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Harness Versus Thoroughbred

Harness Versus Thoroughbred

Last week and literally overnight, Hawthorne Race Course transformed from a Thoroughbred track into one suitable for Harness racing.

Both are pari-mutuel sports, and each involves the competition of horseflesh, but rarely will you find a fan who follows both games religiously. In both Thoroughbred and Harness racing, one thing is constant – the first horse to the wire wins!

In Harness racing, the horses compete much more frequently – usually every week – where Thoroughbreds need more time to recover between starts, and typically race once every three weeks. Harness is slower than Thoroughbred racing, all the distances are the same (one mile) and the horses break stride on occasion. There’s also much more of a human element involved, with the skill of the driver often playing a critical roll in the outcome.

The Harness game is far less complicated, and the task of handicapping the races to the proper extent isn’t nearly as daunting. There are hundreds of factors that can be used in evaluating a Thoroughbred race, but Harness is much more mechanical and consistent, with times and trips being the primary factors in the handicapping process.

In both sports, pace makes the race. The faster the leading horses go, the better chance the closer has to get the job done.

Trips notes are important in Thoroughbred racing, but in Harness, they are much more critical to your success as a handicapper. If you pay close attention and keep detailed notes on every Harness race, $20 winners will fall into your lap much more often than they do on the other side of the equine fence.

In Thoroughbred racing, it doesn’t matter that a horse is “parked out”. In fact, the outside pressing trip is a sweet journey to carve out, but in the Harness game, it is important to be “covered up” by another horse for as long as possible. Horses who stay close to the early proceedings without having to take in negative air flow have a huge advantage. In Thoroughbred racing, horses stuck on the inside in main track races find themselves in a claustrophobic position with dirt consistently being kicked in their face. 

For the most part, Harness horses who are based in Chicago stay in Chicago, so it’s much easier to gauge their abilities over the three tracks they will compete at most of the year – Maywood, Balmoral and Hawthorne. In Thoroughbred racing, horses invade from all over the country, and it takes some time at the beginning of a meet to get a handle on where each horse fits in.

In Thoroughbred racing, distances range from five furlongs around one turn to 1 ½ miles around three bends. Horses race on the turf and the dirt and it usually takes a younger horse quite some time to find their niche. Standardbreds race over a mile in almost every start. Maywood is a half-mile track. Balmoral and Hawthorne are twice the size. Some horses like tight turns, while others appreciate the long stretch. Figuring out what track each individual horse prefers can also give you an advantage at the windows.

You also have to try to evaluate a Thoroughbred’s fitness. They don’t race nearly as often as a Standardbred, and it is a challenge to determine whether or not the horse is ready for a peak performance. Harness horses race almost every week on a consistent basis, and fitness isn’t nearly the same concern for the handicapper.

Both sports are fun and exciting, and with a little studying and patience, lots of fantastic wagering opportunities will present themselves!


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