Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Birthday Rule

A friend and former colleague for many years was once again seated to my right in Belmont's Dining Room on Saturday. Another friend and former colleague was seated across from me. It is somewhat like school and assigned seats. We tend to take the same seats when we venture out for an afternoon of equine prophesy.

I've written about this gathering before, and once again find the proceedings and outcome to be noteworthy. And once again, the fellow to my right has applied unscientific methods to an unscientific game and created a nifty profit for himself.

Saturday saw an often applied technique called the "Birthday Rule" waved over the entries for each race. In the health and health insurance world from which we all sprang, the "Birthday Rule" applied to comparing the spouse and contract holder birthdays to determine what contract was primary when "coordination of benefit" rules needed to be applied. The earliest month and day birthday was considered primary, and so, that person's contract was used first. This could help mitigate an insurance carrier's total outlay. Always a goal.

As applied to lottery numbers and horse racing selections, the Birthday Rule has absolutely no set rules and no mandated time when it is applied. It is all in the head of the person considering selections for the upcoming race. A race card for a thoroughbred race usually maximizes at 15 entrants; there are no zeroes.

Thus, double digits beyond the top number and any number having a zero can necessitate creative thinking. And no matter how large or small the crowd at a racetrack, there are easily more creative thinkers present than there are faculty members and students at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies. Easily.

Double digits are usually split, like aces in blackjack. Twenty-eight--a number significantly beyond an American Thoroughbred race--would be rendered 2-8; 8-2. This is perfect for developing exacta selections, where the bet is to pick the first two across the finish line, in the order they finished. "Boxing," or reversing the numbers is generally engaged in to capture the permutations. A triple bet is to pick the first three. A superfecta bet is to pick the first four. Payouts increase as the degree of difficulty in being right increases. Separate betting pools control these payouts.

A favorite two-number bet for the individual to my right has historically been the application of a son's birthday. 1-7, 7-1 gets played often. I think I remember which son it is, but I don't know if the selection, decoded, means January 7, July 1, or 17 of any given month. It is often best to just go with it, and not ask too many questions.

This individual applies elements of traditional handicapping, but hedges everything they do with application of the Birthday Rule. This results in the purchase of several tickets and combinations per race. This can result in so many combinations being concocted at the last second that the hand they are holding is not really known until after the race, when the tickets are checked more closely. The fun often lies in realizing what was done after the race finishes. It almost becomes a scratch-off lottery game. There are surprises.

The fifth race at Belmont saw the Birthday Rule wanded over the entries, and mixed in with handicapping elements. This can be a potent approach that sometimes yields results that are so solid they might resemble having the answer key template placed over a standardized test before the test starts.

Amongst the several bets the fellow to my right made on this fifth race was the triple box of 2-8-11, for $1. This covers the six permutations of 2-8-11 of any order of finish of those three entrants; a $6 overall bet. Someone's birthday was involved, but I really didn't delve into the details.

I myself could see in the 2-8-11 boxed sequence my oldest granddaughter's birthday of 11/28. But my approach to betting doesn't go the Birthday Rule route.

The 2 horse was a solid selection, despite being a so-called "career maiden"--many starts, never winning--but being the bridesmaid by running second 11 times. There are horses like this. No matter where they run, who they run against, they just don't win, but they can manage second.

Stock Fund, despite this tendency, was a deserved favorite at 2-1, and quite realistically, once again, looked capable of being first. The rest was a jump ball of scrambled eggs. Birthday Rule was applied in betting a triple by the fellow to my right.

The race was finished, and there were only two of us at the table observing the posted order of finish: 2-11-8.  Birthday Ruler hadn't yet returned from the window. They were likely watching the race on a TV monitor nearby, a few levels up.

It was commented by my opposite number that the second place horse, an unraced horse ridden by a moderately successful journeyman, upstate jockey, was 53-1. Considerable odds to finish second. In New York, outright long shots such as this don't often get in the money to win, place, or show. But in this race, one did. The third place horse was 11-1, moderate odds that aren't really considered to be an extreme long shot. I myself commented that Birthday boy might be counted on to have a part of the play in the 53-1 shot. It was just a feeling.

Birthday Ruler made it back to the table before the prices were posted, rapidly telling some narrative that they weren't sure they got the tickets they wanted; "The lady didn't get all my bets in," before the betting was closed. A quick shuffling check of the tickets however revealed that they did indeed beat the bell, and all intended bets were being held.

It's very hard to predict triple payouts. Win prices can be easily predicted based on observed final odds, and exactas invariably tend to ring up as a very close product of the win price and the place price of the second horse.

A 53-1 shot anywhere in an official triple sequence is a rarity. Separate triple pools govern the payouts of this wager. Guesses as to the payout by the gathered at the table were all over the place. But they were never near the $3,204 that was going to be paid out for a $2 triple wager on the 2-11-8 sequence when the OFFICIAL sign went up.

Since Birthday Rule boy had a $1 bet, his take was half the $2 payout. When it comes to money, racetrack payouts are sharply mathematical. Thus, the reward was $1,602. Major high-fiving and loudness ensued all around.

When I retold the story to my wife on the way home she asked the inevitable question of why didn't I just bet what he bet?  Simple. "How the hell am I ever going to know whose birthday this guy is going to use when he finally gets to the window? He doesn't know." She saw my point, but was still sorry to realize I didn't read minds.

If you're not the big winner yourself (and I wasn't), it's great to be in the presence of a big winner. And just think, Birthday Ruler didn't even arrive with a pen to write his picks with. He borrowed one of mine.

He did return it.

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