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MARK CRAMER’S BOOK KINKY HANDICAPPING
It took two and a half decades for this tide to turn, although the trend may never become totally reversed. The first visible sign of backlash is the Orioles Stadium at Camden Yards, purposely built asymmetrically, with rich, sensorial grass, odd angular patterns and a more intimate use of space. The Baltimore-Washington public shows its appreciation for this reversal of monculturalism by making every game a sellout.
The point is that for 25 years, a false utilitarian ideology, pragmatic in appearance only, was considered to be state of the art. Straight, wholesome and lifeless stadiums now stand as monuments to this binge of utilitarianism.
While not totally analogous, in the realm of horse race handicapping, a similar attempt at reducing everything to one dimension culminated in the oft-repeated phrase “class is speed.” Whenever you hear the same phrase repeated with cult-like regularity, beware. One does not often associate a cult with sophisticated experts, but the “class is speed” slogan has been passed on from one expert to another.
Since competent handicappers knew that
the class designations by claiming and allowance levels were frequently
flawed, something that lent itself more to numerical analysis was
needed, especially during a period in our history when “objectivity” was
considered equivalent to “numerical.” Class analysis was too vague, too
interpretive to maintain its standing during such a period.
One cannot blame Andrew Beyer and his
Picking Winners for setting off this trend, since it would have
been inevitable. The attitude came from a source much larger than the
subculture of horse race handicapping. For example, there were the
“objective” tests of academia, which required a numerical tally in the
interest of “fairness,” without taking into account that it took the
subjective decision making of professors to include or exclude material
from these tests, to decide which were the tricky and which were the
right ones. Like the symmetrical baseball ovals, objective multiple
choice tests are becoming discredited to a greater degree every year
now. Essay tests, like class handicapping, while more subjective in
appearance, allow for interpretations of greater depth.
One of the catalysts of this frenzy for numerical and linear determinants was the computer. Information management had to be adapted to the format of the machine. The “garbage in” phenomenon was hardly an issue at the outset of this quarter-of-a-century frenzy. But technology is neutral and it was not the fault of the computer, but rather of visionless computer users, who got bogged down with data bases that did meaningless correlations in split seconds.
By the mid-eighties, class handicapping was largely thought of as deviant and warped. In reality, class handicapping was a deviant as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. It was part of a tradition that is based on research and biology. The initial research came from Frederick Davis, in his monograph. “Percentages and Probabilities,” in which, of all basic handicapping factors, the class drop had the greatest impact value, meaning that the class-drop factor won much more than its fair share of races.
But statistics are
merely averages, and, like most factors, class drop had dialectic
considerations. In other words, opposite logics were engaged in a
dynamic relationship. There were both positive and negative depended
largely on the interpretive skills of the handicapper. Since this are
could not be reduced to a numerical procedure, the experts, enslaved by
the icons of the day, conveniently pushed aside the very notion of
The training of a race horse is an attempt to minimize the effect of a horse’s class identity, allowing it to express its natural speed, even in the company of animals it “senses” are its superiors. In some elitely-bred cases, there is the attempt to draw out an expected class identity that has failed to manifest itself.
While well-meant class droppers prove statistically that they are bound to improve upon their speed figure, the class-is-speed ideology is now so firmly entrenched in the horseplayer conscience that class handicapping is still considered deviant and warped. What should have been part of the mainstream is now rated X by the handicapping establishment.
How can I make such an extreme assertion? One need merely check the list of seminars and forums at the Handicapping Expo '93, the Fourth National Conference on Thoroughbred Handicapping. I took a tally of the themes of the Expo presentations, marking 1/2 if a particular handicapping subject was part of double bill. Here are the results of my tally:
Now I am sure that guys like Ainslie and Davidowitz referred to the class factor in their presentations. However, the point is that class handicapping as a theme or methodology did not rate being the main topic of any single presentation. And I assure you that for every presenter who referred to the class factor in positive terms, there were three others who engaged in class bashing.
The class factor should never have been a theme for a work on kinky handicapping, but the experts look upon it as a perversion, so it must be included here.
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