Horse racing: Los Alamitos’ new info serves bettors better (2024)

The frustration is familiar to many horse racing fans – and to too many former horse racing fans.

You bet on a horse to win, satisfied with the, let’s say, 4-1 odds showing on the tote board. Just before the race, the odds tumble to, maybe, 2-1. If you win, you’re disappointed with the smaller-than-hoped-for payoff. If you lose, you regret the wager even more than usual.

If it keeps happening, it might drive you to give up racing and turn to other kinds of sports betting in which you’re guaranteed to receive the odds or point spread in play when you put your money down.

This is the headache Los Alamitos Race Course is trying to cure with an innovation called “projected odds” that fans can enjoy during the Orange County track’s three-week thoroughbred meet starting Saturday afternoon.

“This is about that 8-1 shot going to the gate that goes off at 3-1,” said Mark Ratzky, the Los Al employee credited with bringing the new feature to Southern California tracks. “That’s what pisses people off.”

It’s a case of technology helping to cause a problem, and technology helping to solve it.

For nearly a century, American horseplayers didn’t mind the way odds shifted in the minutes before post time, because this was the nature of the parimutuel system and the late changes rarely were dramatic.

In the last generation, though, expansion of electronic betting and easy access to betting pool data has allowed gamblers armed with computers to devise and place huge wagers in the seconds before a race, sometimes crushing the odds on their horses.

Savvy fans have learned to anticipate such odds changes, and plan their wagers accordingly, by checking how horses were bet in separate, multi-race pools that are already closed. They can look at the “will pay” screen for a pick-3 or pick-4 climaxing with the upcoming race, and see if any horses’ prices are out of proportion to their win-pool odds. In doing so, they’re mimicking one strategy of the computers, which look at multi-race will-pays and pounce on out-of-proportion odds.

But interpreting will-pay prices can be difficult for the average fan, and inexact anyway.

Enter “projected odds,” which are the product of algorithms that quickly convert multi-race will-pays into odds for individual horses in the next race.

Horseshoe Indianapolis and Tampa Bay Downs were the first tracks to display them, using projected odds from the Daily Racing Form’s online past-performance platform. Emerald Downs, in Auburn, Washington, is showing what it calls a “dynamic morning line” during its 2024 season. Los Alamitos debuted what it calls “In Play Probable Closing Odds” at its short thoroughbred season in December.

Santa Anita quietly began doing it partway through its recent meet. A Del Mar official said it’s “under consideration” for the San Diego County track’s meet beginning July 20.

The idea has drawn praise from horseplayers such as former Southern California News Group handicapper Bob Ike.

“When Mark Ratzky shared his concept with me prior to implementation, I was all for the idea,” Ike said. “Unfortunately, in order to have any clue what the final odds on a horse will be, you have to check the daily double and pick 3 will-pays to make a projection on the win price. Mark has made it even more accurate with the algorithm.”

Horse racing: Los Alamitos’ new info serves bettors better (1)

Unlike major tracks in some other states, California hasn’t restricted computer-assisted wagering in the final minutes before a race.

“It’s unfortunate there is even a need for this,” Ike said of projected odds. “It should be an embarrassment to Southern California racing and the industry in general that the late odds changes are so dramatic and prevalent that there would be a market for this graphic. But that’s where we’re at, and it’s the reason I won’t make a win bet on SoCal tracks anymore.”

Los Alamitos’ projected odds are based simply on will-pays in pick 3s, which Ratzky says are more reliable than daily doubles because the pools are bigger. Starting with the third race each day, projected odds are shown on simulcast TV screens about 20 minutes before post time and again after the horses parade onto the track.

Los Al hasn’t been doing this at its night-time quarter-horse races because the pick 3 betting pools are too small.

Nothing about projected odds tells you who’ll win a race, or how to bet. But they usually will forecast final odds more accurately than a traditional morning line written by a track handicapper 48 hours or more before a day’s races, and this knowledge can help you decide which horses are worth a gamble.

Jon White, who retired last week as morning-line maker for Santa Anita and Del Mar, thinks projected odds’ accuracy is “not what one would say is great – at this point.” Yet White calls it “a worthwhile endeavor, because anything (a track) can do to help the bettors is good.”

Even if an innovation like this is too arcane to draw new fans to horse racing, it can help to keep existing fans in the game at a time when more straightforward forms of sports gambling beckon.

Ratzky sounds pleasantly surprised by the reactions from notoriously hard-to-please horseplayers.

“It was scrutinized,” Ratzky said of projected odds’ debut at Los Al last winter. “The worst anybody said was, ‘Well, can’t hurt.’ Nobody knocked it.

“What are the odds of that?”

Follow horse racing correspondent Kevin Modesti at

Horse racing: Los Alamitos’ new info serves bettors better (2024)
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