One thing that any newbie bettor does in harness racing is look at the driver. It is the number one obvious positive. The top drivers choose the best horses, and the best horses win races. Whether it's a chicken or egg it doesn't really matter.
However, time and time again betting only this factor leads you into the poorhouse. In pari-mutuel gambling, the last thing you want to do is bet something everyone else is betting.
When you run the numbers, positive impact values tend to occur, without the resulting ROI with driver changes. People keep betting them generally due to confirmation bias (they remember when it works, not when it doesn't which is the importance of keeping statistics). Where does the ROI get better, if anywhere? In my opinion, if you are looking at drivers through an intent prism.
Harness racing is a speed game. A driver who tries with a horse will win more races than one who does not try. It doesn't matter if the drivers name is Waples or Sears, or Takter or Poliseno. If the intent is to try, the horse will race his race.
This is why Jimmy Takter can win with a horse like Great Vintage in a lifetime mark while taken off Dave Miller or Trond Smedhammer can win in an ROI positive fashion off Sears, or why Mark Harder can take Statesman off Tetrick and go 149 - faster than he's ever gone before by a full second.
Good drivers don't yell at horses differently than bad ones. They don't whip harder or any such other nonsense. If a horse is good, he is ready to go and the driver's intent is to put the horse in the race, he will pace or trot fast, as long as the man or woman behind him has even a remote clue.
When I look at driver changes I look only at intent, and here are some examples where - in my opinion - you can make some hay.
If Chris Ryder is driving a trotter from the nine, he is telling you loud and clear - don't bet me, I am not trying. If two weeks later he puts a driver up you are going to get a try. It might, in a pick 4, be worth a key if you like the horse. The horses don't have an anchor if he drives and if the pace falls apart he can and does win races in a fast time, but he's telling you he is schooling the horse. Learn the red flag drivers and when they move into green flag territory with the change, and bet accordingly based on your odds line.
Just this last weekend we saw the importance of handicapping this way with horses a lot of trainers were driving at the Meadowlands. No they were not going to the back because they were driving them - it was not a Chris Ryder situation. They were driving them because all the catch drivers were at Yonkers and Mohawk. Some of those horses tried and some won in fast times, just like they had a regular driver behind them. A lot of them were overlays rather than underlays.
Secondly, there are "wake up drivers" out there. Being in a paddock as a horse owner we all know who these types are. They are driving your horse for the first time and they see his lines - 4th at the quarter, buried. 8th from the ten post, etc. They say "looks like he needs a wakeup call" and go down the road. Nine times out of ten it works out better than his previous lines. Drivers who do this are Jody Jamieson, Tim Tetrick and George Brennan. Again this is not magical, it's just intent. Look for them to pop on a horse that has some gate speed but hasn't used it in awhile, and make them part of the mix. Some will end up being overdriven and end up way up the track, but overall the ROI can be there.
As with any change in form, or equipment, or anything else for that matter, everything has to be analyzed through a fair odds crystal ball. You have to be receiving more of a probability bump through a change than the odds indicate. Driver changes from Poliseno to Sears on a trotter is death knell for ROI because Polioseno has tried with the horse and Sears is not going to try harder; all you are doing is betting an overbet horse. In other instances the green light is there; where a horse with a 20% chance might be a 33% chance - moving from fair odds of 4-1 to 2-1. If over 5-2, you're away to the races and you're making a positive expectation bet. Remember, even if you make a driver worth a very high 10% of your odds line, you cannot move a probability that much. 10-1 to 2-1 odds line changes are only telling you that you are heavily over weighting, and that lands you in the poorhouse over time.
If as a newbie you use catch phrases like - "Dube to Brennan is a big change", or "I can't bet Takter on this horse from Miller at any price" - you are doing what little old ladies in the slot parlor are doing when they handicap. That's the only signal you need to tell you that you're doing something dreadfully wrong. This is a tough game with computer players betting millions upon millions a year. To beat them, one has to bet with sound logic, not with bumper sticker slogans.
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