Harness Handicapping When the Crowd Picks Winners
I've gotten two emails lately asking me about favorites at the harness track. One of them asked if it's ever a good idea to just go with the crowd's pick, instead of handicapping. The other asked if favorites are more likely to come in at certain tracks or in certain races. I'm glad you asked.
I keep pretty good records, including every program that I play. I download the program to a file on my computer and then, at the end of the year, I copy it to a backup disk for future reference. That way, I can go back and see, for instance, how certain post positions have done at Batavia over the years. Or I can look at the purse values, times or anything else I want to track over time.
Because I write down the final odds for each race, beside each horse's name in the program, I can also see how the crowd did at picking the winner, place and show horse, because I write down the results at the bottom of the page. I can tell you that there are certain types of races where the crowd is more likely to pick a winner.
Oddly enough, they're pretty good at "Non-Winners of 1" races, which are essentially maiden races, if you think about it. I can't tell you how many times there's been a big favorite in one of these races that's made me scratch my head and wonder why the crowd is so crazy about it, but then it wins.
Maybe they know something I don't know about the trainer or the horse. That's possible. Or maybe someone with deep pockets puts a bundle on the horse and then the crowd jumps on it. I don't know, but I do know that I don't do well betting against favorites in "Non-Winners of 1" races.
Another type of race that the crowd is pretty good at handicapping for favorites is stakes. Sure, there are upsets like when Royalty For Life lost to Your So Vain at Mohawk in the Canadian Trotting Classic Elim recently. However, in the majority of stakes races, the crowd is pretty good at picking the most likely horse to back. As a matter of fact, I'd venture to say that the exacta can usually be found within the crowd's first three picks.
You can check this out for yourself by looking back through the odds and results on stakes races and Non-Winners of 1 races. Notice how many times the winner is the favorite and the horse that places is the second or third favorite. One reasonf for this is that horses that run in stakes races are right out there in front of the public for a series of races. So the crowd gets a chance to see what they can do against each other and also gets to read about these horses at sites like USTrotting.com and Harnesslink.com and such.
So, next time you leaf through a program, look at the conditions for each race. If there are races for Non-Winners of 1 or stakes races, ignore the favorites at your own risk. I'm not saying you should just blindly play the favorite. I am saying that you should consider the crowd favorite in these races, especially when you play exotics. Sometimes, going along with the crowd just makes sense.