Harness Handicapping With Driver and Trainer Angles

Eb Netr

April 17th, 2013

At small tracks, driver and trainer percentages are very important. Many people think that you can't make money on the top drivers at small tracks, because everyone knows that they're the best driver and get the best horses from the best trainers. While this is true, it's also true that even smart handicappers miss some big payoffs on these drivers at times.

On Sunday, April 14th, I hit a win payout of $25.60 on Lucky Price, driven by Gary Mosher, the leading driver, and trained by Philip "Bo" Sowers, who is one of the top trainers at Scarborough. I had it twice and it was one of only two bets I planned to play that day. The other didn't hit the board.

I've been following Scarborough since it opened this year, but I always let tracks get organized for a couple of weeks before I start playing them. I read the programs and follow the results from the day they start, but I don't bet anything until the horses have a couple of real - as opposed to qualifying - races. That way I can see who's back in form, who needs a little more time to work off the winter weight and who's improved since last year, in the case of young horses.

I work on trainer angles and refer to my notes from last season, to see if drivers and trainers are performing at the same level this year. Last year, Bo Sowers was very good with horses coming back from layoffs. He had almost 30% for wins, which is worth a bet in my book. This year, he seemed to be tracking in the same direction with almost half of his horses winning back from the layoff. So when I decided it was time to play Scarborough, I looked through the program for any of his horses coming back. I especially wanted to see one with Gary Mosher driving.

I found Lucky Price in the three post in the third race and Gary Mosher was driving. He didn't look very impressive. He'd come to Scarborough by way of Saratoga, where he had only managed one 2nd place finish out of 5 races last year. However, I did notice that, back in April, he had a 202.4 in a race at Scarborough, the fastest time showing of any horse in the race.

I also found one more Sowers trained horse coming back from a layoff. I decided to play the two Mosher/Sowers horses for a good piece of change It turned out to be a very good strategy. Of course, I did manage to fritter away some of the money on races at a couple of other tracks, and one other race at Scarborough, because I got bored, but I still ended up with a healthy profit.

This story isn't a recommendation to pick the best driver at a small track and play him to win in every race. If you want to see how well that works, look at the ROI of the top drivers at most tracks. While they may have a positive ROI for a while, if you play them, you'll see that it doesn't stay that way. People get onto them and bet their drives down to peanuts. And even the best driver loses some races.

When their win prices are really low, you don't have to miss many races to start losing money. However, if you stick with the top drivers AND the top trainers, when they have horses with a good reason to win, YOUR ROI will almost certainly improve. Start by finding the best drivers at your favorite tracks.

I consider a driver a top driver when he or she has a win percent of 16% or more. When I consistently play those drivers, and only those drivers, when they're paired with a trainer with 16% or more, and when they're driving horses with a good reason to win, I stay in the positive column for ROI. The best way to do this is with trainer angles.

I use an extended program, which lists trainer angles and the percentages each trainer has when that angle is present in the current race. You can also find stats online and some tracks list them on their site. If you watch most of the programs at the tracks you play most often, you'll get a feel for which trainers are good off the claim or able to get young horses to win first time out, and which ones aren't.

Watch for optimum betting situations like the one with Lucky Price. He had the top driver and one of the top trainers at the track and went off at double digit odds. He also had the best finish time in a recent race at that track. I figure that top trainers and drivers are in it to win. If they put a horse in a race, usually, they think the horse has a shot in that race.

I'm not a bad handicapper, but I'm not a trainer. Trainers know what their horses are capable of and place them accordingly. If they're willing to pay the top driver to drive a horse, and they're doing something with the horse that they've made a profit doing with other horses, that's good enough for me. It was certainly good last Sunday when Lucky Price won at a nice price.