Harness Handicapping: Track Conditions

Eb Netr

March 13th, 2013

We've had a lot of rain and snow in the last few months. My friend, Bill, who's a thoroughbred player is pretty dadblamed disillusioned with the weather, I'll tell you. He loves to play the Florida tracks, especially the turf races, but lately almost every time he handicaps them, they're off the turf.

That's why Bill has been playing a lot of harness races lately. Standardbreds are tough animals. They were bred to work in all kinds of weather. I've seen them race in snowstorms so heavy that I hesitated to bet on grays, knowing I wouldn't be able to see them after the first turn. They run through slop and mud and snow and most of them just shrug it off.

True, there are some thoroughbreds that like off tracks - mudders. And there are some harness horses that don't like running on an off track. But there aren't very many scratches at the harness track when it's off. As a matter of fact, there are very few scratches at any time at harness tracks. That's one of the reasons I like playing them. I really hate picking a horse and finding it scratched when I go to play it.

Track condition is still a factor in harness handicapping though. Just because they run when it's muddy, sloppy or snowy, it doesn't mean that a particular horse is good at running on an off track. Like thoroughbred sires, there are some sires that are better at producing offspring that are able to handle an off track and still run in the money.

Somebeachsomewhere, for instance, whose damsire was Beach Towel, a well-known off track sire, has sired horses who can hit the board when the track is muddy or sloppy. The Panderosa, McArdle and Western Hanover are other sires to watch for when the track is off.

Of course, by the time a horse has had several races on an off-track, whether its sire or damsire is a mudder is less important than what the horse has shown it can do on an off-track. I use Trackmaster programs that give the off track information for each horse. I also look back through the horse's last races for ones that were listed as muddy, sloppy or snowy and see how they did in them.

At tracks in the northern states and in Canada, you may also see the abbreviation "FRZ", which means the track was frozen. When this happens, some trainers put special shoes on their horses, so that they can get a better grip on the track. Some horses like them and some don't, so if the track is frozen, check the horse's previous races for that condition to see how they did.

Track condition isn't just important because of the effect it has on today's races. It can also be a factor in past races. Sometimes, a horse will post a time that is much faster than its usual times. If you notice this, look to see if the track was other than fast. Sometimes, wet tracks can make for very fast races.

On the other hand, if a horse has a very slow time on an off track, you might have to just throw out that race when you handicap. If you look at the last 3 races for speed, like I do, that slow race can skew the results and give you a false impression of the horse. Also, look to see where the horse was when it raced on an off-track. Outside positions are difficult anyway, but throw in a muddy track and they become impossible.

If a horse is trailing on a muddy track, it's going to have mud thrown up into its face by the horses in front of it. No matter how much heart the horse has, or how aggressively the driver urges it on, it's very hard to race its best under these conditions.

Muddy tracks take a lot out of harness horses. As the race wears on, they begin to flag unless they have a lot of stamina and a reserve of strength that they can call on. Sometimes, the fastest horses are not the ones with the most stamina. Keep this in mind when you handicap a heavy or muddy track.

Lastly, although you won't find it in the statistics, some drivers are better on off-tracks than other drivers. At a track I play a lot on Bet America, there's one driver - a pretty good driver - who's known for hating to drive when it's rainy or snowy. It's almost painful to watch him, face frozen into a grimace of distaste, as he drives as well as he can under the circumstances, but rarely wins or hits the board in bad weather.

When the weather is bad, don't let it keep you from playing the races. You don't have to go out in it if you play on Bet America. Grab a cup of coffee, relax with your laptop or tablet or phone, and look for horses that have done well in the slop in previous races. Check their record for off tracks in the program and keep a list of the sires that produce horses that can win no matter what the weather is.