July 4-10, 2014
Now that we’ve reached a point in the season that’s near the halfway mark of the 2014 campaign and have finished a stretch of stakes races at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, it’s a good time to take a step back and take a look at some of the trends that we’ve seen developing at the track. These are trends that don’t concern specific horses so much as it does general phenomena pertaining to the races that might help out handicappers as they go to make their wagers.
What I’ve noticed throughout the first four months of the season or so is that some of the maxims that used to be old stand-bys for bettors are no longer as airtight as they once were. More and more the things that you could count on in this sport are falling by the wayside. Still, there are advantages to be had for astute handicappers who are willing to admit that everything seems to be changing.
For example, it used to be that bettors were reluctant to bet on a horse coming off a significant layoff. The theory was that the horse would need a start of two to get its legs underneath it before it could expect to be in top form. Yet time and time again this year, I’ve seen horses coming off layoffs of many months or more perform at a top level and even win against excellent fields.
While there is some merit still in being cautions with horses off layoffs, bettors should really pay attention to those qualifiers. In particular, especially in the lower classes, a horse with a very fast closing time compared to the rest of the field is a good one to watch, even if the qualifying result wasn’t that impressive on the whole. Trainers often just want to see one burst of speed from their horses in the morning qualifiers, so if that burst is there, chances are it will be there on race night as well.
Another famous handicappers’ strategy is to stay away from horses who are moving up in class, especially if they are doing so and jumping several rungs on either the claiming or condition ladder. But such a bounding leap hasn’t stopped a lot of horses from winning this season, often paying off at decent odds due to bettors who refuse to believe they can move up in style.
The bottom line is that there is such speed permeating practically every class and grouping at Pocono this season that the distinctions are blurring, allowing horses to move up and do well practically every racing night. If a horse has posted a recent winning time that’s comparable to the winning times posted in a certain class in previous weeks, chances are it can compete in that class regardless of how large a step up it might be.
So far I’ve told you about certain strategies which have been partially disproved by the racing at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs this season. So how about something new that bettors can look for when they’re making picks that might not have been as much of a factor in the past? I’ve got just the thing for you: Look for horses that have been claimed.
Now let me qualify that by saying that is not a catch-all statement, especially considering that there are often claiming races in which several horses in the field are joining new barns. What handicappers should be looking for are a select few trainers who have the knack for turning around underperforming horses or getting horses who may be just a few ticks away from winning over the hump.
In many cases, seeing certain trainers’ names in the program next to a horse can trump even recent past performances when it comes to projecting how well it will perform in the near future. I wouldn’t say to disregard completely what a horse has done in the past or forget it all if it makes the switch to a hot barn. But I would recommend checking out the training standings at Pocono or the UDRS numbers for each of the trainers in the race (all info that can be found in the program) before making your wager in a claiming race. If you see a trainer who has an excellent record and a horse is joining his barn, maybe give that horse a little extra consideration when you make the selection.
Obviously, none of these rules is ironclad and there are a million different factors that affect a race. But if there is a lesson to be learned by bettors from the racing season so far at Pocono, it’s that it’s important to adapt to the times rather than letting them pass you by. Come to think of it, that advice applies to just about everything. Harness racing as a metaphor for life? Who knew?
That will do it for this week, but we’ll see you at the track. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.