Track Phantom enjoys the data crunching
July 05, 2016 3:01 AM
by Dave Dye
The name of the website alone – TrackPhantom.com – suggests a desire for anonymity. To this point, it’s worked out that way most of the time for Dave Valento.
Valento insists “99 percent” of the people who follow his horse racing and baseball analysis “couldn’t pick me out of a crowd.” That could be on the verge of changing as his data-crunching systems become more widely used by handicappers.
Valento is not only featured in a chapter in Steve Davidowitz’s latest horse-racing book, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days,” but printouts of Valento’s horse and baseball sheets recently became available on a daily basis at CG Technology sportsbooks.
What started out a few years ago as simply a labor-of-love hobby is getting more serious.
“It’s more of a business than I thought it was going to be, but not to the point where I can quit my day job,” Valento said.
It was 30 years ago, at the age of 17, when Valento first started to get hooked on handicapping horse races back in Minnesota.
His girlfriend’s uncle sold pick sheets at Canterbury Downs, now called Canterbury Park. The uncle gave him some old copies and Valento studied them. A week later, he bought his first Daily Racing Form, picked the 5-to-1 winner of the first race and hasn’t looked back.
“I’ve tried to figure out what hooks some people to it and others couldn’t care less,” he said. “For some, there’s just too much information. For me, it’s kind of a therapeutic thing. I enjoy that data crunching.”
Valento attended the University of Minnesota and received a bachelor’s degree in criminology and sociology. During his breaks from college, he would return home to Maplewood, Minn., and frequently make the 30-minute drive to Canterbury with his late father, Garry.
His dad’s friends had formed a group and pooled their money to try to hit some Pick-6 bets. They relied on Dave’s newfound expertise to help make their selections.
“That’s where I got the bug to provide some sort of analysis because I was doing it at a pretty young age, 18, 19, 20 years old,” Valento said.
Valento started to pursue a career in criminology, but he soon realized his heart was really into analyzing computer data of some form.
He moved to Austin, Texas, where he still lives, and worked as a program manager for Dell for seven years. He recently teamed up with two partners to start their own IT (Information Technology) services company.
That’s the day job, but it’s the horse racing and baseball that remain his true love.
Valento started to get a following when he provided analysis on Canterbury’s website. It grew from there when he also became a contributing handicapper at two popular California tracks, Del Mar and Santa Anita.
His info isn’t meant for the beginner as much as it is for veteran handicappers looking for a little extra information that’s not as easily found. Valento does the digging for them.
“I do a lot of research on trainer tendencies and pedigree,” he said.
While his emphasis remains on Del Mar, Santa Anita and Canterbury (he’s still loyal to the home track), Valento also mixes in major and key stakes races from other venues for the weekend reports.
A popular aspect of the analysis is his “value” pick in which he singles out a horse that has longer odds that he thinks has a chance to finish in the money.
Meanwhile, the baseball report, which is called “Strike Zone” and available on the GamingToday website (GamingToday.com), doesn’t make any predictions but rather provides a power rating for each of that day’s starting pitchers.
Valento came up with the formula to help a friend who was involved in daily fantasy leagues. It combines advanced pitching metrics with what he calls “unique variables,” including ballpark configuration, air density, wind strength, wind direction and umpire trends.
“What it does is spit out a score on how likely the starting pitcher is to pitch well or pitch poorly in that game,” Valento said. “I spent two years researching the data, playing with the numbers, playing with the formula.”
He didn’t originally intend to make the baseball info public, but he told a few people about it and – like his horse racing analysis – got a lot of positive feedback from experienced handicappers.
Phantom might not be the best way to describe him, the website and his analysis anymore.