Sardella’s Column


Big Prices Abound This Weekend at the Spa

One of the things I try to accomplish in my weekly column is to dispel myths commonly believed by some people who don’t follow harness racing and even some casual fans. In past columns, I have talked about everything from the fact that not only “old guys” participate in the sport. That in fact several of the top drivers and trainers are under the age of thirty. While there is certainly a fair share of longtime harness fans, there are also plenty of members of the “younger generations” who are found at racetracks on the weekends. I have even covered some harness racing technical aspects such as why drivers sometimes appear to be “pulling back” on their horses in the stretch (it’s not because they’re not trying!) Of all of the preconceived notions that are heard about harness racing, the most prevalent one that I hear is that all the favorites win. You can’t make any money betting, they say, because all of the favorites win and the pools are too small to wager any kind of significant money. Well while both of those premises aren’t without some merit, there is more and more evidence being compiled weekly that shows that is clearly not what goes on at Saratoga Casino and Raceway.

The betting pools at Saratoga have significantly increased of late. While there has been a slight growth in the past couple of years, the total handle has skyrocketed in 2014. What exactly that can be attributed to is up to each individual’s interpretation but the addition and growth of the SaratogaBets wagering platform has certainly helped the cause. People now have the opportunity to wager from home or from any of their mobile devices. This has allowed folks that may have wanted to make some bets but may not have been able to come to the track or any other off-track wagering facility an opportunity to do it from wherever they choose. Through SaratogaBets, players can also watch live video of the races. This has become a more and more popular way to play the horses and certainly aides in the growth of the pools and handle at the track.

It’s a simple premise. Betting, for example, $100 to win or a $20 exacta will have roughly half the effect that it would have previously since average handle has gone up by nearly fifty percent in the early stages of the this season. No, those rare bettors who would want to put what most would consider an exorbitant amount of money such as $500 on a horse still can’t do so and not see a big effect in the odds as would be the case at the thoroughbred track during the summer. The top handle day thus far this year, $433,494 on Sunday March 23rd, has already eclipsed the biggest total from any day in 2013. The average handle in the first six weeks of the race meet is more than $325,000. To contrast, handles in the past few years have hovered around the $200,000 mark per race card. That is a pretty significant increase and makes betting a lot more feasible for handicappers who have certainly seen that the days of the $4 and $5 exactas and 1-5 favorites winning all the time have gone by the wayside.

While the increased pools and competitive racing have allowed for bigger average mutuels at the start of this year’s meet, last weekend’s action surely went a long way in upping the young seasons’ average payouts. It was a longshot bettor’s delight at the Spa last week as the big prices just kept coming. On Thursday night, there was a rare stretch in which three consecutive races saw winners that were odds of 20-1 or higher. Trotters Swing And A Hit, Rose Run Marcus and Southwind Amarilla all pulled off Thursday night upsets and posted win mutuels of $47, $50 and $42, respectively. Rose Run Marcus headed a trifecta that returned over $8,600, the largest of the season to date.

The longshots just kept coming on Friday night and I’m not referring to the few 6-1 winners on the card. Simpletwistoffate had post position eight on Friday and her trainer-driver Phil Fluet blasted her out in the early going. Dismissed at odds of 39-1, Simpletwistoffate closed up the inside to pull off the upset and return $81 to win, the highest win price of the year. The race also resulted in the largest exacta, $1095, and superfecta payoff of the meet, a dazzling $36,264. A ten cent superfecta returned more than $1,800!! The Friday night finale saw yet another big priced winner as Good Win Earl scored a convincing victory for driver Bruce Aldrich Jr at odds of 23-1. The 20+ to one shots just kept coming as the longshot trend spilled right over into Saturday night’s opener. Dontakemyguns was taking a big class drop into the $7,500 claimers but was ignored by the bettors who released him at 33-1. Aided by an early speed duel, Dontakemyguns swooped the group and drew away late to reward his few backers with a $68.50 win price. It was only fitting that the $18,190 featured Open Pace would see yet another big time longshot prevail. Spinarama was the runner up in the previous week’s Open but on Saturday night would not be denied. Spinarama parlayed his pocket trip to the upset at 34-1 with driver Austin Siegelman in the sulky. Another big payoff on a weekend of huge prices at Saratoga. Who says you can’t make money betting harness racing? With increased handle and a bevy of wide open races, there are plenty of opportunities for bettors to make a good buck while enjoying an evening of harness racing action at the Spa.

Live racing takes place this week on Wednesday through Saturday nights starting at 6:45pm. With no Sunday racing due to the Easter holiday, a Wednesday night program has been added for the next few weeks. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!       




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