By HorseplayerNOW.com Night School host Joe Kristufek
As a published handicapper, one of the most frequently asked questions I come across during the course of the Chicago racing season is…..
“In your commentaries, what does it mean when you say – watch the board for clues?”
In simple terms it means to be aware of the odds. If a horse is more “live” than expected on the toteboard, chances are they will run well in the race.
Having a handle on where the “smart” money might be going can surely give the horseplayer an advantage.
"Understanding Pools and Odds" will be the topic for tonight’s Night School session. The 90-minute, interactive program gets under way at 8:30 p.m. ET and features live chat, expert panel discussion, fan Q&A and pertinent videos on the subject matter. This week's lesson will be the 36th of 40 offered on the Night School season, which runs through early November.
Set a reminder and join FREE horse racing Night School fan education here.
The session, hosted by Jeremy Plonk and me, features an in-depth video with Churchill Downs handicapper Jill Byrne, who provides key points to consider when price shopping at the races. Also, Plonk goes line-by-line through several actual will-pay screens to explain what a discerning horseplayer can read into the betting pools. As the morning line maker for Arlington Park and Hoosier Park, I will have the opportunity to share my expertise on the opening odds and what they mean to the betting process
Let’s face it, if horse owners, trainers and their help didn’t bet on their horses, the handle would be a heck of a lot lower.
These are the people that love the game most, the ones that know more than what the everyday handicapper can see on paper. They spend time with the actual animal. They know how good they’re feeling, how well they’re training, and how much they’ve progressed physically and mentally.
Does that mean they know when their horse is going to win?
Remember, on average there are eight or nine competitors in every race. Many owners “love” their horses – but just how realistic are they about their chances?
Even if a horse is doing better than it’s ever done and is set to run a big race, that doesn’t mean that the individual is in the right spot or that they are capable of running faster than their competition.
That being said, to me, early money can be smart money. Remember, if a barn truly likes their horse, often times those involved with that particular runner usually have to get their bet down early.
Once the race comes up, the trainer must go down to the paddock, saddle the horse, talk to the jockey and deal with the owners. By the time the horses head out to the track to the post parade and the trainer leaves the paddock, it’s only eight minutes until post.
In addition, respectable trainers do not want to be seen at the betting windows. There’s just a negative aura that’s associated with trainers hammering their own horses. Say you were at the track and watched a trainer hammer hundreds on their own horse. If that horse ran a dull sixth, you might lose some respect for that trainer.
That’s why barns bet early, and why early action is usually smart action. I’m not talking about $100 in a $400 opening win pool. I mean several hundred or thousands of dollars of early action. That to me is as strong clue that a horse will run well.
Here are some tips in odds tracking:
- Write down opening odds and continue to follow progression. A dip from 15-1 to 8-1 is as significant as from 7-2 to 2-1. Say a horse unexpectedly opens at 8-5, floats up to 5-2, then gets bet down again to 9-5 just minutes before post. THAT is a live horse. That doesn’t mean the horse WILL win, it just indicates that there are some people with very strong opinions hammering it in, and chances are they know what they’re doing.
- Odds-watching is critical with layoff horses, 1st time and 2nd time starters, horses trying a route or the turf for the first time, and with consistent horses returning off a bad race. If they are getting action, their connections believe they perform well.
- If a horse that you expected to be bet as the defined favorite is not getting the attention you thought they deserve, there’s a chance that they are “dead on the board”. Many times, regardless of how good they look on paper, these kinds of horses should be avoided and even bet against. If a horse is 4-1 and you think he/she should be 2-1, chances are the horse will eventually be bet down – but only by bettors who believe the horse should be lower odds, not by the players with the “smart money”.
- Always pay attention to Pick Three, Pick Four and Daily Double probable will pays. A horse may be the top choice in one of these wagers, but that doesn’t mean he/she will be the top choice in the race, or even live in the gimmicks. If a horse is the fourth choice in the morning line, but the favorite in the multi-race wagers, that action is worth paying attention to.
- Pay even more attention to odds fluctuations in races restricted to fillies and mares. Females are very inconsistent and not nearly as reliable as their male counterparts. They go through female cycles, and will often perform poorly through them – darkening their form. Early action often reflects confidence that she will perform up to her capabilities on that given day.
- If a horse doesn’t look that good on paper, and is lower odds than you expect (given the competition), the horse may be live and worth using in your gimmicks.
This week's Night School will be followed by another "After Night School Special," featuring live racing from Mountaineer Park, beginning at 10:00 p.m. ET. The segment will cover the evening's final race in real time with free, live-streaming video and complimentary Daily Racing Form past performances.
The Night School Tour traveling troupe of fan educators also will be conducting a live seminar at Keeneland this Friday in conjunction with America's Best Racing and the track's popular College Scholarship Day.
Presenting title sponsors for Night School are the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, American Quarter Horse Association, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Inc. and Daily Racing Form.
This week's study materials, courtesy of Horse Player NOW and Daily Racing Form.
This week's Night School preview video with Joe Kristufek