The other evening Walt and I went to the dog races at Wentworth Park, to have a final beer before his move back to NZ. Notable among the folk who turned up was an American statistician, whose name temporarily escapes me. Tom? Something American, anyway. Dogs, undergrad mathematics and beer in a plastic cup made for an amusing night that I recall only hazily.
Allow me to set the scene. Wentworth Park dog track is part of that largish public reserve attached to the bottom of Bay St, just past the mall and the Australian Youth Hotel. (The Yoof is currently under renovation, by the way, so it’s nice and empty and a good place to drink away from the general public. Walt always drinks at places under renovation for some reason).
The raceground itself is accessed via a run down Deco clock tower / scoreboard, and it’s $5.50 in and a few bucks more for the form guide. Don’t bother with the form if you ever go — it doesn’t tell you much more than you can see displayed on screens around the track and grandstand. Speaking of the grandstand, it’s of dubious postwar vintage, and also run down. Within are official bookies in a bank teller type setup (the TAB?) , independent bookies with olden days type wooden / chalk boards, hot dog / spud / kebab stands, and a bar serving Tooheys, Tooheys, and Tooheys. (Toohey’s is now vegan, BTW.)
The punters at the track were an interesting mix. About one third were yuppie scum like Walt and me, another third were Andy Capp clones (replete with crumpled Winnie Blue adhering to the skin of the lower lip), and the final slice were 15-16 y.o. street kids from Glebe with fake IDs (so the bookies could claim plausible deniability tho’ even the most simian cop would instantly pick them as teenagers).
The dogs and my early
After grabbing an Old in plastic (the poor man’s Cooper’s Stout), I thought long and hard about a system that would let me pick the winning dog. I decided that the key would be inspecting the actual dogs rather than going by the form data (win-place-lose etc). About two minutes before the race the dogs are walked around a small paddock adjacent to the track so that they can stare longingly at the mechanical rabbit and mark an unfortunately positioned, much-abused shrub as their territory. After a minute and a half in the paddock the dogs are then marched past the grandstand to the starter’s box, to the cheers and insults of the handful of people dumb enough to sit outside on a winter evening.
I walked down to the pre-race paddock, beer in hand, and inspected the beasts. After careful consideration, I decided that a black dog with a white spot on its tail was the most podlike, so I dashed off to the TAB window and put two bucks on him to win. As the race starts so soon after the dogs are put on display, you really have to run to queue up and place a bet before the race starts (presumably so someone with a better system than poddiness doesn’t get an unfair advantage).
Spot came in second last, so I abandoned that system.
In the next race my idea was to pick the dog who most resembled Arnie. A big muscly dog that would win me big bucks, and then
be back to win again. Again I dashed off to give the TAB two bucks, and again no luck.
After that I sat a few races out and decided to consider the odds, in the form of the payoff for each dog from a dollar bet. They fell into three rough groupings:
- $1.10 to $2 — the favourite
- $20 to $50 — a complete no hoper of a dog who had never placed before and was unlikely to this time
- $5 to $10 — a competent beastie overshadowed by the favourite, but still very much in the game
I decided that there was little point betting on the favourite if I was betting gold coins. A 20 cent proft from a $2 bet would hardly cover the sip of beer I took on the way to the dog paddock. The no hopers, by definition, had no hope, so I gave them a miss also. This left the five to ten buck dogs: a decent payoff for a win, and a good chance of at least running in the right direction. But which of these dogs to bet on?
The psycho nutter system
Scooting off to the paddock again, I matched up the dogs in the paddock to the dogs paying $5 to $10 on the big board. Of the four dogs in this group, one had its ear folded over. Obviously the owner cared little, and this dog would not be trained to win me big cash! So not foldy dog. Another beastie had its tail between its legs, which I thought was a sign of subservience. And on the racetrack, you can’t win if you’re stopping to let the alpha dog pass! No money on tail dog. This left me with two possible dogs, both looking pretty proficient. One stopped to piss on the unfortunate shrub I mentioned earlier, so I eliminated him on the grounds that he might be a bit nervous and cock it up on the track. Speeding like a greyhound, I hit the TAB with seconds to spare and put two bucks on dog #6. Looking at my receipt I saw that my chosen dog was called November Desire.
Ah, I thought,
the only reason he’s not the favourite is the superstitious Andy Capps being afraid to bet on him in July.
Returning to my seat with a fresh beer, I saw November Desire being pushed towards the starting box thingy. The dog bounced up and down like a thin mindless force of nature. It was a drooling cruise missile programmed for glory; a psycho nutter of a dog. The mechanical rabbit hooned past the box (looking for all the world like a hillbilly’s aerial decoration), and they were off… with ND in the lead. The favourite was in hot pursuit, while the $50 dollar dogs milled around, sniffing each other’s genitalia and blocking off Foldy Ear, Droopy Tail, and Nervous Widdler. I booed the favourite from the stands, and, with feelings hurt, it gave up the chase yielding victory to November Desire!
I collected $16 from the TAB and sipped a G&T in a plastic cup while I contemplated my next move. Victory had tasted as sweet as whatever was standing for tonic water at the grandstand bar… I wanted to taste that flavour again, but tempered by the powerful quinine of applied statistics. I decided to see how
Tom had been going, and if he had been going well, combine our two systems like so much carbonated water and erstatz tonic syrup.
Tom, it turns out, had been waiting for those races where the sum of the profit from a bet on every dog to win was greater than the cost of placing a bet. This rarely occured (the independent bookies not connected to the TAB computer never let it happen for them), and when it did the payoff was usually pretty small — perhaps 20c back for eight $1 bets. I told Tom about the psycho nutter system and we decided to try a combined version: bet on all the $5 to $10 dogs in good health to win, and forget about the favourite and the no hopers.
We made six bucks apiece on the next race. The system worked and we would be wealthy men thanks to a combination of mysticism and basic arithmetic! We resolved to bet everything everything on the next suitable race and convert our winnings into cases of German beer. Unfortunately our six dollar race turned out to be the last of the night, and we had to leave the track before we could ride into a higher tax bracket on the backs of scrawny greyhounds.
Next time for sure…