Trip handicapping is one of the more popular handicapping tools, yet it has many facets. There are numerous things to look for in a race that can point out a horse who will exit that race and then turn in either an equally good or better performance next time.
One involves wide trips.
Think about it. If Horse A hugs the rail every step of the way and wins by a nose over Horse B, who races four paths wide the entire way, then it’s rather logical to assume Horse B turned in a better effort because of all of the ground it lost.
The value of ground loss is also reflected in its incorporation into speed figures by at least two of the industry’s premier data providers, Ragozin and Thoro-Graph. They understand its importance.
Ground loss data is available through Trakus, providing information on how much ground the winner covered and how much more or less the other horses traveled.
Yet ground loss alone does not tell the whole story, and it does not explain away every loss.
Sometimes jockeys on slow horses will keep them on the outside to avoid problems when that runner tires.
What’s usually needed is an eye test to explain how much that horse was hurt by a wide trip.
Let’s say a horse starts out in the three path, stays there in midpack and then fades in the stretch and finishes at the rear of the field. Would a rail trip have helped? Maybe. But it was probably the difference between finishing fifth instead of seventh and provides no substantial reason for betting that horse next time.
Instead, a much better horse to watch is one who races wide and narrowly loses or manages to win.
In an era of sophisticated handicapping, the downside is that horse will probably go off at low odds next time. Yet if the odds are right, a wager is definitely in order.
A better price can be found in a horse who makes a strong move on the turn, gets fanned widest of all on the turn and flattens out, while losing by a respectable margin. In that case, the ground loss as well as a loss of momentum come into play, explaining why the horse was a few lengths behind at the finish.
People who simply look at where a horse finishes in its last race and its final time might not pick up on the wide trip, leading to higher odds than they should be.
A good example of a wide yet positive trip could be found on Dec. 30 in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Run Time came into the race off a sharp win in an allowance race, yet making that performance even more impressive was that Run Time rallied five wide and still managed to win.
That little bit of added glitter on that victory paid off for handicappers who backed Run Time at 10-1 odds in the Jerkens and collected $22.20 when he notched a victory by a head over the 6-5 favorite, Bullards Alley.
Hopefully that lesson will encourage handicappers to keep their eyes “wide” open to the merits of trip handicapping.