Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Handicapping: Driver Betting

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!


Anonymous said...

One critique that I am not sure you took into consideration. Alot of times a favorite is a favorite because Sears is driving and thus he's aboard horses that are favorites when they are really 3 or 4th best. When a driver like Dube is on a favorite..... they are on the best horse in the race.

Pull the Pocket said...

Hi A,

I agree that it is not standardized. There are very few ways to standardize driver and jock data. One way that is fairly accurate and the best we have is to look at odds levels and another is by speed rating.

I take issue in your statement "he is the fave when he is actually third or fourth best". I do not think that happens. Every study shows that the betting market is efficient. If a weak jock is on a horse, or a weak driver, but the horse is the best, he almost without fail will be favored.

If you run a dataset you tend to find this is the case.

1st choice wins at 38%, second choice at 20%, 3rd choice at 12%. Now place any top driver on 1st choice in betting, second, third, fourth and so on. You will find that no matter who the driver is on whatever choice, the winning percentage of those horses will be almost static and they will gravitate towards that mean.

I did it for thoroughbreds (remember standardbreds have no data software out there unfortunately) and I found that a 5% jockey riding the third choice won at 12% and a 25% jock riding a third choice won at a similar, statistically insignificant rate.

Poor drivers, or poor jocks who are never going to make it because they make too many mistakes are different. But they tend to be statistically insignificant because they do not have long careers - you dont find them making a difference in the dataset. They are out of the game as early as they start. They cant cut mustard and dont get enough mounts, or drives.

Thanks for the reply.

Anonymous said...

I think the top 8 jockeys and maybe the top 5 drivers in harness are interchangeable.
They all have different strengths and weaknesses, especially in the Tbred side.
Winning percentage is definitely not the correct way to gage who is the best. Speed ratings would be the best way, followed by odds.

I did the thoroughbred version of Woodbine 2010, btw.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, black out the drivers. My luck Ken Iulo puts himself up on all his homebreds and there goes a couple hundy done the tubers.
I tend to agree with the other comment, Sears tends to make a lot of horses that may not be the best horse in the race become the favourite. While they are just about the same when it comes to driving the favourites, wouldn't Sears have way more starts at driving the chalk as opposed to the Catman, or Yannick?
You are right though, people do bet like that.
I can remember the Walter Case days at Northfield, every horse he drove was chalk. He could have a 3claimer in the open and he would get if all the charted lines were in the dark and they just focused on the driver.
Trainers are just far too important at this stage of the "game"...
Some trainers can make any driver with a licence become overnight success stories.

Pull the Pocket said...

Hi A,

Ken Iulo!

The first Ken Iulo reference at the blog so far. :)

My best score of 2007 at the M was actually on driver William Mann. Lone speed, a capable driver (certainly no Ron Pierce, he was a horse shipper, not a driver) and a decent trainer and horse. He did what any guy would do - leave and try to rate. No one came at him and he jogged. I think he paid $40. I thought he was a standout.

But you are correct - the trainer and the horse drew me, the price was just a nice bonus.

In another case in the t-breds I looked at a capable trainer who would use a low percentage jock once in awhile at PHA Park. Lo and behold, this lowly jock would get some wins with this move - the horse was ready. I made a couple of solid plays on that move - once again solely from the trainer. He paid $12 a couple times when with a top jock he might have paid $7.

Each race is a new puzzle I find. I try to focus on each as an independent event and figure out that puzzle, and maximizing value.

It's one tough game. We tend to have to look far below the surface swimming with all the sharks out there. One way I find is good is the above. When they dont have a top top driver or jock, sometimes there is money to be made, imo.

Thanks for the comment!!!

Anonymous said...

off topic.....the picture you have....old time racing....thats david smith on the inside....what horses are in that pic

did you cash a ticket on that race

great blog

Pull the Pocket said...

Thank you sir!

That is a picture from the 1980's of I think it was a JrFFA race. The winner was Shaw Lobell, a Most Happy Fella horse who later stood stud for a small farm in Australia.

The second place horse is Wilco Time for Dave Wall, who I think won the Molson (then Labatt's) pace at Western Fair in around 1984. Or perhaps it was that invite in Sudbury. Regardless, nice horse.

The horse in third I think was CR Snapshot. He was a pretty solid 80-100 claimer around that time.

If I ever get off my butt I will pop up some other old pictures. I have a few, but they need to be scanned in.

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