I read and watch quite a few of the harness handicappers from racetracks and in publications. It got me thinking, who are the sharpest out there?
This is a question that we have to take with a grain of salt a little bit. Andy Serling, who handicaps Belmont for the thoroughbreds, does not worry about hit rate, he worries about ROI. You will hear that as the crux of his analysis every day. The phrase "the six is 4-5 and you have to be nuts to bet this horse", or something like that is said by him fairly often. Of course, the 4-5 shot is most likely to win the race - he knows that and we all do - but he is constantly talking value for your wagers.
Conversely, I have seen written by quite a few public handicappers that they have to pick lower shots (ofttimes at the direction of track management) because it is more important for them to show gross winners, instead of money making, because the people who use public handicappers find it more important to cash tickets at a day at the track. They make a very good point and their logic is not flawed. A newbie who comes to the track would love to cash four or five winners in a day, even if it means betting place or show on chalk. Cashing tickets is fun. An example of this is the WEG in-house guys. They will go on short shots, rather than playing bombers with a shot because of this phenomenon.
Public handicapping is a thankless job. If you are picking football games you can hit half your picks and survive. If you are picking horse races you could publicly pick wrong horses 85% of the time and you will get called names reserved for a driver who gets locked in behind a 100-1 shot. Despite the fact that with a 15% hit rate, you could be making money for your followers, which is rare and should be trumpeted. Anyway, let's have a look at some of the most maligned people in our business, the public handicapper.
My list of the best out there:
Bob Pandolfo: Pandy displays his knowledge of two things very well - harness racing, and gambling. He plays both thoroughbreds and standardbreds and grinds away at this game, and has for years. He also tends to look for hidden positives, which is the only thing we can look for if we want to beat the races. If a horse he likes that won last week with Mike Forte in the bike, has Brian Sears on him this week, has a better post, and is picked all over, Bob will tell you to avoid this horse like the plague and look elsewhere. Another thing Bob seems to like is a speed try gone wrong. A horse who gets cooked, yet does not fold his tent is overlooked by bettors at times. Bob is all over those.
Dave Brower: Dave's descriptions on the Big M site are very good. He constantly will give out trip notes and often talks about that we should "watch the overbet on this horse", should the horse be an obvious one. He speaks about not picking winners, but getting value for your wagers.
Sam McKee: Sam is another who likes to step outside the mainstream. He will pick shippers, he will talk about trainers and will dig into the race a little bit. Good announcer, and a good face for racing.
A couple of others who offer out something good to players:
Mike Hamilton: Mike keeps track of a lot of statistics. For example, he kept track of detention barn stats, which he would inject into his picks. His database work that he publicizes will include post position statistics, trip stats and more. These tidbits to some are overkill, but to players who do not have access to harness statistics, these are very valuable at times.
Shannon (I don't want to spell her last name wrong, so I won't) from Chester: Relatively new on the scene she provides some good descriptions of the horses, and sometimes a pace set up. I think she has done a great job from what I have seen.
As said, these folks are easy to be critical of. If we go on chat boards you will see complaints about all of them. "They give out chalk", "they are useless", "they don't help" and more. However, they are not there to be everything to everyone, and some have different styles based solely on the track's vision of their job. If you look at them dispassionately I think the above people do quite well in the job that they are tasked with.
Does anyone like any others? Does anyone watch Yonkers or Northfield, or any other track that I do not? How do their handicapping crew stack up?