Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Off topic: Kentucky Derby

It's a strange thing, but I love the Kentucky Derby. I'm not even sure why. Something about the ridiculous hats, the brevity of the race, the Yankee Stadium-like separation of the rich from the masses. And the fact that few things are more compactly fun than betting on horses, particularly if you bet on the Kentucky Derby.

The Derby's around the corner (May 2nd). I shared an old horse racing story last year, but wanted to retell the story anyways.

Evidently my dad's buddy, Alan, is well-versed in all things equine, from breeding, to tendencies, etc. A real track-rat, or whatever they call it. He knows horses, period. My dad, a numbers wizard, had me meet them in the Meadowlands to watch the horses run one night. It's typically quiet midweek, so as we settled in to watch the races, a strange thing started happening.

Alan starts by calling off the horses and how he sees them finishing. This is not anything new if you've ever been to a track, but he has raised and trained and owned horses, so he's got the skill to do this. It'd be like watching a ballgame with a professional scout, telling/pointing out things you'd never see or notice. My dad is calling off the odds and he starts matching odds with the horses, getting rather exotic with the bets. This is no simple "$5 on the #3 horse to win" sorta thing. This is multiple exactas and trifectas, designed, on the fly, without paper, to create arbitrage situations where, so long as the picks of the horses are right, they cannot lose money. Now, the horses aren't always right but that happens. I'm watching this develop and seeing how they have developed this system over a decade or so and I am speechless. They created as complex a trading system as they have on Wall Street, except it's for horses, not financial instruments.

This goes on, all night, race after race. And they are winning. Big. Expect here's the rub: The never place a bet with the house. They have a 3rd buddy who never goes with them who acts as the house and they settle up at the end of each season, over dinner. The bets are a few bucks each, up to $20 per race, depending on how many and how complex the bets get. If they actually walked to the window and made these bets, they'd have paid for college for all the kids, and then some. But for them, it's not about the money (and this is my dad, mind you. Go figure, right?), but rather the challenge to pick the horse and design the perfect bets. As the years have gone by, they have honed their separate skills into a finely-tuned gambling machine.

My parents moved out West a few years back so this has faded into the ether, but it jumped into my head this afternoon, so there ya go.
Back to our regularly scheduled baseball programming.


e-5 said...

HIM can still do it...sometimes I watch the horse racing channel in SD and still beat them up mentally...go figure!!!

Ron Rollins said...

That reminds of an episode of 'The Beverly Hillbillis'.

Jed got caught up with some golddigger who took him to the races, trying to get all of his money.

Jed would pick the winner, and the girl would go bet.

She asked Jed how he knew which horse to pick. Jed replied that he just picked the horse that looked like it could outrun the others.

When she asked why he didn't bet on the horses, since he always picked the winner, Jed replied that he didn't need the money, and knowing who was going to win kind of took the fun out it.

Yup, I'm hell-bent and bound for a wasted youth.

ditmars1929 said...

Jason, there's only one reason why you like the KY Derby. Southern girls plastered on mint julips ready to blow. Why else would any guy care?

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Ditmars, I don't care what gets them plastered.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

As a man from Louisville, I have never been to the Kentucky Derby, but I've heard stories about the infield there.