For all of the sun and fun rolled into summertime racing, there are unfortunately some days when Mother Nature decides to muddy the waters.
Unlike baseball, horse racing usually goes on before, during, and after a rainstorm and there are some general philosophies that you should store away for, yes, a rainy day.
Let’s quickly start with what happens when it rains during your day at the races.
Keep in mind that racetracks can be like apples and oranges. Muddy tracks at Belmont Park and Saratoga are different, so a racehorse's off-track form may not necessarily transfer from one track to another. That doesn’t mean a winner by five lengths in the mud at Belmont can’t cruise to a victory on a sloppy day at Saratoga, but for the most part, you can generally bet with more confidence if a horse shows a prior strong wet track effort on the racetrack they are running at today.
As much as some people do not like to bet on rainy days, horses that enter a turf race as "main-track-only" starters and get a chance to run are usually solid wagering opportunities. Just don’t bet blindly. As much as being a MTO indicates the trainer wants to run them on the main track, races taken off the turf are not always run on a wet track, so make sure that MTO runner is suited by a sloppy or fast track, whichever applies.
Another problem involves what to do when a horse runs on a sloppy dirt track or a yielding turf course. Again, there’s no guarantee that a horse who wins on muddy track will turn around and be victorious on a dry track.
To solve that riddle, look at the horse’s last few races prior to that wet track performance and put them together in a mosaic. If a horse put in a few good efforts before the wet track race and then raced well in mud, it’s logical to figure that he is versatile enough to run well on any type of surface. If he was running well, but then disappointed in the mud, you can expect a bounce-back effort on a dry track.
Conversely, if a horse was struggling on a dry surface, but perked up with a win in the mud, it would be wise to bet against him when he’s back on a dry track, especially if the win in the mud sparks low odds or an odds-on price on the dry track.
The bottom line?
Wet tracks can create confusion for handicappers, but as long as you do your homework with a critical eye, they can add some sunshine into your life on a rainy day.