Handicapping For Free: Stakes Races


This weekend, American Pharoah will be the big favorite in the Traver’s Stakes – with very good reason. It should be an exciting race, even if he does win for fun like most people think he will. Some of the most exciting races and those with the biggest purses are stakes races. Whether you play greyhounds, harness or thoroughbreds, you might want to think about following the stakes schedule for your favorite sports. That way, you can play the best horses and dogs in the best races.

Some people think that stakes races are a waste of time, because the big favorites are big favorites for a reason and win and don’t pay anything. Not so, says the handicapper who had Princess of Sylmar when she won the 2013 Kentucky Oaks at odds of 38.80 to 1. And since I had her in a double with Orb in the Kentucky Derby, I also got an additional payoff of $621 and change.

If I recall, I played her because of the pace of the race and the track conditions, which made her a better bet than the “lead pipe cinch”, Dreaming Of Julia at 1.50-1 odds,  that everyone knew was going to win. And this is how you can benefit from playing stakes races. Find a race with a big favorite that shouldn’t be a big favorite in that particular race, even though it’s a very good entry.

So, where can you find stakes schedules, free pp’s and stakes information? For thoroughbreds, I do a lot of my handicapping for free on BetAmerica where their handicapping pages give me almost all the information that the other sites charge for. It’s also the site I use for playing the races, because I get much better rewards than on the other ADW’s. I highly recommend it for both horses and dogs.

Equibase is also a good site for thoroughbred handicapping. On their front page, they have a list of today’s stakes races. Click on a stakes race and you’ll go to the entries for that race. When you get there, click on “Entries Plus” and you’ll get more handicapping information.

At Entries Plus, there’s also the option to click on “Off To The Races”, which has selections and suggestions for bets for each race on the card where the stakes race is taking place. At the top of each race, there’s a “fun” bet based on a hunch factor, like a horse that’s the only grey in the race or the horse that has won the most races.

Underneath the “hunch bet”, you’ll find their selections and how they think you should bet them. Like any other free selections, there are days when you get what you pay for here. But a lot of the time, when it comes to stakes races, they do pretty well. Or you can rely on your own handicapping with the help of Entries Plus or your own favorite handicapping tool.

For harness, Trackmaster has a section where they offer free pp’s from a list of harness tracks for stakes and feature races. They call it Strategic Wagering and it’s part of the USTA and Trackmaster’s efforts to get more people interested in harness racing by giving them the information they need to hit exotics, such as Pick 4’s, Pick 5’s and Pick 6’s.

For each of that day’s featured tracks, they offer all the pp’s in the Pick 4, Pick 5 or Pick 6 series, which are often anchored it with a stakes or feature race. Free harness pp’s aren’t as easy to get as free thoroughbred pp’s are, so this is a good chance to do some handicapping without spending a dime on programs.

For greyhounds, a sport where programs are always free, Greyhound News is the place to go for stakes race info, both future and for that day. There are often links to articles about the stakes, especially if they’re part of a series, which is often the case in dog racing. Jeff Prince always writes about stakes races at Palm Beach and so does Gary Dura when Dubuque is running.

I like to play thoroughbred and harness stakes races because the same horses, trainers and jockeys or drivers participate in the big races. I can follow them easily, because they’re in the news on all the major racing sites. If you haven’t paid attention to the stakes races because you think you can’t make money on them, remember Princess of Sylmar’s upset victory last year. You can bet your bottom dollar that there will be more than one similar upset this year, and you can have a ticket on it if you take advantage of the free stakes handicapping info mentioned above.

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Greyhound Handicapping: Betting on a Sure Thing


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Greyhound handicapping is no match for reality, as my friend Willie says. I believe the first time he said it was when we were sharing a ticket on a speedball that had just won in M, J, D and C and was about to knock the competition dead in B. He was a dead cert. He was also the only early speed in the race. As a matter of fact, the only class dog in the race, who had run in Grade A in his last race before dropping down to Grade B, was a closer who looked like he couldn’t get out of his own way when he ran in his last six races. They were all in Grade A and he had managed to hit the board for the tri enough so that he stayed in A, but just barely.

So Willie and I were leaning on the fence, preparing to watch “Speedball” win for fun and wondering why he was at odds of 5-1 instead of 2-1. Well, shortly after the dogs broke out of the box, we were wondering why he wasn’t at odds of 50-1 because he didn’t even try. He broke out of the box okay, but then he kind of hesitated, looked to his right and left and then settled in at the back of the pack and stayed there ’til the end of the race.

The dog that had been running in Grade A races, however, the closer, broke out of the box like he was shot from a cannon, raced to the lead and came in five lengths ahead of the second dog. Willie and I looked at our programs, thinking maybe we’d missed something in the winner’s lines, but he’d never broken out of the box before in any of his last six races.

So what did they do to him to make him break this time? Did they switch dogs on us? Did they “juice him up” somehow? Did they hypnotize him into thinking he was a breaker instead of a closer? What the heck happened here, we asked ourselves, as we tore up our losing tickets?

From the perspective of over forty years at the track, I can look back on that race and tell you what probably happened. It had nothing to do with race fixing, switching greyhounds or juicing them up. It had to do with two handicappers who didn’t know then what they know now. Class beats flash every time. No matter how great a young dog looks against older more classy dogs, don’t ever think that the younger dog is a shoo-in.

Even a dog that almost never breaks fast out of the box may break, if it’s in with lower grade dogs, especially young ones. Dogs form a pack every time they race. If you think about it, they’re in the lockup cages right next to each other. The dogs for each race are weighed together. Then they’re led out to the track and often stand there with the leadouts holding them while their muzzles and blankets are checked.

During that time, they form a pecking order, because dogs always have a pecking order. The dog that has run in Grade A knows that he’s classier and faster than these losers he’s running with today and he gets cocky. Maybe that’s why, when the box opens, he’s out of there like a shot, unlike his usual slow breaking style. He may be tired of trying to close on Grade A dogs that always beat him out of the box and that might be why he takes advantage of this race where he’s able to take the lead for once.

Of course, that’s just my theory. I base it on seeing dogs break in lower grade races when they’ve never broken in higher grade races. Now, when I see a dog that always closes in higher grade races, and he’s in a lower grade race, I go to Greyhound Data and check to see if he’s ever broken fast out of the box when he was in lower grade races. If he has, especially if it’s the grade he’s running in today, I consider him a contender. If I’m lucky and he’s up for it, my dog just might surprise the other bettors, but not me. I’ve done my research.

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