by Brett Sturman
Approaching the final weeks of winter, it’s time to start assessing who will win the sport’s big 3-year-old races in the upcoming stakes season. Accordingly, the Meadowlands issued its first 2019 Meadowlands Pace winter book, in which the top 10 Pace prospects were detailed in the following Youtube video:
By the term winter book, what’s being described are the wintertime chances, or the chances of horses months in advance to win particular races that don’t occur until spring or summer of the following year. The best example of a winter book in horse racing is that of the Kentucky Derby, where odds are offered on horses as early as fall of 2-year-old season for a race that doesn’t run until May of the next year. This example also points out the obvious difference between thoroughbred and harness winter books, in that harness racing winter books are merely an exercise to track the contenders for fun, with no actual wagering occurring. This should be changed.
Equating the Kentucky Derby to the Meadowlands Pace or even the North America Cup for that matter, there are plenty of ways to bet Derby contenders months in advance at astronomical odds if one wishes to do so. The most common way is through Derby Future Wager pools, offered intermittently in the months leading up to the big race.
The closest thing that harness racing has to winter book odds is the future wager offered for the Hambletonian, though those pools begin much closer to the Hambletonian race when it’s more known who the contenders will be. At that point, much of the value is eliminated that would have been available if the future wagers were offered farther out. There’s also future wagering for the Little Brown Jug, though it’s counterproductive to make a future wager on an event that ultimately is going to be hugely tilted by a post draw.
Back to the concept of a winter book, one of the reasons that Derby future wagering works is because of the number of horses to choose from. There are hundreds of horses in that sport nominated to the Triple Crown events throughout the time winter book odds are offered, as well as a number of other factors that make predicting a Derby champion months out much more difficult than picking the Meadowlands Pace winner. But that doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be any value in offering actual winter book odds for the harness racing’s biggest events.
In the Meadowlands winter book for 2018 issued at this exact time last year, the top three favorites included Lost In Time, Stay Hungry and Closing Statement. The horse that won the race, Courtly Choice, wasn’t even on the last. Nor should he have been, seeing as that he wasn’t even nominated to the race (he supplemented at the time of entry). I’d imagine that Courtly Choice would have offered odds at over 100-1 during the winter time, or if not offered individually, he would have at least comprised the “field” wager.
Courtly Choice may have been a wager impossible to see coming for those other than the horse’s connections, but other Pace winners have been far more predictable. In fact, most Pace winners throughout this decade would fit that bill. A Rocknroll Dance, Captaintreacherous, He’s Watching and many others are a who’s-who of champion 2-year-olds that came back as similar top 3-year-olds to win the Pace. Sticking with Captaintreacherous as an example, he paid an ordinarily formful $3.20 to win the Meadowlands Pace at odds of 3-5. Had real winter book odds been offered on him through a future wager pool, he may have offered odds at 5-1 as the winter book favorite. Now, that number still may not seem like high enough odds considering you’d have to risk an injury or simply not returning to his same form as a 2-year-old, but if your conviction or hunch is strong enough in a horse months out, there’s at least the possibility to get paid out on it to a far higher amount than you would come post time. Plus, it would give those who place wagers a chance to more closely follow and track the development of these horses through the winter months and then when they finally return to the track around spring time.
As last year’s Meadowlands Pace winner showed though, not all winners of the race are guaranteed to come from crop of the best 2-year-olds. The 2015 winner of the race began that season in a N/W 2 at Dover Downs after only racing a single time previously in August of his 2-year-old season. That horse then went onto race throughout the winter at the Meadowlands in February and March series action for younger horses. His name, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is Wiggle It Jiggleit. Throughout the Buddy Gilmour winter series that year was when you could really tell this may be a top-tier horse, and even at that time he may have offered odds of 50-1 in a winter book future wager being completely unproven against all the top freshman stars from 2014.
The Meadowland is in a unique position to now offer such a wager, seeing as it houses its own sportsbook! To accommodate future wagers in the past, there would have to be pari-mutuel pools structured (such as what’s offered for the Hambletonian), but now the FanDuel sportsbook at the Meadowlands could theoretically offer odds on any horse that a customer is interested in. Who will win the Meadowlands Pace could be offered immediately right alongside who will win the World Series.
In the just-for-fun winter book of 2019, the #1 rated horse is last year’s Breeders Crown and Governor’s Cup winner, Captain Crunch. A horse I would be interested in taking a flyer on would be the #9 rated horse, Hurrikane Emperor. As a son of the freakishly fast Hurrikane Kingcole, he was last year’s first horse to go sub 1:50 and like his sire, he may have a 1:47 type of mile inside of him coming up this year. I’d say odds of about 30-1 are fair; now there just needs a way to book it.