12/18/2013 12:32PM

Bob Pandolfo: Going for the big score at the Meadowlands


For a racetrack to remain viable, it needs competitive racing. That means there has to be full fields and good payoffs. Hall of Fame driver John Campbell put it in perspective during an interview at the Little Brown Jug: "We need a tote board that looks between 3-1 and 15-1, not 3-5 to 90-1."  You can't word it more succinctly than that.

During the winter, the Meadowlands has the best looking tote board. With Harrah's Philadelphia and Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs closed, the Meadowlands has the product that its customer's crave, full fields of 9 or 10 horses.

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I'm going to go over last Friday's (December 13) card at the East Rutherford, NJ track. I picked this card because there were some big payoffs. When longshots win, people think that the longshot winners were tough to come up with. But many of these winners aren't that tough to come up with if you're thinking the right way.

When you play a wide open track like the Meadowlands, you have to get into the right frame of mind. A lot of the obvious favorites are going to fail. And these vulnerable favorites are not always going to get beat by the obvious second or third choices.

I developed a computer handicapping system called The Diamond System. I'll be frank, it's not a sophisticated system. It does not look at earnings, class, drivers, trainers, trips, odds, or even post position. It only ranks horses based on the fractions, final time and track variant. It also produces other ratings, one of which is a simple final-time based Speed Rating. In many races, the horse's Diamond Rating ranking is very similar to the plain old Speed Rating.

So I ran the Diamond System for last Friday's card, using option L, which shows the ratings for each horse's last 3 races and ranks them in order from best to worst. I want to make something clear. I'm going to show you how to handicap for The Big Score. The goal here is to figure out a way where you can have a realistic chance of hitting a big Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, or the vertical exotics like Exactas, Trifectas, and Superfectas.

If you're a chalk bettor, you're probably not going to get much out of this.

Before I go over each race, there are a couple of crucial elements to this type of handicapping:

1) You can't just rate horses off their last race. In this example, I'm rating each horse's last three pari-mutuel starts.

2) You have to use marginal contenders. You can't just use obvious contenders.

Meadowlands Results Friday, December 13

Race # Winning Price Diamond System Rank
1 $4.80 Third
2 $6.40 Second
3 $3.00 First
4 $6.20 First
5 $31.20 Second
6 $10.40 Third
7 $4.40 First
8 $9.00 Third
9 $6.40 Fifth
10 $51.20 Second
11 $82.00 Third
12 $19.60 Second (Tied)
13 $32.20 Ranked Low

Even though The Diamond System incorporates fractions into the final number, using just the plain final-time-based Speed Figure, the results were similar. On the night, the system only picked 3 winners, which paid $3.00, $6.20, and $4.40. Not very good. But 11 of the 12 winners were ranked either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. Of course the key to hitting the big payoffs is having the big longshots. On the night, 5 of the 13 races had longshot winners. So you can see the importance of Crucial Element 2, "you have to use marginal contenders". But Crucial Element 1, "you can't just rate each horse off its last race", was very much in play.

The first longshot winner of the night was Tiger Boudoir, who paid $31.20 in the 5th Race. My system ranked this horse 2nd off his solid first-over placing two starts back over an off track. The horse was using Lasix for the first time, picking up Ron Pierce and showed good recent form.

The next longshot winner was Nevermind Franco N ($51.20) in the 10th race. My system ranked this horse 2nd, based on its race from three starts back. This horse had won at the Meadowlands recently and was picking up Ron Pierce.

In the 11th race, Kilted Pride won and paid $82.00. My system ranked this horse 3rd, off the trotter’s November 15 race at Woodbine, which was three starts back. And by the way, in case you think that The Diamond System has some magical powers, if you look at the past performances for this race, you'll see that using each horse's last three races, Kilted Pride had the second fastest final time in the field. And the trotter had finished third over the track in its last start. I guess the price was so big because he drew post 10.

In the 12th, Play Fair won and paid $19.60. The Diamond System ranked him in a tie for 2nd based on the horse's race over the track two starts back. This horse had finished 2nd in the same class in his last start.

In the 13th, the winner, Lexus Artist, won and paid $32.20. My system did not like this Monticello shipper and ranked it low. This was another horse that was picking up Hall of Fame driver Ron Pierce, who had a sensational four winner night. I think the main reason why Lexus Artist was overlooked by the bettors was because she was shipping from Monticello. Even though my system overlooked this horse, I must point out that Derick Giwner had this horse listed third in his Meadowlands picks that night, astutely pointing out that she was coming in off a win and had taken her career mark of 1:54 4/5 at the Meadowlands earlier in the year. Horses that have won over the track is another important Meadowlands handicapping angle.

Now, again, I want to point out that you could have ranked these horses in a similar manner just using each horse's best speed figures or final times in their last three starts. You didn't need a computer handicapping system. And in the last race, you could have seen that Derick had this horse ranked third and used it on your ticket as a marginal contender in what was a wide open race.

I'm not saying that it’s easy. These longshot winners were what I call Marginal Contenders, meaning that they were not the obvious first or second choices. But at a competitive track like the Meadowlands, the races are so wide open that in many races there isn't much of a difference between an obvious first or second choice and a marginal contender. One of the main reasons why the Meadowlands has by far the highest handle of any harness track is the overlay winners. A key to spotting these winners is that I'm not using each horse's last race. I'm looking at each horse's last three starts.

Four of the five longshot winners were clear overlays on Darin Zoccali's morning line: Tiger Boudoir ($31.20) was 8-1, Nevermind Franco N ($51.20) was 6-1, Kilted Pride ($82.00) was 15-1 and Play Fair ($19.60) was 4-1. Lexus Artist was 15-1 on the morning line and therefore the only one of the five bombs that was not a clear overlay on the morning line.

Horses are not machines. You know how in the NBA a guy will score 30 points and then in the next game, against a weaker team, he'll score 10 points? The same is true with horses. They're made of flesh and blood. They don't perform exactly the same way every time out. That's why we have to think outside the box a bit and try to beat the obvious horses if we're going to hit the big Superfecta or Pick 5. The Meadowlands now has 10 cent Superfectas and a 50 cent Pick 5 wager, so you can afford to use marginal contenders. I hope they reduce the Pick 4 minimum to 50 cents, which would be attractive to the average racing fan and bettor.

If you spread a bit, particularly in the most wide open races, and use the marginal contenders, along with some obvious contenders, you'll have a much better chance of winning a big one. In this example, all it took to uncover these longshot winners was using the best race from each horse's last three starts.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.