In this, the final installment of our "Pick-A-Winner" feature, we focus on logical methods/applications for selecting horses in the different types of races that come up on a typical day's racing card. Handicappers normally use multiple methods to rate the contenders on CLASS-SPEED and PACE. They must also rate trainers and jockeys. Trips and biases cannot be ignored. But what factors take precedence today? In this race? Should handicappers emphasize speed over class? How about class over speed, maybe track bias over all else? When and how does the trainer fit in? The pieces must be assembled into a vision of a probable outcome. No method, however wonderful, applies effectively all of the time, or should be considered appropriate under all circumstances.
CLAIMING RACES: The effective handicapping of claiming races as a group can commence from the following:
--Speed handicapping, pace analysis, the evaluation of the early speed and positive trainer patterns must be the essential components of the handicapper's approach to claiming race.
How fast have the main contenders actually run in the recent past?
Which horse(s) can set and maintain, or track and overcome, the swiftest pace?
Which horse(s) might secure the early lead, and run to victory uncontested?
Are the any positive trainer patterns that give one horse an edge?
Recreational or novice handicappers notoriously eliminate claiming horse rising in class. WRONG. If a claiming horse on the rise has been improving, and displays the top figure in the field, it not only qualifies, it is very, very likely to win. If that kind of claiming horse also reveals back class, handicappers should never hesitate to show their support.
So the vast majority of claiming races can be dissected using an array of handicapping tools that resembles this pattern:
1--Speed figures, pace and early speed, preferably in combination.
2--Competent claiming trainers
3--Troubled trips, of the kind that suggest a claiming horse's prior figures can be improved.
4--Impressively improving form
CLAIMING RACES RESTRICTED TO THREE-YEAR OLDS: Claiming races limited to 3 year-olds are radically dissimilar to claiming races open to older horses. Here are a few trusty guidelines for novice and recreational handicappers to use in coping with these races:
1--Prefer horses dropping into claiming races following a good race under non-winners allowance conditions.
2--Prefer winners at today's top claiming price or higher, providing recent form remains acceptable.
3--Prefer horses dropping in claiming price that display speed figures that show it can withstand today's competition.
4--On horses rising in claiming price, discount speed figures and rely on a pace analysis to predict whether the escalation is warranted.
MAIDEN RACES: Three kinds of contenders dominate the winner's circle:
1--Experienced maidens who have recently equaled OR exceeded par
2--First-time starters who satisfy acceptable sire and trainer performance, and possess sharp workouts
Experienced maidens that have already equaled or exceeded par will be extremely difficult for first starters to defeat.
When evaluating first starters, rely upon these guidelines. The sire should win with 11 percent or more of his first-timers. The trainer should win with 11 percent or more of his first starters. Workout should be at four and five furlongs or longer and should be sharp. Sharp means faster than 12 seconds per furlong up to five furlongs, faster than 1:13 at six furlongs, and faster than 1:27 at seven furlongs. If second starters possess talent, they should be expected to improve by three to five lengths. Therefore, look for second starters who have run within three lengths of the more experienced high-figure maidens in the field.
MAIDEN CLAIMING RACES: Maiden claiming races contain the cheapest, slowest, least reliable horseflesh in the barns. The in-depth handicapping of maiden claiming races can be highly unpleasurable, since so many of the horses reveal nothing resembling the outermost limits of acceptable form. Speed figures are unreliable
--In maiden-claiming races, look for horses exiting an acceptable race against straight maidens, as indicated by early speed, an even effort, a competitive move at any point of call, tracking a reasonably fast early pace to the pre-stretch call, a faster final figure, or a close finish. If the maiden dropdown has not competed for a while, it need only display acceptable current form and it figures regardless. The opposition will be awfully slow of foot. Straight maiden just run so much faster.
NON-WINNERS ALLOWANCE SERIES: Allowance races come in two basic varieties, nonwinners allowance races and classified allowance races. The nonwinners allowances are carded as a series of progressively more testing races restricted to relatively inexperienced, unseasoned, and unclassified horses, The "nonwinners" label attached specifies that the horses may not have yet won one, two, three, or perhaps four, nonclaiming races. The purpose is to restrict the competition to better horses of high potential at comparable stages of development, so that the horses can sort themselves out, some moving ahead to the stakes, most heading to the claiming division. The objective for handicappers is to identify the horses that fit the conditions best or even might outclass the conditions.
All PRELIMINARY ALLOWANCE races (NW1X, NW2X) are to be won by younger lightly raced horses that are improving and should be on their way to better races (stakes):
1--Lghtly raced 3 yr old horses having relatively few attempts and impressive performances under similar or better conditions.
2--Maiden graduates who have equaled par for the NW1x allowance level, providing they have contested a fast pace.
3--Imports from Europe coming out of listed, group stakes where they have won or ran close. They have a class edge.
ADVANCED NONWINNERS ALLOWANCE: Once two allowance victories have been acquired, horses have arrived at advanced nonclaiming territory. No more easy pickings. Ordinary horses hit the proverbial brick wall. Allowance race for nonwinners three time or four times are for the TOP horses in the division only. They qualify as the sport's dividing line. Different ballgame altogether. The quality of competition has improved tremendously at this stage. Winners at this level have exhibited high class. Whereas handicappers might be liberal when analyzing contenders in preliminary nonwinners allowances, strict standards NOW apply. POSITIVE form is demanded as opposed to acceptable form. Horses MUST be comfortable with the footing and probable pace and boast a COMPETENT trainer. Main contenders to look for are:
1--Impressive winners of two recent allowance races that have impressed in a graded or open stakes.
2--Imports from Europe that have won or finished close in any Group1 or Group 2 stakes overseas
3--A lightly raced horse who has crushed maidens and has whipped NW1X and NW2X horses handily and despite a lack of stakes experience, is merely taking the next logical step-up in class.
CLASSIFIED ALLOWANCE: Classified allowance races are carded for older horses 3up that have not won one, two, or multiple races offering a specified winner's share (first money) since a specified date, such as for non-winners of $35,000 since March 1. Classified allowances conditions can be complicated and challenging, but in general the more wins and first money allowed and the shorter the specified date in the past, the more good horses will be eligible and the stronger will be the fields. These written conditions are known as relatively unrestricted and bow to superior class;
--Any horse whose basic class, as indicated by the purse values won, restrictions of prior classified conditions, or the quality of horses engaged in its best recent efforts, is superior to today's conditions, especially open stakes winners, provided form is acceptable and the distance, footing and probable pace are comfortable.
Where no recent wins are allowed, and the first money is ordinary and the specified date six months ago or longer, many good horses and recent non-claiming winners will be barred, and the fields will be weaker. These written conditions are known as highly restricted and bow to sharp form:
--Slightly inferior horses in particularly sharp form and well-suited to the surface, distance and probable pace may be preferred to better horses returning from long layoffs.
NOTE: Anytime a Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes performer shows up in a classified allowance race, handicappers should assume the horse is out for conditioning purposes. No Grade 1/2 stakes star is well intended under classified allowance conditions. The horses are prepping for later and bigger stakes.
STAKES RACES: At the top of the horse pyramid are the best runners on the grounds--the stakes horses. These horse have gone up the ladder, breaking their maiden and winning through their allowance conditions, and now they are tackling the best horses at the racetrack. They will also face shippers who invade from other racetrack looking to win a rich purse. Stakes races are often times ultra competitive with multiple horses having a chance to win. In ascending order of importance and prestige, stakes races can be classified at one of six levels:
-RESTRICTED STAKES: The lowest in the pecking order. These stakes bar former stakes winners, or horses that have won a specified amount of money since a specified date. are written for horses Restricted stakes are designated in the Daily racing Form by the symbols R or S, the S meaning the race was limited to state-bred.
-OPEN STAKES, by definition, are open to all comers. Owners merely pay nomination fees, entry fees, and starting fees, all of which will be redistributed to the winning owner. The racetrack adds a hefty purse, referred to as added-money. Open stakes traditionally have been differentiated by the amounts of added-money, a very reliable index of competitive quality, as horsemen are attracted to stakes races in exact proportion to the money added.
-LISTED STAKES, considered by racing's establishment of sufficient prestige to be "listed" on the pages of international sales catalogs. Owners and breeders hold winners of listed stakes in higher esteem than they do winners of open but unlisted stakes. The purses are richer and the competition keener.
-GRADE 3 races involve even bigger purses and better horses, but the competition is less than definitive. Grade 3 stakes are often engaged as stepping-stones to Grade 1 objectives.
-GRADE 2 stakes provide prestigious titles and happy hunting grounds for horses of truly outstanding speed and competitiveness that simply cannot overtake the Grade 1 superstars. Grade 2 winners might become important horses, and multiple Grade 2 winners often will be rewarded with breeding syndications. Grade 2 horses can be considered a prime cut above the lower-grade stakes varieties, and can usually beat those horses into humble submission.
-GRADE 1 stakes, call together the fastest horses of a generation, and ultimately define the sport's champions, near-champions, and division leaders. Purses are extravagant, distances longer, and the competition supreme, at least much of the time.
In identifying the contenders of stakes races, it's crucial that novice handicappers begin to assign the horses to a level of the stakes hierarchy. The procedure can clarify real class differences. For practical purposes, the six levels of the stakes hierarchy are condensed into three:
Level 5 Restricted/Open Stakes below $100,000
Level 4 Listed/Grade III
Level 3 Grade II/Grade I
In practice, handicappers can consider open stakes at $100,000-added and above the equivalent of listed stakes.
And to distinguish authentically outstanding stakes horses from the rest, these are the best.
Level 2 Multiple Grade I Winners
Level 1 Classic Winners
In Stakes races generally, CLASS supersedes SPEED. When in shape and suited to the distance and footing, expect G1/G2 standouts to defeat the G3/Listed types. Similarly, G3/Listed winners enjoy a real advantage against Open and Restricted stakes winners. Open and Restricted winners CAN climb higher in the stakes hierarchy at times, usually when in razor sharp form and particularly well-suited to the distance, footing and probable pace.
At any level of the stakes hierarchy, horses well matched on speed are separated by a fine analysis of the racing quality which the figures were earned. The quality of opposition will be more important than the values of speed figures. The objective is to identify the horses that has recorded the highest figures against the most advanced competition. Speed figures alone are rarely enough. Speed AND Class in combination will be difficult to deny.
Stakes races for 3 year-olds are different. The 3 year olds are developing and remain unclassified for much of the season. As high-potential 3 year-olds progress through eligibility conditions and into the stakes division, the best of them will be capable of setting, pressing, or tracking a fast pace en route to impressive speed figures. For those horses unable to keep abreast when the early pace intensifies, they will eventually fall back. Their speed figures will decline. Evaluate 3 year-olds in stakes using pace AND speed in combination.
STARTER RACES: The trainer's purpose here is to enter a horse that has won for a claiming price ABOVE the starting price, but still remains eligible. The trainer knows the horse might outclass the others near the starting price and dominate the races repeatedly. Handicappers simply play along. Approach starter races as a cat-and-mouse game between racing secretaries and trainers, which they are, with clever trainers presiding by obtaining eligibility for solid, versatile, higher-priced claiming horses, which they do. The path to the contenders will have been cleared. All that is left is identifying the best horse in sharp form.
TURF RACING: Late speed, in combination with class dominates on the turf. Not early speed, not pace, not tactical speed, and not improving form. When the real turf racing begins, shortly following the prestretch call, it's class and late speed that tell the tale.
JUVENILES: Two-year-old dashes and sprints are won by juveniles that have recorded the fastest speed figures. Juveniles of spring and summer run as fast as they can for as long as they can. The fastest horses win. Pace is relatively unimportant. Jockey, weight, and post position are virtually meaningless in juvenile sprints. Gate ability helps, but the finer riding skills of handling and timing hardly matter. Before weight is felt, the race is over. And the fastest juveniles will quickly recover any ground lost to a wide post position. Form is similarly secondary. Juveniles are relatively sound, trim, and in sharp competitive condition. Workouts should be regular, with a few of them promising genuine speed.
Although effective speed handicapping gets to the guts of two-year-old sprints quickly and reliably, the races are normally complicated by the appearance of well-connected, nicely bred, fast-working first starters.
Handicappers can evaluate debuting juveniles in four ways:
1-Sires' win percentage with first-starting 2 YOs
--Prefer sires that win with 15 percent or better of their first-starting two-year-olds.
2-Trainers' win percentage with first starting 2 YOs
--A few trainers specialize in polishing the speed of precocious two-year-olds. They win the dashes and sprints of spring and summer season after season. Credit these trainers during those times
--Workouts, of course, should be regular and sharp. The best is a five-furlong move of genuine speed.
--Betting action on first-starting juveniles should always be regarded seriously. Until the juveniles reveal themselves on the racetrack, they remain the exclusive property of horsemen, clocker's, and stable hands. These people may want to wager on their good ones. It's a glorious tradition.
By midsummer, two-year-olds will be competing at six furlongs. The divide between the sprints and routes for two-year-olds is ENORMOUS. Two-year-olds that win the routes generally will not be the same horses that won the sprints. A perfectly rational strategy in juvenile routes prefers the early speed. As mentioned, the majority of two-year-olds will run as fast as they can for as long as they can. Few juveniles of fall will have learned how to conserve speed and energy while running relaxed behind the pace. Instead, most juveniles chase. Few of them arrive in the stretch with a final kick. Early-speed horses may be tiring, but many of them continue on to victory.
In previous editions of this online magazine, you were given here in this section the four basic factors of handicapping evaluation. CLASS--FORM--SPEED and PACE, aka the fundamentals. Those four form the guts of it all. Fundamentals MUST be mastered in order to win. No single factor is more important than the other. Let me quickly review each of them. CLASS: Simply refers to the levels of competition a horse is entered in by its trainer. Determine if the horse can hold its own in a lower or higher class than its previous race. FORM: refers to the fitness, readiness and soundness of the horse. Look for up close or strong finishes during the horse's most recent races. Carefully read the dates of races and distance ran to determine if the horse is in top condition. SPEED: The most desired attribute in a racehorse, for obvious reasons. This can be determined through speed figure figures that assist handicappers in comparing vital information like actual times, different distances, different racetracks and against various pace scenarios. Speed figures are a standard tool in speed handicapping that will help you eliminate the horses that appear to slow to win. PACE: Together with speed, pace can make or break a horse. You can pace handicap by classifying the horses' running style, whether frontrunner, stalker, presser or closer, and then choosing the horse that best suits the race's forecasted pace. Pace is usually best employed as a separation factor when contenders are closely matched or if the pace will be unusually fast or slow.
In addition to these basic factors, your handicapping in order to be effective must also take into account secondary factors. It is very important to make the distinction between fundamentals which deal with the basic abilities of horses and the secondary factors which tend to deal with the circumstances of races. These include the human factors of jockey ability and trainer performance. Also under consideration will be non-human factors such as ground conditions, post positions and many other factors that not even the most experienced of handicappers could anticipate. The combination of all these factors can be intimidating to a novice. Just remember that you need to practice patience and tolerance, everything will slowly start to come together the more you handicap. Let's now have a look at each of the secondary factors.
DISTANCE: As a rule, horse can be expected to perform well at related distances. These are:
1 1/16 Mile
1 1/8 Mile
Many horses are versatile, performing well at related distances, long and short, but others perform best at specific distances. Favored distances often can be recognized by the speed figures, which do an excellent job telling handicappers whether horses do best at a particular distance. At 1 1/4 Miles, the concept of related distances DOES NOT apply. Horses can perform strongly at middle distances ( 1 Mile to 1 1/8 Mile), but poorly at 1 1/4 Miles. In assessing speed figures at 1 1/4 Miles, handicappers best rely on other speed figures earned at 1 1/4 Miles.
TRIPS: Trip handicapping consists of the observation of mishaps, paths, and the trouble that occurs during the running of races. Troubled trips sometimes can mean an improved performance next time, and perfect trips can mean that winning performances should not be repeated. Trip handicapping requires dedication and plenty of time. If you can not watch the races live, then you need to watch the replays of the days races and take plenty of notes.
TRAINER--JOCKEY: Trainers and jockeys are best viewed in tandem. It is nice to know which jockeys are preferred by which trainers, and under what special circumstances. Know your track's trainers, know your jockeys and know your trainer/jockey combinations. Fortunately for handicappers, trainer/jockey statistics and patterns are available in the past performances. Most trainers have patterns that they like because they have done so well with them in the past. This valuable information is very useful to the handicapper and should be given conisderation during the selection process. Be aware that leading trainers and jockeys are notoriously overbet by casual racegoers. DO NOT be fooled. The horse counts most, not the trainer or jockey. Use trainers to strengthen or weaken the basic case of the horse.
Jockeys tend to be incidental to handicapping. They ARE NOT incidental to the outcome of races. Jockey switches should always be used in conjunction with other factors, such as a change in distance or surface, class maneuver, equipment change..etc.. NOT in isolation. A switch to a leading rider accompanied by a drop in class has been a successful trainer pattern for years. Jockey switches should be noted in these situtations: A switch from a journeyman to a leading rider, a switch to the HOT apprentice or a switch to the stable rider.
TRACK SURFACE--POST POSITION: Wet surfaces generally favor speed horses. Drying out surfaces may favor speed or closers. Soft grass favors horses who like that footing, as indicated by past wins. Foreign grass horses tend to prefer soft and yielding courses much more than horses in North America.
Post position is usually an incidental factor in handicapping, rarely decisive. The most difficult post to overcome finds frontrunners and pace-pressers outside (post 10,11, 12 and out) at 1 mile and 1 1/16 mile. With a short run to the clubhouse turn, the horses swing wide while being used. Outside posts are at no disadvantage at 1 1/8 & 1 1/4. The run to the first turn is long enough enabling horses to find position without being used and losing ground. In grass races, preference should be given to inside posts which often dominate, because the turns are much narrower.
PEDIGREE: The most important application of pedigree in handicapping, by a wide margin, occurs in grass racing. Sires that transmit an aptititude for the turf do a terrifiic job and handicappers should prepare to back horses having outstanding grass sires on their 1st and 2nd starts on the turf.
Other applications of breeding in handicapping that counts:
--2 year old and 3 year old first time starters
--In the mud and slop
--Stakes for 3 year olds at 1 1/4 Mile
WEIGHT: The least important factor of handicapping. No area of handicapping finds horseman and handicappers in greater disagreement, with the horsemen seemingly obsessive about weight and weight differences, but facts support handicappers who proceed by abandoning weight as an independent factor in handicapping. Weight is essentially a function of recent form and class. Handicappers best focus on those prime factors, and forget about weight..Weight shifts are NOT decisive.
EQUIPMENT--MEDICATION: Horses continually change equipment and medication as owners and trainers experiment to identify what works best. Only two changes matter seriously to handicappers.
FIRST and SECOND LASIX: Lasix is a diuretic that helps prevent bleeding in the respiratory tract. The Lasix pattern that can contribute to a form reversal that pays well looks like this:
Last race very poor, 2nd and perhaps 3rd race back disappointing or declining form, but prior to the disappointing and poor efforts a win or a good race. The addition of Lasix today, horse runs back to good race.
BLINKERS ON: Blinkers improve horses' concentration on running straight and fast. Blinkers on most likely will help maidens and lightly-raced younger horses that are frontrunners and pace-pressers. Also, look for second starters that broke slowly in their debut, or lightly raced younger horses that have been bet strongly but have run poorly and today are adding blinkers.
A blinker change can be most significant when combined with other changes that beckon positive results.
* A jockey switch
* A drop in class, or a rise in class
* A change of distance or footing
Blinkers "OFF" is not a significant equipment change, unless blinkers went on last time, the horse ran badly, and blinkers come off again today.
TRACK BIAS: Most track biases are mild, extending only slightly favorable advantages to horses having certain running styles or exiting certain posts, and the casual handicapper relentless preoccupation with the effects of track surface is usually unwarranted. But when track biases are severe, they become dominant. SEVERE BIASES TAKE PRECEDENCE OVER ALL OTHER HANDICAPPING FACTORS. Severe track biases can be recognized when:
1. Horses that do not figure on the fundamentals but having specific running styles are winning easily and frequently.
2. Inside or outside posts are dominating, or failing, at irrational rates.
3. Contenders and favorites running against a speed or post bias have been failing persistently and badly.
The types of biases are four. They interact:
Inside speed biases are easiest for trip handicappers to recognize and to exploit. If the rail post has been winning at unusually high rates, favor speed horses on the inside. When outside closer biases predominate, handicappers best exploit the circumstances by playing horses having a definite class advantage and an off-pace running style.
THE ODDS: Here is a thought about playing the races that I will state very simply. If your opinion is the same as the betting publics, you have no edge, and therefore NO bet. The best bet at the racetrack, every race, every day, is: a horse having a strong chance to win at attractive odds!!!!
--A horse having a strong chance to win at fair to poor odds is less attractive, while a horse having a weak chance to win at attractive odds is least attractive.
Remember this, there are 2 factors among these secondary factors that can be overwhelming when your handicapping, that is, they take PRIORITY OVER the fundamentals:
--SEVERE TRACK BIAS
--POSITIVE TRAINER PATTERNS
When either one of the above are strong, it can beat the basic abiltiies of horses.
Next up in this section, our final installment: Logical and everyday methods for selecting horses in the different types of races that come up on a typical day's racing card. Until then, enjoy the races.
THE PRIMARY FACTORS - SPEED AND PACE :
Handicappers have long tried to simplify the art of handicapping. And it sure would be easy if the athletic ability of a racehorse could be expressed as it is with human athletes--in a number. When a track- and- field athlete runs a 100-yard dash in 10 seconds, everyone knows he ran fast. A baseball player hits for a .300 batting average. A running back rushes for 100 yards in a football game. Good, solid benchmark numbers. Statistics are something sports fans have grown accustomed to--quantitative, guidelines---as a means of athletic comparison. Horse racing is just a little bit more complex. Oh, the basic question doesn't change--which is the fatsest horse?---but the clues certainly do. Betting horses would be simple if six furlongs were the only race distance. A handicapper would only need to consider current condition and class, compare final times and bet on the fastest horse. It would be an easy game, right? The catch is that horses do not always race the same distance nor on the same type surface. A horse that ran six furlongs last time may run farther, 6 1/2 furlongs, next time. Or a horse with a series of six-furlong races may face a horse whose recent races were farther, perhaps seven-furlongs. Now handicappers are in a quandary. Which horse is faster? Is it the one that ran six-furlongs in 1:10, or the one that ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16 3/5? A horseplayer certainly could use some help, some sort of common denominator, to compare those times and others at various distances. Thankfully, there is a standard: SPEED FIGURES, which provide a measure of how fast a horse ran. DAILY RACING FORM publishes the Beyer Speed Figures, developed by handicapper Andrew Beyer. The figures represent how fast a horse ran and takes into account track bias and other factors, so that in theory a horse that ran an 80 speed figure at Churchill Downs would be comparable to a horse that ran an 80 at Belmont Park. The figures help answer the question, is the horse fast enough to win? Comparing the recent speed figures of horses in a race is a good starting point for separating the contenders from the pretenders. A horse that has earned figures in the 60's in his/her last few starts would probably be in tough with a group of horses earning speed figures in the 80's. Remember, horses are living, breathing animals that change daily. They do not always run the same race, which is why speed figures CANNOT be used as an isolated factor. In horse racing, no factor stands alone. Current condition and class, along with pace, affect horses' ability to achieve maximum performance, that is , to run as fast as they can. Reducing final time to a number, handicapping is simplified. Regardless of distance or margin of defeat, figures allows easy compariison. They show how fast horses have run, and allow one to project how fast they may run again. When conditions are right, horses generally run as fast as they are able. You already know from our sections on Class and Form how to recognize when conditions are right--when horses are physically fit and competing at an appropiate class level. Using speed figures as your only handicapping method will not produce consistent profits, use it as part of your overall handicapping strategy--but mainly as a way to weed out obvious non-contenders.
Pace makes the race. What is pace? Pace is the rate of speed at which a race unfolds. The fractions of a race complement some horses, compromise others. Pace handicapping involves predicting how the race will unfold once the horses leave the gate. The essence of pace analysis is to determine a horse's preferred running style, and whether it is complemented by the dynamics of a race. The main concern is whether the likely pace of the race suits the horse's preferred style. The questions of pace apply to dirt racing. On turf, emphasis is placed on late pace. The initial consideration in pace analysis is identifying running style. Is the horse a front-runner who races straight to the lead? Is he a presser, typically positioned within a length or two of the lead? Or is the horse a closer, one that trails at the rear of the field? Looking at the running lines in the past performances will give you an idea of how a particular horses usually runs a race. Horseplayers who are able to envision how a race will unfold stand a greater chance of finding a winner. Handicappers must recognize which contenders will be flattered, or comprmised, by the probable pace. Handicappers can determine how fast, or slowly, a race is likely to unfold, and just how the pace scenario will affect the contestants. The general running styles of horses are: Early(E)---Early-Pressers(EP)---Pace-Pressers(P)---Sustained(S). Horses' style rarely change. A speed horse is a speed horse. Horses cannot adapt simply because the dynamics of a particular race happen to be wrong. A speedball front-runner cannot be rated off-the-pace when it enters a race with several other front-runners.
Early Pace (E) types are horses whose best performances occur when they are able to lead the field in the early stages of the race. Early-Pressers (EP) are versatile types of horses, in that they can set or press the leaders. Pace Pressers (P) are horses whose best races are when they are positioned within two lengths of the lead and apply pressure on the pacesetters throughout the race. Sustained runners (S) are typically positioned in the rear third of the field and usually require a complete collapse of the pace in order to win. It does happen, but not often. Pace analysis comes AFTER analyzing form, class and speed. Only then is the determination made on how fast or slow a race is likely to unfold. Then, contenders are assessed against the context of pace. Should a horse appear a worthy form/class/speed candidate, the next question is whether his/her style suits the likely pace. A beginning handicapper now possesses the basic tools to get started. Determine a horse's running style, and compare it to others. A lonely front-runner is dangerous. In a race with three or more speed horses, the time may be right to back a presser or closer.
There you have it folks, the basic building blocks of the handicapping process have been identified in this series---current form, class, speed and pace. Is there more in this series? For sure. These fundamentals are supported by the secondary factors, which I will cover over the coming weeks.
Putting it all together
For the novice handicapper, it is often easier to start handicapping a race by finding the losers rather than the winners. Look at each horse entered in the race and try to find find horses that are obviously overmatched. Do their speed figures fit with the other horses? In looking at their last few races are they in good form or bad? Do they have recent workouts that suggest they are fit and ready? Are they racing at a distance or on a surface they do not like? Are they making too big of a class jump? Throw out as many duds as you can and hopefully you are only left with a handful of contenders. Next, try to imagine how the race will unfold, look at the pace scenario and try to figure out if it will be an advantage or disadvantage to your remaining horses. Try to eliminate another horse or two based on the expected pace scenario. In the end you should only have 3 to 4 horses that are candidates for winning the race, make your selection based on their record at the track, distance, class level, speed figures. If you end up with too many horses that are logical contenders, pass the race. Handicapping is about using your skills to figure out the winner, not gambling. Watch the races you don't bet on with as much interest as those you do. See if the race unfolds the way you thought it would, look at the results and ask yourself if the results are consistent with what you knew going into the race.
Have fun and keep learning--handicapping horses is truly a great game.
The Primary Factors - Class :
What is class? How does it apply? Why is important? How does one tell? Where is class found in the past performances? One more thing, how do you know if a horse is suited to the particular demands of the class level? The handicapping basics of class and current condition are so closely intertwined that the terms are used interchangeably.
The "class" of runners in a race often is referred to as the "form" of the race. In his 1984 book THOROUGHBRED HANDICAPPING: STATE of the ART, author William Quirin wrote that "Class and form cannot be separated...a horse's 'class' is measured by its performances when fit and capable of doing its best"
In other words, determining the class level at which a horse is expected to perform well when at the top of his game. A horse's class is the level at which he is competitive. Simple enough. A horse that has established itself as a $10,000 claimer typically is competitive against other $10,000 claimers. Run it at a higher level , and it might get creamed. Likewise, a Grade 1 runner typically is competitive against other Grade 1 runners, and would be expected to pummel lower-class horses. Handicapping would be so easy IF class were a fixed measurement. But class is dynamic, it changes and flucuates, especially at the bottom level. Claiming horses do not spend their entire careers competing against the same caliber of claiming horses. Rather, horses move up and down the class ladder relative to their physical condition. A horse whose physical imperfections render him ineffective at former levels can drop into an easier spot and find horses it can beat. Also, horses can go the other way, that is, up the class ladder. Class fluctuations are clearly evident in the past performances, which show the levels at which a horse is competitive, and barriers at which a horse is typically foiled. Your job as a handicapper is to identify the levels, to find the right races for the right horses.
The athletic ability of horses varies wildly. It seems odd, relative to a sport such as major-league baseball. When a ballplayer reports to spring training, his ability is expected to be similar to the previous season. Not horses. They change monthly, weekly, even daily. Their ability is elastic, as is the fleeting measure of class. A horse's class depends largely on it's physical condition, particularly with claiming horses. In class handicapping, yesterday's hero is tomorrow's goat. And vice versa. Horseplayers need not fret about mistaken analysis, It happens. But there are guiding principles that allow a reasonable answer to the main question: Is the horse racing against horses it can beat? The hierarchy of Thoroughbreds goes from the lowest of lows--maidens that have never won a race, to the highest of highs--Grade 1 winners that repeatedly prove they are the best of the breed. Between the low and high, there are class levels for all different types of horses.
The task for handicappers is to determine whether a horse is racing at the appropiate level. Does the horse"fit on class"? Is it logical for this horse to be in this race, and how do you know? Further, is it reasonable to expect a competitive performance? If it makes sense that the horse belongs in the race, and his previous performances indicate he is up to the demands of the race, then the horse fits on class. Class analysis can include incorporating speed figures. If a handicapper knows the speed figure earned by a winner at a particular class level, he/she can determine which horses belong at that level. For example, the Beyer Speed Figure par for first-condition allowance races at Fort Erie is 73. It means that most N1x allowance winners win by racing fast enough to earn a 73 Beyer. A horse that won a maiden race with a 63 Beyer will have a tough time winning the allowance race in which a 73 is likely to be required. Conversely, a horse that wins a maiden race with a 76 Beyer could be the rightful allowance-race favorite even while moving up in class to face tougher company. Another factor in analyzing class is evaluating current form. In this regard. supposedly "classy" horses can be eliminated because of unsatisfactory current condition. Remember folks, in handicapping, it is as important to identify losers, and avoid them, as it is to find winners. Finally, class does change over time, though typically not in a rapid manner. It is true that a horse that was a $10,000 claimer three months ago may be a legitimate $25,000 claimer today, but rarely will a horse make such a leap in one jump. In fact, the class changes in older horses (3 yr old and up) are deliberate. Horses move up in class a notch at a time. It is like a ladder. The climb is steep, but one rung at a time gets the job done. The question is whether the class change makes sense. Has the horse shown ability, or potential ability, to indicate it can handle the rise? The "does it make sense" examination applies at all tracks and at all levels. But class analysis also can be used in reverse, as a means to eliminate losers. If a horse does not fit on class, its chances plummet. Say, for example, a horse finishes fourth in a $10,000 claiming race without being competitive at any stage. Next, the horse is entered for $16,000. Does it make sense? Hardly.
Next up in the series: SPEED and PACE. Until then, enjoy the races.
The Primary Factors - Form:
In my continuing feature on handicapping, I'd like to share my thoughts on one of the primary factos: FORM----The handicapping process always starts with the horse. Some horses are sharp and healthy, others look dull and uninterested. A sharp horse is "in form", and generally can be relied on to produce an effort that corresponds to previous top efforts. Recent races are strong, the workout pattern is solid and the class level at which the horse is racing is sensible. A horse that is "off form" has tailed off physically or is in the process of tailing off. The recent races have been sub-par, or speed figures have declined, workout pattern may have gaps or the class level at which the horse has been racing is unusual. With substandard current form, a horse is very likely to fall short of prior accomplishments. Without form, it really doesn't matter if a horse routinely earns higher speed figures than his/her rivals. Without current condition, pace is less revelant. In the absence of form, class hardly matters. Make no mistake--speed, pace and class are key, but let me stress, ONLY in the context of current condition. The chief premise of handicapping is that horses are likely to repeat what they have done. However, their condition does change, and when it does, it catches unsuspecting bettors by suprise. Even when obvious change is imminent, horseplayers expect horses to remain the same. But form is dynamic, it flucuates, it changes. The dilemma a handicapper must face is deciding the direction form is headed--up, down, maybe sideways. Current condition flaws usually are right there in black and white in the past performances, and call only for some simple interpretation and rational thinking by the handicapper. It is the essence of handicapping--common sense. Remember, to find winners, a handicapper needs to understand why a horse is entered in a certain race. And when possible, project improvement or regression. To bet on winners and make money, the change must be projected BEFORE it becomes obvious to everyone. That means, while there is still betting value. A trainer's intentions and expectations often provide a key in a handicapper's analysis of current form. No one knows a horse like its trainer. To determine if a horse is in form, first look at the class level at which the horse is placed. With enough uncertainties in racing to deal with, the last thing a bettor needs is to be guessing about the physical well-being of a horse. So don't get concerned about class, speed or pace until after considering current form. Until next time, hope to see you at the races.
Deciphering the Racing Form 101:
Many people who attend the races on a regular basis never bother to sharpen the abilities necessary to become successful. They wager according to, favorite colors, lucky numbers, gut feelings, their kids names or someone else’s advice. I call this kind of wagering “betting blind” which usually proves futile. Having learned from experience that acquiring an adequate literacy of the Daily Racing Form is the only way to play the horses intelligently. There are several high-quality publications that offer thoroughbred racehorse past performances, however, when it comes to accuracy and sheer volume of information, for me, nothing can replace the DRF. Now, I have a better chance of teaching you Hebrew in 30 minutes than explaining all of this newspaper’s intricacies in one column. However, I will do my best to shed light on the basic aspects of this most indispensable tool.
The DRF covers several major racetracks daily, but let’s assume for now we are playing at Fort Erie. Fort Erie's section will begin with a one-page synopsis listing all the day’s entries, complete with morning lines. From there, consensus selections from handicappers assigned to the oval are made with each handicapper’s top selection for the card appearing in bold. The following pages will contain everything you could possibly need to make a selection regarding Fort Erie's entire racecard. At the top of each page will be the race number, and to its right will be a paragraph spelling out the conditions of the contest. The description will be wordy, but the two most important things to take out of it are: the race’s distance and class level. The distance is relatively self-explanatory (you’ll need to know a furlong is an eighth of a mile), but comprehending the class level can get a little dicey. For now, just remember that the three main levels are stakes, allowance and claiming. Underneath the race conditions will be a rectangular box comprised of credentials for the horse breaking from post-position one. Unless this horse is a first-time starter, there will be lines of numbers in the center of the box. These past performances running lines will look like this:
82 4 6/4 5/3 3/2 2/1/2 1/1
79 8 7/8 6/5 4/4 3/4 2/2
77 1 2/1 2/2 2/3 3/4 5/6
The number on the extreme left(in bold in the DRF) is called a Beyer Figure and is derived from very complex calculations. It basically assigns a speed rating to the horse for a past race (the higher the better). The next number represents which post position the horse broke from. You can see that in this runner’s most recent start, it broke from post-position four. The next five numbers represent where the horse was in relation to the lead horse at different stages of the race. In his most recent race, this horse was sixth by four lengths at the first call, fifth by three lengths at the second call, third by two lengths at the third call, second by half a length in the stretch, and finished in first position by a length
To the left of a single past performance line will be a series of hieroglyphics that look like this:
-25Oct10- 3FE fst 6F :22/2 46/2 1:00/4 1:14 Clm5000
Do not get flustered — the line simply lists the date of the race (October 25th, 2010), the race number (third race), what track the race was run at (Fort Erie), the track condition (fast), distance of the race (6 furlongs), fractional times at each call, and class level of the race (claiming $5000).
To the right of a single past performance line, you will find more useful information, including but not limited to: what jockey rode the race, the assigned weight, final odds, top three finishers in the race, and a general comment on performance. Above the running lines a handicapper can locate a horse’s color, sex, age, sire, the sire’s sire, stud fee, dam, the dam’s dam, breeder, trainer and the trainer’s record at the meet.
By now, your head is probably spinning, and rightfully so. At first glance, all these numbers and abbreviations can be intimidating. I don’t expect you to retain all of this immediately, but since you now grasp the meaning of the numbers in the running lines, I can pass on a simple handicapping lesson. When you look over the field for any race, train your eyes to search for 1s at the beginning of running lines (example: 68 3 --1/2--1/1--1 1/2 2/1--2/2). If several horses consistently post these 1s, that means there will most likely be a fast pace in the race, so bet a closer. Lone speed is also a powerful angle, for if there is only one frontrunner in a race, they have a great chance to go gate to wire. Be careful, though, that you don’t back a runner who seems to consistently quit in a race’s final furlong. As time passes, you will develop an individual style of handicapping. But for now, concentrate on these three things: the running lines, class levels and, of course, having fun!
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Watch the crowd file into a racetrack on any racing afternoon. lt consists of all ages, all types. young--old, church goers--sinners, professional gamblers--novice bettors. They form a vast mixture of people united in an atmosphere of excitement. They all have hopes, they all have confidence. They are all looking forward to a thrilling time of fun and profit. Their voices are raised in joyful expectations. Now, watch that same crowd file out of the exits a few hours later. The air of expectation is gone. Yes, a slight few hopes have been raised, but most have been dashed. The crowd that was wonderfully united prior to the day's races now has but two types: winners and losers. The losers are the vast majority. Yet, walking beside the losers are a few lucky winners and even fewer winners that won using knowledge and sound judgement. But what about the losers? Why did they lose? In short, the reasons are not many.
1-They lost because they selected with no judgement or poor judgement.
2-They lost because they relied on the judgement of others.
3-They lost because they play races that are undecipherable.
4-They lost because they bet foolishly.
--This handicapper can't miraculously change losers into winners, but, I will do my best to show you how a winning day is possible. Until next our next edition, take care.