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Unfiled June 2, 2006
Horse Cents
By Yasha Levine Browse author Email

The winning ticket

"If you're going to write this story right, you have to put off the deadline for this article for at least another month," Gregory told us 6 days ago. "Otherwise, you'll filter the limited information that I give you through your ignorance and force your readers to read total garbage."

Gergory, the father of a friend of the eXile, was serious about his game. He knows his horses, he knows his jockeys and he knows his bookies. He's got respect. He's been in it ever since Brezhnev reinstated Stalin mania. And although it would ruin his spread, he agreed to teach the eXile.

On average, he puts down 70 bets on a single race, meaning that he calculates 70 possible winning combinations and puts as little as 1 ruble on each one. The rookies don't do this, they just stick to picking a few possible first place winners. But everyone else at the track does. It's called handicapping, a scientific way to make money by hedging your bets. Looking at all the lowlifes that haunt the place, you wouldn't think that they're all proficient in combinatorial mathematics. But it's true, those red faced drunks with shaky fingers have higher math knowledge than 80% of American college students. But don't let that scare you. After getting drilled by Gregory for five hours straight, we know our shit and we'll guide you through it.

There are a few things you need to know before starting your first hippodrome handicap. First, get a program. It's got all the race lists and stats for each horse. Second, you need to see how the horses placed in previous races. Third, you need to figure out how much money they've won. This figure signifies the class of races they've participated in. The more money they've won, the better. If you look at the different races that go on in a single day, you can see that some have a total pot of 1,500 rubles. Others, like the annually held President's Prize, has a pot of 5,000,000 rubs. See the difference? With the stakes so high, the competition's fiercer and the shittier (or less connected) horses don't qualify. Fourth, you need to see how other players perceive the horses. You'll only be able to know that minutes before the start of the race by the cryptic numbers flashed next to each horse on a an aging display out in the field. Once the betting begins, the number starts dropping from 999. The more bets that are being placed on a horse, the lower the number drops. It's like a real-time opinion poll. The lower the number, the higher the player confidence. With a low number, a horse's more likely to win, but the payoff is less because all its winnings will be divvied up between a high number of players.

There are five types of bets you can place, but if you want to get out of the beginner category and make serious cash, we're talking about payoffs anywhere from 1 to a 100 to 1 to 5,000, you have to chuck the bet types where you either pick the first place winner or the first and second place winners. They're easy to play, but the returns are pitiful. For real money, you can't be timid about number crunching. So bring a pen and paper and go for the Express-4. In this game, you got to choose the first four horses in the exact order that they come in. You do that by singling out the strongest horses and place a bet for every possible winning combination. If you figure that three horses are likely to come in 1st, 2nd or 3rd, you have to draw up all the possible combinations of those horses finishing in the top three and each of the rest of the horses finishing fourth. For a 6 horse race, you'll need to make 24 possible bets. But that's a low number by horseracing standards. Usually there are at least 9 horses in a race. If you do your math, that's 1 X 2 X 3 X 4 X 5 X 6 X 7 X 8 X 9, or 362,880 combinations. In these cases, the horse stats become way more valuable than your TI graphing calculator. The golden rule of handicapping says that one potential win must cover all of your bets. So you should never make more than a hundred bets for this type of game. Otherwise, the payoff won't be sufficient to cover your costs. You need to scrutinize a horse's history to see if it has a chance at finishing in the top four, if not, you toss it and move on to the next. Compile a list of top contenders for the first four slots and whip out those combinations.

It's not easy, believe us. Even with all our training and my Berkeley education in Computational Modeling, we managed to get ripped off. We were blessed by a race in which a bunch of horses were disqualified. With only six horses in the race, we thought we'd have no problem singling out the winners. Just looking at the their stats, we quickly saw that three were sure to take top three spots and the rest would be left to vie for fourth place. So we took to figuring out all the different permutations on a scrap of paper. In hindsight, we realized we didn't do a thorough job. We only had enough brainpower to calculate 15 out of the 24 possible outcomes. But it wasn't our mistake that did us in. As the race progressed, one of the fifteen scenarios we predicted started taking shape, but with only 100 meters remaining in the race, the saddle strap on the number three horse snapped and its jockey was thrown off. The fourth horse moved up to third place and the fifth moved up to fourth. In the end, our attempt at handicapping the odds couldn't stand up to behind-the-scenes machinations.

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Yasha Levine is an editor at The eXile. You can contact him at

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