Counterintuitive factors in Handicapping

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TwinSpires Staff

January 7th, 2016


One thing that I love about handicapping horses is how many factors are counterintuitive. You think it’s one way and it’s actually the other.

An easy one is that the longer the race, the better early speed does. At first, you think that the horse that is coming close to making up enough ground to win will surely get the job done when the distance gets longer but it doesn’t turn out that way.

Aqueduct’s Inner Dirt Track (IDT) has a well-deserved reputation for being kind to horses with early speed. This year, there have been 71 races run at six furlongs and the speed bias is 62%. Stretching out to two turns, the speed bias for 14 races run at one mile is 86%, for 24 races run at one mile and 70 yards it is 63% and for 24 races run at 1 1/16 miles it is 71%.

Speed does well on the IDT but especially going longer.

Another counterintuitive factor is the apprentice allowance for young jockeys. You would think that the five pounds off that they receive would be more valuable going longer since it would seem that the longer the race, the greater benefit of carrying less weight. But in true counterintuitive fashion, it turns out to be the opposite. And, then some.

Right now, there are two talented apprentice riders at Aqueduct that are still receiving a five-pound apprentice allowance: Eric Cancel and Harry Hernandez.

Thanks to data found in the BRIS Ultimate Past Performances, we have data on riders going short and long. Cancel wins 14% going short and 10% going long. Hernandez wins 17% going short and 10% going long. Just the opposite of what you might expect. 

So, I went back to check on previous apprentice riders and apply the same scrutiny. This gets a little bit dicey since I do not have information when they lost their apprentice allowance but I made sure that the sample of total rides was big enough to be statistically relevant.  

Taylor Rice won 22% going short and 13% going long. Jose Ortiz won 20% going short and 17% going long. And Manny Franco won a consistent 14% going short and long.

But it is Franco’s statistics that bring something else to light. Even though he has the same winning percentage going short and long, the ROI on his mounts are dramatically different. Franco showed a positive ROI of 0.11 with his sprint mounts but a negative ROI of 0.54 with his route mounts.

I then went back to look at the other riders and sure enough, the results were the same. Eric Cancel has a negative ROI of 0.17 with his sprint mounts but an even higher negative ROI of 0.72 with his route mounts. Harry Hernandez has a positive ROI of 0.05 with his sprint mounts and a negative ROI of 0.42 with his route mounts.

Going back into the recent past, Taylor Rice had a negative ROI of 0.15 with her sprint mounts but an even higher negative ROI of 0.94 with her route mounts and Jose Ortiz had a positive ROI of 0.17 with his sprint mounts but a negative ROI of 0.18 with his route mounts.

Apparently, bettors believe the effect of the apprentice allowance is greater going long than going short and the result is they consistently overbet the apprentices going long resulting in a greater than expected ROI differential.

Yes, a rider that wins 14% will, on average, have a greater ROI than 10% but the differences in the above ROIs are way greater than the difference in win percentages.

It is possible that with the lack of experience, sprint races are easier for apprentice riders since all they have to do is get out of the gate and go. Unlike route races, there are not that many decisions to make; especially when it comes to pace. Regardless of the reason(s), don’t fall into the trap of thinking the apprentice allowance is going to be a big help at longer distances.

                                     SPRINTS                   ROUTES
Jockey   Win %   ROI   Win %   ROI
Eric Cancel   14   -0.17   10   -0.72
Harry Hernandez   17   +0.05   10   -0.42
Taylor Rice   22   -0.15   13   -0.94
Jose Ortiz   20   +0.17   17   -0.18
Manny Franco   14   +0.11   14   -0.54