Harness Handicapping - You Have To Shop Around

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Eb Netr

November 13th, 2013







Yesterday, a Monday holiday, there were a plethora of harness tracks to choose from. Many were having especially good races on their cards, which is common on holidays. I sat down early in the morning and logged into Trackmaster to check out the programs for each track. (I have a monthly subscription to the Platinum Plus programs, so that I can see what's running before I commit to handicapping a track.)

I had my choice of Bangor, Dover, Monticello, Northfield, Plainridge, Pompano, The Meadows and Yonkers. Whew! Eight tracks. No way can I handicap more than two, maybe three, tracks in a day and get it right, so I knew I'd have to make some choices here. First of all, I looked at the weather.

Even though harness horses CAN race in all kinds of weather, I prefer to play them on a fast track if I can. However, this only eliminated one track: Northfield, where rain was forecast. I checked back this morning and the track condition at Northfield was listed as sloppy for the races last night, so I made the right call by not playing it. But that still left seven tracks to consider.

I started with the track that started first, Monticello, which starts at 12:25. The problem with many of the races there was that the horses were so evenly matched that it was hard to find a reason to pick one to win. In most of the races, most of the horses had been running at the same class level and attaining very similar speed ratings.
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That makes it tough to single one out as better than the rest, so post position and driver/trainer ratings carry more weight as handicapping factors. I CAN handicap that way, but I prefer a card with some races that give me a horse that I can back on its own merits. I also like to see a horse that might not look as good to the crowd as it looks to me.

I didn't see any horses like that at Dover or any of the other simulcasts yesterday, but I did see something I liked on the Bangor program. Bangor Raceway is winding down and Monday was their next to the last program. I've been following it all season, so I know the horses, drivers and trainers and what to expect from them.

The first thing I noticed about their Veteran's Day program was that there were a lot of 4's and 5's that looked like they might hit the board. Many of them had good drivers and good records. They're the two best post positions at Bangor, so when there are good horses in them, it's often a good card.

I also noticed that there was more than one vulnerable favorite. In the first race, for instance, the morning line favorite at 5/2 was Dream State, who had placed twice as many times as she has won this year. She did have the highest speed rating in her last race and had a decent driver, Chris Nye. But I wondered about 4-JA El Blaze.

The reason I wondered about the horse, who was at 6/1 in the morning line, was because Heath Campbell, one of the best drivers at Bangor, had gotten back in the bike, after the trainer, Bo Sowers, drove it last time. True, the horse seems to have a problem staying on stride and had broke stride twice in its last three races, but I knew Heath wasn't driving it for the heck of it.

I also liked it because it could close and the forecast was for cold, windy weather, which usually means that it's a closer's track at Bangor, this time of year. To jump ahead, JA El Blaze did win that race and paid $12.40. The 5 never hit the board. The exacta was a 1/4 and paid $43 and change. I had the winner and exacta and got off to a good start.

When 4's win or place in the first race at Bangor, it's a pretty good bet that they'll show up on the rest of the program too. This was the case, when the 4-Aurevoir Balboa won the second race. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Once again, I thought the favorite in the second race, 6-Electric Syl, was vulnerable. The 6 post isn't a good one in paces at Bangor. I thought I'd play the 4 with the 5 and the 1, which is also a good post at the half mile oval.

There were several other races on the card that looked like they were playable, so I decided to forego the other tracks and just play Bangor. I got down to handicapping it in depth, played it and did very well. The second race results were 4/5/6, so I had the winner for $8.60 and the exacta for $52.40. The 6-Electric Syl really tried, but just couldn't overcome that poor post position.

I had spent quite a bit of time looking over all the programs to find one that I really liked, but it was worth it. I probably could have managed to handicap one more track, but it was one of those days when other things were going on and I was afraid that I'd only do a halfway decent job of handicapping the second track. I decided to give it a miss, rather than play it without enough preparation. There would be other days and other tracks.

This pre-handicapping ritual - looking over the programs before I commit to really handicapping one in depth - has saved me a lot of wasted time and effort. I recommend it if you play the races more than once or twice a week. Get a monthly subscription to the good programs and go over them before you get serious about picking what to play. Like they say, if you want to find the best buys, you have to shop around.