Review by Dick Schmidt
3 July 2002
AT THE RACES
Computer program by Gary Pizzigati and Jack Burkholder
This is one of the finest pieces of software available for the modern, computerized Internet handicapper. Such a shame most of them will never consider buying it. Not that it’s expensive, hard to use or not needed; it is none of those things. It’s what it doesn’t do: pick horses. This is a betting program and thus falls into that vast morass of dead programs and ideas called money management. Too bad, because this is the program most of us need far more than another “horse picking” program. On the off chance that there are some professional level players out there reading this, this program is what you have been looking for.
What At the Races does is access the internet through your regular internet connection (modem, cable, DSL, whatever), gather minute by minute toteboard information, point out betting opportunities, do “Dr. Z” calculations on the place and show pools, show you all the exacta payouts, including overlays and underlays, allow you to dutch your win and exacta bets, show you when you make more money wheeling a horse in the exacta than with a straight win bet and in general give you the information you need to make a bet. Since you provide your own handicapping information, it will work with any program, system or method available, including homemade ones. If you have a computer and a connection to the Internet, At the Races will work for you.
Because the documentation that comes with the program is a bit skimpy, I spent an hour on the phone with Jack Burkholder, the program’s designer, going over the fine points. Jack has been a professional player for over 20 years and he designed this program to do exactly what he wanted from a betting program. His professionalism and experience are obvious in the way the program operates. As time goes on, more “bells and whistles” will be added to the program, but right now it is a fully functioning, professional level tool. Anyway, here is a brief overview of how the program operates, as I understand it. Both of the principles behind this program are very willing to answer your questions by e-mail and are open to suggestions for improvements, so if I leave out anything, you can always get more information from the source.
When you first open the program, you first need to click on the Internet Options button and tell the program how you are accessing the Internet. I use a high-speed cable modem and found that I could ignore the questions about proxy names and ports, I assume because my connection is always on. Anyway, I just told it I was using a proxy for connection and away we went. It appears that if you are connected to the Internet when you start the program, it will find your connection.
Next choice is to decide which Internet toteboard to use. You can choose between “R”, the Racing Channel and “S” the BRIS Supertote. If one doesn’t carry the track you want, chances are the other will. This flexibility is typical of the program. Given the amount of bickering that goes on between the various racing entities, you never know who will be carrying what next week. At the Races lets you find the track you want. Should things change and other toteboard options come along, I’m sure the program will be updated to accommodate them.
Once you choose a toteboard option, you will be shown a list of available tracks. Lots of tracks. Dog tracks. Harness tracks. Australian tracks. Tracks you never heard of. It’s wonderful the amount of information available on the Internet. It’s also wonderful to be able to utilize it. You can view the track toteboards in two ways, either one at a time or scrolling through a list of selected tracks. If you want to see the tote action at just one track, select it and tell the program to show it to you continuously. The tote will be updated every minute. Scratches are posted as they occur. You can also tell it to show you one track without updates. You can edit the track list to just those tracks you are interested in and have it cycle through once or continuously. Amazingly flexible.
Let’s assume you want to watch the tote for the next race at Belmont. It is 20 minutes to post, and you want to follow the tote action. You select Belmont as the track you want and tell the program to update continuously. Now the fun begins. The first screen you will encounter shows the win prices (the actually return for a $2 bet), the maximum and minimum place and show prices with Dr. Z bets highlighted in blue (the actually advantage is shown under Place and Show ROI/$1) and the W/P/S pools, both total and for each horse. There are also two columns labeled Pitz Exacta and Pitz Double. These show you when it is better to bet a horse in a dutched exacta or double wheel instead of win. In other words, say you like the four horse. If he is paying $6.80 to win, it may be more profitable to bet him on top of all the other horses in the exacta pool. This is a complex bet, as you must bet a different amount on each combination, but the program will figure it out for you in a blink. Many times you can turn a low paying favorite into a much more profitable situation in the exacta pool. Lots of useful stuff, but there is even better stuff just ahead.
In the lower left-hand corner of the screen is a dutching box for win bets. You click on the white box under the horse’s number you want to bet and it will tell you how much to bet on each. It is set by default to bet $100 a race, but you can change that by clicking on the Win Bets white box to the right of the dutch box. If you want to dutch exotics, you can set them as well. Click on the box and then enter any amount you wish, from $20 on up. A neat feature is that you can also hedge a bet. In other words, say you like the favorite and two others. Since you can’t really make money betting favorites, you decide to hedge, betting the favorite to break even and splitting the rest of your money between the other two horses. If the favorite wins, you get your bet back, and you’ve put more money on your longer priced horses. To do this, hit the box a second time, and the label will change from Dutch to Hedge and will turn from green to blue. Hitting the box a third time cancels the bet.
Across the top of the screen, just under the track name, are a series of small buttons. The one labeled WPS Payoffs is checked. Move your cursor and check the next one, Odds. The first two columns show the current odds and the morning line for each horse. The favorite is shown in red, the second favorite in blue and the third in purple. As the odds shift, the colors change with them. The columns labels 1st Exacta and 2nd Exacta show the amounts bet on each horse, expressed as odds. The lower the odds, the more money bet in the exacta pool on that horse in that position, either on top or underneath. In our race at Belmont, the amounts bet each minute are displayed in the column labeled > 12 (greater than 12). The amounts are expressed as odds. Think of each minute of betting as being a separate pool. Starting with 12 minutes to post, each individual minute is displayed and recorded, again expressed as odds representing the money bet just during that minute. Therefore you can see that even though the 4 horse is 8-1 overall, he may have been the even money favorite during the fifth minute before post time when the trainer made his big bet. You can check to see how he did in the previous minutes and follow the action during the next few. Those who use the “Talking Tote” to make their bets have found their ultimate tool.
The next button is Exacta Stats. It shows all the possible exacta combinations first as a payoff, then as a percentage. If the percentage is red, the horse is that percent underplayed, based on the “fair” price of the win odds. Blue and the horse is that percent overlayed. Before you get excited and decide to bet just the overlays and get rich, most of the time Jack has found that it doesn’t work that way. In exactas at least, the big underlays are usually the ones to bet. If you don’t believe it, try it on paper for a while.
After that, we find the Exacta Bets screen, my personal favorite. Here you not only see the familiar exacta payoff matrix, but the tools needed to dutch and hedge exactas. Since the win dutch box accompanies us no matter which screen we are using, I find that here I have all the information I need to play a race. Directly under the exacta matrix are automatic plays labeled Low 2, Low 2 Box and so on. If you hit the Low 3 button, it will display the bets for dutching the three lowest paying exactas. Low 3 box shows the dutch for the 6 combinations of the lowest three odds horses. Play with these and you’ll soon see how they work. To erase what you’ve done, click the CLEAR box in the upper left hand corner.
Now let’s get down to boxing and wheeling our handicapped picks. Directly below the Low 2/3 etc. boxes is an exacta layout. This assumes a $2 exacta and in the top row displays the win payoffs for each horse. Down the left side are the three types of exactas you can use: Box, Wheel and Back-wheel. To box up to five horses, just click on their numbers in the top row and the program will dutch them for you. As with win, you can also hedge. In this case, hit the payoff in the exacta matrix above and it will turn blue and hedge (bet to break even) your bet on that combination. For the first time, exacta betting becomes a science, not a guess.
You wheel and back-wheel quite simply. Pick the number you want to key and the bets to all the other horses are displayed. If you want to both back and full wheel a horse, you need to do two separate calculations. Don’t forget to adjust your total bet size. If you choose to try the “Pitz” betting, where you use an exacta bet instead of a win bet, the Wheel command is perfect. Since this allows you to play many races with low priced favorites, this feature alone is worth the price of admission. And don’t forget the Back-Wheel instead of a place bet for those of you who bet win and place. Many times it is far more profitable to bet a horse to win and then back-wheel it in the exactas. More work, but also more money.
A new feature just added at my suggestion is the ability to part-wheel. I suggested it Tuesday night and had the new feature in place on Wednesday afternoon. Did I mention that these guys offer very good customer service? Well, they do. Anyway, click on the square labeled Wheel and the Wheel and Back-Wheel rows become Top and Bottom for an exacta part-wheel. You click on the horses you want to win, and then again on the horses you want to place. It is intelligent enough to allow the same horse to win and place without getting confused, and the dutch is perfect. If you want, say, the 1, 2 and 3 horses to win and the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 horses to place, just enter them in exactly that way and the program will take care of everything. This was not an easy thing to add, and I’m impressed by the speed and accuracy of the upgrade.
If the race offers them, you also have click buttons for Daily Double and Quinella bets. They work just the same as the exacta screens and I’ll leave you to figure them out on your own. The part-wheel option was just added for Doubles as well. The last click button is Options, where you can set up the program to suit yourself. For those who like database research, you can save the data you have collected in a comma-delimited file at the touch of a key. That way you would have a record of the minute-by-minute changes in the pools, together with exacta, double and quinella information. For the database keeper who believes the answers are writ large in the toteboard lights, here is the answer to your prayers.
It is traditional in a review of any kind for the reviewer to find some fault with the book or computer program under scrutiny just to demonstrate he is a virtuous and righteous reviewer and not just a shill. OK, so here goes. I do have a couple of tiny faults I have found. I wish that on several of the screens I had the option of displaying odds instead of the payoff. They are both the same thing, I know, but I’ve been looking at odds for a very long time indeed and I’m quite familiar with them. Small thing, but there you are. I also wanted to complain about the inability of the program to dutch a part-wheel exacta, but Gary fixed it before I could get this into print.
So now I’m left with only the lame complaint that it is hard to bet when you have so many combinations, as when you dutch you of course get a different amount for each combination. That’s what dutching is all about. Three over five is 12 combinations. Add that to your win bets and you better start putting in bets early. Try to do it for three tracks all going off within 4 minutes of each other and it can be chaos. Now this isn’t the program’s fault, it’s just a fact of life, but you do need to plan ahead. Now if the betting services would just allow us to click a button and place all our bets electronically . . . Oh well, I can dream. That service isn’t available outside of North Dakota, and only for a very select few (like one, the famous Dakota Whale).
Well, I guess that about covers it. I didn’t mean to write a mini-manual here, but I do so very much like this program that I want it to succeed and I thought that a detailed description of what’s going on here might get people excited. I know everyone betting on any kind of serious level NEEDS this program. I just hope that after reading this, they WANT this program. It’s easy to get, you download it from their web site. Of course, it is very expensive. Free for 30 days, then the outrageous sum of $25 for using it through the end of 2003! If you order before September, they guarantee that the program fee will never be more than $25 a year. This has got to be the bargain of this new century.
As I said before several times, I have found both authors to be very helpful and responsive to any questions or suggestions. Several anonymous friends report the same experience. I know it’s not “sexy” like a new method for pickin’ horses, but if you’re serious about making money at the track you owe it to yourself to give this a try. The first taste is free, and after you’ve tried it, you’ll beg to be allowed to buy it. Here is their address for downloads and up-to-date information:
For support contact Gary at: email@example.com
Thanks for trying ATRpro. We wish you an enjoyable and entertaining racing experience!