To the best of my limited knowledge on the subject, no one has ever determined whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first.
Then again, I don’t follow Stephen Hawking on Twitter, so I might have missed the answer somewhere along the line.
As that ages-old riddle occupies a chunk of my gray matter, allow me to ponder a similar quandary facing newcomers to horse racing. As a fledgling handicapper, should you learn first about past performances or results charts?
Past performances, which contain all of the necessary information about a race that hard-earned dollars will be wagered on, seems the logical choice. Yet the contrarian in me prefers to side with the charts.
The past performances for a horse race — be they from Daily Racing Form, Equibase, Brisnet or Andy Beyer wanabes — can resemble an entrance exam to MIT to the uninitiated. That’s why looking first at a result chart will make pages of Past Performances look like something other than hieroglyphics.
A result chart details what happened in a race in a tidy statistical package and presents much of the information found in past performances, only with more definition and clarity.
If you’re new to the game, grab a chart from equibase.com and follow along. You’ll soon see what I mean (you can also find links to understanding charts at http://www.equibase.com/newfan/newfanindex2.cfm?SAP=SM)
At the very top of the chart, there’s information about the race. You see the conditions of the race, its distance and the track record for that distance in parenthesis, so the final time of the race can be put into perspective.
The key parts, however, are the running lines of the race.
Reading across, you’ll see when the horse last raced, its program number, name (with jockey in parenthesis) and the weight carried.
As an aside, seeing the weight assignments in the result charts shows at glance whether a particular benefitted from or was at a disadvantage because of the weight it carried.
Back to the chart, next comes the medication the horse raced on and any equipment like blinkers or front bandages, followed by its post position.
Finally you’ll see a heading for start and a listing for where each horse was at a certain point in a race, which is commonly referred to as a call.
Using a six-furlong race as an example, Start is the first call and it means where each horse was when they left the gate, which equates to within the first 60 feet or so of the race. The next heading is 1/4, which shows where each horse was after the first quarter of a mile. Next, there’s 1/2, which represents a half-mile, followed by Str for the eighth pole (when there’s one furlong left in a race) and then finally there’s Fin, which is the spot where everyone wants their horse to be ahead.
Bear in mind, in longer races there are more calls at different stages in the race.
Besides showing where a horse was at each call, there’s also a number in subscript type that shows how many lengths separate that horse from the horse directly behind it. For example at the 1/4 heading, a horse who was 1 with a 1 in subscript was first by a length and another who was 2 with a 1 in subscript was second, a length ahead of the third horse.
The final columns are for each horse’s odds and a brief description of what happened to it in the race.
Directly under that comes the fractional times, which shows the leader’s time at each call, and the split times, which shows how much time it took to go from the first call to the second call. To clarify, fractional times of 22 seconds for a quarter-mile and 46 seconds for a half-mile translate into split times of 22 and 24 seconds.
Below that information, there’s a past performance running line preview which presents similar info to the grid above it, only this one mirrors the presentation in past performances. It shows the gaps between everyone and the leader, or the lengths separating the first horse and the second horse.
For example, a horse who led at 1/4, 1/2, Str and Fin with numbers like 1-1 / 1-2 / 1-3 / 1-hd, led by one length after a quarter of a mile, by two lengths after a half-mile, by three at the eighth pole and wound up winning by a head.
A horse with a line of 4-2 / 6-4 / 3-4 / 2-hd was fourth, two lengths behind after a quarter of a mile, sixth by four lengths after a half-mile, third by four lengths at the eighth pole and finished second by a head.
Below the running lines, there’s information about the trainers and owners and a detailed footnote about what happened to each horse in a race. That comment is a longer version of what’s boiled down to three or four words in the running lines and past performances.
So go ahead, read a few charts and then take a gander at some past performances. My hunch is the past performances will make more sense now than if you just jumped right into them and tried to decipher them on your own.
Bear in mind, there’s crucial information in the past performances that are not lifted from the chart. We’ll detail those at another time.
But for now start with the chicken, er, the egg, er the chart and you’ll find that handicapping a race isn’t as imposing as it might seem.