Handicapping Fundamentals

The Daily Racing Blog believes that regardless of your level of expertise, it’s always good to review the rudimentary elements of the challenging, sometimes exasperating, bit of mental stimulus known as handicapping.

Everyone handicaps differently but some basic elements should always be addressed before making an educated wager. 

Here are six handicapping components in order of their relevance when searching for a Winner. 

Our featured image today is a great look at how to read a Racing Program, which is where you will find all the info we talk about here.

1.  FORM: Nothing else really matters if a horse is not in good form.  So the first order of business when looking at a race is to eliminate those runners that don’t appear to be fit from a condition standpoint, either through recent racing or with a string of workouts that suggest the animal is not set to do its best work. 

A competitive recent race (accompanied by the necessary a.m. maintenance if it’s last race was more than two weeks ago) is the most reliable indicator for fitness. Horses that haven’t raced in 30+ days should either offer ample workout evidence that they are doing well, have a history of performing well off short (or longer) breaks and come from barns that regularly Win races. 

The group that doesn’t fit into this rather wide parameter should be eliminated from further consideration, allowing the handicapper to concentrate on the true contenders.  It doesn’t matter what a horse has done in the past if it doesn’t look capable of running well on race day.

2.  ABILITY: Once you’ve established which horses are in good form, the next question to be answered is, how fast can they run on their best day?  Whatever speed-rating you choose to use doesn’t really matter, but you should be consistent.  The task at hand is to determine two things: What is the horse capable of doing?  What does it figure to do today?  Those horses that do not figure within three lengths of the top contenders in the race can be eliminated.

3.  CLASS: This is a tricky part of the puzzle since horses can improve and regress quickly in this day-and-age of year-round racing.  Often, outclassed horses will be eliminated in Step #2 but in the case of horses stepping up in class off impressive efforts, it’s necessary to analyze how those figures were earned.  For instance, a horse that had raced against a bad bunch of rivals last time out, should be viewed with skepticism when trying to step up to a tougher level.  The best class jumpers to play are those that tailed off, dropped in class and are now moving back up while appearing to have regained their form.  Past Class is a big handicapping plus and is often overlooked by many players.

4.  RACE CONDITIONS: Does the horse like today’s surface and today’s distance?  Even horses that are in form and have the ability and the class to win are generally beaten when entered in unsuitable races.  Some horses move easily between sprints and routes or from dirt to turf while others do not.  When leaving a possible contender in the mix, be relatively certain that he can handle the given conditions on race day.

5.  CONNECTIONS: The human part of the equation is substantial.  True, a great rider and an accomplished trainer can’t Win on a bad horse but by this step you should have already eliminated the ‘bad’ ones.  However, good horses can be beaten by a jockey’s poor decision or by a trainer who has a hard time cinching up a saddle correctly.  Let the record guide you in this area.  Eliminate horse’s trained or ridden by traditionally low-percentage stables or riders.

6. BREEDING: Pedigree analysis is only significant when analyzing a horse that has not had ample (or no) opportunity to show what it can do under today’s conditions.  First-time-starters bred for sprint speed vs. those bred to run best going longer.  Sprinters trying to go long.  Dirt types moving to turf. 

The only time you should concern yourself with breeding is when a potential contender has survived the first five steps of this procedure.  And remember, just because they’re bred to do it, doesn’t mean they will do it, at least not on their first or second time out.

After completing these six steps you should have eliminated the pretenders and whittled the field down to the contenders. 

The more contentious a race looks on paper, the more Value you should demand.  DRB has always preached that it makes no sense to back the favorite in a ten-horse field when there are five other horses who look like they can also Win.

Now go forth and multiple- your profits.

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