Stats Don’t Always Tell the Whole Story

They’ll be coming down the stretch at Hawthorne in less than five weeks. (Four Footed Photo)

They’ll be coming down the stretch at Hawthorne in less than five weeks. (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise

While it may be true that statistics don’t lie, it’s also accurate that sometimes they can be a bit misleading.

All harness racing tracks list in their program and/or their web-site the winning percentage of favorites at a meeting. Interestingly, that figure has gone upward on the Chicago circuit since the end of the 1990s.

Balmoral Park’s winning favorites were consistently around 36 or 37 per cent in the late 1990s and through the first decade of this century, but was consistently over 40 per cent this decade.

The betting favorites last summer at Hawthorne came in at a rather high 44.1 per cent, however it took a huge drop of 7.4 per cent at this year’s winter meet, ending up at 36.7 per cent, and that figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

Digging deeper into this winter track statistics, an attention-grabbing fact was revealed: The percentage of winning favorites would have been even lower if it weren’t for the Late Closer events, where the percentage of winning favorites were way out of line. They had success at an extremely high percentage of 64.2, and its heavy favorites— horses at even money or lower—won at a mind-blowing 88.8 per cent clip.

Of the 28 Hawthorne recent winter meet Late Closer events, 18 were captured by the betting favorite and 16 of those 18 winners were at payouts of anywhere between $4.00 down to $2.20.

Hawthorne Logo Last summer’s Late Closer’s saw its favorites prevail at a very lofty 70 per cent and those events for strictly pacers won an astonishing 80 per cent of the time. Those winning Late Closer favorites had payoffs of 3 to 5 or lower 66.6 per cent of the time and 40 cent of those won at either at 1 to 5 or 1 to 9 odds!

Since a race secretary can’t handicap a Late Closer (or a stakes race), those kind of overwhelming chalks could be popping up again when this summer’s Hawthorne meeting gets under way on Saturday, May 5th.

Let’s be clear, I’m all for Hawthorne Late Closer’s events. They are very much needed to fill programs, especially early-on in a meeting, and the money won from some of their nice purses could be the difference from a stable staying afloat or going under. I’m just zeroing in on an overall track statistic that could be misleading to a player.

What also aided last summer’s lofty 44.1 per cent winning percentage for favorites were races for strictly 2-year-old horses. Of the 100 contested at Hawthorne 46 were the public’s choices.

Meanwhile, this past winter Hawthorne’s betting favorites took a beating in its Opens and conditioned claiming races. It was at 31.1 per cent in Opens and at just 22.5 per cent in the meet’s conditioned-claiming races.

A total of 126 straight conditioned contests were conducted at the winter meet, producing 50 winning favorites and half of those (25) paid even money or lower.  Note that were 27 low-end favorites also failed in those conditioned races.

There were 19 Opens for either pacers or trotters and 6 of those wagering favorites won while 13 didn’t.  Heavy Open “chalks” (1-1 or lower odds), saw 4 of those 6 horses fail to finish first.

Only 25 per cent of the straight claiming races had horses go off even-money or lower and a just meager 10 per cent of them came through despite having more than half of their Win Pool wagered on them.

If the past two meetings at Hawthorne’s are any indication chalk players for this summer’s session, it might be wise to go heavy on the Late Closer events and ease up a bit on the conditioned-claimer races.

On the other hand long-shot players might want to do the opposite.

With that said, remember: the only certainty in horse racing is its uncertainty.