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by Don Bielak

Many handicappers who have no problem analyzing a pacing event suddenly find themselves stymied when it comes to handicapping the trotters. That which works perfectly well for pacing seems to be less effective when applied to trotting. There is a valid reason for this. The difference between trotters and pacers entails more than just gait. These differences, once understood and accounted for, can be used to improve handicapping performance in trotting races.

Every horse that has stood on all fours has been able to trot because it is a natural gait. Nature intends, however, for a horse to go into a gallop long before reaching the speed necessary to compete in races. This explains why many horses have a hard time trotting a mile without breaking. Trotting is a difficult gait to maintain at such advanced speeds. Many horses, even those with strong trotting bloodlines, can never sufficiently master the gait for racing purposes.

This difficulty causes problems other than breaking. It also makes bursts of speed, or brushes, difficult for most trotters. Movement in trot races tends to be of a slower, steadier variety as compared to pacing events. Leaving quickly from outside post positions is also troublesome for most trotters.

Given the host of problems that arise with training and racing trotters, it is not hard to understand why there is a shortage of these horses. This shortage accounts for the limited number of trot races and the fewer classes available for them as compared to pacers.

In addition, drivers take on greater importance in trotting races. Expert handling and strategy are necessary for success. Mistakes are often very costly.

This information can be used to formulate certain general "rules of thumb" for handicapping trot races. They are "general" because there are always exceptions to rules, especially when it comes to handicapping.

With this in mind, I recommend the following for improved trot handicapping:

1. Be especially wary of horses that break. This the most obvious and important point. I will normally eliminate horses that show breaks in three or more races, unless the breaks were not recent.

2. Make sure that a trotter with an outside post position is capable of overcoming the handicap before you back him. I tend to favor trotters from the inside because from outside starting slots a speed horse will often get parked and a stretch runner will have to come from far back - both particularly difficult propositions for trotters.

3. Be aware that differences in classes can be critical. One class up or down usually means quite a difference in quality and speed of competition. A trotter dropping back to a class at which it has had past success will usually be capable of a substantially improved performance.

4. Give added consideration to lightly-raced horses at the bottom class level. This grade is normally loaded with chronic losers that can be beaten by a newcomer with little more than average talent.

5. Favor top drivers who often compete in, and win, trot races. Driving trotters is a specialized job requiring a high degree of skill. Try to make sure your choice will be handled by a capable reinsman.

6. Be willing to excuse poor performance more readily than with pacers. There are generally more valid reasons for a trotter to race badly (breaking horses, dull cover, etc.). Many longshot winners of trot races have had valid excuses in their recent starts.

7. Allow a little more leeway with idleness when assessing a trotter's chances. A pacer will normally hold its form for 10-14 days. Trotters tend to hold their form for longer periods and some can win with as much as three weeks between starts.

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