07/02/2014 2:59PM

Pandolfo: Evaluating favorites


At most harness tracks the favorites win at least 40% of the time. Although the profit margin is small, I believe that a good handicapper can show a profit betting favorites. One key is if you're betting through an ADW that gives you a rebate, that margin is multiplied. And, betting favorites minimizes the tough losing streaks that are inevitable for longshot or exotic bettors.

There is a downside. It's difficult to win a lot of money betting favorites. At many tracks, you can't make big bets without significantly lowering the odds. If you're going to try to win betting chalk, you have to bet tracks that have large pools. Tracks that would qualify are Meadowlands, Mohawk, Woodbine, Balmoral, Yonkers, Northfield, Cal Expo, and Hoosier Park. At most of the other tracks, a chalk bettor would have to make smaller wagers. That's fine if you just want to make a few bucks and enjoy the races. Winning is a lot more fun than losing.

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If you're betting favorites, you probably should have some sort of minimum odds requirement. That may be 3-5, 1-2, or even money. You could do some testing to see where your break even point is. Once the payoff drops below $3.00, it's hard to justify the bet, in my opinion.

Here are some other things I can suggest to chalk bettors:

 Only bet inside posts, or any post that wins at least 10%.

 If you bet trotters, stick to classy trotters that rarely break stride.

 Only bet favorites that are likely to leave the gate, or have an inside post and can go first over.

 Only bet horses that have shown some class. These general rules will help you hit a higher percentage of winners.

Something I find interesting is the different types of chalk bettors. For instance, some chalk bettors gravitate towards the top-class races and bet horses like Captaintreacherous or Foiled Again. But another approach is to look for a regular raceway horse that has drawn into a soft spot.

With the outstanding horses, you're betting on a horse that's consistent and has a high lifetime win percentage. But, the downside is the horse is usually facing quality rivals.

Recently at the Meadowlands, there were two regular horses that looked like locks. One was Bolder, a 6-year-old pacer that was entered at the bottom C-2 class in the 13th race on June 7. Bolder came into the race with only 17 wins in 155 starts. In his last race, at the same C-2 level, he had finished 9th. He wasn't even in top form. But, almost every one of Bolder's recent final times were significantly faster than any horse in the race. And, they were not the dreaded "suck-along" times.

A "suck-along time" occurs when a horse saves ground and records a final time that's faster than it's capable of going. I know that seems absurd, but it's true. So, when you evaluate final times, you want to use lines in which the horse was actually doing something. For instance, the horse set the pace, went first-over, or followed cover and was involved in the action. It takes experience as a handicapper to spot the sucker times, but it's a critical handicapping factor.

Back to Bolder. Even though his recent form wasn't that great, he was dropping into such a slow field that it looked like he'd have to fall down to lose. Bolder followed cover and drew off to win by 5 lengths, paying $3.20 to win.

The next weekend at the Meadowlands, a horse named Jetty was in a similar situation. Jetty only had 2 wins in his last 28 starts. But, Jetty drew into in a dreadfully slow C-2 race. Any of his recent final times were much faster than his rivals, and they were not suck-along times. In race 3 on June 13, Jetty left from post 8, tucked third, brushed to the lead and won by 5 lengths, paying $3.00 to win. It's interesting that both of these horses won by 5 lengths, because on paper, it looked like they were about a second faster than the next fastest horse in the race.

I mention these two winning odds-on favorites to make a couple of points. One is, if a horse has consistently faster final times than the other horses in the race, this can be the surest bet in racing. I say, can be, because there is one caveat: THE HORSE MUST HAVE SOME CLASS.

Sometimes I hear people put horses down, saying things like, “that horse isn't game,” or, “it has no heart,” or, “it lacks the will to win.” There probably are horses that aren't game. But, in my opinion, most raceway horses are actually trying their hardest to win. The reason why they don't win is because either they're not the fastest horse in the race or they don't have class.

There's a mare named Jarnac that's been racing at the Meadowlands this year. Jarnac only has 6 wins in 93 career starts. She often looks like a prime contender on paper, and she races well, but comes up short. This year she's raced 13 times at the Meadowlands with no wins, but she finished second 6 times and third 5 times.  I'm sure some fans feel that she has no heart. But, when you watch her race, she seems to be trying hard. Jarnac is in career form, but there's a problem. She doesn't have class. She has 6 wins in 93 starts overall, but 4 of those wins (20 starts) came at Freehold. She's cheap. But, that doesn't mean that she's not trying her best. When she's in against less classy horses, she can win. Considering that she's been racing at the Meadowlands, a stamina track that favors horses with a touch of class, she should be applauded for her efforts.

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There's a lesson to be learned here, and this can help you avoid tearing up tickets. At the Grade 1 tracks that have high purses, don't bet horses that haven't shown any class. Top tracks would be those that have high purses, such as Dover, Harrah's Philadelphia, Pocono, Meadowlands, Mohawk, Yonkers, and Woodbine.

Bolder and Jetty both have back class. Bolder won over $72,000 last year, and he won a B-1 race at the Meadowlands. Jetty is 8-years-old now, but during his 4- and 5-year-old seasons, he won 11 races for over $178,000 in earnings while racing at Grade 1 tracks. Bolder and Jetty have beaten good horses. Jarnac has never beaten a good horse, and Jarnac has only one win at a Grade 1 track (at Harrah's, where she has 1 win in 31 career starts).

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.