Picking a Winner
Who do you like?
If you hang out at a racetrack for a day, chances are you’ll be asked this question many times by several different people.
You picked a horse to root for, maybe even bet on, but how did you arrive at your decision?
Horse racing can be enjoyed on many different levels.
Sure, you can come to the track and play your favorite names, numbers or colors and get lucky, but what most people don’t understand is there is a method to this madness, and figuring out a race based on the information provided is fun and rewarding.
The premise of a race is simple. The first horse to the finish line wins, but predicting the outcome ahead of time is what gets you paid.
With knowledge comes interest, so it’s time to whet your appetite for handicapping a horse race, which I hope will lead to a future filled with winners.
With understanding comes intrigue, and in the coming weeks, I’ll help fine-tune your skills by exploring many of the tips in this top 10 list in much greater detail.
10. Bet the hunch – Some people go to the racetrack for the atmosphere. They’d much rather enjoy their surroundings, have an adult beverage or two and socialize than get bogged down evaluating past performances. That’s OK! Some of the biggest payoffs are won by people randomly betting on names, birthdays, lucky numbers and colors.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A SERIOUS HANDICAPPER TO BET
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
9. Physicality – Horses are animals, not machines. Signs of happiness include a shiny coat, good muscle tone and an alert, yet controlled, demeanor. Horses who woke up on the wrong side of the straw might be in a bad mood and not on top of their game mentally. If a horse is sweaty and/or rambunctious, they’re wasting energy and are unlikely to perform well.
8. Learn to read the program – The information may look like a foreign language on the surface, but as an experienced fan educator, it takes me between 10 and 15 minutes to teach someone the past performances. Once you understand what the information means you can begin to piece together the puzzle and formulate an opinion. A guide can be found at the front of the program, but having a mentor who can teach you can accelerate the learning process.
A HORSE'S PAST PERFORMANCES CAN BE CONFUSING IF YOU DON'T KNOW HOW TO READ THEM
7. Connections – One of the simplest ways to evaluate a horse is to identify the human connections. Top jockeys and trainers win roughly 15 to 20 percent of the time. Betting horses who represent the best stables and/or are ridden by the winningest jockeys will likely help you cash more tickets, but because they are higher profile, bettors often gravitate to them, thus decreasing the potential payouts.
6. Class – Imagine if the fastest horses were allowed to race against the slowest ones. That would be no fun. In order to keep horse racing competitive and thus bettable, there are a variety of “class” levels. Understanding how a horse “fits” in a particular race goes a long way toward determining their chances to be competitive.
5. Distance and surface – Sprinters like to race at short distances. Routers prefer races around two turns where stamina is critical. Some horses gravitate to turf, others to dirt and still others to synthetic racing surfaces. Based on their past performances, ask yourself the question - is the horse I’m looking at running the right distance on their preferred surface today?
MAKE SURE A HORSE IS RUNNING AT THEIR PREFERRED DISTANCE AND SURFACE
Photo by Penelope Miller
4. Current form – When a Thoroughbred is happy and healthy, they tend to race every three to four weeks. Has the horse you’re evaluating been racing recently, and if so how have they performing? Horses who are running well are said to be in good “form”. Those who are off their game are in poor form. Often times a rest, a drop in class or a change in distance, surface or equipment can shake a horse out of a slump.
3. Speed figures – In the past performances, the bold number is the speed figure. It tells you how fast the horse ran on that particular day, the higher the number the better. When evaluating horses, look at their speed figures at today’s surface at a comparable distance in order to get a feel for their ability.
2. Equipment – Horses using blinkers or adding Lasix for the first time often show marked improvement. Blinkers can help a horse focus on the task at hand. Lasix is a diuretic medication that helps allow a horse to perform to their capabilities. Taking the blinkers off a horse can also provide a spark.
1. Visualize – A phrase you will often here from handicappers is “pace makes the race”. Pace is the tempo. If the pace is fast and contested early on, the leaders are more likely to tire, giving a closing horse a better chance to win. If the early pace is moderate, the front-runners are more likely to have energy at the end, thus proving tough to catch. Identify the racing styles of each individual horse in the race and visualize how it might play out.
LOOK AT THE RUNNING STYLES OF THE HORSES IN A RACE IN ORDER TO VISUALIZE THE PACE
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Figuring out a horse race is like piecing together a mental puzzle. Your job as a handicapper is to visualize how a race will be run, and then to wager accordingly.
Our brains all work differently so we arrive at our opinions in unique ways.
Everyone likes to be right and picking a winner can be a boost to the ego AND the pocketbook.
That’s one of many reasons why horse racing is the greatest game!