05/15/2013 10:14AM

Harness Racing: What is value?


The word “value” tends to get thrown around in any handicapping conversation. But what is value?

Professional handicappers spend countless hours each day trying to find value. Casual players want to win big and falsely confuse it with big prices. But value in horse racing is simply a fair return on your money. It has nothing to do with double-digit prices and has everything to do with the chances of each horse winning versus the listed odds.

Call me crazy if you will, but a casual yet educated player is better off playing 1-2 shots than 4-1 shots. First off, you will cash more tickets and constantly replenish your bankroll. More importantly, in a limited sample of races, let’s say a 12-race card at any track, finding multiple horses at 4-1 which present true value for your money is going to be a difficult task.

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My “Favorites Challenge” is for you to pick any track you desire and handicap every card for one week. Pick out 10 horses that you “like” in the neighborhood of 4-1 and 10 horses that you think are legitimate odds-on favorites. How many approximate 4-1 winners successfully won? How many odds-on winners? If you placed a $2 win wager on each of the horses, which combination of bets provided the most profit?

The entire purpose of the exercise is simply to prove that sometimes the value play is the favorite. There is a reason why horses go off as the favorite; most of the time it is because they have the best chance to win. The key is deciphering which heavy favorites are the most worthy and keying in on them.

If a horse is 4-5 and should be 2-5, that is value! Remember, value is getting a fair return on our investment. A $3.80 win mutuel on a horse that should pay $2.80 is a great return. Best of all, this kind of return happens all the time. People are so busy trying to find a way to beat the favorite that they overlook prime plays on short-priced horses.

Meadowlands Director of Racing Operations Darin Zoccali has been posing the question on Twitter during their card, “Are you a buyer or a seller at XX odds?” That is really a great way to think about playing the races. At any odds, is the price better or worse than you think it should be?

Zoccali asked the question about Golden Receiver, who was sitting at even money with a few minutes before post time in the TVG Free-For-All at the Meadowlands last Saturday. I replied that I was a buyer at even money, mostly because I felt it was the perfect spot for him and 3-5 or 4-5 were probably his true odds. This case is interesting because moments later the horse drifted back down to 3-5 but ultimately went off at even money as “value seekers” looked for a better price, and rightfully so.

Here you had a horse that was on the border of possible value. At even money Golden Receiver was a solid bet. At 3-5 he was a likely winner but not a good value play.

Of course this is all subjective. You may have looked at Golden Receiver at even money and felt that the horse was an underlay and should have been closer to 7-5. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is value.

Getting back to the odds-on versus 4-1 debate . . . things happen in races, but a strong handicapper should be able to correctly select 8 of 10 winners going to post at between 3-5 and 4-5. If the average payout on a $2 wager is $3.50, my 10 win bets would net a profit of $8. If I placed 10 win bets with an average win price of $10, I would need to be correct three times to show a similar profit of $10. It is a coin toss as to which is easier: selecting three 4-1 winners or eight 4-5 winners. But it is certain that you will have an easier time finding 4-5 shots that should win than 4-1 horses that are likely to win.

The next time you head to the window or your computer to make a wager, don’t be so quick to toss the favorite. Remember, better a short price than a long face.

Quick thoughts

The former New York Racing and Wagering Board met every 15 to 45 days to discuss any pending issues. Their last meeting according to their website was January 15. The new NYS Gaming Commission has yet to meet or set a meeting date. So, if I own a track in New York and I want to add a new wager or I’m under suspension and awaiting a hearing, I’m just supposed to wait?

I’m still not willing to crown Captaintreacherous as the top 3-year-old pacer this year, but I will say after watching him close up at Gaitway Farms in New Jersey, the horse has charisma. He is an imposing specimen and seems to know that he has talent.

The “Captain” makes his 2013 pari-mutuel debut at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs on Sunday (May 19), while his expected top rival Odds On Equuleus is said to qualify one more time before trying his luck in the Somebeachsomewhere stakes at Mohawk on June 1.

Is there a bigger mystery horse than Hurrikane Kingcole? The speedy 4-year-old did nothing to stand out in his return qualifiers but was awesome from second over in his 2013 debut. Then he goes out in start two and gets run down in the stretch. I guess it is hard to fault any horse that paces a 53 1/5 final half, but he might just be one of those “you have to time his move right” type horses.

Finally, the Meadowlands is looking for nicknames for driver Corey Callahan, who leads the nation in wins with 292. My choice is “Corey the Conqueror”. You can send your names to media@newmracing.com



Ray Lanfear More than 1 year ago
There is no value in a winless ticket, does not matter how good your handicapping is.
Jerry de Thomas More than 1 year ago
if you're able to determine playable 3-5 horses, then it shouldn't be anymore difficult to find value at 4-1 or 8-1 or 30-1....it's not the odds but the ability of the handicapper that determines true value...if I'm thinking of the right race, one's 'value' on Golden Reciever depends on your view of shorter layoffs, relevent to the rest of the field...on the other matter...how bout Corey Borey Ellis...I'll make that my 25-1 opening pick...
Nicholas Briglia More than 1 year ago
One of the biggest problems with value hunting is the constant late odds changes. Often you will bet a horse at one price and end up with something quite different. I bet a horse at 4-1 at Belmont and after the gates opened he suddenly became 2-1. Many fav's at small tracks will have numerous odds changes right up to post time. So getting the right price is often impossible. Last night at Indiana Downs a horse names Clyde Park looked every bit of 1-5 on paper. He was just that all the way until the gates opened then as the numbers came up for the first time during the race he was suddenly 1-2. He won by a pole and believe it or not 1-2 was a steal.
phil bailey More than 1 year ago
This is why so many betters wait until the last minute to lay a wager. Even then it's no guarantee the odds will stay that way. Now that we can bet on many different tracks world wide plus the invent of betting on-line, these pools are not reflected in the wagering until the last wagering dump. The flow of these pools is usually a last minute dump. I stay away from B tracks because of this. There is not enough wagering done on the host trackside to give you a clear indication of where your odds will land. All too often I have bet on a 4-1 only to find that after the 1st quarter of racing has happened that my horse is now 2-5. Then I just pray I win to get my money back. This is a big source of irritation for me. I feel douped when the odds fluctuate after th race has started.
phil bailey More than 1 year ago
Corey Callahan, C to C
phil bailey More than 1 year ago
Long shot, exactly what I was pointing to but failed to get to due to my rambling...LOL..."identified the category of races where my handicapping produces built in value." Well said. I am sure that most handicappers have certain types of races or even certain tracks that their return rate is extremely low. Sometimes we have no clue as to why some races consistently turn out the way they do. Not even close. Other races at certain tracks we have a higher rate of success. The key to my success is discipline. Learning to just leaving certain races alone.
long_shot_alert More than 1 year ago
There's no arguing that "value" is not about price alone but price relative to chance of winning. The problems that arise have to do with the difficulty of setting a value line and with pool liquidity and odds volatility. For me the answer has been not to look at value on a race by race basis, but to have identified the category of races where my handicapping produces built in value. I still demand a minimum price but that price is based on a larger, longer-run context.
J ofalltrades More than 1 year ago
I have found Phil Bailey to be one of the most influential and understanding of the equine scene. He is a business man with a good sense of what tact to take while making betting investments. I have been following Phil for 5 years now.
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
I guess this is why I don't wager much on harness racing. As a thoroughbred bettor, I cannot and will not flat-bet odds-on.Too many on my side of the equine fence flop at those prices. I either try vertical or horizontal exotics looking for a price to put with a 3/5 or pass the race.
phil bailey More than 1 year ago
BTW. Be selective on your races. Betting a whole card on an off track of $5000 MDN claimers will be disastrous. Be picky on what races are more likely to hold form. Pass on garbage.
michael stapler More than 1 year ago
There is more VALUE in maiden races than any other type of race.....
Nicholas Briglia More than 1 year ago
couldn't agree more. Why people continue to trash maiden races is beyond me. They are very often the best betting races on the card.
Derick More than 1 year ago
Agreed. If you are willing to do your homework, I find the 2yo races in the harness game to be quite rewarding.
phil bailey More than 1 year ago
I totally agree with your hypothesis. I have been trying different ways to inflate the bottom line. If you treat your goal as a business rather than a thrill of the moment you are more likely to have a better outcome. I was coming in 2nd a lot to the well bet fave on what I thought was the better value. All I have been doing lately is looking for the 2nd part of the equation into what could be a profitable exacta. You would be surprised at what they will pay. How many times have you looked at the results and see that the 3-5 fave with the 3-1 second choice paid over $12. Sometimes as much as $20. Somewhere over $10 (4-1 on the return is my target) Sure you will have reduced the number of times you will cash by 60% but the amount you will cash back will increase as much as 4 fold. (again 4-1 on the return) Instead of cashing 8 of 10 times for a total of $16 (even money faves) your return will have increased from $16 up to as much as $30 to $60