Trip Note Pros and the race within: Q&A with “Benny Southstreet”
What are the underlying assumptions that can drive handicapping a horse race? Well, if you followed Keeneland this past April during their Spring Meet, then you probably heard analyst Scott Hazelton extolling the virtues of what is known as Trip Notes Pros. That is an online source for handicappers that is an absolute gold mine of information, and one of their missions is to dispel assumptions … lay them to rest.
The site was the brain-child of Ryan Flanders, aka “Benny Southstreet.” Fans of musicals will recognize the latter from Guys & Dolls, but this “song and dance man” is specifically after a different tune … horse racing running lines. With a detective squad that watches around 60 to 80 hours a week worth of replays (something horseplayers rarely do), they do the spade work for you when it comes to in-depth note-taking.
They are like forensic anthropologists that are obsessed with race shape ... wanting to sleuth the hidden clues for what went right or wrong … and when. To hear him tell it, “If you read a racing form and are not watching replays, what you're essentially doing is voluntarily paying to be lied to.” In Flanders’ mind, running lines are deceitful, and can doom any chance that you might have to cash a ticket … enjoy success.
Once Keeneland closed out their April Meet, I wanted to find out about his process, product, and procedures … and see what he had to say about a myriad of subjects from the Triple Crown Trail to how they literally see, the race within the race.
We are going to pull back the proverbial curtain. Buckle-up horseplayers and racing enthusiasts, because you will not want to miss this …
J.N. Campbell: Ryan ... or is it, “Benny Southstreet?” Is this a persona you invented, and if so, when, and for that matter, why?
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Obviously, most people now know my real name, Ryan Flanders. I was given the alias when donating my time to write trip notes for In the Money Media. A good friend of mine had just started the company and asked if I would contribute to help get them off the ground, and I was happy to do the work. My one request was that we would use a fake name, as I was pretty entrenched in the handicapping contest world at that time, and I didn't want people that I'd be playing against knowing that the work was my own. And so, “Benny Southstreet” was born. Benny is a character in the musical, Guys & Dolls. The name stuck and I've been using it ever since.
J.N. Campbell: How did you come up with Trip Note Pros ... what was the germ and how was it birthed? Let’s hear the origin story, please.
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Through my contributions with In the Money, I developed a small following on Twitter and was approached by racing fans that wanted to buy my trip notes. One of them implored me for months to start a company, and eventually he built a mock up site of how it might look. We decided to offer my work for FREE to see if fans would sign up, and we invested a couple of months into the endeavor. At the end of those two months, the data looked promising and we decided to give it a go—and we've been writing trips ever since. We just moved past the 3rd anniversary, which I'm quite proud of. Nobody outworks our team—and that is in fact, our mantra, "Never get outworked."
RE process: As soon as the PPs are revealed, we immediately begin prepping the cards, populating our database with "race notes" and "bias data" that is critical in tripping the cards. Race notes are key data points—they identify pace and flow dynamics, strength of race dynamics, and other anecdotal information that we believe is valuable to the handicapper. Once prepped, our (4) authors, myself included, dig in. We focus on things that computers can't pick up on—horse comfort, jockey intent, the analyzing of good gallop outs, subtle trouble that can exacerbate trips that lead to poor performances, even big trouble that can be completely missed by the chart callers. We watch closely from head on views and pan shots, offering our eyes to the members that have learned to trust us in order of saving them literally thousands of hours in the replay booth.
Horse comfort: Staring at one horse throughout a race can paint a completely different picture than what shows up in a running in the PPs. It's amazing what you can see from an equine athlete by combining head on views with pan views. A cocking of the head … a subtle climb followed up by a jockey asking a partner to keep pace with the field, while pushing through dirt in her/his face that is causing a loss of velocity. It's important and almost NEVER identified.
Jockey intent: A first-time starter that is ridden for his life early, is likely well-meant on debut. A jockey that rides with extremely quiet hands early, could be whispering to you that "today was not the goal." Some wave the white flag early, which can increase the margin of defeat.
J.N. Campbell: We saw your site on full-display at Keeneland, when it was “featured” during their April Meet. What kind of response did you get?
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: We are always proud of the work that we do, and while I can't speak for Keeneland, I think it's safe to say that they were also pleased with the results. Tracks and ADW's SHOULD take care of their players, and kudos to them for stepping up and investing in our service. KEE marks the 3rd major track that has entrusted Trip Note Pros to help players cash more bets and churn handle. The spend by the tracks pays for itself. We are strong believers that handicapping is a worthy and intellectual pursuit, and that helping fans to become intellectual about their choices, when writing wagers is the best way to keep them around in the long term. Anyone can make picks—and that's why we try very hard to avoid touting. "Here is what we saw...play how you see fit," is our approach.
J.N. Campbell: I will speak for our readers and say that they would probably like a “for instance” … so, give us something concrete that really gets to the heart of where assumptions can go wrong.
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Absolutely … Massive amounts of horseplayers, even “self-proclaimed experts,” fall victim to simple information that they WILLINGLY pay for, and they don't realize that they're being deceived. Consider this example … and be honest with yourself. You select a race, diving into your PPs, immediately noticing that it includes three common runners that are coming out of the same event (1 mile on the turf, 9 runners). Let's also assume that through your own skill or through pace analytics, you know that the pace was VERY FAST.
Here is the TEST …
1st call: 1st (by 1 length)
2nd call: 1st (by 1 length)
3rd call: 1st (by 1 length)
4th call: 3rd (by 3 lengths)
Finish: 6th (by 8 lengths)
The comment in the PPs says, "Set pace, gave way." Does this running mean anything to you, and if so, what does the running line communicate?
1st call: 2nd (by 1 length)
2nd call: 2nd (by 1 length)
3rd call: 2nd (by 1 length)
4th call: 1st (by 1 length)
Finish: 4th (by 4 lengths)
The comment in the PPs says, "Bid 2-3wd, weakened." Does this running mean anything to you, and if so, what does the running line communicate?
1st call: 7th (by 12 lengths)
2nd call: 8th (by 13 lengths)
3rd call: 8th (by 8 lengths)
4th call: 5th (by 4 lengths)
Finish: 2nd (by a head)
The comment in the PPs says, "3-4W trip, just missed." So, what do you think? Which of the 3 runners do you think is best? Maybe, you can eliminate one of the three?
The real truth is that 99% of horseplayers that didn't watch the replay will immediately gravitate towards the speed types because they have legitimate excuses - they traveled way too fast, expending their energy early. But not so fast. What if I told you that the 3rd place runner early was 8-9 lengths behind the leaders? In other words, this huge gap between runners in 2nd and 3rd place early created "a race being run within a race," and the rest of the field was carving out slow fractions? Horse #3 is actually the horse that should be getting your attention. His performance was legit, and pari-mutually-speaking, he'll be the one that offers value as virtually all analytics are going to communicate that Horse #3 had a great set up, and this is a flat out LIE. If he raced at the back of that congestion, and/or covered more ground than most, he should be focused on, NOT faded.
J.N. Campbell: What detective work! We have to talk about the Derby ... that hot pace ... the Rich Strike trip ... How did you see the race, and does this outcome corroborate truths you already knew? Explain.
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Did Rich Strike have a good trip? Yes. Was it as perfect as most people believe? No. Watch what Rich Strike does to Mo Donegal, a runner that many players thought was a logical contender (we did not). They raced in tandem for much of the race, but Strike left Mo behind with ease when asked, but actually rode into the box in the turn, and was idled and without options for quite some time. If not for that, I believe he would have easily, maybe by 2-3 lengths, possibly more. I wouldn't have taken 200-1 on him, if I'm being honest, but the one thing that horseplayers need to do is be willing to wipe a clean slate, and don't let your previous opinions blur your vision from race to race.
I have nothing clever to offer—several runners got caught into the impossibly fast pace, which excuses their poor running lines. If there is any 'corroboration' to be had, it would be from a rider. Flavien Prat is playing chess and everyone else is playing checkers. Yes, he locked in on Epicenter and followed him around the track, but what everyone missed was his journey in the first turn. Instead of moving past Epicenter, who was toggling between moving outside or staying inside, Prat INTENTIONALLY IDLES to get Rosario to take to the rail. Rosario took the bait, and Zandon played running back with a lead blocker the rest of the way. Had Rosario not been coerced to take to the rail, he would have likely moved outside, not been urged to advance up the rail early on the backstretch, and very likely would have been taking pictures with a blanket of roses. I do think people are being a bit cold towards Zandon after this race. While this was probably the cleanest start I've ever seen in the Derby, Zandon did have early trouble, and also ran quite fast vs. the pace and flow ... pretty much on par with Epicenter.
J.N. Campbell: Moving forward this week with the Preakness, what do you have in-store, and can you give us some clues about the 2nd Leg of the TC? Scenarios ...
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Epicenter is a complete standout in my opinion, and it is a popular opinion. I expect him to be less than even money. If I have one thing to offer in terms of value, it'd be Skippylongstocking. He was against a speedy and inside track the day that he finished 3rd vs. a common runner in Early Voting in the Wood Memorial. The post is bad, but that will also inflate his price. He's worth an extra look at a big number.
J.N. Campbell: Good stuff! Ok, let’s cover a few other topics! Most over-looked turf racing angle is ...
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Centrifugal force plays a MASSIVE FACTOR in TURF SPRINTS, and most don't consider it all. Imagine a golf club being swung. The hands move around a player's body FAR SLOWER than the head of the club. When the golf ball is struck, the hands and head of the club are basically in the same place, and continue to travel around the body in tandem with another, but the head of the club is moving MUCH FASTER to stay even with the hands. With this concept in mind, now picture (3) runners that are perfectly stacked while approaching the far turn together. In order for the runner on the outside to keep pace with his inside rivals, he has to run much faster to keep pace, and he also has to have the energy to turn towards the center of gravity, otherwise he will fan out on his own. It's a MISERABLE place to be. Other factors when considering centrifugal force would be: (a) Turf courses having tighter turns. (b) Accelerating into the centrifugal force (c) Inside runners easily pushing outside runners out of the way because it's far easier to use centrifugal force by moving outward, making it nearly impossible to “hem in rivals,” while racing on the outside (d) Mistimed or perfectly timed slingshot moves. “Sling-shotting” off of a ground-saving journey in turf sprints literally uses the force to help a runner accelerate. Time the move well and a runner can instantly reach top speed into the stretch. Move too early, and the jockey is left trying to pull back to the center, losing all kinds of velocity.
J.N. Campbell: Favorite track adage ... who said it ...
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: “Stay lazy.” Attributed to me … Not having 6-10 hours to go through a race card in the replay booth, it keeps us in business.
J.N. Campbell: The bet that got away ...
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Two bets come to mind …
I had (2) runners in a race at Gulfstream Park in a Rainbow Pick 6. One was 6-5 and the other was 13-1. The favorite slammed my longshot out of the race, costing him about 6+ lengths. The longshot flew home and finished 2nd, beaten just a neck. There was an inquiry and no disqualification. The “would have been” … $3,800,000 quickly became the worst $53,000 score in history.
The date was July 22, 2015. It was Race 5 at Del Mar … I was the only live ticket in the Pick 5 to What a View, and the “Will-Pay” was $401,000. I thought the 401K was symbolic that I'd hit, and sock it away for my retirement, but a premature kick for home resulted in a tired horse … coughing up a 4-length lead in the final furlong. It was hard to watch and listen to—I can still hear Trevor Denman yelling, "This big longshot, What a View has kicked away!" He would go on to be a G1 winner, but in a MSW race where he was comfortably 5-lengths best, I lost.
J.N. Campbell: Horseplayers cold sweat at 2am for sure … Ok, simple one, favorite horse, all-time ...
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Flanders
J.N. Campbell: Slick … Track(s) you have never been to ... but want to go ...
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Hong Kong, Japan, Royal Ascot
J.N. Campbell: That’s a great trio. Really appreciated your time, and enjoyed the chat immensely. Wishing you the best with your team of gumshoes, and all that’s ahead for the site!
Ryan Flanders/Benny Southstreet: Thanks for having me!