04/13/2016 3:09PM

Bergman: How much do the odds really matter?

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Derick Giwner
John Campbell drove JK Endofanera conservatively last weekend at The Meadowlands, which is the norm for many horses in their first start of the year.

I received an angry letter this week in regard to the performance of a 3-year-old trotter making its first start of the year. The tone of the letter indicated that one bettor believed that if a horse does not leave the gate in the race, it is not trying. The trotter in question was bet down to 1-5 from an outside post and got away sixth. The horse then became victim to a slow opening half mile and eventually wound up a well-beaten third in the mile.

“That’s what’s wrong with this game,” said the letter writer.

Really?

Should the betting public control the actions of the driver in a race?

Should the driver look to the odds board to decide what his or her strategy should be in a race?

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Some believe that betting odds are true indicators of a horse’s chances. Therefore the driver should be influenced by them and drive accordingly.

But does driving according to the tote board mean a horse must leave the gate?

This past Saturday another horse with a much more detailed racing career was making his seasonal debut at The Meadowlands. JK Endofanera was the classiest horse on paper but had been assigned the outside post in the field of seven in the featured $25,000 Open Handicap. The betting public accepted the qualifying mile as an indication that the horse was ready. Trainer Jimmy Takter had earlier in the night sent out a first-timer to victory.

Perhaps that should have been enough to make JK Endofanera the betting favorite. However, at post time the odds were 11-10 and that’s a lot of money to be wagered on a horse making its first start and likely needing to go in the neighborhood of 1:50 to win.

John Campbell drove the horse as some had expected, and that meant taking him to the back. The horse trailed the entire way and finished last beaten five lengths.

To the novice, Campbell should have left the gate and to them that was a crime. To those that have witnessed thousands of races over the course of decades, Campbell’s decision was far less shocking and light years away from criminal.

The reality in our sport today is that the betting public’s visionary power is no more mystical than that of the morning line odds maker. How often have we seen horses sent off as the betting choices that were listed at odds of 15 and 20-1 in the morning line? Was the odds maker right or was the betting public right?

Either way, it’s hard to condemn drivers when racing horses for the first time in a given season. Trainers are reluctant to want to abuse horses the first time out, but there’s a huge difference between taking back at the start and “not trying” as the letter writer indicated.

There is of course another side to the odds and that appears to be more of a recent phenomena. It seems that horses are routinely over-bet these days. Perhaps this is a direct result of large bettors working within the rebate system that need to churn a higher handle. These players aren’t shopping for prices as much as looking for direct certainty.

On the other hand, any large wagers placed on an individual horse at a track with smaller handle can produce odds that are off the charts in a particular direction. Without a large enough wagering audience, one big bet can’t be evened-out by post time and rather often the results are incredible overlays.

JAYWALKING: Unlike in so many of the past years, the 2016 editions of the George Morton Levy and Blue Chip Matchmaker series events at Yonkers have been a joy to watch for racing fans and some bettors alike. A steady diet of odds-on horses in line-up races has been replaced by interesting events that are being hotly contested.

Sometimes changes don’t work overnight. The race office at Yonkers made important alterations to the conditions and it appears after a couple of years under the new rules, the product has improved drastically.

With just one preliminary leg left, there is still plenty of drama to come with horses that are on the fence to qualify for the final or consolation.

While the Burke and Bamond stables have a healthy supply of top aged pacers, those charges have had to work extremely hard during this series in hopes of earning a berth in the final.

Bit Of A Legend N has been the best new face on the block and his smoothness over the four-turns at Yonkers has been a major factor, leading to four consecutive Levy leg triumphs.

Driver Jordan Stratton is clearly living the dream over the last four weeks, guiding tons of talented horses for purses of $40,000 and $50,000. Stratton has done a lot right for trainer Peter Tritton and will have both Sell A Bit N and Bit Of A Legend N in the Matchmaker and Levy finals respectively.

While Bit Of A Legend N hardly needs to race in the fifth leg, the driver couldn’t find a reason to give him the week off when asked following Saturday’s victory. Perhaps that’s an incredible ringing endorsement as to how easy the victories have been on Bit Of A Legend N in a series many regard as brutal. Watching Stratton and “The Legend” cross the wire this past Saturday, they both appeared to have something in reserve.

It’s too bad past performances only go back six to eight lines on most betting programs. Three horses from this past Saturday night’s program at The Meadowlands had all finished second exactly 52 weeks earlier at the East Rutherford plant. Ironically, the three horses all improved on that effort with Stormin Rustler opening the night at a $55.60 mutuel, followed by Relentless Dreamer ($10.40) and Dovuto Hanover ($17.80).

Congrats to anyone using that angle.

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Stu Brooks More than 1 year ago
Drivers do often drive according to the betting odds as opposed to the form and ability of the horse itself. And thats rather idiotic
Andrew Middleman More than 1 year ago
I was on the backside at Raceway park, back in'95 or so.  Larry Lake had just won a race with a longshot over Larry Stallbaum's over-bet favorite, sitting the pocket while Stalbaum's  horse went a brutal front-end mile.  Coming off the track, Stalbaum said to Lake,"If I hadn't driven him that way they would have thrown me out."  So, yes, drivers are often forced to make decisions based on the opinions of people who don't know as much about driving horses as the drivers do.
Jeff Biever More than 1 year ago
With most horses expected to race 25-30 starts a year, or more, I totally agree that, first start out, the driver has to take a sensible approach. Have to laugh, though, because it is a million to one that Jeff Gural will call in John Campbell for an explanation, the way he did for Brian Sears some months ago.

I also agree that the Levy series has been somewhat more interesting-but I doubt that the Yonkers handles have increased from their pathetic levels.
Enzo Lentini More than 1 year ago
Two things ...in the  case of  JK Endofanera the 456 all left the gate and he had no choice but that said in a horse with a long long long history of race fixing and no tries I  think it is fair to expect the driver to TRY every time