Harness Handicapping For the Fun of It

July 24th, 2013

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a million times, "I just bet for fun. I don't want to get into all that handicapping." I always feel like asking the person saying that whether losing money is fun for them, because it's been my experience that losing is what happens if you don't take having fun at the track or playing online seriously.

I have a friend who views going to the local harness track or playing harness tracks online the way he views going to a movie. "It costs me about the same thing," he told me the other day. "The wife and I spend about fifty bucks and have a good time. We make a few bets on hunches she has and even though we lose most of them, it's worth it to watch the races and cheer on our horse. It's exciting. And, at least, we have a little chance of winning. Not at the movies."

This kind of attitude toward "recreational betting" as they call it, just plumb baffles me. I come from the old school. When I spend money, I want something of value in return, and losing every Friday night, or whatever, at the track or online is not what I'd call valuable at all. Of course, no one wins every bet, but the goal, as I see it, is to at least make a small profit. It IS possible to do that even if you don't handicap for four hours before you play.

The most important thing, I think, if you're only playing for fun, is to know what the takeout is on the bets you're placing. Most tracks have a much bigger takeout on exotic bets than they do on straight win, place and show bets. Check for that information in the program or at the HANA site.

I have no idea why so many bettors who play for fun pick the bets - like the super and trifecta and Pick-4, that have the highest takeout rate. It's as if they want to make it even LESS likely that they'll end up with more money than theystarted with. Or at least with as much money as they started with.

Next, do you want to play favorites or longshots? If you want to play favorites and hit more winners, then half mile tracks are the way to go. Post position and early speed are much more important at most half mile tracks, so more favorites come in. People play the horses with early speed and the inside post positions and that's what comes in.

If you're a Longshot Louie or Louise and want to make a big score, pick quality over quantity and go for Balmoral or The Meadowlands or Woodbine. The first two are mile tracks and Woodbine is a 7/8ths mile track. Early speed isn't the name of the game on these tracks - closing ability is more important. Post position still counts, but is not as crucial as it is on half-mile and five-eighths mile tracks. Closers have more time to work their way up through the pack and more room to do it in too.

Veteran handicappers will tell you that it's tougher to handicap the mile tracks or Woodbine, but the payoffs are definitely better. Give Cal Expo a try too and Hoosier, when it's running. Look for horses that have won at that track and at that class and speed level in the past and that are improving or have an advantage in this race. I look for horses that were favorites at this level, but a while ago. It's often an indication of an overlooked horse.

Fun's fun, as they say, but it's more fun when you win. Do even a little homework before you sit down in front of your computer and - for goodness' sake - use an ADW that pays you back for bonus tracks, like Bet America. Stick with win and place bets or show if you really like show bets. Leave the exotics to the players that play for a living, not for a good time.