For followers of Thoroughbred racing, the "night game" of harness racing is a whole different world. There are different human and equine stars, unfamiliar racing venues, a driver controlling the horse while riding a sulky, and two different racing gaits, trotting and pacing, to consider. In his new book, Harnessing Winners, Meadowlands Racetrack oddsmaker, handicapping analyst, and TV personality Dave Brower attempts to educate new and existing fans on handicapping the standardbred game. He writes, "Fifty thousand spectators show up for the (Little Brown) Jug at the Delaware County Fair on a Thursday. In my opinion, the Thoroughbreds have got nothing on us in terms of excitement."
Thoroughbred handicappers are well aware of the importance of trips, track biases, and angles, and these skills are even more significant in the harness game. Brower gives detailed instructions on what to look for in the past performance lines, and stresses that watching replays is very important to uncover details that don't appear in print. Another major difference between the two sports is the use of qualifying races in the mornings. Thoroughbred racing requires a published workout for horses coming off a long layoff or making their career debut. Standardbreds are instead required to run in qualifying races, which don't have any purse money, where the only objective is to meet the standard time to be allowed to race. These events can uncover angles to be used when the horse enters a pari-mutuel event next time out.
Brower is clearly an expert in his own right, but he also enlists the help of three others in the book. He discusses driving with "The White Knight" Brian Sears, one of the top drivers in the world, who explains how he handicaps a race to decide which horse to drive and what strategy to employ when in the sulky. Harness Eye editor Derick Giwner writes an entire chapter on his home track, Yonkers Raceway, and half-mile ovals in general. Handicapping these four-turn races is quite different compared to the larger 7 furlong and one mile ovals, with some very strong angles that need attention. Northfield Park is represented by Keith Gissner, handicapper and publicity director of the "Home of the Flying Turns" near Cleveland, who discusses some of the unique aspects of this high-banked oval and the Ohio racing circuit itself, which has spawned the careers of many great drivers and trainers.
For Thoroughbred handicappers planning to try the Standardbreds, or for those already betting them and looking for a leg up on the competition, Brower's book is an excellent start. Using past performances from Harness Eye, the sport's equivalent of the Daily Racing Form, he illustrates such powerful angles as driver choices and changes, tote board action, class drops, key races, and warm-ups. With great detail he covers more than a dozen aspects of what goes into a winning approach to handicapping harness races. He dedicates the entire final chapter to handicapping Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands, which is the sport's equivalent of Kentucky Derby Day, with many once-a-year bettors filling the grandstand and the betting pools, making it the perfect day to look for some value on the board.
This book belongs in the personal library of any racing fan considering betting on the trotters and pacers. With so few harness handicapping books out in recent years, Brower has taken center stage in trying to increase interest in this exciting form of horse racing, one that is American in origin but is enjoyed worldwide. Thoroughbred players tired of speed handicapping may find the harness game, where angles and trips are used a lot more, to be a refreshing change of scenery, where handicapping is more than just number-crunching.
Harnessing Winners has a cover price of $14.95 and can be ordered Amazon.com for only $11.21.
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