• Big Win Baloney

    POSTED Oct 27, 2011
    Horseracing fans are funny.

    Although most insist that thoroughbreds want to run, love to run and were, in fact, born to run, often these same guys and gals cling to other beliefs that contradict such a notion.

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    Take, for example, the case of the “easy” winner — the horse that triumphs by a wide margin or with little or no urging from its jockey. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told that speed and pace figures are insufficient to assess the talents of such beasts, because, the argument goes, “they weren’t asked for their all.”

    Huh? I thought horses loved to run. Why do they have to be urged or whipped to strut their best stuff?

    The truth is they don’t.

    As proof, let's take a peek at the record books. For, if one accepts the notion that horses need to be goaded by human beings, i.e. jockeys, to put their best foot forward, it stands to reason that most world record times would be recorded by horses that were put to a drive in the stretch. Easy winners (as indicated by a large margin of victory) would be an exception to the norm, it would seem.

    Yet, such is definitely not the case, as only one of the 13 major records from four to 12 furlongs was set by a horse that won by fewer than three lengths:

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    It is also a misconception that easy winners make for good bets in their next start. As Dr. William Quirin documented in “Winning at the Races: Computer Discoveries in Thoroughbred Handicapping” (first published in 1979), horses that captured their previous outing by three lengths or more do, in fact, win more than their fair share of races, but they do so at greatly deflated odds.

    My own studies confirm Dr. Quirin’s findings.

    And if you are searching for an automatic handicapping toss-out, look no further than the easy winner that is switching surfaces (turf to dirt or dirt to turf). I found 170 such instances in my database of over 6,000 races and the results were abysmal: just 14 winners (8.2 percent) and a return on investment (ROI) of -60.85 percent.

    The Breeders’ Cup races prove no exception, as the following statistics clearly demonstrate:

    * Horses that won their most recent race by three lengths or more over today’s general track surface (dirt/turf).

    Number (races): 113 (58)
    Won: 13
    Rate: 11.5%
    Return: $132.90 (4-1 average odds)
    ROI: -41.19%

    * Horses that won their most recent race by three lengths or more over a different general track surface (dirt/turf) than today’s.

    Number (races): 7 (7)
    Won: 1
    Rate: 14.3%
    Return: $7.20 (5-2 average odds)
    ROI: -48.57%

    T.J. Burkett said...

    Does your theory factor in winners who benefited from torrid early fractions and passed the front-runners easily? I'm coming at this from a harness racing perspective, though. Our records get set when two horses duel for a half-mile and a horse comes from off the pace and blows by them. They also look like they are not being urged while winning by open lengths.

    Derek Simon said...

    No, T.J., but you make a very good point, even in thoroughbred racing. That's why these big winners are often overbet too.

    In fact, I'll try to do a study looking at big winners vs. the par time of the race in question (whether they met the par or not) soon.

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