Harness Handicapping With Car Trouble

Eb Netr

October 23rd, 2013









Last winter, I drove to Florida to spend some time at the tracks there. I was really looking forward to the trip, so I was very disappointed when I had nothing but trouble on the way down. A flat tire, a thermostat that went bad in rush hour traffic and caused the car to overheat, unexpected construction and a fender bender in a parking lot in Georgia slowed me down and made me two days later than I had intended to be, thereby missing a stakes race that I had been looking forward to.

I had arranged to stay with friends, who had taken time off work to visit with me, and missed two days of that also. All in all, it was a disaster of a trip and caused me no end of trouble and frustration. However, I did get there and I guess that was what really counted. The trip home was completely different.

I left Florida thinking that it would take three days to get to my house, but everything went so smoothly that I actually shaved almost a whole twenty four hours off that time. What a difference a trip with no trouble was from one where trouble dogged my every move.

I got to thinking about this on the way home and applying it to harness races. How many times has a horse with a bad line in its last race surprised the crowd by winning? I've seen it happen so many times. I've even been guilty of realizing that the horse has an excuse for not shining in its last race and still not bet the horse. I'm really trying not to do that when I handicap now.

One thing that I have a bias against when I handicap is breaking stride. Whether it's a trotter or a pacer, when I see those little x's in a horse's lines, I tend to just dismiss that horse and move on to another one to handicap. But since that Florida trip, I've realized that, sometimes, there's a reason that a horse breaks stride and the trainer figures out that reason and fixes the trouble and the horse stays on stride from then on.

Young horses tend to break stride more often than seasoned ones. Seasoned horses, those that have learned to stay on gait, most often break stride due to speed. Either they're asked for more speed than they have, or they're involved in a fast breaking field at the gate or in a speed duel in the stretch. A hoof catching the horse's knee on the turns can cause it to break stride also.

So when I see that a horse has broken stride in its last couple of races or in some of its races, I look at the speed figures for that race, and also at the fractions. If they're much faster than the other ones in the horse's races, and today's race looks like being slower than those races, I can't just assume that the horse is going to break in this race and leave it out of my handicapping.

Other "troubles" that can make a horse look worse than it is are being parked out, blocked or held wide on the turns by other horses. If it happens over several races, then, of course, it's a pattern. But if it only happens once in a while, it's just racing luck and I handicap accordingly.

I also look closely at who was driving the horse when the troubled trip happened to it. It's not only horses that have bad habits that cost them races. I know of at least two drivers at a local track, who are famous for taking off like rockets with horses that don't have much early speed and will fade in the stretch if pushed too soon and too fast. The horses are bad bets when these drivers are holding the reins.

But when one of the top drivers at the track gets the drive on one of these horses, trouble disappears and they'll be bet down considerably and win. Then, they're good for exotics and multi-race bets. And next time they run with one of the not-so-good drivers, people will see how well they did and make them favorites and they'll run into trouble again and fail to score.

There's an old saying, "Don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you." There's a lot of "trouble" in that sentence, and a lot of chances to get into trouble during a harness race. Poor post position, second rate drivers, interference from other horses, broken equipment, being blocked, parked out or forced wide on turns. Before you dismiss a horse for fading in the stretch, for instance, make sure that whatever troubled it in its last race is going to be there in this race, or give it another look and another chance.