Harness Handicapping: It's the Horse, Of Course

Profile Picture: Eb Netr

Eb Netr

May 29th, 2013

If you have a favorite harness track, one that you play all the time, you probably know quite a bit about the drivers and maybe even are quite familiar with the trainers there. But how much do you know about the horses? This might seem like a foolish question.

After all, you bet on the horses all the time. You know who won and who lost, last time you went to the track, right? But what do you REALLY know about each horse? Do you know what equipment it usually wears? Do you know which horses it can regularly beat and which horses it regularly loses to?

Do you know if it runs in claiming races or allowances and whether it gets claimed back when its trainer loses it to another trainer? These are all things that are important handicapping factors. Yet most bettors don't have a clue about them. They might remember a few horses' names and whether they're "good" or not, but that's about it.

I go to a small track, where the trainers, owners and regular horse players all sit within hearing distance. I listen to them talk about their horses and the horses that are running in each race. They not only know their horses, they know almost every horse at the track.

They can tell you what another trainer's horse will do when he puts a different style of blinkers on it. They know that it's a good idea to play a horse that So-and-So just brought up from Pompano and that it's not a good idea to bet another trainer's horses when he puts them in a claiming race after running them one time where they lose.

They know all of this because they sit there, day after day, watching race after race and discussing the horses amongst themselves. I've never seen any of them take notes and they rarely even glance at a program longer than to note the names of the horse, driver and trainer.

I'm not a trainer and I don't own any horses. But I do watch as many harness races at that track as I can without giving my spouse grounds for divorce. Like I said, it's a small track. So, there aren't that many horses and the same horses run from year to year.

I can't say that I know every horse at the track, but I know a lot of them. I know what they look like when they're in good form and when they're not. I know which trainer and driver can win with them and which ones can't. I know which horses they can beat and which ones they won't pass.

I also know which claimers can go from barn to barn and not mind at all. And I know which ones hate moving around and will sulk after a barn change until they've had a couple of races and are settled in. Sometimes, I write notes about the horses on my program. When I get home, I read what I wrote and try to commit it to memory.

One of the most important things to know about a horse is its running style. Is it a horse that needs the lead to win? Or is it my favorite kind of horse: one that can win whether it has the lead or has to close. These horses are few and far between, but when you find one, make a note of it and look for it in a race where it can benefit.

As a matter of fact, if you just kept a list of these particular horses, you'd probably be able to do very well at most tracks, especially half-mile tracks. Everyone knows that it's the fast leavers that win at half mile tracks, so playing closers is a fool's game. Most of the time, this is true.

But in at least one or two races on almost every program, one of the versatile horses that can win from anywhere on the track comes along and steals a race from a front runner. They pay very well. And if you keep track of the horses at your track, you can probably find at least one or two of these little goldmines. Play them in races where there are more than a couple of horses that need the lead.

When a speed duel knocks out a couple of the fireballs, you'll very likely see your horse coming from a little way off the pace to take the lead just before the wire, and at a good price. This is just one of the ways you can win if you pay as much attention to the horses as you do to the drivers and trainers.