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Remember “Speed” and “Form” and You Should Be Fine

For people new to the art of harness racing handicapping, reading the past performances and trying to come up with a winner can be a daunting and intimidating task. There are dozens and dozens of numbers on the page; the handicapper extraordinaire beside you in the dining room, in the grandstand or out on the apron can be speaking a different language; those in the virtual handicapping room on social media are doing the same. At times, the task can seem like learning Swahili.
 
But, when we break it down, it’s not that complex at all, thanks to two of the handicapper’s best friends:  “Speed” and “Form”.
 
I, like I suppose a lot of you, like the 100 metre sprint at the Olympics every four years. It’s probably the most exciting event of the Games, and beforehand, everyone, both fans in the stadium and analysts and watchers on TV is handicapping the final. How we do that handicapping provides an object lesson that you can use at the races. If Usain Bolt has run 9.82, 9.78 and 9.76, and the world record is 9.72, we can say that Mr. Bolt has the speed needed to win this race. If he has run those times recently, placing first or second in those races, we know he is on form. When those two caveats connect, we know Usain Bolt is a likely favourite. However, what if Usain Bolt ran 9.76 and 9.74 a few months ago, but his last two races he was off the board while recovering from a sore shin? Now, Mr. Bolt has the “speed”, yes, but lacks the “form”. Suddenly, the sure thing that he seems each Games is not such a sure thing at all. We might even choose someone else – someone who is running fast, who has run fast and placed high recently – rather than the so-called fastest man alive.
 
In harness racing there are two truisms that have stood the test of time. The fastest horse tends to win most races, and the fastest horse who is on form tends to win those races at an even higher rate. It’s as old as the day is long, just like it is in any other performance sport, with humans, dogs, or any other race folks have wagered on since the beginning of time.
 
How do we recognize speed and form on the race program? It’s not that difficult. For speed, just glance at the times each horse has run this year. You might see the fastest mark of the season is 1:52.1 for the one, 1:54.2 for the two, 1:51.1 for the three, 1:51.4 for the four, 1:52.4 for the five and so on. That helps you identify “speed” contenders and gives you an idea what time this race will be paced or trotted in. What horses look fast enough to win this race based on speed? If you believe the three and four, because they went the fastest this season, are main contenders, you are not far off making your selection. However, what about form? We want to bet a fast horse like Usain Bolt, but we also want to make sure he or she is racing well enough recently. We do that by looking at the three and four horses’ recent races.
 
If the three horse’s last three races show times of 1:52.4, 1:53.3 and 1:55.1, and he or she came eighth, fourth and seventh, this horse might be “off form”. If the four horse raced his or her last three in and around 1:52, placing fifth or better, there is a good chance he or she is “on form” and we might want to make a wager.
 
There are other factors to look at, of course, like post positions (a horse can be “on form” with “high speed” but be stuck in a terrible post limiting his chances) and track changes (a horse coming from a mile track will have faster times that a horse coming from a half-mile track). But, if you remember the truisms of racing that the fastest horse with good recent form wins a lot of races – just like Usain Bolt does – you could be well on your way to catching more winners and beginning the journey to enjoy and learn more about the wonderful art of harness handicapping.

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