10/01/2015 11:46AM

Pandolfo: Basic handicapping point system

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Most of what you need to handicap is in the past performances. Here's a way to use some important harness handicapping factors.

Final Time: Whether you use speed figures or final time, it's hard to downplay the importance of time. Years ago when the races were often slow paced, the times could be misleading. But races are run at more optimum speeds now. When a horse moves up in class, it faces horses that have faster final times. Wiggle It Jiggleit is the top 3-year-old in harness racing because he's faster than his peers. That's why he keeps winning.

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When using final time to handicap, I like to create a speed par for each race. Let's say that you're using the Harness Eye speed figures. Look over each horse's last three figures and circle the fastest. Then look at the top four figures. Let's say that these are the top four speed figures in the race: 87, 82, 81, 81. I usually like to eliminate a number that appears much higher than the average. In this case, I would make the par 81.

My general rule is simple. For a horse to be a contender, one of its last two figures had to be within 3 points of the par. If you're using final time, the time has to be no more than 3/5's of a second slower than the race par. I would look over each horse's last two races and circle every one that is 78 or higher. The other horses are eliminated. There could be exceptions to this, for instance, if a horse is making its second start off a layoff, I may have to go back and use an older line. You have to use your own judgment.

The more horses in the race that qualify on the 3 point rule, the tougher the race will be to handicap. This means that your chances of cashing go down. Generally speaking, I prefer to bet races where I can eliminate at least half of the horses in the field. This takes patience because you'll have to pass races. But you'll be rewarded with more winners. On half mile tracks, you can usually eliminate posts 7 and 8, so it's not difficult to find races where you can narrow the field down to four contenders.

Post position: Post position in harness handicapping is an important factor. First of all, on all half mile tracks posts 7 and 8 are difficult posts. If you bet horses from those posts, the horse has to be a standout and an odds overlay. You can often eliminate the six horse as well. On five eighth tracks, post 9 is a tough post, although you have to check to see if the track has a slanted starting gate, which makes it easier to leave.

Horses moving from a bad post to a good post is very important. It's a good angle because a horse's form often looks worse than it is when the horse has had a tough post position. I also like this angle because if a horse has a series of poor posts and finally moves inside, the connections are likely to be aggressive. The drivers and trainers know that you have to take advantage of an improved situation and try and get some money for their owners.

You can use a basic point system to reward horses moving in from a tough post. Say that the horse's best speed figure in its last two starts is a 78, and the horse had post 8 on a half mile track last start. Today the horse has post 3. I would reward that horse 3 points, turning the 78 to an 81. You can add anywhere from 1 to 3 points for a horse that's moving inside, depending on how much better the new post is compared to last race.

Zip: In each race, look over the horse's recent starts and circle the two or three fastest fractions. This gets a bit tricky because one fast fraction may not be a realistic number, so try to eliminate a number that's crazy fast for the race. You just want to get an idea of how fast the fastest quarter may be.

With any horse I bet, I prefer that the horse shows at least one race in its last four where it actually left or brushed quickly. If the Zip is within two or three fifths of the fastest fractions, even better.  If you want to use a point system to adjust the horse's speed figure or final time, add 1 or 2 points to any horse that has shown Zip depending on how good the effort was.

Drivers: In the 6th race at The Meadows on Monday, September 28, Angels Envy paid $76.80 from post 4. The horse came into the race with an 0-for-9 record and literally improved by two seconds. But it wasn't impossible to find this longshot winner. There was a driver change from a driver who is winning at 3% to Mike Wilder, who is having a very good year and is winning at a 16% clip. The former driver is more of a trainer/driver. Mike Wilder is a catch-driver. This was a huge driver change and you should watch for this type of change. At every track, there are usually a few hot catch drivers who routinely move horses up. You can add 1 or 2 points to a horse's speed figure when this happens. At Northfield Park in Ohio, the hottest driver is Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. Any time Wrenn gets on a horse for the first time there's a good chance that the horse will improve.

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Once you've completed all of the above steps you'll have a point-adjusted speed figure for every horse. The horses with a point advantage of 5 or more will be tough to beat. Look for races where you've eliminated at least half of the horses in the race. Then you want to evaluate the closing odds on your other contenders. The closer the point spread is between the adjusted speed ratings, the more wide open the race is. Always evaluate the odds to see if any of the four contenders are an overlay. But using this type of handicapping system, you'll find horses that stand out as likely winners.

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.