The Stats Don't Add Up
Ray Cotolo
February 16, 2014
Standardbred racing seems like a game of mathematics, where the contestants (horsemen) with the highest win rate do the best. While this is partly true, the other side of the math is that they will lose more often than their clip. For example, a trainer who wins 30% of the time is losing the other 70%, making betting off of "hot" trainers a bad reason for a horse to be a contender. The same goes for driver clips, post-position percentages and so on so forth.
My first example comes from one of the most household names in the harness industry, Ron Burke. I don't want to make it seem like I'm slandering his training, because he has evidence to prove his success (mostly with several trainer of the year awards). On January 31, we surprisingly covered the $34,000 Blizzard Stakes final at Woodbine on North American Harness Update, where Burke trained an overwhelming favorite, Sayitall Bb. Below are her lines.
Chances are that Sayitall Bb wasn't the 7/5 favorite only because of her residence is the Burke barn, as she shows several victories in her last four starts. To the non-experienced handicapper, her last mile in the Blizzard preliminary seems like a good race. She parked through a :26.4 first quarter and sat a trip to get up by a nose as the favorite. As for an experienced handicapper, her form would be in question, due to a two-week layoff, as well as if she can win from anywhere other than a pocket. Sure enough, Miss Poppycock, who set the pace in her last outing, defeated Sayitall Bb at odds of 10-1.
Another good example too comes from Burke. This time, our focus shifts south of the border to the Meadowlands. Ron Burke and Yannick Gingras are known as one of the hottest partnerships at the Big M, with people using that as a sole angle to bet their horses. While Gingras is the leading driver and winning at a 26% clip, he accumulated three wins with Burke-trainees. Those three returned $7.40, $3.40 and $9.20, totaling to $20. If you were to bet every horse Gingras and Burke had over the weekend at the Meadowlands, you would be down $16. Plus, the average odds of their horses were 4.2-1 (the median was 3-1). Nothing to take away from Gingras and Burke, but betting solely on the duo seems unprofitable with 70% of their races not being victories.
Finally, we'll take a look at where statistics most certainly mean nothing. Peer over the lines of Twin B Spike Man from January 17 at the Meadowlands.
Highlighted on the program are the driver, Mike Simons, and his last trip, a 24-1 upset victory with Simons in the bike. In his last start, he was dismissed off of his fourth place finish, even though he can be excused due to parking in the mile. He drew better next out and won with ease to return $50. That was also Simons second win of the meet (he went into that race with a 7% clip). Next time out, now winning at an 8% clip, Simons guided Twin B Spike Man to a 3-1 upset, returning $65.80 to win (note Twin B Spike Man only stepped up from a B-2 to a B-2/B-1 Handicap). Regardless of his small win percentage, he still won with a horse that was sharp.
Overall, the stats don't add up, more profit wise than actual math wise (because stats are math, using addition and such). No matter how "hot" a driver or a trainer is at a point in time, they will still lose almost two times more than they win, as well as those who have never won will win eventually. In those instances, the objective to catch would be to seek an improving horse, which we'll save for another day.
Statistics are what you make of them, literally.
Ray Cotolo, long time follower of the harness racing industry, is a presenter on North American Harness Update.
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