It was a long, long time ago, but I remember it like it was (almost) yesterday. I was 15-16 and I was at the Saratoga Race Course with my Uncle Louie.
And while I had been to this fabled course as a wee lad on a few occasions, I had never been given a race program. My Uncle Louie felt it was time to ramp up my equine education.
Giddy like a kid on Christmas, I couldn’t wait to get seated and start handicapping.
But my first glance at the program left me extremely overwhelmed. The words and symbols were in English, but it was just gibberish to me.
I remember thinking, What are these percentages? What do those big bolded numbers mean? Are Allowance races higher class than Claiming races… or is it the other way around?
My Uncle took great pride that day in teaching me everything he knew about how to read a program. I suspected it wasn’t his first time working with a race program.
It started off simple. We went through the different class ranks – from Maiden claimers through Grade 1’s. He explained the significance of dropping down in class and how that could give horses an edge.
We talked about the big, bold numbers, aka Beyer Speed Figures in this case, and how that was supposed to help evaluate the performance of horses as if they were on an even playing field.
Then, he explained that the times at the bottom of each horse’s profile were their workouts, and the meaning of bullet workouts.
This isn’t a Disney movie- that particular day I left the track with none of the cash that I took with me to wager. There were some close calls, but at the end of the day, I didn’t cash a single ticket.
And that’s OK. Handicapping isn’t a five-furlong sprint. It’s a long, mile-and-a-half route, that takes a lot of endurance and a lot of adjusting.
My Uncle helped lay the foundation for me on how to read a program and handicap.
Over the years, I’ve learned about projecting pace and how important that is to a race.
I’ve learned how to tell when certain horses will excel off long layoffs, whether it be trainer percentages or the horse’s own statistics.
I have gotten much better since that first day I learned to read a program, but I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be yet. You never stop learning
Handicapping races takes skill, but it also takes some luck as well.
When you do pick that Winner, even if you only have $2 invested in that race, the feeling of accomplishment and excitement is unreal.
Here’s to you Uncle Lou ! Thank you.