Handicapping 101: Drivers, Trainers
Ray Cotolo
September 7, 2014
Being the dominant species of the planet Earth, we as humans have a ton of power. We have domesticated once hostile creatures to become our trusty companions who rely on us for survival. We control the environment with such industries as lumbering, waste management and anything involved with non-renewable resources. Overall, we have a strong manipulation in the future.
This belief is part to why many people believe that certain drivers are better than others. In certain cases, this is true, but when it comes to handicapping, it is not a detail to strongly observe. Think of it this way: Every driver is out to do the same thing: win. If this is the case, then they will do everything in their power to do so.
Trainers are slightly trickier. Towards the beginning of Ray on Racing, I did a column on statistics and how they are not a strong edge when it comes to handicapping. In a whole, trainers are an edge, yet they are not. Big trainers, such as changes to Ake Svanstedt, Ron Burke or Jimmy Takter, are not gambling edges, since they are widely known. Because of this, I don't utilize it strongly in my handicapping.
We'll take a look at a few tracks' top driver and analyze their performances. Below are the stats.
Northfield Park
Week of August 17
Ronnie Wrenn Jr. - 55 Starts - 15 Wins - 6 Seconds - 14 Thirds - 24 Favs - ROI: -18%
The Meadows
Week of August 17
Dave Palone - 51 Starts - 21 Wins - 4 Seconds - 10 Thirds - 22 Favs - ROI: +5.4%
Yonkers Raceway
Week of August 25
Brian Sears - 40 Starts - 8 Wins - 8 Seconds - 7 Thirds - 21 Favs - ROI: -41.5%
The numbers above clearly prove the futility of betting drivers, but we can delve deeper. For Ronnie Wrenn Jr., 52.5% of his drives were aboard favorites and he won with favorites 28.6% of the time. Overall, 75% of his wins were because of favorites. As for his ROI, even with an outlying payoff of $21.60, he did not prove profitable.
Dave Palone's numbers can be misinterpreted, due to the positive ROI. Yet, that can be blamed on a day where he won eight races on one card. Still, Dave Palone had a favorite win percentage of 83.3%, with 43.1% of his drives being on favorites. Overall, 71.4% of his wins were on favorites.
Last of all, there's Brian Sears (and I'm glad that The Manager doesn't have internet). Out of 40 drives this week, 52.5% of them were on favorites. He won with favorites 28.6% of the time and 75% of his wins were because of favorites.
This edition is in no way saying there is a driver who can produce a positive payoff. Hell, there probably are drivers that can do that. Yet, the purpose of this update is to clear the misconception of drivers with "magic hands". Judging by the percentage of each drivers wins that were compiled of favorites, and that doesn't include second or third choices, doesn't there seem to be something at fault here?
The coincidence that these drivers are accumulating wins, and a majority of them are with favorites, is in fact no coincidence at all. The stats prove (even though it's debatable), that these drivers only catch the live and/or best horses in the race. If that's the case, and every driver is doing everything in their power to win, then what point is there to use drivers as a handicapping angle?
While this does seem like a socialistic view of human manipulation, it's just using logic. And to be simpler: this is horse racing, not man-who-sits-behind-the-horse racing. If anyone chooses to challenge this idea, they are more than welcome to, as I understand that only 50 starts may not give a clear idea on "good" drivers, but it does give insight.
In an earlier column, I discussed the use of statistics in handicapping (can be viewed here). Since a majority of the stats I would have for trainers relates mainly to the big stables, it might be in one's best interest to check that out.
All in all, I don't view drivers as these magical beings who can get the most out of a horse. I'm sure that there are those drivers out there and I just don't know of it. But, in the case of looking for profit from handicapping, it's the last thing on my mind. In fact, because of that, sometimes we end up with the profit due to other gambler's neglect of driver abilities. Plus, when only focusing on the horse's abilities, this game is a whole lot easier, and when everything already seems so complicated, isn't that all we need?
Ray Cotolo, long time follower of the harness racing industry, is a presenter on North American Harness Update.
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