05/08/2014 12:49PM

Giwner: Many ways to handicap


There is more than one way to skin a cat. While I understand the meaning, despite a quick Google search, I’m still not sure what skinning a cat has to do with finding multiple ways to do something.

As a participant in the HANA Harness Grand Circuit contest this year, I’ve been giving some thought as to how each of the 15 contestants are making their wagers. Through four legs, nearly half the field (seven total), including myself (slight pat on the back), are currently in the black. Those are impressive statistics, albeit using a small sample size.

What’s interesting is that each handicapper is using different techniques and styles to achieve success. But even more compelling is reading the person and learning which days they are betting from a feeling of strength and when they may simply be making a play for the sake of obligation. Selections with no background information or explanation are somewhat useless.

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In the HANA contest, each handicapper is required to wager at least $150 but no more than $250. From this, do we assume that a handicapper who wagers $250 feels strongly about his bets that night? That would seem logical but it is worth noting that the two players which have wagered the entire $1,000 through four legs are ranked first and last in the standings. I for one have yet to fire a $250 shot, mainly because that standout wager has yet to present itself.

Bob Zanakis, one of the “bet it all each week guys”, leads the way with a net profit of $827.35. It is interesting to note that he has played a nice mix of win, exacta, trifecta and superfecta bets each week. Knowing that, if he simply posted a win/place bet one week, I might wonder if he didn’t like the races that night. Similarly, Earl Paulson is showing a profit with nothing but $150 win wagers. If he put in an exacta or trifecta, that would certainly catch my eye. Is he simply conservative or is he waiting for the right moment to strike? I guess we will learn that in the coming weeks.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many ways to win at the races. There is no hard-line theory ala blackjack. But each wager has an inherent value on any given night that can prove worthwhile. Is it possible that Earl can make $150 win wagers each week and win the contest? Sure. Is it likely to happen? No.  In a head-to-head contest he would have a reasonable chance, but against 14 others, I believe you need to widen your wagering options.

Has my strategy been strong? I have played exclusively win and exacta bets. In retrospect, I screwed up on Sunday night at Miami Valley. I should have played trifectas in addition to exactas. As post time was approaching on Sunday, I looked at the race a second time and it was clear that the trifecta was a better play. There is a good lesson to be learned here about giving yourself a fresh look when handicapping.

I handicap every card at the Meadowlands three to four days prior to the races. When the night of the races arrives, I don’t simply bet whatever I selected. I find it constructive to handicap the race a second time. Typically, since there is such a large time gap between my first and second look, I often don’t recall the exact horses I selected. When I do remember my top selection immediately, those are the “best bets”. You always remember a horse you really like. I’m also looking to see if I missed something. Handicapping a race can be like looking at a piece of fine art. There are many details to be uncovered if you stare long enough.

But I digress from the handicapping contest. Below is a list of each handicapper and the amounts they have wagered along with the type of plays they made that night. If you plan to use their opinions (some of these people are fine handicappers), the background information may help you uncover when to act and when to watch.

By the way, this week’s contest race in the TVG-FFA pace on Saturday at the Meadowlands. Without revealing my exact plays, let’s just say the bets total the minimum $150. It is a tough race with too many possibilities to have any strong opinion.

Handicapper (Wagers) Leg 1 Leg 2 Leg 3 Leg 4 Total Wagered
Garnett (Tri/Super) 240 250 240 250 980
Ray C. (Win/Exacta) 230 150 150 170 700
Ray G. (WP/Exacta/Tri) 250 250 225 210 935
Derick (Win/Exacta) 200 150 150 180 680
Sally (WPS/Exacta/Tri) 250 180 150 150 730
Brian (WPS) 250 250 150 250 900
Mark (WPS/Exacta/Tri) 250 170 180 220 820
Rusty (WP/Exacta/Tri) 250 250 150 250 900
Dennis (Win/Exacta/Tri) 240 250 240 250 980
Earl (Win) 150 150 150 150 600
Ann (WPS/Exacta/Tri) 250 246 240 250 986
Brandon (Win/Exacta) 250 150 250 250 900
Josi (WP/Exacta) 250 250 250 250 1000
Gordon (WP/Exacta/Tri) 250 160 200 250 860
Bob (Win/Exacta/Tri/Super) 250 250 250 250 1000