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Breeders Crown finals define my appreciation of uncertainty

October 28, 2020

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by Frank Cotolo

“So many races, so little time” ~ any anonymous bettor

On Oct. 10, 1986, I was where I usually spent Friday nights — at Los Alamitos Raceway in Cerritos, CA. What was different from the usual Friday night harness racing visit to Los Al was that evening’s feature race — the $301,350 Breeders Crown Open Pace.

I was a writer living and working in Hollywood. My penchant for harness racing came west with me when I moved from Brooklyn, NY to Los Angeles in 1978. Even before I had an L.A. address, I found the itinerant West Coast harness community and became a regular at Hollywood Park, Los Al, and later at Fairplex Park.

That October night at Los Al, though, was my first as a harness racing journalist. Though I had written articles on horse racing for various North American thoroughbred and harness magazines, that night I was on my first assignment covering a race, no less a Breeders Crown race, no less for “Harness Horse” magazine. That fact is important to the crux of this column because I was 99 per cent punter and one per cent standardbred race reporter — and I was still learning how to deal with the 99 per cent of it all. I found help.

The betting company I kept in California reshaped and universally popularized how to “play the horses” forever, adding concepts and lingo to the modern horse-player’s lexicon.

Looking back at the 1986 Breeders Crown final at Los Al as I prepare to report on 2020 Breeders Crown finals from Hoosier, I realize the vast difference in the chores of reporting and handicapping. Innovative and astute sources blended with my experiences over the decades to make me passive, not aggressive — and that has become my strongest quality. For this game should humble anyone who plays it (though most refuse to face the chagrin it generates), so as to decry the failure to appreciate uncertainty.

Though I became a decent harness journalist, I thrive as a bettor more than as a reporter. Reporting races, after all, requires delivering facts, truth and certainty; without editorial. A bettor delivers opinion only, which is an enormous difference. It requires one have a deep respect for accepting uncertainty.

“So, who do you like?” ~ any anonymous bettor.

There are few better races than the Breeders Crown elims and finals for those bettors accepting and respecting uncertainty, because to do so provokes wise decisions — like passing races when the public appears to be dead-on correct and playing when it might be very wrong — might be, not will be — because the public statistically fails winning races at least 67 per cent of the time (winning about 33 per cent). That 67 per cent is a product of a public flaw — its failure to appreciate uncertainty. However, uncertainty can prove profitable, obviously, because it supports a minority.

I am certain my uncertainty shall continue to guide me to making some smart wagers in the Breeders Crown finals because I will make my decisions to wager or not to wager based upon my opinion of an “overlay,” that is, a horse (that in my opinion) going off at odds higher than its chances.

I rate the chances.

Rating is the product of my opinions. My opinions are based upon some fundamental elements that all handicappers know, except I take into consideration facets of probability, a.k.a, luck, likelihood, risk and propensity, which covers all we do not know, such as the generic chaos of any race, late-season improvers, lightly raced types with questionable class. These are out-of-our-control elements that the majority considers negative. For me, they are positive possibilities; they prove to work for or against any horse we bet and all of the horses in the races with the horses we bet. There is no way to know the affects these quirks will hold at any time or when they will occur and at what capacity they will perform, but they must be appreciated and incorporated into my opinions, because they will matter in my success.

This is, for example, why I know from watching the eliminations, that although I may agree with the public that Lady Chaos has the best chance of winning the frosh-filly trot, the betting public will bet her so strongly that another horse with not so good a chance will get longer odds than its chances. There is, then, only one choice for my win bet — the other horse. In this case, Splash Blue Chip could get my win bet and he is my second choice. By that simple rule, I choose to wager or not at the time of the betting. Here are my possible targets in the order of their program number (races missing are those I know I will pass):

Splash Blue Chip; On A Streak; Paulas Bet Hanover; JK Going West; When Dovescry; Caviart Eva; Play Trix On Me; Dorsoduro Hanover.

I am sure few to none agree with me.

In fact, I am counting on it.

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