05/23/2012 5:44PM

Pandolfo: Don't be afraid to go for a price


I’ve been involved in a handicapping contest called Pen vs. Chip, where two teams of three handicappers each compete. The contest selections are posted online at hanaharnesscontest.blogspot.com. Each handicapper plays for a standardbred rescue group and the contest has sponsors: The Meadowlands, Breeders Crown, Hambletonian Society, Tioga and Vernon Downs are major sponsors, and there are others.

The first night of the contest was at Yonkers Raceway on April 28. There were major stakes races at Yonkers that night, the Bluechip Matchmaker and the Levy.

In the Bluechip I picked See You At Peelers for Harness Eye. I had a Thursday deadline to send in the analysis and although I didn’t love See You At Peelers, she had the rail and had been racing well, so I made her my pick.

But when I did the contest picks a couple of days later, I selected Rocklamation in the Bluechip. Rocklamation won and paid $12. Did I change my mind? Well, sort of, but not really. As a public handicapper, See You At Peelers made sense to me. But in the context of a handicapping contest, my thinking changed.

I’ve won money in a couple of handicapping contests over the past few years, less than $2,000 total but overall my partner and I have shown a nice profit. I handicap, he goes to the contest and puts in the bets. One was at a Connecticut casino and another was at Capital OTB in upstate New York. From my experience in contests, you have to try to pick against the obvious favorites if you want to have any chance to win. In other words, you have to pick good-priced winners.

In handicapping contests that are based solely on the highest return on investment, the contest winner is often someone who picks one or two bombs. The handicapping contests that I cashed in were two-day events, and in a short contest like that, some people simply take stabs on wild longshots.

The Pen vs. Chip contest is different because the contest runs for six months. With a contest that long, I’m not sure what the best approach is. I decided early on to go for prices and so far I’ve got the lowest win percentage and R.O.I. of the six handicappers. But I’m committed to going for prices, which still makes sense to me. That night at Yonkers I only picked one favorite, High Octane N, who paid $3.60 in the first race, but I thought that High Octane N was a lock and it was actually the only horse I bet that night.

I found it interesting how my mind changed when I looked at the races from strictly an R.O.I. perspective.  Initially I picked See You At Peelers, but in the contest I changed my mind and went for a 5-1 shot that won. But, I didn’t change my mind about High Octane N. So, after looking at it from a different perspective, High Octane N was actually the only favorite on the night that I thought was not a good bet-against.

When my Dad was alive, he used to subscribe to Newsday, a Long Island paper. He often mentioned to me that the handicapper in Newsday that had the best return was usually Steve Matthews. “Matthews has the best return, but he picks the least amount of winners,” my Dad would tell me. Matthews is a longtime handicapper for Newsday; he covers New York Thoroughbred racing. Matthews goes for prices and he is one of the best longshot pickers in the business.

I think anyone who bets horses has to be careful in how they approach betting. Most bettors will lose consistently if they actually bet their own top picks. If you look over the selections of public handicappers, myself included, you’ll often see that in certain races we all picked the same horse, and it’s the favorite. Does that mean that the horse has a big shot? No, it means that the horse is most likely going to be an underlay.

The winners that are going to give you a positive R.O.I. are not likely to be the ones that everyone is picking. That’s why I often bet on my second or third pick, not my top pick. In fact, at the Meadowlands I always rank my top four horses and sometimes I bet on my fourth pick. It depends on the odds.

Most of us are going to pick the favorite 30 to 40 percent of the time, depending on the track. That’s because on paper the favorites look good. But we have to force ourselves to think outside of the box. When I first looked at the Bluechip, See You At Peelers looked good. But when I analyzed the race from a different perspective, I thought, gee, Rocklamation has a good shot here and she’ll be a much better price.

No matter what criteria you use, sometimes it’s better to go one down. For instance, instead of betting the top ranked horse on speed figures, play the second-ranked. Instead of betting the horse with the best last race, bet the horse that raced well two back. I’m generalizing, but he point is, the obvious form and speed will not pay off in the long run.

When you’re finished handicapping, go back over the races and make up another set of picks, but the second set of picks would be your selections if you were in a one-day handicapping contest where the highest R.O.I. wins. You may be surprised to find that your contest picks beat your regular picks over the long run. Your contest picks should be horses that you think have a shot at a price, not the horse you think has the best chance of winning.

Of course watching the odds board simplifies matters. You can look over your top two or three picks and see where the value is. You’ll often find that your top pick is not actually the best bet in the race.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories, check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Rd, Northampton, PA. 18067.