08/27/2014 4:46PM

Pandolfo: Ranking bias and class ratings

Half mile tracks are clearly speed favoring.

In the past, I've provided track profiles for all of the major harness tracks. In this column, I'm going to rank the same tracks by speed bias. The higher the number, the more speed favoring the track is. This can be useful when handicapping that track and analyzing shippers to other venues. For instance, Harrington, a half mile track, is very speed favoring. Let's say that a horse has won three starts in a row at Harrington, going wire to wire each time. Today, you're handicapping the Meadowlands, which is one of the least speed favoring tracks, and the sharp shipper from Harrington is in one of the races. I would recommend that you downgrade the horse's chances.

I'm also going to rate each track on class, meaning, the overall quality of horses racing at the track. Again, this is helpful for handicapping shippers. Keep in mind that these ratings are entirely subjective and represent my own personal opinion. The rankings are based mostly on personal observations, but I did take statistics into consideration. I haven't followed Mohawk and Woodbine closely this year, so I'm not as confident in the ratings I gave these two premier Canadian harness tracks, but I included them anyway. The track bias rating number is on the left, and the class rating on the right.

TRACK BIAS and CLASS RATINGS for Harness Tracks (B stands for Speed Bias, C stands for Class of horses)

10-B Harrington 8-C

9-B Philadelphia 10-C

9-B Freehold 6-C

9-B Saratoga 6-C

8-B Yonkers 10-C

7-B Dover 9-C

7-B Pocono 8-C

7-B Pompano 7-C

7-B Northfield 6-C

7-B Monticello 5-C

6-B Maywood 5-C

5-B The Meadows 7-C

5-B Tioga 6-C

4-B Woodbine 9-C

3-B Meadowlands 8-C winter, 10-C spring/summer

3-B Mohawk 9-C

3-B Hoosier 7-C

3-B Cal Expo 5-C

2-B Red Mile 7-C

1-B Balmoral 5-C

As you can see, the most speed favoring track is Harrington, a half mile track. At Harrington, leavers from posts 1 through 5 have a big advantage, and first over horses from inside posts also do well. The least speed favoring track is Balmoral, which is a one mile track that has a long stretch and the passing lane. At Balmoral, horses will often rally to win from far back.

Part of the reason for a track bias is the track configuration, and part is the way the track is maintained. The Meadowlands, for instance, is a one mile track. That means that the horses only go around two turns. Generally speaking, the more turns, the more speed favoring a track is, and vice versa. But, the Meadowlands also does a good job of keeping the track cushion consistent while maintaining a surface that's not conducive to front end speed. Some tracks have a firmer surface that helps carry a front runner's speed.

From a fan's perspective, a track that's less speed favoring is more appealing. Tracks that are kinder to closers tend to produce more exciting stretch battles and closer finishes. I don't think there's any question about this. If you run a racetrack, you should be trying to do whatever you can to make it a track where closers win their fair share of races. It simply makes for a better race and a more exciting product.

From a betting viewpoint, it depends on the handicapper. Based on the industry handle, it does appear that more bettors prefer the tracks that are less speed favoring. But, there are some bettors that prefer to bet the smaller, speed favoring tracks.

In the B rankings, I'd say that any track that has a rating of 6 or higher is a speed favoring track. When you're handicapping these tracks, traditional handicapping theories still apply. In other words, you still have to try to figure out which horses are the fastest, and classiest. But, once you've narrowed it down to the main contenders on final time and class, you have to eliminate horses that may be hindered by the bias. And, you must be aware that the post position bias is always more pronounced on a speed favoring track. At Balmoral, I have no problem betting a horse from post 9, which is winning at 10.6% this year. But, at Yonkers, I'm not going to bet any horse from post 8, which is winning at 2.9% this year.

If you consistently bet horses that figure to be racing against a post and track bias, good luck, you're going to need it. My suggestion, in terms of post position, is that most of your bets should be on posts that are winning at least 10%. You can get away with betting 8% posts if your bets on these posts are always longshots, or big overlays. Once the percentage dips below 8%, many of these horses are bad bets. I see many horses going off at anywhere from 4-1 to 12-1 from low-percentage posts that should probably be at least double those odds.

The more speed favoring a track is, the more important early speed becomes. When betting a speed favoring half or five-eighths size track, look for the good posts, and, look for contenders that have good gate speed. It also helps to have an aggressive driver. First-over horses do win their fair share over the speed favoring tracks, but most first-over horses that win have an inside post, 1 through 4 at most tracks. And, of course, for a horse to win first over, it has to be a solid contender on final time and class.

When handicapping a track that's not speed biased, it’s pretty basic; look for the sharpest and fastest horse. But on the speed favoring tracks, you improve your chances if most of the horses you bet leave the gate. Horses that have good gate speed have an advantage. But, the drivers know that most of the winners are leavers. So, if a top driver has a horse that's ready to win, he'll often hustle the horse out of the gate.

This is where position handicapping gets tricky. On paper, it may look like the 2 and 6 are speed horses that should leave. But, the four horse, who doesn't normally leave, is back in top form. Let's say that the four horse is being driven by a strong driver, someone like George Brennan. Well, even though the horse doesn't normally leave, Brennan may leave anyway. This is something you'll often find on the speed favoring tracks: the sharp horses are leaving. The drivers know that they have a much better chance if they leave. The bottom line is, if you're betting the speed favoring tracks, you want to bet horses that leave the gate and either set the pace or sit second in the pocket.

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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