Harness Racing Handicapping Lessons About Trotters

Nancy B. Alston

Handicapping harness races, like all horse racing prognostication, is a difficult intellectual sport. Perhaps the most difficult of all are the trotters. While nothing is more exquisitely beautiful, graceful, or thrilling than a high stepping trotter cruising along with its mane and tail flying in the breeze. Watching the trotter you just bet on breaking stride is exquisite misery.

If you want a lesson in frustration, and humility, handicap the trots. But there are ways you can avoid some of the pain, by being judicious in which trots you handicap and bet on and how you go about it. However, before we get into that, let’s take a look at trotters and try to figure out why they are so maligned by some horse players. Even people who don’t wager on the races seem to have an opinion about trotters. Some claim that the trotting gait is unnatural and therefore painful or awkward for the horses.

I disagree. When I used to put my Standardbred horses out in the field and they were feeling good, the trotters would high step all around the field, naturally trotting because they felt good. When a horse is happy, healthy, and relaxed, they often break into a trot, especially Standardbred horses. The point is that trotting is just one of several gaits that comes naturally to horses.

The reason that they break stride in a race is often that they are trying too hard to keep up with the others or they just plain lose their cool, so to speak and all their neural circuits jam. While it is frustrating for owners and drivers, it is also painful and financially rough for bettors, proving that horse players who bet on trotters are a special breed.

Whatever system you may be using for handicapping the harness races, my advice, when it comes to the trots, is to stick with the higher purses and drivers who are known for being good with trotters. Also, if you see a horse who is wearing trotting hopples for the first time, wait and see how it does with the hew equipment. Sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t. It may also take a few races for the horse to adjust.

Of course, it pays to look back in the horse’s past performance lines to see how often it breaks stride and under what conditions. Sometimes they don’t like starting from a particular post position, such as the inside. Other horses may have a problem when there is a fast starter beside them that will encourage them to go to fast early on. Another thing that will make a horse jump is if the horse to either side is a jumper. If the horses who will be beside yours as they follow the gate both stay flat, it will help yours to stay flat as well.

No matter what measures you use to insure your horse will stay flat, sooner or later, if you play them, your horse will break stride. The way to avoid taking a financial loss on these races is to always insure that you are getting fair value odds. Finally, expect some ups and downs and if you find it is destroying your peace of mind, consider giving up betting on trotters. I know its tough, but you can do it. In fact, I think there should be a support group called, Trotters Anonymous, or something like that.

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