One of the hardest handicapping lessons is the one that deals with percentages and their effect on making money at the dog track. It’s not just that math is involved. It’s that most people don’t know how to use percentage statistics when they’re handicapping the races.
For instance, if a dog has had 100 races and has won 50, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the dog has a 50% win percentage. Nor is it difficult to understand that the dog wins 1 out of 2 races that it runs. (By the way, I’d like to see more dogs with this kind of percentage, wouldn’t you?)
So if this dog was running and had come in second in its last race, you’d be a fool not to bet it, right? Wrong. Take out that penny and I’ll show you why.
Throw the penny up and catch it on your forearm – in other words, flip it – 100 times. Write down how many times the penny comes up heads and how many times it comes up tails.
If it was perfectly balanced and you flipped it the same way every time, the penny would come up heads half the time and tails half the time.
It doesn’t, because it isn’t perfectly balanced and you don’t throw it the same way every time. But it should be close to half heads and half tails. Now, look at where you wrote that down.
Does it look like this: heads, tails, heads, tails… alternating fifty times until you have a list of 100 penny tosses? Probably not. It’s more likely that it’s something like this: heads, heads, tails, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails, tails, tails… etc.
In other words, while the overALL percentage of times the penny came up heads is around 50%, it wasn’t heads every other time or tails every other time. It was much more random, although it all added up to roughly 50% for heads and 50% for tails.
It’s the same with greyhounds. They can have a percentage that shows that they win half the time, but they could have lost twenty races in a row and then won twenty, lost five, won five and so on. Just because a dog has won half its races, doesn’t mean that it’s more likely to win the next race after it loses a race.
It may go on to lose four more races before it wins again. Or it might lose this race and then win the next six. There’s just no way to predict whether a dog is more likely to win or lose by using statistics. Statistics can only tell us what a dog has done in the past.
Unfortunately, we can’t bet on past races. (Don’t you wish we could?) So when you look at percentages, just use them as a guide, not a sure thing. It’s more important that a dog has recently been running in the money, not that he was a few weeks ago, even if that’s when he won the races that give him a good percentage.