I am trying to get through a few books late at night the past several weeks. I have a whole pile of them on my shelf that I have not read; some for work, some for racing.
I did a run-through with a friend of the Gamblers Book Shop website a few weeks ago. I make that shop a stop on my Vegas trips every time I go. When I go to the website I can't help myself. So about $500 later, the books piled up.
Then this past week I popped into the office where we have a library of business books. More often than not, the business books have a great deal to do with betting, or risk, so they tend to help with handicapping as well. Fortunately I can read quickly, so a few were finished. A couple of handicapping books had some decent stuff on betting the human element - trainers and drivers; and yourself, while one of the business books had a neat section on psychology.
I am a person who never looks at drivers when handicapping. Mark Cramer in his excellent series of handicapping books speaks frankly about jockeys in a context of handicapping and making money. To him, they hold little weight, other than for trainer intent. In turf racing, jockeys can play a role I think. Looking at some numbers and listening to people who model this data there appears to be a correlation in turf. Conversely, Jerry Bailey believes it is overblown and says so. Since he is regarded by many as the best turf jock ever, I wonder why we should not listen to him?
Which brings us to drivers. One early handicapping lesson I had was in charting and tracking drivers. It was a long time ago. Do you know what I discovered? I discovered it was a waste of time, and a waste of money. Recently I revisited it a little bit (I like numbers) and went through the Meadowlands driver colony to see if I could find some angles.
What I did was look at favorites, and their win percentage versus mean with different drivers. Since favorites win at around a 37 or 38% clip, I cross referenced. I thought I would see a difference (i.e. a variance) between the best, say Brain Sears, and someone not considered the best, say a Yannick Gingras or Cat Manzi.
Here is a snapshot.
With a minimum of 400 drives with chalk:
Brian Sears: Win Percentage 38%
Ron Pierce: Win Percentage 38%
Yannick Gingras: Win Percentage 37%
Cat Manzi: Win Percentage 39%
Andy Miller, Dave Miller, John Campbell, 37 or 35 or 36.
You get the picture.
So, why do fans bet drivers so much, if there is little favorite correlation and many impact studies done show no huge correlations? Why do trainers want Brian over Ron, or John over Yannick? Well it brings me to the next part of betting: Betting with oneself.
We are interesting creatures. In doing a bit of reading regarding human behaviour in marketing, I came across a couple of things. One, if we are not confident in our abilities we tend to look for comfort. We want to study with someone smart. We want to go handicapping with someone who is better than us. We want to be on a golf team with the best player. I think it is the same with drivers. We want to feel comfortable, so why wouldn't we bet Ron Pierce? Also, if our handicapping is not good, and we can not judge horseflesh on merit, we go with the driver with the highest win percentage. It is a short cut for us to not do work and become a better player.
Two, I came across another concept. Generally: It is in our make-up, and our brain has simply been created this way. Skipping some of the weird animal kingdom examples, what we tend to do as humans is always look at people and their traits, but rarely look at the context. What that means is when an event happens, we as humans want to attribute that event to the person and his/her traits, not to the context of the event.
A quick example from a study done: A basketball shooter is shooting foul shots in a dark gym, another one is shooting in a lighted gym. People were asked to judge what was relevant and who was the better player. Everyone said the player in the lighted gym was the better player. Why? Because he made more shots. The correct answer of course is that we do not know who is the better player, because the context is not fair.
I think it is a lot like that with drivers. When Brian Sears wins four we often hear "we should bet Sears, he is putting on a clinic." In reality the context is that he had the best horse, he should have won some races, and in the long run, he will win around 38 of 100 times with favorites, like the stats show he and Cat Manzi or Yannick Gingras does. We want to attribute the win to Brian Sears, not to the context of the race - his horse, the contender who broke in front of him which gave him a second over trip - whatever. It's simply the way we are built as humans.
That's my salvo to perhaps explain two things: One, how our mind works and two, I read too many books and always seem to relate them to betting.
As a primer, perhaps you might want to try this: Run a dark marker through driver names the next time you handicap, and simply try to handicap the horse and pace scenario instead of the human element sitting in the sulky. I think it will make you a better handicapper.
But as always, it's just my opinion. Just like the rest of the blog. If I was right all the time, I would buy a racetrack, make handles $500 million a day and I would be rich.
That reminds me. My cell phone bill is overdue.
Note: Woodbine 2010 for harness was an interesting post in terms of comment. Woodbine 2010 - The Runners is on Cangamble's blog now. We'll throw up a post later on that. He has some interesting things to say and it is worth reading!