Monday, June 13, 2022

Jock & Driver Bettors, Big in OTB's, Less-So Elsewhere

I don't know how many winning players I talk to who say, "I am not really a big jockey or driver guy". 

In my years playing and modeling thoroughbreds I tend to agree. I could not find much actionable to play or not play with jock numbers (as much as I tried), and most of what I thought I found was statistical noise. 

And, logically, why wouldn't it be noise? If you've proven yourself as a decent jock, the market is using you, and there's only so much a 115 pound human can do with a 1,100 pound horse, especially when they all have preferred running styles. Also, when someone truly is better than others, the jock is bet more, because again, the market isn't stupid. This is why many top jocks have terrible ROI's, and a mathematical case can be made to fade them, not bet them. 

Over in harness racing, we saw on Saturday night what we often see, but what many seem to not want to admit.  Sarah Svansedt, an amateur with only 63 career drives, pointed her fast colt to the lead, parked everyone out and trotted 150.2, a national seasons mark. 

The driver of the horse last time? Yannick Gingras, who could only muster a 151.3. 

Fast harness horses win races. Fast horses, when pointed to the lead where fast horses get to show their stuff without troublesome traffic, win races in fast times. In this case, whether driven by an amateur or arguably the best driver in the world. 

Now, clearly we don't want to list Sarah tomorrow on every great horse in your barn. Experience matters and you want a top person driving your horse, just like we want a capable driver driving our bet home. But I don't think we can ever forget that important lesson. 

In harness - and this is unlike the thoroughbreds in many ways, because that breed's horses are generally ready to win when popped in the box - I follow a few simple driver rules. 

A "big" driver change, say from a trainer or 2% guy who has been unwilling to try a horse, to a top ten driver is massive. Not because the new driver will yell at the horse any different, as we just witnessed from Sarah, but because the top driver will put the horse into the race. It's a positive intent sign. 

A driver change - for example a Doug McNair with a couple choices in the race - is probably a good lean, even from an outside post. He didn't book off one to go to the back. We'll get an effort. 

Lateral changes, i.e. capable to capable, are to be mostly ignored.

An aggressive driver (even one without gawdy win percentages) - Mark Mac, Jonathon Drury, Jody Jamieson for example - hopping on a horse who hasn't been tried can be an excellent wager. They will give the horse a shot if it looks like he's been finishing, but has not been in position before to strut his Sarah Stuff. 

Drivers that show they are not afraid to mix it up can and should still be bets if we like the horse. We get prices on these types. Who has the best ROI on horses over 5-1 at the Meadowlands the last five years? Journeyman Victor Kirby. Vic's even batting 50% on chalk; with a pretty good minus 10% ROI in a limited sample, which compares favorably as we try to make money betting guys like Yannick with -32% ROI on chalk. 

We saw this a little just last week at Mohawk. James MacDonald had the choice of two horses who looked to be even in ability. He took the 8, the other went to Anthony MacDonald. James was overbet at 4-5 and his brother won at 5-2. The spread was too much. The driver change did not make a difference.

Jock and driver betting tends to display a whole lot of survivorship bias. We remember when a driver or jockey change converts, but don't notice the many, many times it doesn't. Thankfully, the numbers standardize this in a disapassionate way and works as a bias removal tool. When we run those numbers - and because the game is about making money - we don't tend to see a whole lot, so we have to rely on subsets of the data. We have to pick and choose; to be smart. 

In a pari-mutuel game, I don't want to bet with the OTB crowd where a jockey or driver change is considered the Holy Grail of handicapping. By the numbers it isn't, so in a lot of cases, please give me the other side. 

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