Harness Handicapping: Driver Changes, Scratches and Odds

Profile Picture: Eb Netr

Eb Netr

February 20th, 2013

One of the things I like about the harness races is that they don't usually have as many scratches as there are at the thoroughbred races. They do have them though. Once in a while, a horse comes up lame or a trainer reads the condition book and realizes that his horse might do a lot better in a race taking place later in the week. So a horse is scratched and things change.

Some handicappers just draw a line through the horse's name in the program and don't think about how that's changed the race. That's a mistake. When a horse is scratched, especially at a half mile track, or even at a five- eighths track, it's a whole 'nother race and needs to be handicapped from the beginning all over again.

If the scratch is the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 horse, everyone moves in. Usually, the inside horses have the advantage at half mile tracks. Let's say that the 4 horse is scratched. Now, the 5 horse is in the 4 post and the 6, which is not usually a good position, is now in the 5 post, which is. At some tracks, like The Meadows, the 5 post is actually the best post in paces. (Trots have a whole different set of post statistics, but that's another article.)

I've played races where, when I first handicapped the race, I've looked at the 6, which has a good driver and thought that I'd play it if it was only in a better position. If there's a scratch, it will be in a better position. I make a note on the top of the program page of horses in the 6 post that I'd play if they were in a better post. That way, if there's a scratch, I'll know that the 6 is a pick.

That's one of the things that I'm flexible about when I'm handicapping. Another thing that I'm flexible on is odds. We all know that the morning line is not what the horse will go off at. Usually, horses go off at lower odds than the morning line odds. Real longshots - the 20-1 morning line odds horses - often go the other way and go off at even longer odds.

When I pick a horse to play, I figure out what I think its "real world" odds should be. I write that next to its morning line odds when I circle the horse. Then I watch the odds and if they're less than my odds at about a minute to post, I pass on playing the horse. It's not worth risking money on horses at lower odds than I think they should have.

After all, odds are just a way of showing how much confidence the morning line odds maker has in a horse winning a race. My odds are how I remind myself of how much confidence I have in the horse. If the odds sink to less than my odds, so does my feeling that this horse is worth backing.

Something that really influences whether I play a horse I've picked in the program is a driver change. If I get to the track and they give the changes and I find out that Dave Palone will be driving a horse that had a provisional driver on it, of course, I'm going to reconsider it. It works the other way though too.

If I handicap a race, pick a horse with Brett Miller driving in a trot and then find out that the driver has been changed to a driver who isn't so hot in trots, I may just pass on the race. For one thing, I'll wonder why Miller got off it, especially if he gets on another horse in the race. For another thing, I handicap both the horse and the driver. If one isn't going to be as good, it cancels the bet as far as I'm concerned.

Sometimes I wish I could just handicap a program, make my bets and then go fishing or something. But I know that this doesn't work. That's why I wait until I can see the changes and then decide whether I still want to play what I saw on the program when I handicapped it. If I'm out and about, I use Bet America's mobile app to get the changes and change my bets. Keeping up with the changes is one of the best ways to make money at the harness track.