Harness Handicapping: Reverse Handicapping With Filters

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Eb Netr

March 27th, 2013

Most handicappers look for horses that look better than the other horses in a race. I don't. I look for horses that - for whatever reason - aren't as good. Most people look for winners. I look for losers. Give me a race with a bunch of losers and I'm a happy handicapper. I've gotten some of my biggest payoffs on losers. Here's how I do it.

When I handicap a harness race, the first thing I have to decide is whether it's a playable race or not. Not every race IS playable and playing every race is a sure fire way to run your bankroll down to nothing. One of the races that I won't play is one where there's too much of a mystery for me to solve.

More than one horse coming back from a layoff leaves me with a puzzle that has too many missing pieces, so I pass the race. When there's a very good horse in a very bad post position, I usually pass the race. It may win in spite of the post position, but it makes it an iffy proposition. I prefer to put my money on horses in situations that are to their advantage.

So, after I've decided which races are playable, I start handicapping backward. I try to eliminate as many horses as I can before I start picking horses that I think have a shot at winning or hitting the board. I start by looking at the speeds that the horses have been running in their last few races, and also the times.

In most races, I can just look over the race and tell if any of the horses just aren't up to the speed level of the other horses. I mark them and look for other reasons to eliminate horses from my picks. Poor post position - especially outside the 5 post at a half mile track or in the 1 post in a trot, poor driver record, horses that show that they've been breaking stride in trots. Horses that are coming from another track with a different distance - say a half mile track to a five-eighths track. These are all good reasons not to bet on a horse.

Once I eliminate as many horses as I can, I'm ready to handicap the horses that I consider contenders in this race. In some races, I end up with only four or five horses that really look like they have the speed, post position, driver and trainer to make the grade. Once in a while, I'll find three horses that are much superior to the others. Of course, they're usually at low odds, because the crowd spots them too.

Many times, at tracks like Dover, The Meadows, Monticello and Saratoga, I can come up with only one horse that fits my "filters" as I call them. My filters are the following: Top twenty driver, horse who's hit the board at this level recently, trainer with at least ten percent, post position 1-5 and odds no higher than 4-1 in the morning line. How did I come up with these filters?

I'm a compulsive record keeper and researcher. I've said before that I've missed races I planned to play, because I was sidetracked by researching other races. Believe it or not, I get almost as much out of going over old programs and figuring out angles, as I do playing the races. Almost. I'd still rather hit a nice fat trifecta, but it's the research that gets me the payoffs.

I know from looking at statistics and thousands of programs, that most of the winners at the tracks that I play fit the filters that I use. Go back over your old programs or look at the results on US Trotting and you'll see that it's true. Sure, there are some longshot winners in poor posts or with low percentage drivers, horses that I would have eliminated when I reverse-handicapped. There are some winners that wouldn't have made it through my filters and they paid big. But not many.

The way to win at the harness track, at least for me, is by consistently cashing tickets. The way I do that is by finding the horses that aren't likely to hit the board, and playing the other horses. If you're not cashing tickets or have been burned by longshots that didn't pan out, you might want to try reverse handicapping with my filters in a few races and see if they give you more winning tickets.