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International Pools and the Japan Dirt Cup

I've had a chance to go through the video replay of the Japan Dirt Cup, as well as to review the result summary as provided by the Japan Racing website (link). Here are a few "day after" thoughts on last night's race:

  1. How differently did the North American pools and the Japanese pools view this race? Tizway was the favorite in the NA pools (or a close second), but only the 11th choice in Japan. Tizway ended up finishing 12th. The winner, Espoir City, went off at odds of 4/1 in North America but was the favorite at 3/1 in Japan. There wasn't a huge difference in price for the winner but there certainly was for the only American entry.
  2. Suni did not finish last, he finished 14th – third from last. This horse's inability to break well and set the pace completely changed the complexion of the race and allowed the winner, Espoir City, to enjoy a relatively easy lead.
  3. I thought TVG provided excellent on-track coverage last night, so this really isn't a complaint about them, but I prefer when they give us the raw English track feed with a graphic of the North American betting odds on the side of the screen. Why? When you get the raw feed the announcers will give you a great rundown of the odds in the local win pool which makes it very easy to compare to those in the North American pools. Absent that it is very difficult to find the current local odds for these international races and with nothing to compare the NA odds against you simply don't know how the American players a evaluating the horses as opposed to the ones in Japan (or wherever the race is being held).

International racing presents unique betting opportunities for the North American player primarily due to the factors that we witnessed last night at Hanshin. For whatever reason, the betting public in North America absolutely pounds our horses in the pools and generally sends them off at odds much lower than their real value, as was the case with Tizway last night.

In 2008 there was an American horse, Notional, entered in the Dubai Duty Free turf race at the Dubai World Cup Festival. Notional was an early top contender for the Kentucky Derby in 2007 but was derailed by nagging injuries and had really not produced a whole heck of a lot prior to shipping to Dubai. The colt was untested on turf after spending most of his career running on dirt and was facing a field that included Vodka (JPN), Darjina (FR), Archipenko, and Literato (FR), as well as a host of competitive milers. In any sane betting situation Notional should have been no better than 15/1 on the board and you could make a strong argument that 20/1 or 30/1 was more appropriate. Hell, I probably would have put him at 50/1 on my line. And while Notional had great connections in Doug O'Neil and Garrett Gomez, he was completely out of his element against this very classy field. But despite Notional's relatively modest chance at success in the Duty Free he was crushed in the North American pools to something like 7/2 odds (I can't remember exactly how low they were but they were LOW). Predictably, Notional finished last of sixteen.

Following the World Cup I kept coming back to Notional and his odds as I just couldn't figure out what would cause seemingly intelligent North American betters to over bet this overmatched horse? (And I call them intelligent because, really, the types of people that get up early in North America to bet on a horse race in Dubai are generally the hardcore "crawl over a guy with a heart attack so they don't get shut out at the window" bettors…they tend to know their racing.) Finally a fellow handicapper clued me in on what had occurred that morning: Ragozin's "The Sheets" had given Notional a very high performance rating off his last start (which if I'm not mistaken was a start in California on the grass). I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of The Sheets because I'm not a sheet player, but suffice to say anyone that knows anything about The Sheets knows that they have an almost cult-like following. Additionally, from what I was told by this player, prior to the 2008 Dubai festival free Sheets were given out to patrons a Santa Anita Park in SoCal. When you combined a wide dispersal of a past performance touting a specific horse (especially one with a hardcore following of players) with the modest dollars bet into the North American pools during an international racing event we got a situation where a group of bettors were able to dramatically skew the odds in a single race.

Okay, so back to Tizway and the Japan Dirt Cup. Did we see something similar to Notional in Dubai last night? Probably not the same in terms of a bunch of Sheets players driving down the odds but I think the underlying reasons for the betting were the same: it's easier for North American players to evaluate the merits of our horses while at the same time difficult to accurately assess foreign thoroughbreds. We've seen our horses race and we can easily obtain their past performance details. The same cannot be said of the foreign runners (just take a look at the past performances provided by the Japan Racing Association prior to the Dirt Cup…they are better than what you see from Europe but still lack a lot of the data the we in North America come to expect). Throw in the fact that many people believe that American dirt racing is far superior to that in other parts of the world (which isn't necessarily untrue) and you get an extremely biased view of the merits of our horses. As a result, it becomes easy for us to bet on the known as opposed to the unknown.