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Harness Handicapping - Parking Problem

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Eb Netr

July 17th, 2013

Most harness handicappers are familiar with the term "parked out" and the little round circle or degree symbol that indicates it. It means that the horse was outside of other horses - on the side of the track away from the rail - for a quarter mile for all or most of a turn. This means that the horse had to travel much farther - over 15 feet - than other horses who stayed on the rail or just went outside in the stretch.

That's a lot of distance in a race that's decided by fractions of a second. So a driver generally has a very good reason for putting a horse into a parked out position. Sometimes, it's because he knows the horse has enough energy left to pass the horses in front of it and still gain ground toward the wire.

Sometimes, he realizes that another horse is gaining on the outside and will box him in if he doesn't pull his horse i.e. leave the rail and go to the outside. The driver has to weigh - in a split second - all of the factors in this case. Will his horse be boxed in or will the horse moving up on him keep moving and pass the leaders? Does his horse have enough stamina and closing kick to do something once he pulls it out? Or will it just sit there, impeding the progress of the horses behind it, which is frowned upon by the other drivers and race officials.

If there's a lightning or passing lane on the inside, will it be better to let his horse get boxed in, in the hope that it will be able to close on the inside at the end of the race? After all, hugging the rail is the shortest distance in a race. But if there's no passing lane, will the lead horses leave enough room for his horse to pass on the rail? That's not always the case.

When the parked out symbol appears in a horse's lines in the program, I always evaluate it carefully. Usually, as long as the horse finished within 6 lengths of the winner, I consider it a good sign. It means that the horse had enough energy to be competitive and still had something left in the tank at the end of the race, even though it went farther in distance than the horses that weren't parked out.

My thinking is that if it gets an easier trip this time, it might just do better and run in the money. It helps, of course, if there are other factors that improve its chances in this race. Better post position, less competition from other early speed horses if the horse has early speed. Less competition from closers if the stretch is where it makes its move.

One thing that really makes me sit up and take notice is when a horse was parked out in its last race, finished within 6 lengths of the winner and has a driver change to one of the top drivers at the track. This tells me that the trainer thinks that the horse has a good shot at winning or hitting the board. And, probably, so does the driver, who agrees to drive it. This is one of my favorite spot plays at the harness track.

Look for the parked out symbol and use it to find horses that will do better in their next race than they did in the race where they were parked out. Pay attention to trainers and drivers who excel at getting these horses to come in. Don't forget to evaluate the other important handicapping factors. But keep in mind that a horse that was parked out and still ran a decent race is a horse that can do better next time and can also pay off in exotics.
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