05/15/2013 10:14AM

Harness Racing: What is value?

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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