Harness Handicapping: No Wasted Bets

Eb Netr

May 1st, 2013

Bangor Raceway is going to be running in a few days. That's good news for people in Maine, because it gives us two tracks to play. Scarborough is the other one and they have some good races. I watched one the other day at Scarborough that was as contentious and exciting as any of the big stakes races at the big tracks.

One of my favorite trotters, Nanny McPee, has had several races with Nowerland Collins, another very good trotter. Sometimes Nanny McPee comes out on top and sometimes Nowerland Collins does. On April 20th, Nanny McPee won. On April 7th, Nowerland Collins won. Now, it was April 28th and they were racing against each other again. They both have good drivers and trainers.

As I perused the second race, I tried to figure out which one of them would prevail this time. Of course, I also looked at the other horses in the race, not wanting to take anything for granted. There were a couple that looked like they could put up a fight, but I ended up picking Nanny McPee to win. She did, but not without a stretch battle that looked like it could go either way.

It wasn't Nowerland Collins that challenged her. It was See Through It that took advantage of Nowerland Collins breaking and she almost nipped Nanny McPee at the wire. And she did it at odds of 16-1 from the 7 post, which isn't that bad a post in trots at Scarborough. I wish I could say that I had the exacta, but I didn't. I did have the winner at 5-2 and the double with A Little Naughty in the first race and it paid almost $20.

As I was leaving the window after cashing my tickets, I ran into Harry, a regular at Scarborough. As usual, he wasn't happy. Harry is never happy, as far as I can tell.

"Did you have that one?" he asked.

"I had the winner and the double," I told him, "But I missed the exacta. I played the 2 with the 5 and with the 6."

He grimaced.

"So you wasted a bet too," he said. "I had the winner and the double too, but I played two exactas and missed both of them. Geez, I hate wasting bets."

He went on his way and I thought about how we had both played the same thing and made money, but one of us was happy and one of us was miserable. Our two exacta bets, our win bet and our double bet cost each of us $8. The win paid $7 and the double paid $18.60. So we made a profit of $17.60.

Harry thought he had wasted money on his exacta bets and he felt cheated. I thought I had taken a calculated risk on my exacta bets - a risk that would have paid off if things had gone just a little differently - and didn't feel like I had wasted anything. I came out ahead and that's the bottom line for me.

Later on that day, I heard Harry telling someone else about how he had wasted bets on the race with Nanny McPee and I'm sure he'll be saying that about some other race he wins money on but loses a bet on. What Harry doesn't seem to understand is that no one hits every bet they make.

But if you make money with the bets you DO hit, the ones you don't hit aren't wasted. They're chances you take that don't work out. As they say, you have to speculate to win and all of our bets are just speculations. If Nowerland Collins hadn't broke, things could have gone very differently.

But, then again, how big would an exacta be with the two favorites, with one of them at 60 cents on the dollar? And how big would the double have been, if Nowerland Collins, the big favorite, had come in instead of Nanny McPee, the second favorite? I wonder if Harry ever thinks of that, when he's moaning about how he wasted his money on that exacta that didn't come in? I think we actually dodged a bullet on this race and I'm very happy with the results.

As far as I'm concerned, the only wasted bets are those bets that you make at the last minute, on impulse, without anything to back them up except wishful thinking. You know, when a big longshot is in a race where there's a big favorite. You think the big favorite is going to win and the longshot looks terrible, has a low ranked driver and trainer and has never done anything at this level.

But you play it anyway, hoping, like a little kid hopes for a real pony under the Christmas tree, that it will miraculously turn into the reincarnation of Dan Patch. That's a wasted bet. I avoid those, but the other ones I make aren't wasted, as long as enough of them come in to make me money.