07/30/2014 1:28PM

Pandolfo: Evaluating breakers

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Derick Giwner
Young horses will often throw their heads and lose their gait.

A smart handicapper and bettor evaluates each situation separately. Every race is different. In certain types of harness races, horses break stride more often. From my observations, I’d say that 2-year-old filly trotting races, and rookie trotting events in general, probably produce the most breakers. Consequently, these races can blow up when several horses break and a longshot comes on. If you're betting a Double, or any type of multiple-race horizontal exotic wager, you can catch a big price just by using most or all of the horses in these races.

For example, say the first race is a group of 2-year-old filly trotters that have only raced once or twice. But in the second race, you like a horse that's 4-1. You can back wheel that horse and hope that chaos erupts in the trot race and some inscrutable 40-1 shot wins.

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But let's get more precise.  A gentleman who posts on one of the online racing boards, www.paceadvantage.com, allowed me to use some his computer-generated data. His handle is tamaharbor. Here are some of the statistics he compiled:

BREAKING HORSES (3/22/2009 - 7/13/2014)

 

 

TRACK

YEAR

-------PACE RACES-------

-------TROT RACES-------

 

 

Breakers

Racelines

Pct

Breakers

Racelines

Pct

TOTAL

2009

7107

235128

3.02

9670

82443

11.73

TOTAL

2010

7325

262836

2.79

10711

92719

11.55

TOTAL

2011

6728

251865

2.67

9912

90872

10.91

TOTAL

2012

6042

244634

2.47

9539

91534

10.42

TOTAL

2013

6131

242596

2.53

10015

94793

10.57

TOTAL

2014

2762

115833

2.38

4280

44583

9.60

GRAND TOTAL

ALL

36095

1352892

2.67

54127

496944

10.89

As the chart shows, the average percentage of breakers in a race has decreased almost every year since 2009. In 2009, 3.02% of all starters in pace races broke stride. This year, that number is down to 2.38%. Trotters are breaking less often, too. As you can see, there are more than three times as many breakers in trot races as in pace races, but the percentage of trotters that break stride has dropped steadily in the last six years.

The absolute lowest percentage of breakers, based on tracks, was at Yonkers Raceway. This year a Yonkers, 1.35% of all pacer starters have made a break, the lowest in the sport. And, at Yonkers, only 6.34% of trotters that started made a break, also the lowest in the sport. This surprised me a bit because on most half mile tracks, trotters break stride at least 5 times more than pacers. For example, at Northfield in 2013, 2.67% of starters in pace races broke, but 11.76% of trot starters broke. But Yonkers has the highest purses and higher quality horses don't break as often.

Some other numbers that seemed significant . . . Ocean Downs averaged over 4% breakers for pacers and 15% for trotters from 2009 through the end of last year. Pacers seem to handle the Pocono Downs track much better than trotters. About 3% of pacers that started in Pocono races broke, but over the past two seasons, 14% of the trotters that started during that time span at Pocono broke stride.

I know that some bettors won't bet trotters at all. Personally, I like betting trotters, but I use common sense. For instance, if a trotter is the type that will break stride occasionally, I'll demand good odds if I'm going to bet that horse. In 2-year-old trotting races, I look for prices. I can't remember the last time I bet a favorite in a freshman trot race.

You really have to analyze each situation. I've hit some nice overlays on horses that made a break in their last start, it scares bettors away. If you watch the replays, you can get a better idea of how erratic the horse may be. If a horse simply makes a speed break, recovers, and finishes well, that's generally not a bad sign. But if a horse is turning its head and struggling around the turns, then breaks, that's a bad sign. With a horse that doesn't handle the turns well, the trainer has his work cut out for him. I would be hesitant to bet that horse until I see that it can handle the turns.

Some trainers excel with trotters. I'm much more confident betting trotters that are trained by specialists who win a lot of races with trotters. Trainers like Jimmy Takter, Ake Svanstedt, and Jim Raymer, seem to know exactly what changes to make to get trotters to have a smoother gait. I know that Takter sometimes changes the shoeing, and it helps. He did that with Trixton this year. Trixton was a bit wobbly-gaited in his first start of the year, but it didn't take long for Takter to get Trixton trotting smoothly and strong. Trixton is my top pick in the Hambletonian this Saturday.

Let’s face it, breakers are not good for the sport. Sometimes I wish that 2-year-old trot races that are not stakes races would be non-betting events. Gamblers expect to lose more bets than they win, but you want to see your horse compete, not jump up and down. I was glad to see that overall, the percentage of starters that broke stride has declined. Perhaps this is an indication that the more aerodynamic sulkies tract better around the turns. This is good news.

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.

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Jeff Biever More than 1 year ago
Bob, while trotting hobbles have been around for a long time, I wonder if their use has increased in the past few years, encouraged by rising stake race purses. Maybe the USTA could provide a database for this.
Dante Sindori More than 1 year ago
Racing at Northfield is much more aggressive, with lots of action and outer movement. This will cause speed breaks and traffic incidents. Going around the Yonkers mulberry bush all in a line causes very few breaks. Terrible racing at Yonkers, despite better quality horses. The advent of trotting hopples may have something to do with the decline in breaks for trotters.