12/27/2012 6:39AM

Meadowlands: Handicapper's Delight on Opening Weekend

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As a master of the obvious, I can point out that the Meadowlands is opening on Friday. For the Thoroughbred handicapper who has always wanted to try harness racing but shied away from the perceived short fields and even shorter prices, this is the weekend to dip your feet in the ice-cold swamp waters of East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Each of the 25 races over the two days features a field of at least nine horses, plus one race on each day will offer a 12-horse field. So, check off the quantity box on your handicapping wish list.

Every handicapper demands value and the offering this weekend more than delivers. I can honestly say that there should not be more than one odds-on favorite on the entire Friday card. In the majority of the races, you are looking at five to seven legitimate contenders.

With the chances of precipitation at zero percent, opening night typically a lure for bettors who have missed Meadowlands action for months and many people on vacation this week, all the stars are in alignment for large pools and what should be a wagering bonanza.

Through two carded programs, the desired result of more competitive races through the ABC condition system has been accomplished. Now all that remains is to see how bettors and fans respond to the hard-to-figure races. In theory, these races are what we hear every handicapper clamoring for every day. There is nothing to complain about; Field size, level of difficulty, top drivers, a larger track. All the elements are in place.

Handicapping in the ABC system

While we have discussed the new classification system for building races, now seems like the perfect time to discuss some strategies for handicapping under the new system.

I recently received an email saying: “For instance, how does one handicap a horse shipping in from another major track such as Woodbine, Yonkers and Philadelphia where the race condition are based on winnings over the last 5 or 10 races?”

First of all, every horse racing at the Meadowlands this weekend will be shipping in from somewhere else or coming off a Meadowlands qualifier. But assuming that these horses are shipping in from Racino tracks (most will be), there is no reason why you can’t still look at recent earnings and use that in concert with yearly earnings.

Whether you are using DRF Harness Eye past performances or the official Meadowlands program, you will still see each horse’s earnings for its last five starts. The only difference between pre-ABC and now is that you will need to look at the earnings per start and decipher which horses fit nicely on form. Then you need to check class. You can do this by looking at the conditions of each horse’s previous races or yearly earnings.

A quicker way to decide between shippers is the “EYE “ Rating found in the Harness Eye PP’s. This one number can tell you how good the horse was in their last race; the higher the better.

When handled correctly, ABC Racing provides some of the toughest handicapping challenges around. Just looking over the past performances is not going to be enough to give you an edge. You’ll need to dig deep into your memory (or buy Harness Eye PP’s; cheap plug) to recall which horses did well at the Meadowlands last winter or have typically performed well at the track.

More helpful hints:

Watch some replays if you are unsure about a horse

There is no substitute for seeing something with your own two eyes. If the performance looks good on paper but you have a question about trip or how easily the horse won, go online and watch the race. You can learn a lot that way.

Read what other people have to say

No one person knows everything. Especially when dealing with the amount of shippers that will be racing in the opening weeks, it simply makes sense to use some informed opinions as a guide. If nothing else, perhaps they may give you a tidbit of information that can give you a longshot to round out your trifecta. Feel free to look over my Friday selections.

Pay attention during the post parade

You may not be familiar with the horse and it is always a good idea to see how the horse looks before putting your money on the nose. I wouldn’t use this final look as a deterrent to wager but may decrease my bet if a horse looked to be in bad condition.

When I looked over the races for Friday, I found many races where I was left with three or four interesting options (sometimes more). It is going to be difficult to play straight exactas and trifectas on every race. At least until some of these horses get a couple of Meadowlands starts under their belt, I would confine myself to win, place and exacta box wagering. I would also sprinkle in some pick threes and pick fours if I had a key horse I liked in the sequence.

You may think that a 5-horse exacta box is a crazy bet. But with some of these tough fields, a simple 5-horse box costing you $20 for $1 could return a healthy 4-1 or 5-1 return on your investment. And it could be much easier than attempting to pick one winner at 4-1.

A pick three or pick four could be very rewarding if you locate that one strong play. Considering the depth of the fields, a 1 x 5 x5 pick three wager costing $25 for $1 looks very enticing. This gives you the option of digging deep for a price in the tougher legs that warrant more horses.

Remember that the main thing ABC conditions bring is more competitive fields. Just like when searching for that perfect T.V and deciding between Target, Best Buy and Walmart for your purchase. The greater the variety of options, the more complicated the decision of where to spend your money. But more options mean you get more for your money. You just have to work harder to get the desired result.