Harness Racing Handicapping: Layoffs

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Eb Netr

March 20th, 2013

Last week, the Meadowlands released this announcement: The Meadowlands Racetrack program will now include enhanced information on horses showing no race lines for three weeks or more.

In the comment section for each race, those horses with 21 days or more away from racing will have some explanation of the reason for the inactivity and remarks on their level of preparedness for the upcoming race, provided by the trainer. Much like an NFL “Team Report” that indicates why a player missed practice or a game, this report will provide bettors with a little more information that they would not normally find in the past performances.

For simulcast bettors, the layoff report will be posted as a TV Graphic on our nightly broadcast. Additionally, the layoff report will be posted on The Meadowlands Twitter Account and Facebook page. We hope this information will be helpful and we encourage all trainers to make this information available and as accurate as possible for our customers handicapping.

These comments will be recorded by the Meadowlands Race Office and offered without edit or opinion by Meadowlands officials.

Personally, I'm very interested in how this will play out. If it's done right, it could be very helpful as we try to handicap races where one or more horse has had a layoff. The more information a harness handicapper has, the better his or her chances of figuring out what's likely to happen in a race.

Notice, I didn't say "what's going to happen in a race." I'm still working on being sure about how a race will unfold, even after 4 decades of working on it. But when you handicap a race and there's a horse with a layoff in it, it presents you with a dilemma as you try to visualize how the race will run.

Do you just "handicap around it" as a friend of mine says, and leave it out and hope that it's just in there to get a race to condition it? Or do you try to figure out whether it's well meant in this race and has had enough conditioning with jogging and schooling races to get it into shape to race? Unless you've watched it jog or know the trainer and can get him to tell you what his intentions are with the horse how can you tell if a horse is ready to race after a layoff?

Well, in addition to whatever the trainer will tell us at the Meadowlands now, there's something we can do if we're good record keepers. We can go back and look at our old programs and see what the horse has done in the past after a layoff. That's assuming that it's at least a 4 year old, with a history we can check on. And that's also assuming that you, like me, keep your old programs online after you download them.

I have years of online programs on my backup drive and two years worth on my laptop right now. Before the digital age, I had piles of programs in my basement, filed by year and track. I have to say that it's a lot easier and takes up a lot less room to have them on my computer. It's also a lot easier to get to the one I want, without starting an avalanche.

I use the Trackmaster 12 line extended programs, because they give me a lot more information than the condensed version. Sometimes, I can find out how a horse does after layoffs just by looking at the program for that day, because its last layoff is in its last twelve lines. This is especially true with younger horses.

If you follow trainers and notice what they do, you'll be able to keep a list of ones that bring horses back from a layoff, ready to win. You'll also know which ones like to take their time with horses coming back. Of course, this also depends on the horse's individual situation, because no two horses are alike, but trainers tend to be creatures of habit, just like horses are.

The last but probably most important thing to keep in mind when a horse has had a layoff, is its condition. How does it look in the post parade? If it's been pastured for a while, is its belly a little too round? Eating grass will do that and it's harder to race with your belly wobbling back and forth. Is its coat shiny or is it a little rough coated? Does it seem to be struggling or grunting? Can you see its muscles or are they a little slack?

Harness horses are like any other athlete. Some can come right back and win and some take a little time to get back into their best form. Some are coming back from injuries or illnesses and, perhaps, the new Meadowlands information will tell us when that's the case. Until I see how helpful it is, I'll continue to treat each horse with a layoff as a separate case, and evaluate it by using its history and my own observations during the post parade on Bet America's video.