It's no coincidence that many of the best thoroughbred handicappers and bettors in the game started out betting standardbreds. Because the distance of one mile is virtually universal in standardbred racing, there are fewer variables and an easier entry into learning which factors are important when picking winners.
One of the most useful things I learned early was how trips can make or break a horse’s chance in a race. In standardbred racing, much more so than in thoroughbreds, losing ground on the turns can be the biggest detriment to success. The best trip by far is sitting in the pocket behind the pacesetter who cuts the wind and does all the work. Saving ground and then sliding out down the stretch makes a horse brave and is considered a perfect trip.
Ground loss in thoroughbreds is also important, although perhaps not quite as detrimental. It's possible that newcomers to the game might underestimate how saving ground around turns can make the difference in a horse’s performance from one race to the next.
In both breeds, identifying horses who took advantage of a perfect trip and did very little work can often lead to tossing a short-priced horse out because those circumstances aren't likely to be repeated.
When I bet harness horses, I pay much more attention to the post position draw than I do with thoroughbreds. I'm not saying that I ignore it completely with the runners, but sometimes an outside post can be an advantage depending on the horse’s running style, the proximity of the first turn, and the distance of the race. Outside post positions in harness racing statistically fare worse at virtually every track without fail.
A horse switching from an outside post position to the inside part of the gate is gaining an advantage that is difficult to quantify but important nonetheless.
When I first started betting thoroughbreds, I paid more attention to post positions than I do today but I still never ignore it completely. It's one of many variables that can, to a lesser extent than speed and class, affect how a horse does from race to race.
Identifying track trends and finding horses who are compromised by things like post position or track bias is an important component of Thoroughbred wagering. With harness horses, track bias isn’t as important when making decisions, but post position almost always is.
Another of the big differences is the continuity of harness racing in terms of distance and surface. It is easy to compare races from one week to the next when the distance is always one mile. This is why the use of speed figures in thoroughbreds is so important, because it provides the ability to compare performances at different distances, different tracks, and to a much smaller extent different surfaces.
With standardbred horses, the final time and the fractions of the race become the most important tools when handicapping, in addition to class and trip.
No matter which breed I am betting, I always watch replays and look for horses who are compromised in any way that wasn't their own fault. The importance of doing this extra work cannot be overstated because it is one more tool that can set you apart from the crowd.
In both breeds, the idea of the game is to be a little smarter than the people you are betting against. That is the beauty of parimutuel wagering.
Century Downs Saturday Pick 4
It’s stakes time at the Downs with the Century Casinos Pace in races 9 and 10. Let’s try to capitalize!
Race 7 Pick 4 play: $36 ticket
4, 7/2, 3, 5/1, 2, 7/2, 7
Enjoy the races!