02/27/2014 12:14PM

Bob Pandolfo: In Harness Racing, post matters

Lisa Photo
Where you line up behind the gate is almost a non-factor at The Meadowlands.

Last time I wrote about looking for horses that are in an improved situation: a drop in class; a key driver or trainer change. These factors have always been significant when looking for horses in an improved situation. But the most potent angle may be when a horse gets an improved post position.

I've written about the post-position bias in harness racing before. Rather, I've complained about it. From a spectator's perspective, it's bad. When every post has a good shot the races are more exciting. In harness racing, the outside posts win less than ever and, in my opinion, the outside posts win less now than just a year or two ago. It's sort of like if baseball made the 7th, 8th and 9th batters wear blindfolds. It's that bad. And I'll go on record as saying that if I ran a racetrack, I would not stand for it. I would make whatever changes I could to improve the win percentage of the outside posts. There are easy ways to fix a post position bias. I just think the racing is much better when there is more of an even playing field.

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But, rather than complaining about it, why not use it to our advantage? There are two ways to look at racing. One is from a spectator's point of view. The other is from a gambler's point of view. Certainly a racetrack where every post wins about the same percentage is going to produce a more entertaining product than a track where the outside posts rarely win. But, there are two ways that harness racing can entertain. One is the sheer joy of watching these wonderful animals compete in a sporting event. It can be exciting and dramatic. But harness racing is also a form of entertainment because you can bet on it. And, the thrill of winning a bet is fun.

Let's analyze some of the tracks. A new track is Miami Valley in Ohio. This is a five-eighths track. The cards have been good. The drivers’ colony is solid. Although they've only been racing a few weeks, I will go on record as saying that I expect the track profile to be speed favoring. I think you'll find that leavers and first-over horses will have the best chance to win. And there is a severe post-position bias at Miami Valley. Post 9 is 0-for-65. From what I've seen by watching the races, post 9 at Miami Valley may be the toughest post in harness racing. Post 8 is winning at 4.9%. That's about what post 7 wins on many half mile tracks. So post 8 is bad and post 9 is horrible. Posts 6 and 7 are both around 11%, so basically my suggestion is to concentrate on horses from posts 1 through 7. And, by the way, at Miami Valley the 10-horse starts from the second tier, so post 10 should do okay.

A positive sign at Miami Valley is that favorites are winning at 34%, which is ideal. So far posts 4 (19.4%) and 5 (17.2%) are the best posts. I think you'll find that a lot of horses from posts 6, 7, 8, and 9 will move into posts 4 or 5 and win. Naturally, you have to handicap form and speed, but don't underestimate the outside-in angle. Look for horses that flash good late speed from a tough outside post and then draw inside.

At Yonkers Raceway this year, it seemed that the outside posts were doing worse than ever. So I checked the stats. So far this year, post 8 at Yonkers has only 7 wins in 320 starts, a percentage of 2.2%. Post 7 is winning at 4.9% and post 6 is at 7.3%. So posts 6, 7 and 8 combined are winning at a measly average of 5%. I believe this is the lowest win percentage I've ever seen from these three posts at Yonkers. To me, this eliminates any horse from posts 6, 7, or 8 from consideration, unless, of course, I'm playing vertical exotics, such as a trifecta. Just as a point of reference, posts 6, 7 and 8 at Northfield are winning at 7%.

On the win end, I'll only bet on horses from posts 1 through 5 at Yonkers. And, the outside-in angle is huge at Yonkers. Sometimes you'll see a horse that has been stuck in the outside posts for several races. Well, you better believe that when the horse finally draws inside the connections are going all out.

It may seem like I'm pointing out the obvious, but the reason I wrote this column is because of the odds board. There is still plenty of sucker money betting the outside posts, which makes some of the horses from the better posts good overlays. Every week at Yonkers I see horses from posts 6, 7 and 8 that are absurdly over bet. If a horse has post 8 at Yonkers, unless its name is Foiled Again, I want at least 15-1 and that's for a horse that looks like the best horse on paper. I see horses going off at anywhere from 4-1 to 12-1 from these tough posts and the odds should be at least doubled. But that's to my advantage, because it means that my 5-2 shot from post 3 should actually be 2-1. There are some nice overlays at Yonkers if you analyze it this way. Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that an overlay has to be a big price. If you can get 8-5 on a horse that should be even money, that's a good bet. 

At the Meadowlands, the post position stats so far this year are a bit unusual. Posts 1, 3, 7, 9 and 10 are all winning around 8%. That's odd. You would think that posts 1, 3 and 7 would be much better than 9 and 10. The best posts have been 5 and 6, which are winning at over 16%. Generally speaking, however, this is the best post-position pattern in the sport right now. Ideally what you want is as even a playing field as possible with no great posts and no horrible posts.

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Of course, a two-turn track is less biased because of the longer straights. Another thing that may contribute to the bias could be the distance between each horse. The drivers lean back more now and it seems to me that this makes it tougher for horses to rally from behind; that and the speed-favoring sulkies. So why buck the trend? On the half and five-eighth tracks, play the inside posts and the horses that can leave the gate.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.