02/17/2015 7:05PM

Giwner: Brand name drivers not always the best

Derick Giwner
Horses driven by Trace Tetrick have produced a 310% return on investment in 2015 at the Meadowlands.

When you head to your local Best Buy or Target to buy a TV, do you search for a Sony or Sharp figuring that those brands must be better than the “no-name” models? The constant pounding from marketing campaigns has ingrained in your head that a name brand model must be better, but is that really the case?

The same theory rings true in the harness racing world. Yannick Gingras, Brett Miller and Tim Tetrick win the most races at the Meadowlands, but if you want to turn a profit, you’d be better off knowing the name Trace Tetrick. Similarly at Dover Downs, Corey Callahan has a huge lead in the win column, yet Daryl Bier is the king when it comes to making money through the windows.

Statsmaster (a service of Trackmaster) provides free Return on Investment figures for many tracks through their individual websites. Taken as raw numbers there might not be much to gain from the ROI because blindly betting one driver every race is not a viable wagering strategy. But these statistics offer a nice insight into which drivers have the ability to bring in a live horse if given the opportunity.

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Of the 19 drivers who have steered at least 20 horses since January 1 at the Meadowlands, only Trace Tetrick has a positive ROI and it stands at a robust 310%. He has won a credible 5 races from 27 starts. The next best driver is Jim Marohn, Jr., who has brought home 9 winners from 91 starters to the tune of a -7% ROI.

Where are the big names on the list? Wagering on Gingras every start will cost you 25% of your money, Miller 27% and Tim Tetrick an amazing 47%, ouch!

Do any of the above numbers mean that Trace Tetrick or Marohn is better than Gingras? Obviously not, but they can drive! If one of them is piloting a horse that appears to have some chance on paper, that horse is more likely to be an overlay.

Over at Dover Corey Callahan has 88 wins and a 28% win rate but a -21% ROI. Of the 19 drivers with at least 20 starts, two have a positive ROI. Daryl Bier has won 10 of 41 starts for a 158% return and Ben Stafford, Jr. checks in at 60% on the power of 6 wins in 51 trips behind the gate.

Perhaps the most interesting numbers belong to Ron Pierce. It is rare to see one of the top drivers in the country come close to showing a profit because bettors tend to make the best drivers the favorites in most races, but despite sitting second in the standings with 61 wins, Pierce has a very credible -4% ROI. If you played every one of his horses at an ADW with a healthy rebate system, you’d actually be ahead of the game.

If Monticello Raceway is your track of choice, Jim Marohn, Jr. is your man. Not only is he second in the standings with 35 wins and a 27% success rate, but he is producing a healthy 12% ROI since the start of the year. Michael Simons is the only other guy with over 20 starts over the breakeven point with a 4% positive ROI. Leading driver Bruce Aldrich, Jr deserves some credit for banking 60 wins at a reasonable -4%.

Six drivers at The Meadows actually check in with a positive ROI and more than 20 starts. Most of them have lower win rates, but perhaps the most intriguing name is Jim Pantaleano. He ranks fourth on the wins leaderboard with 25 wins in 2015 and still sports an 8% ROI. Along with Eric Ledford (18 wins, 5% ROI), they seem like the drivers to play right now.

Steve Roth Photo      Driver Kevin Cummings.

Give some credit to Kevin Cummings at Buffalo Raceway. He is the leading driver with 41 wins and still sports an incredible 24% ROI. Compare that with the next five drivers in terms of wins, who are averaging a -30.4% ROI.

There is only one name you need to know at Freehold Raceway—Joe Hanney. The Irish-born driver has won 11 of 46 races for a 67% ROI. He is the only driver at the track win at least 20 starts and a positive return rate. Leading driver Eric Abbatiello checks in at -15%.

The one track with statistics that defy some logic is Cal Expo. An amazing four drivers qualify with more than 20 starts and a positive ROI. Bruce Clarke leads the way with 5 wins and 81% ROI, followed by James Lackey (11 wins, 29%), Lemoyne Svendsen (16, 10%) and Steven Wiseman (40, 2%).

The simple fact is that while the top drivers win more, they are not always the best bets. Give extra consideration to the lesser known guy and you could be rewarded in the end.

(All stats above are through Monday, February 16)