Mutuel Feeling: Up and Downs

Addressing the class factor

We continue with our courageous-wagering series where we left off last issue, breaking down the number of factors the handicapper uses when evaluating a race field. We leveled the “edge” for the driver factor using mathematic proportion, comparing any edge the public bettors have with the handicapper’s edge.

We discovered that when it comes to the value of a driver in any race, the public has zero edge, which is equal to our handicapper’s edge. That allows the courageous-wagering handicapper to label the driver a disputable factor.

Some other factors that are always deemed important will fall under the same scrutiny so that our handicapper’s opinion (as expressed in odds) may arrive at more accurate probabilities for wagering upon horses the public sends at odds estimated to be higher than their chances. So, using the same mathematical logic, let’s address the “class factor.”

A veteran professional pari-mutuel player gave to me the smartest definition of the class of any breed of racehorse decades ago at a Los Alamitos harness racing meet. A strong, reliable source based on his success making a living playing Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Quarter Horses and Arabians, he said, “The class of a racehorse is decided by the level in which the horse races best.”

As direct as is that definition, another brilliant player added, “It is wiser to wager upon a horse on its way up as opposed to a horse on its way down.”

Once again, a common factor must come under scrutiny, since neither of those pearls of wisdom can be gauged by a fixed value.

The public loves class-droppers and usually supports them with fervor. We see them bet heavily on such steeds a lot and often. But “a lot” and “often” don’t qualify as meaningful endorsements; nor are they calculable. Our handicapper needs to be strict whenever a race presents contestants that have a one-dimensional strength, which is how most class-dropping horses can be assessed. In the case of class, even the results of a study with thousands of examples would be suspicious, since reasons for the move could have countless unknown origins.

The best chance for any horses dropping in class come from horses that have competed and lost in major stakes and race next in reasonably lower classes. Although pacers and trotters making such moves win at a rapid clip, they never fool the public, becoming prohibitive favorites that make it tough to bet on or against the crowd. You don’t have to work up a long study of these types; if you check the winning percentage of such situational horses from 2017 alone (horses from the Hambletonian, Breeders Crown and other major stakes, eliminations included) you will get a reliable figure.

Our handicapper, then, should pass on assessing a race solely due to uneven class entries.

Remember that our handicapper will never be satisfied with the cast of every race and does not need a slew of excuses to pass on any number of them because no one event holds in its result the key to ultimate success.

It’s smart to pass every race that poses a reasonable doubt about how to assign odds. I look at it as age-old advice my mother gave to me when I was a youngster using public transportation going to and from school. She said, “Never run to catch a bus; there will always come another.” As you may agree, there come many more races after any single race at raceways than come buses in any jurisdiction.

The need to pass races cannot be accentuated enough.

The slightest doubt about any aspect should provoke a race’s dismissal; too many contenders is one sign that a race should be passed; an anticipated contender that most sources agree will dominate the field involved should be passed; sometimes, even, an intuitive sense of awkwardness about the field is also reason enough to move on. Almost any excuse will do. After “X” number of passes, the handicapper will discover a race that screams with possibilities.

Having reduced the importance of merely two factors that most people spend a muckle of time trying to evaluate in a race (driver in January issue and class in this text), you can see how we are streamlining the handicapping process—and we are not done, because our caliber of austerity is tenacious, as it should be for any process that requires courage.

As our handicapper proceeds to defy the customary importance of factors that do not hold anything more than face values, he or she automatically attains courage as the opposition—all the other handicappers/bettors—is weighed down with questions that lead to more questions that all have contentious answers.

We continue with more on simplifying the handicapper’s chores and the benefits of bare-knuckle battles against the sport’s “old school” of picking winners next month.

by Frank Cotolo

To see more from the February 2018 issue of Hoof Beats, click here.

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