Keep It Simple
Ray Cotolo
April 22, 2014
The same old song and dance about innovations in the industry revolving around the handicapping spectrum has been played for numerous decades. From fluctuating distance and surface changes to adding information to the racing program, including the new regulation in place by the USTA forcing tracks to record in hundredths of seconds rather than fifths commencing in 2016. Our culture seeks entertainment in three ways: it makes them feel good, it's mindless and it's quick. If harness racing met these standards, it'd be the lottery. Many people bet it like the lottery to begin with, such as a teacher of mine. I was reading a Meadowlands program during down time in the period and she told me she'd play a daily double of four and two. Why? She's 42.
While I recognize she didn't notice that it's a different breed than our local track, a showcase of thoroughbred events, it proves that all the stats and records on the program mean nothing; she's there just to have a good time. It also brings up the aspect of utilizing the program. If I were to publish an FAQ on harness racing relative to my classmates, atop the inquiries would be "What do these numbers mean?" I tend to explain them as simple as possible, saying that the numbers in the center of the page was the horse's past race/races. They understand that part, but not how to interpret them, which we'll save for another day. If the industry were to add variables into handicapping, including the aforementioned distance and surfaces changes, it would arguably incinerate the standard of racing that has made handicapping simple: the mile distance.
Other pieces of information that some handicappers proclaim should be included for their use are equipment changes and track maintenance. Both of these pieces of information are completely pointless. The only thing they do is perhaps increase your confidence in a horse, but it's a blind confidence. Tracks missing parts that were scraped off due to bad weather will still have favorites and long shots winning as normal, while that horse you thought was a contender because he was going from a blind to open bridal will be the same price as that same horse who went first over the whole mile and gamely held on for third. These extra pieces of information just make it more complex and confusing for a newcomer to understand, plus they aren't dire for a successful handicapping career.
The philosophy of simplicity is a valuable attribute in all realms of the handicapping world. As over thinking in life results in negative effects, the same idea transposes into pari-mutual gambling. Although my method of handicapping might be complex to some, including trying to predict which horse will be in which position, it's simple to me, and when I over think races, I fail to distribute winning horses nearly nine times out of ten. It goes hand-in-hand with first instinct, which tends to be correct more often than second thought.
Simplicity is the opposite of ignorance, yet it brings bliss. Making what we present in the industry simple to understand would either have no effect, due to many newcomers' instinct to bet horses like the lottery, or some effect, advertising it as an easy money maker in a persuasive enough way to gather interest of any average Joe. It all comes down to our presentation of the sport (which I go further in-depth into in Redirecting the Limelight found by clicking here. We can't always advertise the horse, as the only audience we'd attract is horse lovers, which is great and all, but it won't keep the industry alive. Bettors will keep this sport going, and if we advertise it as simple and/or have people that can teach reading the program in a simple way that could prove to great riches, then maybe we'd be able to widen our audience.
Just remember, keep it simple, stupid.
Ray Cotolo, long time follower of the harness racing industry, is a presenter on North American Harness Update.
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