03/19/2015 8:58AM

Pandolfo: Benefits of trainer stats

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Trainer Robert Harmon is winning 18% of his races at Yonkers Raceway and has a positive R.O.I. of 55%.

There are Thoroughbred analysts who've published material on handicapping horses using trainer angles. For example, in the Daily Racing Form's Elements of Handicapping book series, there's Dean Keppler's Trainer Angles: Maximizing Profits using Formulator Software and Advanced Trainer Stats.

Similar statistics can be used as an aid to handicapping harness races. It certainly helps to know which trainers are good first off a claim or first start off a layoff.

My approach to trainer analysis is to keep it as a separate handicapping factor. In other words, when analyzing each horse, I'll evaluate its trainer and take that into consideration. If two horses that are going off at similar odds are closely matched in talent, and one is trained by 23% trainer, the other by a trainer winning at 6%, naturally I'm going to give the edge to the horse that has the hotter trainer.

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But, the question is, can you play horses solely based on trainers?

To answer that question, let's look at both of the human elements to handicapping, driver and trainer.

Would I bet a horse solely based on a driver change?

For me, the answer is yes. I've bet horses that didn't look like the best horse on paper simply because the horse was getting a big driver change.

A handicapper I know hit an $88 winner at Saratoga harness last Sunday, a horse named Hang To The Riggin. The horse was moving from post 7 to post 1 and got a driver change from a driver who had 5 wins in 160 starts (3%) at Saratoga the past year to Frank Coppola, Jr., who had 126 wins (12%).

I've also made bets on longshots that I thought had a chance solely based on a driver change, or I've used the horse in exotics.

But would I do the same for a trainer change? The answer is yes. But, it seems to me that it's tougher to get good value on trainer changes than driver changes. The public seems acutely aware of trainer changes, especially when a horse is changing barns off a claim.

Cagey handicappers pay close attention to the more subtle positive trainer changes, such as when a horse is privately sold. In a situation like that, many bettors aren't going to realize that there's a trainer change and you may get good value.

When you analyze statistics, the numbers show that it's not easy to generate a profit betting trainers. Using Trackmaster's Statsmaster link on their website, I looked over trainer stats for Yonkers Raceway this year. The leading trainer is Ron Burke, who has 32 wins. His horses are winning at 21%, a very good number considering the amount of starters he has. Using R.O.I. as the gauge, a win wager on all of the Burke horses produced a loss of 27%.

The second leading trainer at Yonkers is Tracy Brainard, who has 22 wins and a 23% win percentage, but a minus 20% R.O.I. Some of the R.O.I.'s are brutal. For instance, trainer Richard Banca is having a strong winter meet with 18 wins (20%), but has a - 34% R.O.I. Trainer Gilberto Garcia-Herrera is having a solid year, 19 wins for 11%, but the R.O.I. on those starters is an astoundingly low -44%.

Of the top 20 trainers at Yonkers (according to wins), there are only three that have produced a positive R.O.I. Trainer Robert Harmon is 9th in wins, good for 18%, and has a positive R.O.I. of 55%. Jeffrey Bamond, Jr. is 4th in wins (15%) and has a positive R.O.I. of 35%, and trainer Amber Buter is winning at 22% and has a positive R.O.I. of 23%.

So you can see that trying show a profit just by betting horses from a high percentage barn is difficult.

One of the most popular trainer betting angles is the "first start off a claim" angle. Some trainers are known for their ability to improve horses quickly. When I analyzed the trainers at Yonkers, I found that the trainers I expected to do well first off the claim did, in terms of winning percentage. However, in most cases, the R.O.I. wasn't good. Apparently, everyone knows which trainers are good first off the claim.

There were a few noted exceptions. Trainer Scott Di Domenico is 4 for 9 first off the claim at Yonkers this year for a whopping 109% positive R.O.I. Trainer William Adamczyk is 3 for 7 off the claim for a positive R.O.I. of 63%. Trainer Ricard Banca has 3 first-off-claim wins in 9 starts and a 1% R.O.I.

In thoroughbred handicapping, one of the best trainer stats to know is which trainers excel off layoffs. However, in harness racing, not that many horses win off layoffs.

Using the 30-day layoff as a barometer, I wasn't surprised to see that very few trainers at Yonkers have won with horses coming off layoffs this year. Leading trainer Ron Burke has 4 wins in 19 starts (21%) with horses coming off a layoff of 30 days or more, and this generated a 3% positive R.O.I. This is unusually good and clearly shows that Burke can have a horse ready to roll off a layoff.

Trainer Scott Di Domenico, who I mentioned is doing great work off the claim, has also done well off layoffs. He has won with 3 of 9 (33%) horses coming at least a month on the shelf, and these horses produced a profitable R.O.I. of 9%. Trainer Jennifer Sabot won with 2 of 8 (25%) layoff horses for a positive R.O.I. of 36%.

Some people may question these layoff stats as a potential handicapping angle due to the small sample size. But the fact is, some trainers rarely win with a layoff horse, so even a small sampling can be a significant stat. The idea is to know the few trainers who are eligible to bring them back ready to win. And, conversely, the trainers who are highly unlikely to win off a layoff. For example, trainer Gilberto Garcia-Herrera is having a good year, he is 5th in the trainer standings at Yonkers. But he is 0 for 37 with horses coming off a layoff of 30 days or more.

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.