• Worth the Weight? Wise Dan Takes on Six at Saratoga

    POSTED Aug 9, 2013

    Of all the handicapping factors that confuse me, none are quite as befuddling as weight.

    Numerous studies have shown that a horse’s impost has next to nothing to do with its performance in today’s race… yet, some of the greatest horsemen, handicappers and handicapping services consider it to be of paramount importance.

    Both the “The Sheets” and “Thoro-Graph” factor weight into their speed ratings and professional gambler Bill Benter includes a horse’s impost in his mathematical algorithms as well. 

    And let’s not forget George E. Smith.

    In “Racing Maxims and Methods of ‘Pittsburg Phil’,” Smith, aka “Pittsburg Phil,” said this: “In handicaps, the top weights are at a disadvantage always, unless they are very high-class horses.”

    Of course, in that same book, Smith also noted that “condition has more to do with a horse winning or losing a race than the weight it carries.”

    This begs the question: Which is it? Does weight matter or is it meaningless?

    Well, I already confessed to being befuddled, so I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have some opinions on the subject:

    1) In the grand scheme of things and considering the state of handicap racing in the US (which is practically non-existent), I don’t think weight has much impact on the results of races.

    2) Although the impost itself probably doesn’t mean much, the perception that it can “stop a freight train” is still very real among many in the industry. Hence, considering weight and weight changes makes sense to me.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: on the surface, these points seem contradictive, but they’re really not.

    We’ve all heard of the “placebo effect” — real improvement in one’s health or well-being based on the belief that a particular medication is working, even when it is not — right? Well, weight on/off is kind of the racing equivalent of this.

    Remember when Blind Luck edged out Havre de Grace in the 2012 Delaware Handicap? Larry Jones, trainer of Havre de Grace, felt that weight played a major role in his filly’s defeat.

    “Tell me two pounds does not make a difference,” the veteran conditioner lamented after the race. “[Blind Luck] won six Grade 1's versus our one and we are the highweight. That makes a lot of sense. I probably should not have run.”

    Yet two pounds to a 1,000-pound horse is like actor Richard Gere running around with a gerbil on his back (it obviously escaped… from its cage).

    Still, if a great trainer like Larry Jones believes that two pounds can make a difference in the outcome of a horse race isn’t it wise to play along? After all, Jones said after the Del. ‘Cap that he “probably should not have run.” Isn’t it logical to conclude that some trainers don’t run a fit and ready horse if they believe the assigned weight is too high or, conversely, they do run if they think the weights are in their favor? The stats seem to bear this out.

    I took a look at horses that were asked to spot their rivals at least five pounds and the results were not encouraging:

    Horses: 262
    Winners: 53 
    Win Rate: 20.2%
    Return: $321.50
    ROI: -38.65%
    IV: 1.40
    OBIV: 0.84

    However, when I added the stipulation that the horse above be the morning-line favorite, the numbers did an about-face:


    Horses: 66
    Winners: 29 
    Win Rate: 43.9%
    Return: $128.40
    ROI: -2.73%
    IV: 2.73
    OBIV: 0.85


    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Which brings us to this weekend’s Grade II Fourstardave Handicap, in which defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan will be conceding 11-14 pounds to his six (scheduled) rivals. 


    (Click on image to enlarge)

    (Click on image to enlarge)
    Will the spread in weights be enough to trip up the champ?

    Personally, I don’t think so. However, I am intrigued — once again — by Lea, a horse that I think is immensely talented and one that got a questionable ride the last time he faced Wise Dan in the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs.

    It is noteworthy that top jock Joel Rosario takes over the riding duties from Brian Hernandez on the son of First Samurai. As was the case in the Firecracker, in which Lea pressed slow fractions while running wide around both turns (a double no-no), the key to upsetting “Dan” in the Fourstardave is the pace.

    If Lea can control the tempo, I believe he is fast enough late to hold off Wise Dan down the lane… and set off the inevitable complaining about unfair weight assignments.

    Note: Watch the place and/or show pools. If Wise Dan controls 75% or more of the money wagered, I'd suggest betting Lea in those pools.
  • No comments:

    Post a Comment