06/04/2014 10:51AM

Pandolfo: Hoosier Park is on the rise

Jamie Linscott
Hoosier Park handle was up 25% in 2013.

Buoyed by slot revenue, and three track-owned off-track betting parlors, Hoosier Park has thrived as an exclusive standardbred racing facility. While you may remember the Anderson, Indiana oval as a multi-purpose facility offering Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Harness racing, that all changed when parent company Centaur Gaming elected to build a separate Thoroughbred track and casino called Indiana Grand.

As a seven-eighths-of-a-mile track, horses racing at Hoosier only have to go around two turns, which is clearly the most desirable configuration for wagering. At 1,255 feet, the stretch is one of the longest in the sport. This type of layout creates parity in post positions and racing styles. When you have a fair and balanced track, which isn't speed or post position biased, it makes it tough for favorites to dominate. At Hoosier this meet, favorites are winning at 35%, which is ideal.

As you would expect, this type of racing is attractive to bettors. In 2013, total handle at Hoosier was up 25% year-over-year. But even after a banner year, Hoosier did not rest on its laurels.

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"We're fortunate because we have two CEO's—Roderick Ratcliff and Jim Brown—that love racing. They've put a lot of money into the racing here. It's not just about the casino. This year, during the off season, Hoosier Park spent $300,000 to resurface the track," said Rick Moore, V.P. and General Manager of racing

With slot machines at Ohio harness tracks (Miami Valley and Northfield), some tracks, like Balmoral and Cal Expo, have had to race with fewer horses. But Hoosier has a good horse population.

"When the meet started this year, we did have some short fields," said Moore. "After the tough winter, some of the local horses weren't ready and we were more reliant on shippers. But now we're back to normal, putting on 14 races a card and many with 9-horse fields."

In 2014, Hoosier is scheduled to race 160 days (Tuesday to Saturday). The meet began on March 28 and ends on November 15. The premier stakes race on the docket is the Dan Patch Invitational Pace for older horses, which will be raced on August 8. Moore said that this year they added $50,000 to the purse, boosting the pot to its highest total ever, $250.000.

Hoosier is trying a new promotion for the drivers and fans in 2014—the Champion Driver Series. The event will be on two nights, July 19 and September 27. The way the contest is structured is interesting. The top 10 drivers at the track will compete in five races each night. In the first race, the top ranked driver at the track will pick his horse first, the 2nd-ranked driver will pick second, etc. In the second race, the driver ranked 10th will pick 1st, the 9th-ranked driver will pick 2nd, and it will continue in that order. Then it flip-flops for races 3, 4, and 5.

The top 8 finishers from the first round get to compete in the final on September 27. There's $5,000 worth of prize money, with $3,000 going to the winner. But, the winner of the contest also gets to drive a beautiful 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray on a one-year lease.

With a wide wagering menu that includes multiple 50 cent minimum wagers, and a great informational tool in Trakus (www.hoosierpark.com/trakus.html), which aids handicappers by providing charting data and multiple animated video views of the races, Hoosier is an attractive place to wager.

I started to follow and bet Hoosier last year, and this year, I've included Hoosier track bias info and horses to watch on my Sharp Horses and Track Trends list.

Handicapping Hoosier is similar to handicapping the Meadowlands. Class and a horse's ability to finish are important handicapping factors. With the longer straightaways, the inside speed horses can't steal races the way they do on many of the three- and four-turn tracks.

That being said, don't over-think the handicapping process. The usual factors still apply. Final time and good recent form are strong win indicators at Hoosier. But because of the long stretch, horses that have the ability to pace quick final quarters must be considered, especially if the horse fits well on class.

Class must always be considered when handicapping. But on a track like Hoosier, which does not have a speed bias, class is even more important. I like to look over a horse's past performances to see if the horse has won at today's class level, or at a higher level.

Often you'll see that a horse won against classier horses last year, but has been dropping and off form this year. In that type of situation, you have to watch the horse's current form carefully to see if it does something in the race that shows improvement.

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One thing I like about Hoosier, if a horse looks to be clearly the fastest horse on paper, it usually wins, and the odds are not as low as they are at some tracks. Even though the favorites win at a lower percentage than the industry average, I wouldn't recommend betting against favorites that look clearly best on paper, especially horses that appear to have a clear advantage on recent final times. Bet against the favorites that don't have the best recent final times.

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.