Kinky Handicapping

KinkyHandicappingAfter 11 years of marriage, I just found out that C. might be kinky. She gave me a copy of Mark Cramer’s Kinky Handicapping for Christmas! I’ve been wanting to find a copy ever since I read a brief review of it in James Quinn’s Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping. But it was out of print and only available used, and for a couple of hundred dollars at that. Luckily, the author, Mark Cramer noticed the secondary market action on his book, and got his old friend, Ed Bain, to reprint it. The reprint is now available on edbain.com.

The first thing to do is to wrap your mind around the title, “Kinky Handicapping” and what it implies about conventional handicapping, otherwise known as “Straight Handicapping”. The first chapter is “Handicapping from the Missionary Position”, which describes the techniques of conventional handicappers and their self-limiting hang-ups. These fixations revolve around the typical reading of past-performances, with undue emphasis given to speed figures and the most recent races. While conventional techniques will point to the likeliest contenders, parimutuel betting inherently rewards the contrarian. Kinky handicapping uses techniques that are unusual, perhaps even deviant, and provides pleasure (in the form of finding longshots) that is otherwise unattainable to the straight handicapper.

The kinky theme allows Cramer to have some fun with the chapter titles: ‘Can Their Be Intense Action Without Love”, “Menage A Trois”. “Lecherous Betting”, “Grass Smokers”, “Monogamous Betting”. But don’t think that it means Cramer is providing mere titillation. There’s real handicapping insight, and some of it I haven’t thought of before. Cramer describes a method that discards the past performances completely, looking to the tote board to provide clues. When the top two favorites both open above their morning line, that signifies they are probably false favorites, aka the “kiss of death”. Start looking for higher odds horses that are lower than the morning line. You might not know the reasons why these horses are finding tote-love, but somebody does and is willing to back their opinion with real money. Other profitable angles include looking for obscure trainers with profitable patterns and looking for over-achieving horses that seem to be routinely underbet.

While there are plenty of specific angles in Kinky Handicapping, the true value of the book is the overall mindset. For example, Cramer explains the concept of crop analysis, where certain groups of horses (of a particular class, colony or age) might dominate another group. Cramer has specifics, but the concept of looking beyond the universe of what is printed in a single race’s past performance is the true insight. Apply the general to the specific. For example, what if recent breakout of wins by claiming sprint horses stretching out to routes is not indicative of a speed bias, but that the claiming routers are the weaker group?

Cramer also spends some time describing how utterly soul-crushing and mind-numbing conventional handicapping can be, particularly for a full time player. So he considers that one could also think about their ROI not only in terms of return on money invested, but also in time. What if you can find some techniques that require less time? (See his chapter on programmed trading). It’s a bit of a revelation. I’ve dabbled a bit in building databases of races and using that as a basis for developing regression analysis, but I hesitated because I could already see what kind of work that could entail. While I don’t mind work, handicapping is only a hobby, or a vocation at best, and there is only so much time I can devote to it. The true joy of handicapping should come from finding imaginative solutions and creativity. Cramer provides a few examples of handicapping deviancy, and it’s up to the reader to improvise the rest.

So how might C. be kinky? Her favorite angle is to pick horses based off their appearance in the post parade on TV. Her greatest pleasure is when one of the crazy longshots wins, and the on-air handicappers declare that there was no way that they could have picked that horse based on the past perfomances. Her devilish laughter is just a little sadomasochistic.

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