The concept of handicapping horse racing is very simple. All you’re doing is trying to figure who will finish where in a race. Frequently, the only goal is to pick a winner, and therefore anyone that is not among the challengers can be dismissed. How you go about evaluating the competitors often determines who you think will win. In this first “Betting 101” article on the ponies, I discuss a few of the many tactics experts use.
(If this article uses a word or phrase that you don’t understand, consult our handy horse racing glossary!)
“Trip handicapping” means making an educated guess as to how each horse will act at varying stages of the race. In trip handicapping, you identify (a) the speed horses who will be near the front, (b) the stalkers who will sit just off the pace, and (c) the closers who will charge late.
If there are several speed horses, you might conclude that the pace will be “hot,” that the speed horses will burn each other out, and that the stalkers and closers will benefit.
If there is just one speed horse, you might expect (s)he will be able to set slower fractions and have plenty left in the tank down the stretch.
One nice element of trip handicapping is that it lets you trim the field. You can figure out the best speed horse, the best stalker, and the best closer. That whittles your options down to a few candidates. Whether you are fully dedicated to trip handicapping or not, it is worthwhile to think about how a race will be run.
I’ve been going to Saratoga, upstate New York’s pristine and high-class summer hideaway for horses, for years. In addition to equine from the Empire State, occasionally horses from California, Florida, or Kentucky win. But rarely does a horse from Pennsylvania, Maryland, or anywhere outside of the blue blood tracks ship in and prosper. This is the classic “could the team that wins the NCAA Tournament succeed in the NBA?” debate. It is very hard to run against bad competition, and then suddenly be asked to beat the best in the country.
Class handicapping looks beyond the tracks horses are coming from. It is important to be able to read past performances closely. Horses that recently ran in restricted races might have only been up against state breds, or those who have won a very small number of races, or some other qualification that limited the opposition.
Open races are just that, open. If a horse is coming out of an open event, anybody was eligible to participate.
Before you bet, have an idea of how classy the horses are and which have been going against the best competition.
Is there a difference between Bill Belichick and Jim Caldwell? What about Jerry West and David Kahn? Coaches and General Managers make a difference in sports; trainers and jockeys do the same in horse racing. Belichick might not be able to win the Super Bowl with Matt Cassel at QB instead of Tom Brady, but he’ll still make the Patriots respectable.
There is a reason Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Jerry Hollendorfer, and a few other trainers are consistently winning 20- or 30-percent of their races. The same can be said for riders like Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario. Before you pick a horse, take a look at the stats for its human connections. Low-percentage trainers and jockeys can and do win, but don’t take too low a price or bet a bunch of cash on humans who rarely make it to the winner’s circle.
Other “Betting 101” articles:
(Photo credit: Owain Davies, CC BY 3.0 [https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15364546].)
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