A poster in the comment section of the track bias post, posed a good question for us:
Thinking of this I would like to see a post on equipment changes and the effectiveness in predicting winners.
We see and hear about equipment changes all the time. “The horse was running out last time, so he changed the equipment and he should be better”. “The horse was not on the bit, so he went to blinkers”.
These are generally seen as positive developments by handicappers. They are considered many times to be green light bets. I believe that this is another in a long list of conventional thinking in handicapping that (in the big picture) is completely wrong.
First, the equipment change is made because the horse has a problem. Second, it is known by the general public because changes are announced. Third, half or perhaps even three quarters of the time, the switch does not fix the problem, because the problem was not the equipment in the first place.
In the end, if we choose to bet an equipment change we are betting:
1) A horse with a problem
2) A problem which might not be fixed
3) A potential fix that everyone else knows about
Does that sound like something we want to bet? Not me.
Database software for thoroughbreds is a neat thing. You can pretty much map out any contingency when handicapping, because you have cold, hard stats to back up your claims. For example, Jeff Platt of Jcapper has an article up on equipment changes in thoroughbreds. He looked at several years of data on blinkers. I don’t know how many times I have heard at the track “he is putting blinkers on, so he is a good bet”. Often times this occurs after a victory with the change as some sort of validation. Running the risk of pushing facts in the way of a good argument, here is the data:
190,676 horses raced with no equipment change. The win percentage of those horses, in over 23,000 races was 12.4%. Return on investment was 0.77.
During the same period, 6,875 equipment changes to Blinkers On occurred. 709 horses won. The win percentage was 10.3%, or around 20% lower than no changes, and the ROI was 0.71.
When the trainers changed back and the equipment change was blinkers off, the win percentage was back, this time to around 12.6%. ROI was higher. I guess the public does not think much about blinkers off.
I spent some time jotting down equipment changes in harness. I found pretty much similar, although my sample was small. After doing it, I came to the above conclusions and began the thought process of “why bet horses who need equipment changes; the game is hard enough as it is.”
When I see an equipment change I do use it for one thing. I like to see what the drivers intent might be. If you have a horse from the 9 post that has gone to blinkers, you can add the horse to the pace mix, as the driver might gun. I won’t bet the horse, but I may bet a closer, or look for my inside horse not to get an easy lead.
I think betting equipment changes is followed by the general public for the same reason driver changes are bet by the general public. It is human nature to look for a mystical, easy, or perceived positive way to bet a horse. It is also the unknown: “Boy this horse could be two seconds faster today, and I want to be a part of it”. We like to forget they are animals, pre-destined by genetics and form to run to a prescribed ability. We love to add a human element to make them go faster.
I hope I have not left the impression that equipment changes are useless as predictors. Of course horses can improve with them, and they do every day. But as a whole I do not believe they are worth my money. If everyone else is following them, I want no part of it.
There is an old story that comes to mind that I like to remember when thinking about potential positives in racing that the crowd is privy to. In 1929 Joe Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s father and Wall Street financeer) was checking into a New York hotel. During this time the stock market was booming and everyone seemed to think it would go up forever - after all it was the roaring 20’s. It turns out that while heading up to his room, the bell boy, while towing his bags, gave him a stock tip. Rumour has it that Joe sold out most of his holdings the next day, which was just before the stock market crashed. He believed that if the general public was onto something, it was time to sell. I am betting Joseph Kennedy would not have been a fan of betting equipment changes.