11/09/2012 10:11PM

Meadowlands learns their ABCs


Any serious handicapper will tell you that making money today is more difficult than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Advances in technology have leveled the playing field. It is no longer necessary to go to the track to garner information. Most details can be witnessed from the comfort of your home on your computer.

The above said, a rare advantage may be on the horizon for the savvy bettor to regain his/her edge for a short period of time. This window of opportunity comes courtesy of The Meadowlands’ recently announced decision to revert to the ABC condition system which dominated the sport decades ago.

In essence the ABC system requires the race secretary to classify conditioned horses how he sees fit. At The Meadowlands, the accomplished Peter Koch will be assigned the tough task of giving a letter grade to each horse.

So, let’s say a horse raced in the Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway. The horse finishes sixth and earns no money. He has earned just $5,000 in his last five starts. In the past this horse would fit a non-winners of $6,500 condition at the Meadowlands. Now that same horse could wind up in a host of spots. Koch’s evaluation of the horse will decide whether that horse will face similar horses to what he took on at Yonkers or possibly easier competition.

“Of course we will classify horses as they drop in the box, but leading up to the draw we will try to classify a bunch that have filled out an application to race here,” said Koch, who will draw the opening night card of December 28 on Saturday, December 22.

In theory, ABC conditions should lead to better racing and more competitive races. If Koch proves a top handicapper and classifies horses properly, we could be looking at 7-2 and 4-1 favorites on a regular basis.

The system will also allow Koch to assemble full fields because he will not be limited by earnings.

How does this help a sharp handicapper make money?

The key is the change. Gamblers are creatures of habit. They like to use the same past performance programs, bet using the same angles, follow the same drivers, etc. Now the average race-goer will pick up the program and see a big A, B or C in place of the regular racing conditions. He will likely say, “What does that mean?” Now the Meadowlands does a fine job of explaining things like this to their customers and that will help them understand, but there are still going to be quite a few gamblers who won’t know what to make of the new conditions.

“I believe we should have something in the program giving bettors a comparison of what condition level each letter would correspond to,” said Koch, who admitted it could not be an exact comparison.

For the first few weeks there will be no obvious indicators as to whether a horse is rising in class or dropping down. Eventually you will see A’s and B’s and C’s and it will be easier to tell, but that will take a while to happen and an astute handicapper will have an advantage.

Essentially a handicapper has to perform the same task that Koch performed a few days earlier. He has to scan the field and decide for himself how each horse compares to one another. It used to be easy, the horses were compared by earnings, which gave you a good idea about form and all you needed to decipher was class. Now you need to figure out both form and class. You can’t assume that because Koch placed all the horses in a C1 race that all the horses are equal. Even if he does an outstanding job classifying horses, (1) he is going to try his best to assemble full fields, which means he may need to combine a B-caliber horse with C-level foes (perhaps by handicapping him to the outside) & (2) everyone makes mistakes. He could miss something when handicapping. I know it seems crazy, but even I miss stuff.

To give an example, technically, a horse which earned $5,000 in his last 5 starts could compete against a horse which earned $20,000 in his last 5 starts. Obviously the horse with lower recent earnings must have class and is likely moving down the alphabetical ladder. But a handicapper now needs to study a bit harder to uncover this information on his own.

Koch had yet to work out all the kinks, but felt A1, A2, B1, B2, B3, C1, C2, C3 would be a likely layout. These letters would roughly correspond to the spectrum of conditioned events from N/W $4,000 to N/W $25,000 which typically race at the East Rutherford oval.

In addition to the alphabet system, horse population permitting, Koch will card a Free For All, Preferred, straight claimers and non-winners of 2 and 3 races.

The ABC horses will be reevaluated as they race, with Koch hoping that he could post each horse’s classification on the track’s website by the following morning.

Once a horse gets a letter grade, he will only be permitted to move up or down one level unless something out of the ordinary occurs.

“A very impressive winner could be double-jumped in class,” said Koch, who will not allow horses to “drop from the clouds” into much easier spots.

Koch admitted that it will be a bit chaotic for the first few weeks but plans to do all he can for the horsemen, including classifying horses for trainers that inquire via the phone.

Time will tell how the revival of the ABC system works out at The Meadowlands. When asked if ABC was an experiment or permanent, the veteran Racing Secretary had the best answer any bettor could hope to hear.

“The public will decide for us,” remarked Koch.