Here is an addendum to my two-part series in Hoof Beats on pari-mutuel mathematics. This comes as another piece of evidence why the figures discussed are so valuable and reliable.
This is simple testimony but in itself seriously relative, as well as it comes from an impeccable source. No, not my usually protected source Mr. Delaney, but from a person who played harness and Thoroughbred racing professionally and successfully for many years.
Barry Meadow has written many times about handicapping in the pure sense, that is, making odds lines and how to come to the conclusions they bear. He is never one to take lightly the short cuts promoted by handicappers and today, though he is retired, he is a skeptic for most of the elements we use to evaluate horses.
He wrote, “Handicapping is a game that is rife with imperfect information…Much of what we do every (race) is guesswork.”
Barry is correct. Even though some harness handicappers feel more secure about consistency in performance by the Standardbred’s very nature, the credibility gap for knowing things about the horses a player handicaps is, at best, questionable.
None of this has to do with any measure of chicanery; indeed, the common conclusions we all come to when handicapping are of our own making more than they are solid truths. Because of that, the math of the game shines by comparison. Let’s look at some of the areas Barry finds “rife with imperfect information.”
Trainer switches: A horse changes from a mediocre trainer to a top one and we expect the horse to get better. What evidence confirms this? How much can a horse improve? Why do horses change to mediocre trainers and sometimes win?
Layoffs: We used to hate horses returning from layoffs, even when they showed great qualifiers. Just as that was unproven evidence of failure, so is a horse that returns with a great qualifier. Why do we know he is in shape? We don’t know, especially if we did not witness the qualifier to assess his foes, his time, et al.
Shippers: We like horses that arrive at a track to race after successes at other tracks. This is good but why do we toss out horses that were failures elsewhere? And why do we feel so sure if we do like a shipper that it will do better at the new track? We have no way to predict going from a smaller to a larger track or vice-versa will improve his performance.
Driver changes, track conditions, fast quarters, slow quarters, class drops and class hikes are all areas of handicapping that offer a great lack of certainty. When compared to the facts that show 1-2 horses beat 2-1 horses more often than not, we are, as Barry wrote, guessing. Even Barry knows that “You don’t want to guess at 7-5 but guessing at 26-1 isn’t such a bad thing.”
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