Greyhound Handicapping Stakes and High Grade Races

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Eb Netr

September 5th, 2013

Greyhound stakes races are popping up all over lately. From Bluffs Run to Dubuque to Palm Beach to Orange Park to Southland, racing secretaries are setting up races that match the best against the best in sprints and routes. In addition to providing great races for watching, these contests often provide lucrative wagering opportunities for the handicapper who is able to adjust his or her handicapping style to suit the stakes races.

One of the most important things about handicapping stakes races is that you have to look at them as completely different from any other grade. Greyhounds that have run in stakes races before have a big advantage in stakes, because they've been tested by fire, so to speak.
Greyhound Handicapping Stakes and High Grade Races

They've run against the best that the track has to offer. Even if a dog runs in AA or A - whatever the top grade is at its track - it probably hasn't run in a race where every dog is stakes caliber. Think about it. Once they do run in a stakes race, and have competed with dogs that are at the top of the stats at that track, they're much more likely to know how to run the next time they face stakes level competition.

When I look at a stakes race, the first thing I do is handicap for class. The way I do this is by writing the letter of the highest grade that the dog shows in its last 6 races beside its name in the program - but ONLY the top grade that it hit the board in. So if it ran in SA or stakes and came in 1st, 2nd or 3rd, I'd put SA next to its name in the program. But if it ran in SA and came in 4th or worse, but had a win in A, I'd put A next to its name.

After I do this for all the dogs, I count the number of races where they hit the exacta in the highest grade where they hit the board in their last 6 races. So, if a dog had a win, a 2nd and a 3rd in SA, it would get a 2 for its exacta number, because it was in the exacta twice in the highest grade it hit the board in.

I do this even if a dog has only hit the board in lower grades than the race its in today. That helps me classify the dog in the pecking order. In most stakes races, there will be a couple of dogs that have done something in SA, if there have been recent stakes races. If not, there will be a couple of dogs that have done something in the highest grade at that track, whether it's A or AA.

I pay particular attention to the dogs where I've written SA next to their names. I may or may not rank the one with the highest exacta number first, depending on other factors such as post position, early speed and times in its last races. However, I do play these dogs on top and in the middle in exotics, with dogs that are just a little less impressive.

Separating the entries by this method really helps me visualize which dogs are contenders and which are not quite up to the caliber of the other dogs. If a dog hasn't won in A, and other dogs have won in A, it's not likely that the dog will suddenly wake up and become good enough to do what it's never done before. Once in a while, a very precocious puppy will suddenly evolve into a stakes champion by winning in an upset, but that's not what usually happens.
Greyhound Handicapping Stakes High Grade Races

In a couple of stakes races lately, there have been two or more dogs that have the same number of wins in the same top grade. When this happens, I look at how many lengths they won by and at whether they were gaining ground at the end of the race or losing it. This can be an indication of how much energy they'll have at the end of THIS race.

Of course, whether handicapping stakes or Grade M, we still have to look at all the factors that influence the outcome of a greyhound race. Post position is very important, even in stakes races, as is the dogs' running styles and how they'll affect each other.

If you can visualize what's going to happen on the first turn, and to whom, you'l be way ahead of the game also. I try to "see" the race as it will play out, starting when the boxes open and figuring out which dogs will get the break and be ahead in the run up to the first turn.

These are the dogs that have the advantage in the early part of the race. After the first turn, it's the dogs with closing ability and the dogs that have early speed, but also have energy for the stretch that I want to identify. Seeing a race in advance is an art as much as a science and I'm not as good as I'd like to be at it, but I've gotten better over the years.

So, next time you handicap a stakes race, classify the dogs with my method or your own method, and then try to imagine where the dogs will be at each point in the race. Remember that breakers that were first to the turn in higher grades have an advantage over breakers that ran in lower grade races and broke first. Don't expect them to be on even terms in a stakes race. The bottom line is that class DOES matter, maybe more in stakes races than in any other grade.