How to Handicap Route Races

There are far more sprint races - shorter races usually at 5/16ths of a mile or 550 yds. - than route races at most tracks. Route races are around 610-660 yds. Marathons are a type of route race that is even longer, but there aren't many marathons at any track, so we'll stick with 660 yd. routes for this discussion.

I like route races, though many don't. One of the things I like about routes is that they last longer than sprints and the dogs have more time to jockey for position and actually use some finesse to work their way up to the lead. The finish of a route is often exciting also, because dogs that close sometimes come charging up and nip the leaders at the wire. Routes are more like horse races to my mind.

That said, handicapping routes is a little different from picking winners in sprints. For one thing, contrary to most people's opinion, early speed IS important in routes. If you ask 20 track goers what the most important quality of a route dog is, 19 of them would say late speed. While that is also important in routes, early speed is more of a factor than you'd think.

One way to check is by looking at the results of some routes at your favorite track. Look at how the winners got out in most of the route races. Very few of them get out worse than 4th and the majority of them get out better than that. Too many bettors are looking only for late speed in route races and thinking that early speed dogs will get burnt out and fade at the end of the race, so they don't bet on them.

I like to bet quinielas, so I look for a good solid early speed dog that doesn't fade and then I look for a couple of closers who also get out pretty well and I box them. Of course, in addition to that I use my usual handicapping tools to eliminate as many contenders as I can. It's much easier to handicap a race when you've narrowed it down to four dogs than when you're looking at 8 dogs.

Another thing about routes is that so many people think that dogs are either route dogs or sprint dogs, not both. While it's true that there are dogs that prefer one distance or the other, many dogs can run sprints and routes and even go back and forth between them with no problem. Actually, sometimes a sprint race will "freshen" a dog that usually runs routes and vice versa.

It may take it a couple of races to get back into its stride, but if it's done well at routes in the past, switching to sprints for a few races won't make it forget how to run distances. I think dogs get bored with the same routine just like we do, so anything that gives them a change can have a good effect. That's why so many dogs do well after they come back from a layoff.

So in handicapping routes, look for the same thing that works in sprints, but remember that the dogs come out of the box on a curve rather than a straightaway and then have another curve almost right away, which affects their running style. Negotiating two curves before they get to the first real straightaway can result in dogs getting pinched back if they're not good at getting around curves even in sprint races.

This is why I'm leery of betting very young dogs in routes until they've had a couple of route races under their belts, or until they get a good box position. In routes, the best boxes are the inside boxes, especially for dogs that run the rail, because they have a big advantage coming out on that turn the way the route boxes do.