Darryl Kaplan wrote a good article on the Trot backpage last month on post positions. We all know harness racing has changed; it is a speed game. If a horse can make the front on a half mile track, back things down a little bit, he/she is a very good bet. It is not uncommon to see a horse get the outside post one week and be 30-1, then draw the rail and be 6-5. There is too much of a breadth in odds on half mile tracks.
Kaplan offers some statistics:
Over the first 11 months of 2009, there were over 10,000 races held in Canada on half-mile tracks. The win percentage of the rail horse was 19.5%. The outside post averaged 5.3%. If you add in the 7,000 races from the five-eighths mile configuration, the rail post won 18.1% of the time while the outside only scored in 5.0% of races. In Ontario, the gap was even greater, at 20.0% for the inside and 4.2% from the exterior post. That means that in the jurisdiction with the most purse money and wagering on the line, one in five won from the ‘pole’ and 1 in 24 from the outside.
At a 1 in 5 rate from the pole, that means that as a bettor (with the large takeout on half mile tracks) would need to average around 9-2 odds on any rail horse we bet to make money. The impact values are flat-out huge, and it makes probably three-quarters of all half mile track races unhandicappable to serious players.
Overall, betting post positions is an interesting handicapping method. Here are the stats for many tracks we all play.
Flammy: 1 in 5 races won from the rail, but you lose 18%
London: 21% win from the rail, and you lose 21%
Freehold: Almost one in four win from the rail, but you lose close to 20%
On larger tracks, where wire to wire winners are not as prevalent (around 1 in 3), there is value, and I think this is why large tracks are prone to handle much more betting dollars. The middle of the gate is a pretty tough nut to crack, and this is where we can make some money.
Woodbine: Posts four and five win a third of the races, and you only lose 8%. Subsetting those posts can be profitable.
Mohawk: Pretty much ditto. But post four is profitable and dart throwing post five will break you even. With free HPI points you can get a toaster.
Meadowlands: Post five and six win about 3 in 10, and are not too bad ROI-wise.
I think it illustrates that half mile tracks tended to live by being the only game in town. It is very difficult to make money if you are betting the rail, and they win most of the races. There is simply no way to bet horses in a subset of 25% losses, with 25% winners - you truly have to pick your spots, or expect to go on a long losing streak. Half mile tracks either have to lower takeout drastically in the win pool (betfair would be great for half milers as there would be a lot of short shots that would be traded), or find a new way of doing business.
Conversely, larger tracks rule the roost. There are spots that show some promise for cappers. I don't think it is surprising that most of the handle lies at those venues.