08/08/2013 8:45AM

Harness Racing: Wagering in the coming months


Hambletonian Day is in the books and the Meadowlands has closed the doors on its grandstand for standardbred racing. For the next 3 1/2 months while we await the new facility and the large pools that the track creates, those of us who enjoy trotters and pacers must find someplace to wager.

While the Meadowlands accounts for a large portion of the total handle in the sport (approximately 20 percent, comparing their recently released total of $199,121,752 for 2013 versus the $1 billion for U.S. tracks through August 4), quite a few other tracks offer at least something worth trying on a consistent basis. With some tracks we are talking about a guaranteed wager brought to you by the USTA’s Strategic Wagering Program. During the week of August 5, there are 19 guaranteed wagers being offered. The promised pools range from $2,500 to $25,000 (Mohawk Racetrack in Canada does offer a $75,000 guarantee nightly).

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Some may scoff at the small guarantees, but don’t be so quick to knock them. Here are a few reasons why:

1) Some of the guaranteed totals are not met and provide additional bang for your buck. If the guarantee is $10,000 and only $8,500 is wagered, that is a great opportunity to play.

2) These pools produce modest carryovers on a daily basis. Hoosier, Balmoral, Northfield, Philly and Yonkers have all seen decent carryovers in their wagers over the last few weeks.

3) You get more bang for your buck on these small carryovers than the large ones. The total pool for a carryover is typically only 3 or 4 times larger than the actual carryover. For example, at Yonkers Raceway on August 6 there was a $7,500 pick five carryover which produced “new money” of $28,610, almost four times higher than the carryover amount. The takeout on the $28k was $7,152.50, which means with the carryover money the wager was virtually takeout-free.

Let’s compare the Yonkers Raceway example to Saratoga Thoroughbreds. On July 22 there was a pick six carryover of $57,533 and the total pool was $329,306, almost six times higher than the carryover amount. The carryover total didn’t even eclipse the takeout amount in this example. Because of the pool size, the Saratoga carryover is likely to provide a higher pari-mutuel return, but the value bet is the wager at Yonkers.

I don’t care how small the pools are or how many favorites win at a track, if you watch the races on a daily basis and wait for the right spots, you can win. Now, if you are one of the few in the upper percentile of bettors when it comes to handle, you have to get really creative to win into the smaller pools at some tracks. But for the majority of us, whether you are playing Saratoga Harness, Hoosier Park or Yonkers Raceway, the size of the pools is satisfactory to support a reasonable wager in the $20 to $40 range.

For me, Yonkers, Philadelphia and Freehold would be my first choices during the multi-month Meadowlands hiatus, but there are some other strong options:

1) Over the course of the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to handicap quite a few pick fours at Hoosier Park and I have come to find out that the races there are quite competitive and often produce strong payouts.

2) An underrated track where you can often find value is The Red Mile. Their total handle is far from strong, but if you can read between some of the past performances lines, you can often locate good overlays.

3) Balmoral and Mohawk offer full fields and the larger track size that Meadowlands bettors are accustomed to. They are also two of the highest handling standardbred tracks.

4) Another option is to follow Sire Stakes horses from track to track. Exclusively wagering on a circuit, you will become very familiar with the horses and their abilities. Whether it is New York or Pennsylvania, you will have a distinct advantage when wagering because a good portion of the dollars bet will come from locals, who are unlikely to be familiar with horses coming in from another track.

Finally, you can simply choose to wager at the tracks with the top open stakes races each weekend. Looking ahead, you can circle the following tracks on each of these weeks:

Week of August 12 – Pocono, Saratoga, Mohawk

Week of August 19 – Mohawk, Vernon

Week of August 26 – Mohawk

Week of September 2 – Tioga, Mohawk, Vernon

Week of September 9 – Mohawk

Week of September 16 – Harrington , Delaware County Fair, Mohawk

Weeks of September 23/30 – Red Mile

Weeks of October 7/14 – Pocono

Week of October 21 – Vernon

Week of October 28 – Yonkers

Week of November 4 – Balmoral

Week of November 11 – Maywood, Dover

I left this week off because there are no open stakes on the calendar. However, Sire Stakes and state-bred races will show off some top performers.

Bee A Magician, the Hambletonian Oaks winner, puts her unbeaten streak on the line in a $150,000 Ontario Sire Stakes event (race 2) at Mohawk Racetrack on Saturday. The Richard “Nifty” Norman trainee is perfect in nine starts this year and finds an easy spot this weekend despite drawing post 10.

There are three other $150k races on the Mohawk card, but the most interesting race could turn out to be the $34,000 Preferred (race 10). Two talented 3-year-olds – Sunshine Beach and Fool Me Once – tackle 4-year-old Michaels Power and the classy 6-year-old Aracache Hanover. All of these pacers have clocked a mile in under 1:49 this season.

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A pair of Empire Breeders Classic races worth $250k and $257k headline an 11-race card at Tioga Downs on Sunday afternoon. Many of the top 3-year-old pacers are signed on in the colt and gelding division. Adios winner Sunfire Blue Chip starts from post three, Adios and Hempt runner-up Vegas Vacation goes from post four and Odds On Equuleus (second in Meadowlands Pace) has post six.

The filly companion race is led by Shebestingin, who has finished first or second in 9 of 10 starts. She will be driven by David Miller from post five.

Hambletonian final starter High Bridge is in-to-go in the eighth race on Friday at The Meadows. He had some traffic issues in the Hambo and could be worth following in his $79k PA Sire Stakes race.

The freaky-fast He’s Watching, who has overcome breaks to win both of his career starts, goes to post in race nine at Tioga on Friday. The race is one of four divisions of the NY Sire Stakes for 2-year-old colt pacers.

Some nice 3-year-old filly pacers will race in three PA Sire Stakes splits at Pocono on Saturday evening. Charisma Hanover, Novascotia Hanover and Somwherovrarainbow are some of the top names slated to race.

Finally, to cover all the bases, 2-year-old filly pacers are in action at Saratoga in NY Sire Stakes action.

Just one last thought . . . how is it that no harness tracks in the U.S. are racing Saturday afternoon (August 10)? Seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Enjoy the racing this weekend and in the weeks to come.