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Harness Handicapping - A Horrible Warning

Profile Picture: Eb Netr

Eb Netr

October 30th, 2013

I've never been too proud to admit my mistakes, and that's a good thing, because I have a lot of them to admit. Just last Monday night, I made a mistake and then went on to make more, zigging when zagging was called for and losing money right and left. I'll tell you about it, because it's a situation that most handicappers encounter sooner or later. Maybe you can learn from me instead of learning by having a similar bad experience. Like someone said, "If you can't be a good example, be a horrible warning."
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I played Bangor Raceway, which is a half mile track located in Bangor, Maine. It's home to Stephen King, so maybe it's not surprising that my wagering experience turned into a horror story last night. However, I have no one to blame but myself for how I managed to turn 7 solid picks into a night of losing.

The program looked good when I downloaded it from Trackmaster. From the first race with Pembroke Baroness in the five post to the tenth where CJ Marshal stood out like a beacon even if he was in the 6 post, I knew I had some good win and exacta key bets. True, most were favorites, but I have nothing against betting favorites if they're the best play in the race. At least, that's what I told myself.

About five minutes before the first race though, I started to have second thoughts, because the odds were ridiculously low on Pembroke Baroness. I'd be lucky to get $2.40 if she won and I'm not up for risking two dollars to make forty cents profit. So I decided to pass on the race and wait to see what would happen.

Then I started thinking that maybe it would be one of those nights that I've seen so often when big favorites failed to hit the board. I've seen it happen. I look at the program and in almost every race, there's a horse that looks like a lead pipe cinch, goes off at very low odds, but it doesn't win and the winner and exacta pay well.

I liked the 2-Gina FrankienJoeyP for second. On impulse, I put down two dollars to win and place on it just before the race went off. I figured it might not win, but it would probably come in second, because it had made more money this year than the other horses by quite a bit.

It didn't hit the board, but Pembroke Baroness did. She won and paid $2.80. So I lost money on a race where I had picked the winner. No big deal, though, I told myself. I wouldn't have made much anyhow. This is a good time to say that - if you find yourself thinking this way - it's time to really get a grip on yourself, shake yourself like a rat and rattle that old brainpan into realizing that you're talking yourself into throwing away money and you need to stop it before it goes any farther.

I didn't do that. I turned the page and looked at the next race, where the 7-Insider Tip was my pick. She had class and had been running in much higher level races than the rest of the field. Plus, she had the highest speed and best time in her last race. She's known for her closing ability and on a cold, windy night in Bangor, that's what wins races.

But once again, she was at ridiculously low odds and she was in the 7 post in a pace. True, the 6 was scratched, which made Insider Tip the 6, but that's not a good post for paces either. She'd really have to hustle to get up close enough to close on the leaders in the stretch was what I was thinking. I was also thinking that I hate to play closers to win in outside posts in paces on a half mile track.
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So, once again, I looked for better value and found it in 3-Electricity, my second choice. She was second for earnings this year and was the closest to Insider Tip's best time in her last 3 races. I talked myself right into playing her by reasoning that she was in a better post position and almost as good as Insider Tip. So the post position advantage would make up for the small difference between them. She had a good driver too.

She came in second, right behind Insider Tip. Unfortunately, I had her to win, not place, and I had forgotten to play the 3/7 exacta box I was going to play, because I was thinking so hard about the win bet. I was starting to get very frustrated. Insider Tip had paid $3.60 to win. Once again, I had picked the winner and failed to cash a ticket. Instead I lost money and was 0 for 2 in the first two races.

In the third race, I told myself I was only going to play my top pick 3-Panalytical, no matter if it went off at such low odds that I'd owe money if it won. It's one of my favorite horses at Bangor and I've done very well with it in the past. Not last night though. My second choice, 1-Roddy's Nor'Easter won and Panalytical never hit the board.

So, it was the third race and I was now 0 for 3, mostly because of my own stupidity and oppositional nature. Except for the third race, where I just flat out picked the wrong horse to win, it was going against the favorite, even though I thought it would win that was doing me in.

I decided to play my pick in the 4th race 4-Vasvixen and also play it in an exacta box with my second favorite 5-Double Down Yankee. I did and the 4 came in third and the 5 didn't win or place. So I was down another six bucks and pretty dadblamed disillusioned, I'll tell you. I pondered whether to keep playing or turn off my laptop, cut my losses and call it a night. I decided to play one more race and, if it didn't pan out, quit and chalk it up to a learning experience.

I didn't have a solid pick in the 5th race, so I opted to wait for the 6th and my best bet of the night, 5-Admiral Pembroke. While I waited, I talked to my friend, Bill, via chat. He was playing Bangor too and we got to talking about the sixth. He had noticed, as had I, that closers were doing very well and had won tonight at Bangor. That got us looking at the 1-Stillwater Cove in the 6th.

The horse had won over $15,000 more this year than the nearest money winner to it in this race. Admiral Pembroke had won a paltry $8,700 and change this year. He hadn't hit par. His speed in his last two races was nowhere near what Stillwater Cove or the 4-Truponder, my second pick's speed was. Sheesh! Was I really sure he was the best pick?

The odds opened at 5-2 on him, but by race time had climbed to 7-2. Hmm. This wasn't looking promising. Bill had liked him too, but we were both having second thoughts. The 4 had hit par. The 1 had made way more money than the Admiral. I was beginning to realize that he only had two things going for him. At 8 years old, he was one of the two youngest horses in the race and he had Heath Campbell, the best driver at the track, driving him. Other than that, he wasn't looking as good as he'd looked when I first handicapped.

Well, do I need to go on? I talked myself right out of playing him to win with a 4/5 exacta box and played the 1 to win with a 1/4, 1/5 exacta box. Why didn't I box all 3 like I usually do? Blame it on the fog of stupidity that had settled around me when I started losing last night. It came in 5/4/3 and 5-Admiral Pembroke paid $13.60 to win. The exacta was $23.40 for two dollars.

Bill and I agreed that it was time to fold our tents and go read a book, preferably one about how to handicap harness races. We were both beating ourselves up about missing that win and exacta bet. I was really bumming, because it was my best bet of the night and I still missed it. I felt like an idiot, as well I should.

But instead of letting it throw me, I decided to write it down because it might help other people who may be headed down the same road. Please, if you ever find yourself second-guessing yourself and changing your mind about picks that you felt strongly about when you first handicapped them, think of Bangor and my self-inflicted bad experience playing the harness track there. Maybe if you do, you won't have a horror story to tell about the time YOU second guessed and oppositionally talked yourself into losing money when you could have won.
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