Thoroughbred Handicapping Tools


"Learning, earning and loving the track."


NetCapper Store
New Stuff

The Grandstand
Capper Demo
Spot Play Demo
New Features
Track Tracts
TTs Archive
Contact Info
More Books
Capper Email























Track Tracts

Different Tools for Different Jobs: 
Betting Against Odds-On Favorites

by Gordon Pine

It must be ego at work, but I think almost everyone who has set out to find a way to "beat the races" has hampered themselves right from the start. The reason? Trying to beat the races rather than some subset of the races, like dirt sprints, maiden claimers, or off-track routes at Ferndale. It�s important to be a specialist in this game because nothing works in all situations. You have to find the right tool for the job. We�d all like to find the "hidden Z component third race back followed by drop in class and jockey switch" factor which would make us rich in any situation. But every situation is different. It�s important to define your "situations," find the really relevant categories, and then use the predictors that work in those categories.

As an aside, I once did a correlation matrix which compared how different predictors worked in different situations. The idea was to find out which categories really influenced the predictors. Of the categories I looked at, track condition accounted for the biggest variation. It makes a very big difference in handicapping terms whether today�s track is fast, sloppy, frozen, firm, good, etc. You better be looking at different things under different track conditions or you�ll be leaving a lot of torn-up tickets on the grandstand floor.

Mark Cramer has extended this concept of adapting your handicapping to each specific situation with his invention of a number of "Race Categories" which are based on the type of handicapping situation the race comprises, rather than objective criteria about the race like class, distance or track condition. For instance, in his book Value Handicapping, he talks about The Lesser-of-Evils category, The Contentious Race, The One-Factor Race, etc. I haven�t tested the usefulness of Cramer�s categories versus objective ones, but I suspect his categories are probably more powerful.

Another example of the importance of the situation is betting a race with an odds-on (even money or less) favorite in it. What do you think? In general, is it a good idea to bet odds-on favorites, bet against them, or pass the race? I think most handicappers would say it depends on the favorite. That�s true, but I want to look at the situation of betting a race with an odds-on favorite regardless of the favorite�s merits. Sport Stat did a query years ago of horses which had one of the top four last race Beyer ratings in today�s race and faced an odds-on favorite today. In sprints, these horses won 9.7% of the time and had an ROI of .74 (a loss of 26 cents per dollar wagered). Doesn�t seem too wise to bet against heavy favorites, does it? Now look at a similar query of top four last race Beyer horses facing an odds-on favorite in a dirt route: these horses won 16.3% of the time, with an A/E Ratio of 1.32 and an ROI of 1.10. Maybe betting against these favorites isn�t such a bad idea after all. And now, the same query, this time for turf races: these horses won 16.8% of the time, with an A/E Ratio of 1.48 and an ROI of 1.04.

"When broken down to relevant categories, the true predictive influences start to come clear."

Hmm. If you had looked at all races, you would have seen this result: a 12.4% win rate and a .88 ROI. Better than the random ROI, but not exciting. When broken down to relevant categories (dirt sprint, dirt route, and turf races), the true predictive influences start to come clear. In routes and turf races, heavy favorites are much easier to beat � from an ROI standpoint, that is, which is the only standpoint that matters. Legitimate contenders running against odds-on favorites in routes or turf races comprise one of the many "soft spots" which racing offers knowledgeable handicappers. Keep it in mind when the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont roll around. NC

Copyright �2001 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

Back to Top