Can You Apply Dog Racing Handicapping to Horse Racing?

That’s the question I asked myself when I turned my attention to horse racing. As I’ve said before, I live in Maine, where there’s no dog track. There aren’t any thoroughbred tracks either, but there are two harness tracks with OTB facilities. I started playing the harness races about three years ago, although I’d tried it from time to time before that.

I like harness racing, because I think it’s easier on the horses and drivers, but there’s not much money in it for horsemen or handicappers. I still go because I love to watch live racing and am lucky enough to have friends and children to go with. But for making money, thoroughbreds are much more likely to pay off.

Of course, the biggest difference between horses and dogs is that dogs run without jockeys or drivers. They run the way they want to run, which is both good and bad. If they have bad habits, there’s no one to pull on the reins or give them a flick of the lefthanded whip to get them back on track.

Of course, there’s also no one to rein them in and fight them if they’re showing too much early speed, which often discourages horses to the point where they don’t come in, as far as I can see. (Have you ever seen that tactic work with horses?) Anyhow, when you handicap horses, you’re handicapping horse, jockey and trainer. With dogs, it’s the dog and the trainer.

For both types of races, I look at the trainer’s ROI, win percentage and in-the-money percentage, but I make sure that I pay particular attention to how the trainer/kennel/stable is doing lately. I’ve noticed that – if you rely on the stats for the year or season – you can get burned. A trainer will have a good streak of wins and then go cold. For both horses and dogs, winning comes in streaks and you have to catch them when they’re hot and lay off them when they’re not.

Another thing that’s common to both horses and dogs is spot plays. Dogs that switch distances often win within a couple of races, or even their first time out. The same is true of horses, although they’re more likely to win going from a sprint to a longer distance. A spot play for horses is when they switch barns too. Horses like a change just like the rest of us and it often perks them up and makes them feel like running.

With both dogs and horses, young runners often do better on the outside, where they have room to run and maneuver. Young dogs and horses often don’t do as well when they’re on the rail, where they feel crowded by a horse or dog running right next to them.

Early speed works in very short races for both dogs and horses, which just makes sense. Especially, at most tracks, early speed on the inside, which means they have less distance to travel to get to the finish line.

In routes, closers have the advantage, but with both dogs and horses, it’s the closers who can also get out and run with the middle of the pack that are often the best bets. When you look at a program, pay attention to the early and middle calls, not just the stretch or finish. And if the track is muddy or heavy, don’t expect closers who run at the back of the track to be able to make up the distance and win. It’s almost impossible for them to do that on an off-track.

There are other similarities between handicapping dog races and horse races. If you play both, you probably have your own favorites. One thing that is common to both is that they’re a lot more fun to watch when you can get to the live races, which is why I play the horses as well as the dogs.


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