Handicapping Harness Races Using Four Criteria

There are four readily identifiable characteristics of each horse in a harness race. They are the horse’s form, the consistency of the horse’s racing effort, the horse’s final finish time, and the ability of the driver. If the handicapper considers each of these attributes for each horse in the race, he may be able to select a winning bet.

The way I accomplish this is:

I look at the past performance chart for the race. For each horse in the race I add the finish position of each of the last three races. The horse with the lowest total is the horse that is awarded an “F” for form. I write it in the left margin of the performance chart next to the horse’s betting number.

On the right side of the chart near the top of each horse’s section is information about the number of starts, firsts, seconds, and thirds for the current year. I add the finishes (firsts, seconds, and thirds) and divide that total by the number of starts. This percentage is the consistency. The horse that has the highest consistency number is awarded a “C” in the left margin.

Most modern past performance charts list a speed rating either in front of the chart for a race or near to the right of the times for the race. Go through the speed ratings and for the highest number, put a “T” in the left margin. When I first began using this system, that speed rating didn’t exist and I examined the finish times of each horse in their last race. Usually the last race was at the same track where the current race was taking place and it was an easy task to see which horse shows the best time. Sometimes, though, horses would not have raced at the current track previously and I had to exercise care in comparing times when that occurred. There is a chart available at www.ustrotting.com/speed_ratings/print_sr.cfm that allowed me to convert various track times to a time for the track where racing was taking place. When I determine which horse had the best time, I awarded that horse a “T” in the left margin. There may be instances where this older method might have to be used.

I then consider the driver of each horse. In addition to starts, wins, seconds, and thirds, there is a number in the area of driver information that is the USTA proficiency rating. Generally, it means that the higher this number the better the driver. I find the highest number and put a “D” in the left margin.

At times there will be ties in the totals used in awarding letters. I always award everyone a letter that has the best number.

Occasionally there will be a horse that has been awarded all four letters and no other horse will have a letter. It is likely that this horse will win the race and a win bet is indicated.

Three letter horses are usually first, second, or third and it is usually a safe bet to bet them to place or show.

When only two horses have letters, an exacta box has a good chance of happening.

The odds on the tote board should be watched closely because in harness racing a major drawback is that good horses tend to have payoff odds that offer a really low return. It is not unusual to see a four letter horse have odds of 1/9 at post time and pay $2.10 for a $2.00 win bet. Although it is fun to cash tickets, this is probably not a profitable bet and bets should be made only at better odds.

There are times when the letters are a hodgepodge of characters and no decision is possible. In those instances no bet should be made using this method.

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