Exclusive Book Extract

Susan Bain is one of America’s leading female punters. She and her husband Ed Bain (www.edbain.com) devised the highly successful 4x30 formula, using trainer stats to select winners. In this exclusive extract from her book "Signers", Susan relates the amazing ups and downs of her betting and business life. A ‘signer’ in American racing is when a punter wins more than $600. The punter must then pay tax on the winnings!

One time I witnessed a player win the nearly impossible double-triple bet at Laurel racetrack, for over a $100,000, and instead of leaving with his winnings, he began to bet wildly.

Though I did not know this horseplayer personally,  nor had I any idea of his normal bet size, I saw him lose $20,000 over the next few races. It was not hard to notice because he was loudly complaining about the loss.

Another player heard his complaint and called the double triple winner “stupid” for blaming the usual scapegoats: the jockey, the trainer and “bad luck”.

The self-destructive gambler was overheard to say, “I thought I was going to have a lucky day!” Ed looked at me. “He already had his lucky day, he should have left!”

From this observation, I began to notice quite a few players who would win and then increase not only their bet size, but also the number of bets they made. Some of these players would have been up for the day if they had maintained the same bet size and number;  instead they often left the track broke.

When we would notice such a turnaround, Ed would recall one of his mantras. He spoke with a mellow but resonant voice, with the firmness of a Buddhist scholar. “I never want you to leave the track broke!”

I learned that the repetition of certain motifs had a lot to do with the way Ed held himself together as a player and never lost control.

With the understanding of odds came the understanding of why Ed would bet or pass a race. Since the beginning, I simply observed that Ed would often sit through a race without making a bet. Since this whole subculture was strange to me, I would observe every one of Ed’s procedures, from folding the Daily Racing Form in different ways to calculating each horse’s time in every race. Though I did not know exactly what all of this meant, I did notice that fractional numbers never ran over a four and that 46.4 would turn into 47.0 when he added the next fifth of a second. My mind would think this should have been 46.5 because in school we were trained to use tenths when figuring fractional numbers. In racing, they use fifths.

I learned that the average horse runs its body length in about a fifth of a second. Ed taught me how to calculate the fractions in fifths, the first chore I actually disliked. This became good conditioning because it trained me not to look at the speed of the horse but instead to consider all the other variables. The speed factor can predict winners, and since the public prefers this factor,  it is disproportionally fed into the pari-mutuel system (in the form of bets). When the speed factor does predict the winner, more people have to share the returns because more people bet it, so the payoff is less than fair value.

Another of Ed’s motifs: “When you decide to make your own bets, by all means have fun, but most of all have a mind of your own. Don’t fill it with junk and then 10 years later you discover it does not work.”  “Junk”, of course, was not only misinformation but also factors that the public over bets.  Ed knew all about junk because he’d played some of these overbet factors and had decided to learn from his own experience and go his own way.

He was saving me from having to pass through the same initiation rites. Ed enjoyed my many questions and he never made me feel that any question I asked was stupid.

It took three years, but the day finally arrived when I wanted to handicap and make my own bets.

Some time in the early 90s, Ed came to the conclusion that even though there is some excellent statistical information out there, there was no smoking gun, no one piece of information for sale that would make us a living at the track.

This was a key moment in my evolution as a horseplayer: the discovery that if you really want to win consistently, then you have to create your very own methods and generate your own information. Horse betting is essentially an information game.

The pari-mutuel system dictates that the only way to win is to use good information that few or no other bettors use. Much-used information, good as it may be, deflates the payoffs of horses to below fair level.

Ed decided to start saving his racing forms and even though at the time he did not know what their function would be, he made a place for them in one of the closets in the apartment where we lived.

When that closet became full, Racing Forms began to pile up in a second closet. We developed a new perspective on real estate. The number of closets became more important than the number of bedrooms or bathrooms. One afternoon, Ed and I were walking. As he was holding the door open for me, he said, “I know what I am going to do with those forms.” It was about time. Once in the door, he continued. “I am going to track trainer stats.”

Once my initial emotional response had subsided, I realised that this time it would be different, for he would be researching, as he explained, some types of trainer factors that no one else had used. Other players were speed handicappers, but very few used the trainer as the primary factor. This was the information game, finding a type of data that few other players would use. Ed would research the performance of human beings rather than horses. It figured that human beings might be more reliable than their equine partners, though one skeptic would argue that, “The trainer can’t talk to the horse.”

At our table, with a crab cake lunch before us, Ed enumerated more than 30 research categories. Ed began his work the next day, tracking more than 130 trainer “’moves” (tactics), and he did so using a pad and eraser. Neither of us knew how to use a computer, but it was now inevitable that we would belatedly enter the technological era. Even after purchasing our first computer (the best purchase from “the experts” that we have ever made), Ed stubbornly went through eraser after eraser, entering his 130 trainer performance factors by hand.

A week later, Ed was headed for the Penn National OTB to bet two Santa Anita races and he asked me if I wanted to go along.  Just that morning I had been in our local courthouse filing some papers regarding our deed. They had a metal detector, so I emptied most of the contents from my purse. These contents happened to include my pocketsize Tomlinson pedigree ratings (before the time we had decided to purchase the two backup copies of his Mudders and Turfers). When Ed and I arrived at the OTB, I opened my purse and I saw it only contained $20 so I decided to buy a voucher for this amount, relax, and bet for fun.

It was quiet in the OTB since it was still early afternoon so Ed and I had our choice of seats and we sat in front of a bank of TVs. I watched several Fair Grounds post parades and in two separate races, I had noticed horses that looked physically ready and I bet $2 across the board on each. To my surprise, both hit for double digits. Ed had already made his first bet and his horse came in third so we were waiting for his next wager.

I went back to watching the post parade at the Fair Grounds, and this time I saw a horse that looked amazing. He had a huge arched neck; he was prancing on his toes; and he had a determined look in his eye, coupled with an attitude that was saying to the world, “I am going to kick ass today”. As soon as he passed by, another horse came along with exactly the same look and attitude, and suddenly I was faced with a dilemma. I had never seen two horses in one race looking so good.

I borrowed Ed’s Equibase Program to examine the race and was happy to learn that it was a 5-furlong Maiden Special Weight race on the turf. I noticed the sire for one of the two horses was Zen. I reached in to fetch my Tomlinson turf pedigree numbers out of my purse and discovered they were not there. I thought, okay, this is the reason you memorise these numbers and I was thinking Zen was a 170 Tomlinson, which would make him capable, though not dominant on the grass.

I checked the other good-looking horse for his sire, and compared all the other sires, to see if any one of them had a true advantage over any other on the grass. It was then that I noticed the five horse was out of Dixieland Band. I gasped.

Just yesterday, for some unknown reason, Ed had mentioned to me that Dixieland Band is an extremely potent sire. He said that horses sired by Dixieland Band “can literally do anything. They can go short, long, run in the mud, on the turf; you name it, this sire can do it.”

Strangely, up until yesterday Ed  had never said a word to me ever about any sire. So when I saw the Dixieland Band horse, my thoughts were “I can’t bet either of the other two horses across the board because Dixieland Band can beat them.”

I went to the self-service terminal about two minutes to post and made the decision to box the three horses in a $1 trifecta for $6. I finally could sit back down, relax, and check out the odds of my selections. Suddenly, I sat back up and onto the edge of my seat. The odds were 17/1, 50/1 and 40/1. As soon as I noticed those whopping odds, the race was off.

The Dixieland Band horse got the lead right away and was running away from the field. So many thoughts were going through my head, many of them telling myself how so very stupid I was for not having bet the Dixieland Band horse across the board.

The other part of me was more optimistic, daydreaming what a huge trifecta it would be with these longshots one-two-three. I knew in my heart that this would never happen to me, especially since my other two horses were nowhere on the screen.

It was a short race. Only a minute had gone by, with all these contradictory thoughts swirling in my mind, when suddenly the Dixieland Band crossed the wire first and my two other horses followed in second and third!
Ed was sitting next to me with his back sort of pushing into his chair, just studying the screens, when I lost my ability to speak and I started tugging on his shirtsleeve. He looked at me and said, “What?”

I was still mute. I tapped his arm and pointed at the Fair Grounds television screen. He did not understand me and had no clue what I had just bet because I rarely announced my bets to him. Ed plays with the discipline and focus of a statue on Mount Rushmore, so I would have driven him crazy if I told him every wager I made, since I played so often and seemingly with no discipline.

Finally, I blurted out a few words: “I think I hit that trifecta!”

Ed said, “What trifecta, where?” And I said, “At the Fair Grounds, and it’s going to be huge!”

Seconds later the race was made official and my three horses were right there on the screen, the 5-10-12. Then the payouts came up, and I saw an amount of $43,280, and I was thinking that it must be the pick six payout.

Suddenly I realised it was for the $2 trifecta payout and I had half that amount for $21,640! You’ve heard this cliché, people saying they “almost fainted”. Well in my case it was for real. Ed had to walk me up to the teller to cash the ticket.

Though there were few people in the place, everyone knew that I had just hit this trifecta and even in my dazed mode, I could hear all the whispers. I received $15,800 after taxes, all in hundred dollar bills.

Ed and I went home and I laid out the money on our bed and just stared. In this game, money is symbolic. It has to do with either luck or skill. This hit was the combination of the two.

Luck, because Ed had coincidentally mentioned Dixieland Band the previous day, the first time he ever talked about a sire. Skill,  because I assimilated the significance of Ed’s words and combined it with my memory of the Tomlinson ratings and my study of the Joe Takach video, Beat The Beam. Luck, because all these factors happened to have converged in one single race. Skill, because I was able to synthesise the three types of evidence. Luck, because it might have been a more intelligent bet to go with Dixieland Band across the board.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Susan Bain