I had the pleasure of meeting one of our readers/commentators, BGboothA, at opening night at Emerald Downs a few weeks ago to talk horses and handicapping over beers. As we began to talk, I found out that he and several of his friends had started a website called Horse Betting Direct, a site that focused on providing handicapping tools geared towards a wide variety of people at the track, and not just the experienced, hard-core player.
Fan education is a hot topic within the industry, especially breaking down the entry barrier that exists for many casual or new fans. Handicapping, or just reading the form (which ever one you prefer) comes with a steep learning curve. But not all people at the track have the time to invest that many of us do on a daily basis. They are at the track once or twice a year and just want to know a bit more about the horses without having to learn a whole new language.
I had a few question for BGboothA regarding HBD and he was kind enough to relay his ideas and thoughts on trying to present handicapping information in a different way.
How did you get interested in horse racing and how long have you been a fan?
Growing up my dad took me to Longacres a few times and I remember having a blast as a kid. But it took a while for it to become a passion as an adult. In 2006, the weekend before my beloved Seattle Seahawks played in the Super Bowl, I broke my tibia vertically playing basketball at the local Y. I was out and off my feet for the next few months. With nothing better to do, I started watching horse racing and for the first time really got into handicapping. It has become a passion and love ever since. Over the course of the following years, myself and two friends wanted to create a better tool to use in our handicapping, thus Horse Betting Direct (HBD) was born.
What is HBD and what part of the handicapping market are you trying to serve?
The goal of HBD is to provide a handicapping tool that is quick to read and easier for all bettors to use at the track. Our goal is to really provide a service for all levels of handicappers. We provide our selections for the beginners who want to go out and have a good time at the track. However, the best audience for our sheets is probably the amateur horse player who goes out a few times with friends and wants to learn more about the sport, but doesn't have the time or the desire to climb the steep learning curve needed to read most past performances. Finally, the expert handicapper can use our sheets as a filter. We run hundreds of races a day at tracks all over the United States and Canada, I use our system as a filter to find the angles that I have had success with, without having to handicap every single race on the card.
What factors influenced you to start HBD?
When I first started handicapping, I had plenty of time on my hands. I would sit there with my leg up and spend hours with my head buried in the past performances. I quickly realized two things: One, I was doing the same process and looking for the same things over and over again, race after race. Two, there was no way I would have the time to keep doing this when I had to get back to the real world. We didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of HBD. I needed to find a way to handicap quicker but not lose the accuracy that I was enjoying while handicapping during my injury.
The other factor that played into us starting HBD was that I used to love going to Emerald Downs year after year. There is something special about winning money at the track on a race that you handicapped yourself and there isn't a tool that allows the amateur handicapper the ability to handicap a race and truly call the bet their own. As a classroom teacher during the day, I found myself doing more teaching at the track than betting on the races I handicapped. HBD created an easy to use tool that my friends could use to place their own winning wagers and my teaching could stay in the classroom.
How does HBD work; what kinds of factors and information are included in your sheets?
HBD has become a series of calculations that we run on each and every race. Over the years we have tweaked this equation and added variables to come up with the product we have now. Our sheets take into account everything from early and late pace shapes, Quirin data, recent performance, track familiarity to the horses and connections willingness to fight for the back end of the exotic bets.
One thing that makes us stand out is that our data is relative to the race being run. We aren't only focused on the horse's history but how that horse fares against the other horses in that race. So, all of our data is displayed relative to the other horses running. For instance, when we list the horse's late speed, it isn't a speed figure like Beyer, it is the expected relative speed against the average horse of this race. Displayed as a positive or negative number depending on the expected advantage or disadvantage the horse has in the different variables of the race.
What tracks does HBD cover?
It seems like every weekend we are getting emails asking us to run more and more tracks. We have a track list on our website, but mostly we will run every major track in the betting pool, everything from the obvious tracks like Churchill and Santa Anita to the smaller tracks like Emerald Downs and Finger Lakes. If we can get data on the track we can run our calculations.
What's the future of HBD and in what direction would you like to go in the future?
The future of HBD is really unknown. The website started this fall and has already grown faster than the three of us could have imagined. Right now we are offering all of our sheets for free through the Kentucky Derby but will move to a very inexpensive model the following week in order to help offset our cost. Providing free content is what helped us grow to be the resource we are now and we will continue to offer one track a day for free as well as a happy hour all day every Thursday where all of our sheets will remain free. Even when the HBD sheets cost money, they will remain the cheapest in the industry and will be sold for somewhere right around a buck.
Honestly, the goal of HBD is to provide a tool that helps grow the sport and the business. When I go up to Emerald Downs I see so many people who could fall in love with the sport like I did, but just don't have the time or the knowledge to understand what they are doing. Hopefully a tool like HBD can bridge that gap between the weekend better and the hard core handicapper.
And finally, what's your favorite horse of all-time?
Looking back I have two, Barbaro and Zenyatta. Barbaro's run at the Derby came the same year that I really started handicapping. Ironically, his injury at the Preakness produced the exact same surgery that I had gone through a few months before. The metal plate, screws and dead guy bone I still have in my leg look exactly like the X-rays from Barbaro's injury. I remember sitting there with my leg watching his Holy Bull run in the slop.
And Zenyatta was just a horse that I loved to watch, it was almost like she would toy with the field and high step almost "Deion Sanders like" down the stretch. I just loved the swagger of that horse.