02/12/2014 5:02PM

Bob Pandolfo: Most winners show some positive signs

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There are a lot of handicapping factors: speed, form, driver, trainer, post position, fractional analysis, etc. In a column I wrote last September, I listed the top win predictors. These were statistically confirmed by computer analyst Ray Schell, who has a database of several hundred-thousand races.  The top three win predictors were Final Time, Class Drops and Driver Changes, in that order.

Knowing which handicapping factors are the most predictive, in terms of picking the winner, is important. But we all know that even if you're one of the best handicappers at picking winners, that does not mean that you'll come out ahead in your betting. Some of the most successful bettors I've known actually have relatively low strike rates. For instance, a longshot bettor's goal is not to pick the highest percentage of winners. The longshot bettor is focused on Return On Investment.

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Let's say that you're handicapping a track where the favorite wins 40% of the races. But you excel at picking winners and your strike rate is 41%.  You're still going to pick more losers than winners. Even if you are at the top of the class in predicting which horse that has the best chance of winning the race, you'll still lose 59% of your bets. And the payoffs on your winners will be too short to show a profit.

But why does the horse that appears to have the clear edge lose almost 60% of the time? Well, one reason is that horses are made of flesh and blood and they don't always perform at the exact same level every race. But there's a lot more to it than that. There's a lot of luck involved. Horses that lose are often in a situation that isn't favorable. Horses that win are often in an improved situation.

Let's focus on this one point: Horses that win are often in an improved situation. I cannot stress this point enough. Look over the winners after the races have been run and you'll often see that in many of the races, the winner was in an improved situation over its last race or two.

Just for the heck of it, let's look over each winner from the races at Yonkers Raceway on Tuesday, February 11.

Race 1: Winner was 4-Fuzzylegsandall ($12.60). The winner was dropping in class (from $10,000 purse to $8,000). Class Drops are Ranked number 2 on the top win predictor list.

Race 2: Winner was 1-Meadowcroft Man ($7.60). The winner went from post 7 (5.6 win percentage) to post 1 (21.5 win percentage) and from a driver winning at 11% to George Brennan (17%).

Race 3: Winner was 6-Beat Of NY ($16.80). The winner went from post 8 (2.4%) to post 6 (9%). He had finished strongly (:28 2/5 final quarter; tied for fastest in the race) from post 8 in his prior start. He was making is 2nd start over the track.

Race 4: Winner was 5-Grandpa Don ($5.50). Grandpa Don was 2nd time lasix, 2nd start over the track, and he had finished in :28 1/5 in his last start, the fastest in the race. More importantly, he was taking a sneaky hidden class drop. His last race was won by a 4-5 shot that shipped in from the Meadowlands and had come out of a tougher race. This field was simply much weaker than what he faced in his last start.

Race 5: Winner was 4-Winwood Scout ($22.20). He was 2nd off a layoff, which often leads to an improved effort, and the chartcaller's comment from his last start was "tuff trip."

Race 6: Winner was 5-Kid Cruiser ($23.60). On paper, it didn't appear that his horse was in an improved situation. He had the same class and post. But the way the race was run did put him in an improved situation. In his last start he had a difficult first over trip from post 5 into a :57 flat last half and he held well considering. This week he went first over again but the last half was much slower--:58.3-- and he got up. He was in an improved situation simply because the pacesetter and favorite got used hard to a quick opening half which set it up for Kid Cruiser off a stalking trip. But, this was a tough one to spot ahead of time.

Race 7: Winner was 2-Power Of A Moment ($8.50). He went off the favorite against similar in last and finished in :28 3/5 to miss by less than a length. Was he in an improved situation this time? Absolutely, he was 2nd start off a layoff.

Race 8: Winner was 1-Pacific Desperado ($6.10). This classy 10-year-old picked up a key driver change to George Brennan in his last start and he showed speed from post 4. He chased a strong 3-5 drop down winner, Curator. This week Pacific Desperado went from post 4 (15.3%) to the coveted post 1 (21.5%) and faced a considerably weaker field than his last start. You see this a lot of time with horses that win but are not dropping in class. They are actually taking a hidden drop in class. In other words, they are racing at the same class level, but last time they ran into a strong odds-on favorite that had a big edge on the field.

Race 9: Winner was 1-Trys Little Price ($3.10). Last time he shipped in from the Meadowlands for top trainer Ron Burke, but drew post 7; left, tucked, went first over. Two back he chased a tough odds-on favorite, Wake Up Peter. This time he had post 1 against much slower horses and was 2nd start over the track. Definitely in a much improved situation.

Race 10: Winner was 5-Gallant Seelster ($3.30). Okay, I'll admit, this one may not have been in an improved situation. Same post and class as last start when he cut the mile and held the place as the beaten favorite.

Race 11: Winner was 1-Jacobs Jackpot ($6.30). This was an odd one because on paper he was stepping up in class on purse value but last time he had faced older horses and now was in against 3- or 4-year-olds. When the 8-5 favorite was scratched, it became a weak 6-horse field. In my opinion he was in an improved situation because he had a better post and an overall softer spot in a short field.

Race 12: Winner was 2-Talking Blues ($10.80). This is one you're going to see often in harness racing, and it is one of the best handicapping angles. This horse shipped in from the Meadowlands for the top Ron Burke barn two back. But, he drew post 7 two starts in a row. Last start he was actually impeded and paced his last quarter in a scorching :27 1/5, the fastest in the race. Now he moved from post 7 (5.6%) to post 2 (15.3%) and he won easily wire to wire.

When you're looking for improved situations, the improved post position angle is going to be a big key, especially on half mile tracks. On this particular night, five of the 12 winners were getting favorable post position changes and nine of the 12 winners were clearly in an improved situation.

So what's the point of this?

In my opinion, it's important. Many winners are going to be in a better spot than they were last time. Many times it’s going to be a better post position. But you also have to check other angles. A positive driver or trainer change, drop in class (and watch for that hidden drop in class when the horse chased a tough odds-on winner), second start off a layoff, second start over the track, and a tough recent trip can all be key indicators.

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Use the angles above like a checklist. Ask yourself, “Is this horse in an improved situation tonight?” The nice thing about reviewing each horse in this manner is that you can spot live longshots and value horses that you can use in the multi-race and intra-race exotics.

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.