, 20-, 30-, 40-1! Horses that people have, like, admired. 'God, that horse is 40-1!'

"I remember in the Classic one year, betting against A.P. Indy, I had this horse that was 80-1. And I swear I thought he had a chance. After a mile of a mile-and-a-quarter, he turns for home in the lead! By, like, a length. And then he got swallowed. He almost held on for third and got fourth. Eighty to one! "

Big fields. Big odds. The best horses. The best jockeys. For bettors, the Breeders' Cup offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, except, better yet, they hold it every year.

"It's the one day that offers the best of everything: horses, quality, value," says Vinnie Perrone, a D.C.-area horse racing writer. "And then with the pick six, there's the opportunity for a score that could change your life. And that doesn't generally happen every day."

Consequently, the Breeders' Cup is a breeding ground for every kind of handicapping system to ever wobble to the window. It attracts a bizarre mix of the sophisticated and the absurd, the studied and the silly, with labor-intensive decimal-dotted spreadsheets going head-to-head with hunch bets, dart throws and crazed finger pokes smudging the ink of the Racing Form.

To put it another way, Breeders' Cup betting runs the gamut from "the sheets" to "between the sheets."

"The sheets" are graph-sheet compilations of "speed numbers" that chart a horse's career and, in theory, project when a horse is likely to run a fast race and when it probably will "bounce," or regress, after running a taxing race.

They were pioneered by Harvard graduate Len Ragozin in the 1990s and since have been rivaled by the Thoro-Graph sheets, created by a former Ragozin employee, Jerry Brown.

The Ragozin sheets and the Thoro-Graph sheets have attracted fierce followings among serious bettors and trainers such as Bobby Frankel, who contributes a personal endorsement on the Thoro-Graph Web site, claiming that the product "measures exactly how well horses have performed in the past by factoring in variables not included in other speed figures. Then they put every horse's figures on its own graph, which lets me know where each one is in its own form cycle."

Such knowledge doesn't come cheaply. The Ragozin sheets are sold at the track for $35 each day, the Thoro-Graph sheets for $25.

"Between the sheets" is a less expensive system that involves no mathematic theory, statistical research or insider's knowledge. In fact, it is free, and it requires no knowledge of horse racing whatever -- only an active, and somewhat provocative, imagination.

Los Angeles Times horse racing writer Bill Christine laughs as he outlines the "methodology." Christine has heard of eccentric betting schemes during his many years covering the sport, and "between the sheets" ranks with the wackiest.

"You take the names of the horses and look for the one that would be the most suggestive," he says. "That's the one to bet."

By way of example, Christine runs down the entries of a recent Oak Tree race.

"Let's see: CantBeDenied between the sheets.... Howamidoin between the sheets. Hmm. They seem to match."

It's not a perfect system. But then, what is? Times horse racing handicapper Bob Mieszerski watches races every day, then watches replays every night, trying to envision how a particular race will be run, factoring in probable pace of the race, probable front-runner, class of the horse, trainer and track conditions. On the other hand, he says he knows "someone who bets horses only with weather names, or with weather in their names. Or 'north,' things like that.

"I talk to her and ask, 'Why do you do that?' And she says, 'Well, I like those kinds of names.'

"Whatever works for you. She does better than I do."

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