like to be the first to tell you about the most important new handicapping
book of the century. [Originally published Fall 2000.]
With the century so young, that could be either exaggeration or faint
praise, but this book is going to set the standard for the next decade.
It also happens to be written by of one of the most successful bettors
have been with Michael Pizzolla when he has scored very large in the
high-end casinos of the Las Vegas Strip, where he lives and works, day-in,
day-out, year-round. If you read the earlier article on “variance,”
hopefully you know I’m clued to the subject, and that on those occasions
when I’m there with him, I am happy for him, excited for
him—but I am not inclined to be awe-struck, because…well, because
But, you know what? It’s like this every time I’m with the guy.
I know he has had far bigger days, but I think two $1,500 exactas at
different tracks on the same day are rather nice, don’t you? I also
know that he has down days, and we have commiserated many times over
those miserable streaks of twenty or more losses when—if we had picked
Cigar against a field of maidens at Lubbock Downs—his rider would have
been dismounted signing autographs when the gates opened. He once had
a seagull fly in the face of his otherwise-winning pick in the stretch
at Aquaduct! Now that’s bum racing luck. And that got me thinking.
spite of my other inclinations, I’m actually quite superstitious. Michael
has very good days when I’m with him; he says he also has bad
days, but I’ve never seen them—so, maybe there’s an opportunity here—as
a professional good luck charm. Jimmy Stuart had a six-foot rabbit,
how about a six-foot rabbit’s foot? Unfortunately for my new
career aspirations, it’s not luck. And, his book will show you
we are together in one of the race books on the Strip, I’m very conscious
of the fact that I’m on vacation—Michael is working. I ‘m usually
bleary-eyed from doing what you do in Las Vegas—I might have
handicapped for an hour—and I usually have enough sense to bet lightly
when I’m in that state (of mind; not Nevada). Michael, on the
other hand, is making his living. He is placing aggressive bets and
is in full concentration. This is not a time when I want to distract
him with small talk or casual conversations about methodology.
have, however, talked to the race book managers where he plays. I won’t
tell you exactly what these race book managers have told me on matters
of scale, but I will say that these professionals who have seen it all
hold him in very high esteem. He is invariably described as an exceptional
case—a standout—even among top players. Knowing this, and the fact
that he is a master of pace handicapping, I can’t tell you how many
times I’ve seen Michael make a decisive move and wanted to say out of
pure curiosity, “Hey! Michael! Exactly what are you doing?
What are you thinking? How are you framing that bet?” Well, patience
finally paid off. I didn’t know it, but the last couple of times I
was with him, he must have been writing The Book.
book is Handicapping Magic.
Pizzolla is a magician—literally—as well as an attorney, so the title
covers two of his enthusiasms. He has many others, including Eastern
Philosophy, so I won’t cop any easy jokes about lawyers.
book is the culmination of the pace handicapping movement of the ‘80s
and ‘90s, but far more than that. There have already been some great
Pace books but, like the developing stages of most evolving theoretical
paradigms, they have all been works-in-progress.
was, in fact, co-author of one of the most important, Pace Makes
The Race: An Introduction To The Sartin Methodology, and he was
a working and teaching member of the Sartin cartel. I have now met
many of the key players who were either in or around this legendary
group, and aside from a certain weirdness that surrounds the legend,
what an extraordinary occurrence it was! Here were some of the best
minds ever applied to horse racing, studying every aspect of the game—working
together in striking contrast to the loners of the past, and what resulted
was an explosion of ideas.
Brohamer introduced Pace to the masses in 1991 with Modern Pace Handicapping
and a new generation of handicappers of the post-Picking Winners
era, began calculating “energy distributions.” All of this, of course,
had an earlier foundation in the work of Ray Taulbot and Huey Mahl.
Huey Mahl was a man of few words and many great ideas and, although
he wrote columns for magazines as well, my image of him is always based
on what I consider his master work: Pace Makes The Race, a little
paperback book published by Gambler’s Book Club in 1983. Huey was a
guy who could represent an idea in a graph or table that could put other
researchers to work for a year—and you always felt he knew what the
implications were from the start. He was one of the godfathers of modern
pace theory and the complex new betting strategies that have developed
in parallel with it.
previous pace works have been evolutionary, Michael Pizzolla’s Handicapping
Magic is a culmination—a fusion of pace theory and betting theory,
so that they are no longer separate—and no longer theoretical.
Theory-building is an exciting phase of any science. I was in on one
such epoch in an unrelated science and know that the downer comes when
you get past “building” into testing. Back in horse racing,
I can’t tell you how long I fumed over the fact that 6-furlong final
times don’t fit a theoretical model that is a dead-nuts lock on every
other distance that horses run, from 220 Quarter Horse dashes to a mile-and-a-half
a little aside about the honesty of Science: in every academic science
(including some major cases in medicine), some researcher somewhere
has been known to fudge results to fit a theoretical model, in order
to get or maintain funding. Handicapping may be the most honest science
on earth because, if you fudge on yourself, you lose funding.
So, unlike academic sciences, there is a much greater incentive to say,
“Screw the model! Go with reality!”
is a mountain of reality-based knowledge in Handicapping Magic, but
one of my favorite examples is perhaps a minor one: the de-bunking
of what, on the surface, appears to be a very elegant theoretical method
of crediting horses for lengths gained under certain circumstances.
Through pure experience, Pizzolla found that this tended to over-represent
horses’ abilities, so he simply canned the theory and created a simple
had the privilege of seeing this book in “galleys,” with the text in
one volume and the massive examples from real races in another, so I
knew it was going to be good. Even though I was excited about it in
that form, it wasn’t until I saw the finished book with the text and
examples integrated that I knew it was everything I expected.
of the great things about this book is that Michael Pizzolla is a natural-born
teacher. He has taught some of these methods and techniques in live
seminars and through that school-of-hard-knocks has learned what works
and what doesn’t work in getting messages across. He builds new ideas
and reinforces them as you read through the book and work through the
the past six months, I’ve been telling every one who asks the most frequent
question of figure handicapping (“How do you select a pace/speed line?”),
that the answer was coming soon in a new book. This is it.
It’s here: “Form Cycle Windows.” If you are a figure handicapper
of any persuasion and have struggled with the selection of a representative
past performance for a horse, that concept alone is well worth the read.
If you are not a figure handicapper, then the discussions of betting
strategies—the most overlooked topic in horseracing—will fill that bill
so you don’t think I’m totally biased, I’ve got to say: What
is it with these Pace Guys and their three-letter acronyms? Pace
already had ESP…EPR…FFR…TPR—and now, thanks to Pizzolla, we have: PBS,
PPF, and (taking them one better) LASST. Maybe if you string them all
together and say them fast something magical will happen. Or, maybe
you should just read the book.