Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (part 1)

Wizard Daily Report and Research - Monday, 4 December 2023.

  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (part 1)

Pittsburg Phil (George E. Smith)

There have been some extraordinarily successful horse race bettors over the years, internationally and here is Australia.

We can learn from their success.

I thought it might be useful to briefly profile a few of these legends.

When one looks at those who have been racings most consistent money winners, one cant help being struck by the fact that they were not insiders, but rather skilled form analysts who were making their own assessments.

Perhaps the most famous of all professional horse race bettors was an American, George E. Smith, better known as Pittsburg Phil.

Phil was the first of what we might call the scientific bettors, in that he attempted to remain as objective as possible when analysing a race. Naturally, he was forced to make a great many subjective judgements while evaluating the chances in any single race, but he did make every effort to base his decisions on objective data in the form of past results.

He was a consummate professional in the sense that he was a skilled worker, whereas the vast majority of horses race better were, and are still, unskilled workers.

Phil beat the races in the same way that his modern counterparts can beat the races today.

He realised that he would need to have a knowledge of race-form superior to that of his bookmaker and betting public rivals.

In addition, Phil understood that he would need to have a better appreciation of a horses true chances of winning as reflected in its real odds of winning.

He was the first to really master these techniques and his achievement is the more remarkable when one realises that in his day there was very little in the way of published information available to help him.

By adopting a disciplined approach to his selecting he gained a decided advantage. Virtually without exception his contemporaries were ill-informed and made no effective use of any of the information that was available.

It was this competitive edge which, combined with his innate commonsense, enable Phil to accumulate in excess of $1,700.000, a staggering sum when you consider those were 1905 dollars.

In the late 1890s and early 1900s the biggest bettors in the USA were referred to as plungers. Phil did not accept the label of plunger. Like our own legendary Don Scott, Phil likened these plungers to flaming comets here today, gone tomorrow. He likened his approach to horse-race analysis and betting to that of the successful Wall Street analyst and investor.

For example, when Phil was active there was a dearth of reporting race results in the press, only the barest of summary results. Phil was amongst the first to create his own results charts. These charts contained only a fraction of what is available to us today, but they did show where horses were positioned during the race, where they finished, and the margins between them. 

Phil also watched the races very closely, and with assistants, recorded instances of interference, wide running etc, that occurred during the race. In doing that, he was way ahead of his time and enjoyed a big advantage over both bookmakers and other bettors.

When it came to the quantitative side of race analysis Phil was a proponent of what we refer to as Relative Weight Handicapping, comparing horse against horse, looking for relative weight advantage and disadvantage. He placed considerable importance on being able to assess the class of a horse, but he considered race times to be of limited value.

In short, Phil was aware of the huge importance of accurate information. As the title of this series says - here we are today - Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.

The Maxims of Pittsburg Phil

The Maxims of Pittsburg Phil are almost as legendary as the man himself, and some are definitely worth recording:

  • A man who plays the races successfully must have opinions of his own and the strength to stick to them no matter what he hears.
  • Successful handicappers should have detailed knowledge about the horses on which they are intending to bet.
  • Winners repeat frequently while the defeated are apt to be defeated almost continuously.
  • You cannot be a successful horse player if you are going to get the worst of the price all the time.
  • It is not always the heaviest commission that is collected. The weight of the commission does not make a horse win. One informed bettor and his relatively modest wager speaks as loudly as a $10,000 commission. It is the horse that must be considered.
  • Class in a horse is the ability possessed by it to carry the weight, take the track, and go the distance that nature intended that it should go.
  • What is frequently right in form is wrong in condition. If a horse is not in good condition he might as well be in the stable.
  • Condition has more to do with a horse winning or losing a race than the weight it carries.
  • A horse in poor condition cannot beat one of his own class.
  • A high-class horse could not win a race with a feather on his back it he is not in condition.
  • It is as well to play horses that are in winning form. A horse in winning condition generally repeats or runs into the money. 
  • Some horses will run good races over certain tracks, while in the same company under similar conditions on other tracks they will run disappointingly. Study the likes and dislikes of a horse regarding tracks. But a high-class horse will do his best on any track.
  • It is not bad speculation to pick out two or three sure looking bets and parlay a small amount.
  • Cut your bets when in a losing streak and increase them when running in a spasm of good luck.
  • The less one thinks of crookedness and trickery in racing the more successful will be ones handicapping.
  • Look for defect in your own calculating rather than the cheating of others.
  • Learn to finance your money to advantage.

And perhaps the best-known Maxim:

  • A good jockey, a good horse, a good bet. A poor jockey, a good horse, a moderate bet. A good horse, a moderate jockey, a moderate bet.

Warren - Wiz-Ed

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