Hidden Talents: Handicapping Horse Races
Written by Bwog Staff
Internship, schminternship! In Hidden Talents, Bwog exposes your classmates as the strange and glorious wunderkinder they truly are. Bwog’s equestrian enthusiast Mahima Chablani brings you a profile of the dark horse handicapper, and beloved contributor, Carly Silver. Would you like to share your talent? Is your talent exposing other people’s talents? If you satisfy one or more of these conditions please let us know via [email protected]
In late 2004, Carly Silver, BC ‘12, received an e-mail from the head of NBC that read, “Good job, young lady, you picked the Derby winner.” Backtracking a bit (or back-trotting, rather), in April 2004, Silver analyzed the pedigrees of all Kentucky Derby contenders and decided that the arrows were pointing in the direction of racehorse Smarty Jones. Carly wrote a pedigree analysis for Smarty Jones, and emailed it to the head of NBC’s horse race coverage and main columnist for “The Blood- Horse,” the leading international magazine for Thoroughbred horse racing.
Lo and behold, Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby, and Carly had picked him over one and a half months earlier! The NBC big shot replied to Carly’s email and asked her to be a paid columnist for “The Blood-Horse.” Yes, while most of us at age thirteen were gawking at The O.C. boys, Carly was already writing her own magazine column called “Teen Tracks.” Smarty Jones’ trainer even mentioned her at a press conference.
Carly became fascinated by handicapping (the term for calculating a winner) horse races in 1997, after spontaneously deciding to watch the Kentucky Derby on TV. Enchanted by the strength and majesty of Silver Charm, the winning horse, Carly was sold.
Her pre-race rituals are rigorous. Take the Breeders’ Cup. A few weeks before the Cup, she reads The Blood-Horse’s special issue that lists all 200 contenders in the race. To predict a winning horse, she considers an “infinite web” of factors, such as the horse’s past performance, its pedigree, its jockey, its trainer, its physical stature, the surface it prefers (e.g. dirt, turf, synthetic), and its ability to run particular distances. For each race, she makes a list of her top four choices, and come November, she clears her schedule for the two days of the Cup.
Ultimately, Carly points out, results are based on luck and race-day factors, ranging from the conditions of the track to the mood of the horse. She remarks, “Horses can be just as finicky as people. They have their quirks, like sticking their tongue out of their mouths as they run, or drinking beer…You have to cross your fingers, use what you know, and hope the horse you picked runs a good race.”
In addition to attending races in Saratoga every summer, Carly has traveled to Kentucky, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, and even Ireland. She has met dozens of jockeys, trainers, owners, and horses, and endearingly recalls the time when Smarty Jones “snorted” at her from afar; “It was love at first sight,” Carly beams. While she hates betting more than two dollars, once in a while it is “nice to have a cash payback.”
Horse racing draws a motley crew, Carly recounts. Among the “weirdly diverse group of individuals” are “the cabbies driving up from Saratoga,” “the Texas rancher guy from a family of third generation trainers,” “the chain smokers looking at the racing form,” and the “hard-bitten old regulars.” And of course, Carly.
While she does not see herself pursuing a professional career in handicapping, Carly insists, “racing is always going to be a part of me.” A religion major with a minor in ancient studies, she has an offbeat collection of passions: ancient history, hip hop music, horse racing, and royal genealogy. Yet, they all seem to melt together over horseracing. “At the end of the day,” Carly concludes, “racing for me is indescribable.”