What We’re Watching When Racing Returns

Profile Picture: Frank Cotolo

May 7th, 2020

How close are we to wagering on harness racing again? Speculation abounds, though no tracks have committed to opening, as of this posting, on any specific dates.

You may have read some posts around the Internet during this pandemic where public harness handicappers talk about supposed problems they suspect the betting public will face when racing returns. All of their plans, of course, were as subjective as their handicapping processes themselves.

Certainly, every individual handicapper works within his or her own boundaries of knowledge, experience and success, but they admit to adding new approaches to how they’ll handle additional the extra-layoff element.

Our weekly preview blog, however, is not creating any new approach. It will continue where all the action of all the horses on the list left off, as if there were no pandemic hiatus.

Here’s our deal.

When we left off with our track preview and update blogs, we offered our Horses-to-Watch (H2W) list, as it always is presented on our preview blog. Once track meetings began to suspend their programs, and after the last one, Cal-Expo, tanked, all the horses listed on our H2Wwere left hanging.

Wisely, though, that H2W list is intact and we can use it to point out horses that we thought were on the brink of productive performances—because they still may be just that.

These are not absolute bet-back horses; they are considerations for valuable contenders in their next race. I do not believe handicappers will be looking for any horse from a personal H2W list because I do not imagine they keep such a subjective list.

I do believe that, as usual, public and private handicappers will allow the hiatus to become a handicapping element. That would be a mistake, because more than being unable to accurately measure the usual elements of handicapping (best trainer, driver, track size, speed, post, class, etcetera), no facts exist to measure the racing hiatus.

Some handicappers will point strongly to using qualifying races as evidence for measuring horses’ current shape. This is a sketchy element to trust under any circumstances, no less a huge layoff, since the purpose of the qualifying race is not to send up flairs to forecast future winners. Their function is to meet a speed requirement so they are eligible for racing again.

To my knowledge, no one has ever produced an empirical study suggesting qualifiers produce winners in their next pari-mutuel race. I say “suggest” because even the use of 10,000 races would still only pin a positive or negative percentage on the chances. It would cement some kind of probability but be unreliable by default. That is, because it is not a pari-mutuel race it does not qualify in a study relating it to pari-mutuel races.

Such a study would be as useless in results as if someone studied if people crossing a street on the “WALK” sign walked slower than people crossing the street on a “DON’T WALK” sign.

We are not casting aspersions on the face that handicappers are subjective animals. They are surely that, which is proven by the miles of opinions making up how they “pick” horses to win. Longtime readers of our blogs at TwinSpires are aware we reject most “incomplete” handicapping conclusions about which elements work the best under certain conditions. The 2020 situation, therefore, fits perfectly into our approach. 

Coupled with the success we have had with the H2W over the years at the TwinSpires harness blog, we feel we can we take our most recent H2W horses listed seriously as contenders with no regard for the hiatus.

Watch for the next “watch” list when racing begins. Do your own handicapping, of course, but respect the members of the H2W and take them into consideration.

Until that happens, look back at your last few weeks of betting and make your own H2W list and, for the rest of the 2020 season and on, make it a habit.