by Frank Cotolo
Handicapping pari-mutuel racing means relying upon your expression of what is probable — for our purposes, in a horse race. You can trace the word “probable” to the Latin root of the word “probare,” meaning test or prove. One way we express probability is through numerical values. That’s right, rag tags; I’m talking “odds.”
Enter the science of handicapping — expressing, by using odds (percentages), the chances of competitors’ success in a contest, equalizing their chances of winning. It’s a mathematical appraisal that even a bonehead (title courtesy my dad) like me can master.
In this edition of Bettors Banquet (BB) I will appraise the seminal contest for standardbreds — the Hambletonian, raced on the Meadowlands’ Aug. 8 program. Many classy stakes races that challenge our handicapping orbit before the main event. However, no matter the type of race, we appraise the Hambletonian with the same tools.
Let me get to the appraisal immediately. It contains all I need to express about this race (and any). Peruse the chart below.
Reading the chart is simple. Blah, blah, blah, the posts, horses, drivers, trainers. The odds on the right, however, need explaining. The first set of odds is the Morning Line. The next set of odds is my personal odds line (POL).
A Morning Line (ML) is not for betting. We know this for two reasons. First, the line-maker’s job is to estimate how the betting public will be drawn to horses in the field. The ML never equals 100 percent. In the case below, on the left, the ML equals 128 percent. My POL equals 100 per cent.
$1 million Hambletonian final
1. Ready For Moni (Yannick Gingras, Nancy Takter) 3-1
2. Back Of The Neck (Scott Zeron, Ake Svanstedt) 4-1
3. Hollywood Story (Tim Tetrick, Marcus Melander) 15-1
4. Big Oil (Andy Miller, Julie Miller) 15-1
5. Ramona Hill (Andrew McCarthy, Tony Alagna) 5-2
6. Threefiftytwo (Scott Zeron, Luc Blais) 6-1
7. Capricornus (Tim Tetrick, Marcus Melander) 15-1
8. Rome Pays Off (Mattias Melander, Marcus Melander) 15-1
9. Sister Sledge (Brian Sears, Ron Burke) 12-1
10. Amigo Volo (Dexter Dunn, Nifty Norman) 12-1
By definition, there is nothing more than 100 per cent of anything, so my POL must equal 100 per cent. In essence, the odds on my POL indicate my opinion turned into percentages that reflect how many times each horse could win this race if it were run 100 times. Not an more times. Looking at my POL, then, here is a list of how many times I estimate each horse would win out of 100 times (from most to least):
Ramona Hill (39); Ready For Moni (29); Back Of The Neck (14); Threefiftytwo (5); Rome Pays Off (3); Big Oil (3); Capricornus (2); Sister Sledge (2); Amigo Volo (2); Hollywood Story (1). Add those numbers; they equal 100.
It’s important to understand I am not picking a winner; the chart is handicapping by definition. It is my objective measurement, which may be right or wrong, translated into math (probability); and it accomplishes a few things.
It tells me the price(s) I demand for the only three horses worthy of win wagers. (I never bet a horse I give less than a 14-percent chance [6-1] to win because as I estimate, the margin of error increases — the higher in odds, the lower in chances), therefore it tells me the horses I would never bet.
It reveals the true value of a wager. Value is not always a horse that pays a lot to win; value is a horse that pays to win either on or, hopefully, over what you express it is worth.
It tells me, too, if I will wager on single-race exotics because I must have a valuable win bet to play any exotic.It tells me if I handicap (make a POL) the other races in a multi-race exotic, my ticket will be dead-aimed on the horses I express have the best chances. I have to spitball some numbers on my ticket (because I cannot see the odds of races that are not being bet real time), but I won’t be wasting money buying numerous combinations that are “just-in-case” toss ins.
How much I wager, no matter how I decide to wager at all, is a topic all its own (money management), which BB will cover in the future, but for now, know that I’m certain the wager amounts work in league with my POLs, and the bets guide me financially; so if I win, I cash well, and if I lose, the impact is minimum. Of course if I pass I win nothing, but, more importantly, I lose nothing.
The 2020 Hambletonian program is loaded with high-performance horses, the sport’s current stars, strewn over fields going for six-digit purses. For the bettor, it is an ultimate banquet, with doubles and triples and exactas and “Pick” 3s and 4s and so on. Your opinion in each race is imperative, so knowing how to truly express your opinions in odds is the strongest tool you can use. In fact, in the long run, your success rests in the balance.