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Track Tracts

Natural Selections
by Gordon Pine

In nature, as Charles Darwin taught us, it�s not always the strong or smart that survive. It�s those that most successfully adapt to their particular situation.

Have you ever wondered why you, as a handicapper, will absolutely kill some meetings, and then not be able to pick a horse capable of pulling a milk wagon in others? This is a common experience for most handicappers. One of the main reasons for it is that different things are important at different meets.

Think of each meet as a separate universe from all others. Each meet is its own little tide pool. Handicapping experts nearly always talk about pace, speed, trainers, pedigree, etc. as if they were universally applicable to all tracks. They�re not. Let me give you some examples.

At Colonial Downs, early pace is important. The horse that figures to be in front at the second call wins 28% more than it should given its odds (has an A/E of 1.28), and generates a 1.09 ROI (9 cents profit for each dollar bet). (These stats are derived from a handicapping program I designed.) It�s also a track favorable to longshots: Over-achievers have an A/E of 1.20 and an ROI of 1.02. Pretty good predictors. But take these same predictors to another meet: at Arlington Park, the top second call horse has a .81 A/E and a .69 ROI. Over-achievers have a .92 A/E and a .79 ROI. So, at Arlington, one predictor earns 40 cents less per dollar and the other earns 23 cents less per dollar than at Colonial.

Another example: Del Mar is widely known as a meet where you had better pay attention to trainers. It seems to be true so far this meet: the top trainer/jockey combo in each race has a 1.25 A/E and a 1.06 ROI. Take this common handicapping predictor elsewhere, like Calder, and you have a .91 A/E and a .77 ROI. Worlds apart. What�s happening?

"When you try to apply a valid handicapping concept to all tracks, it loses its power."

When you try to apply a valid handicapping concept to all tracks, it loses its power. You have to know what is winning at this meet. Focus on the base rate, not the case rate. Some of the best handicappers are specialists at one or two tracks. They know, intuitively or consciously, what wins at their track. If they took those same methods to, say, Arapahoe Park, they might not be successful. But on their home turf, they�re experts.

If you�re handicapping multiple tracks without either the use of a computer program that profiles each meet, or some serious supplemental meet information, you�re working at a big disadvantage. Add that to the parimutuel disadvantage that we all deal with, and it�s pretty much insurmountable. 

So here�s my advice: if you use a good computer program or have access to track-specific information, use it and pay close attention to what�s winning at each meet. If you�re more of a low-tech handicapper, specialize in one track at a time. In nature, the animal that can adapt to its specific environment is the one who survives. In handicapping, it�s the same way. Don�t expect the meet to adapt to you. It�s a cold cruel parimutuel world out there. Take a tip from Charlie "Railbird" Darwin: adapt to the specific situation of each meet if you want to survive and thrive. NC

Copyright �2001 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

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