Handicapping Horse Racing Angles
Trainers, Jockeys, Maiden Races & More!
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TABLE OF CONTENTS (More to come)!
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Switching to Top Jockeys
Anytime a trainer switches from a mediocre jockey to a good one or a top one, you should pay attention.
Top jockeys do not ride bad horses. They're in for the money and they don't like to lose.
The jockey's agent makes sure his jockey gets live horses, most times.
Pay attention to horses that don't show much in their running lines but get switched to a top jockey.
The trainer knows something that we cannot see in the horse's lines.
Look at the odds, and if the horse goes off at long odds, the better.
Either the public did not notice the switch or completely dismissed it because the horse looks bad on paper.
You'd be surprised at how many "bad" horses come in at long odds with top jockeys ridding them.
Exiting a Key Race
This article is about horses Exiting a Key Race.
A Key Race is a race where a horse ran in, and one or more of the horses in that particular race, that the horse ran together with, won in their next race out.
In the horse's past performances, the horses that ran together with this horse in a key race are highlighted in italics.
Very easy to find them.
What's so special about a Key Race?
Well, one or more of the horses in that race, were able to go out and win in their very next race. This tells us that particular race was a very competitive one.
A hard-fought race made up of very good horses.
Any horse that emerged from that race and went on to win their next race, is a very good horse.
The more horses that came out of that race and won in their next, the better.
The theory goes that if a horse ran together with these good horses, by putting up a nice effort, but not winning the race of course, then he must be just/almost as good - hopefully.
The better effort the horse made in that Key Race, the better are his chances of winning today.
You could bet on this angle alone, but this angle becomes even more powerful, if there is a positive jockey switch, and/or a class drop.
Races to Bet
Bet races with a maximum of ten horses and even prefer those with seven or eight horse fields.
Small fields eliminate much of the trouble aspect during the running of a race that a horse may encounter in a large field.
Prefer sprints over routes to eliminate the traffic trouble aspect as well as having a jockey that lacks the experience judging pace in a route race.
In addition, sprints also eliminate most of the trouble if your horse happens to be an early speed horse.
Avoid grass races that have a mixture of established grass runners and horses that have never competed on grass.
There are too many unknowns to decipher for horses entered that have run all of their races on dirt.
Horses entered in a turf race that have run on dirt only become questionable as to the reason it was entered.
The last thing you should want to do is bet on a horse that a trainer is experimenting with. A worst case scenario that can and does happen, which is avoidable, is when a dirt horse entered for its first time on grass springs a big surprise and wins. Pass that type of race and move on.
A very difficult race to handicap is the allowance optional claiming race. If a horse is entered to be claimed it is entered outside the conditions of the allowance horses simply because it can be claimed.
Horses that are eligible to be claimed get a weight allowance.
A claiming horse entered in this type of race may have won 4 or more races whereas an allowance 1x horse entered can only have won one race other than maiden or claiming.
So it becomes a difficult choice between the multiple winner of many claiming races or that second career race of an allowance horse hailing from a top barn and trainer.
In more cases than not, this particular race is too tough to figure a winner.
Avoid races where doubts exist such as those with a questionable class drop claiming horse that you may be considering to bet against.
Don’t take that chance and pass the race if you aren’t going to bet on the class drop horse.
There is no more dangerous situation than betting against a horse dropping in class legitimate or otherwise.
As handicappers, we are not privileged to know what a trainer’s intention may be for the class drop.
The trainer may be willing to risk losing the horse, knowing that it has physical problems, in exchange for the good prospect of it winning the race against inferior competition.
A trainer often times will bet on his horse knowing it does have problems knowing that it still good enough to win the race in its condition. If the horse does happen to get claimed, he is rid of an expensive problem.
If you are a straight win bettor, consider betting only those races with fields of six to eight horses and favor a horse that runs on, or close to, the lead throughout the race.
By all means if you are strictly a win bettor stick to betting sprint races of six and a half furlongs or shorter since sprint races are far more predictable and much easier to handicap.
A few lines on a few popular angles
Favorites win 33% of the time, which is perhaps the most obvious indicator that horse racing is not entirely random; handicapping works!
This is a good thing to remember for two reasons:
1) Sometimes the most obvious horse will win a race
2) The favorite loses 66% of the time, meaning that it's often profitable to bet against the favorite.
There are two things to consider when handicapping a race:
1) Which horses have the best chance to win the race?
2) Is the betting public ignoring any of those horses? The only sure thing in horse racing is that there is no sure thing.
Every horse has a chance to win a race, and sometimes the worst looking horse will win that race.
And in situations where you like a particular horse over the favorite and think your horse is a lock to win the race, chances are that both horses have a strong chance to win. You must keep that in mind when handicapping and wagering.
The trick to winning at the races is to find potential winners that the betting public is ignoring.
Example: From all appearances, two horses have an equal chance at winning a race. The public has bet one horse down to 2/1 odds, and the other horse is going off at 10/1 odds.
Which horse do you bet? If it was me and I determined that the 10/1 horse had an equal chance to win the race as the 2/1 horse, I would bet on the 10/1 horse.
Use the favorites in your exotic wagers Betting a Win/Place/Show wager on the favorite is a losing strategy.
They don't pay well enough for you to generate a profit over a long period of time. In fact, you will lose money if you only wager on the favorite.
But that doesn't mean favorites can't be useful. Use them in your exotic wagers that require picking multiple winners in consecutive races (such as the Pick Three, Pick Four, etc.).
If you agree with the morning line odds that a horse deserves to be a favorite in a particular race, don't be afraid to use that horse as a single selection for that race in your exotic wagers.
By doing so, you'll be able to select more horses in your other races where the potential winner is not so obvious.
Layoff horses are difficult to read. Rather than try to ascertain whether or not the trainer is successful with layoff horses, follow these simple rules:
1: First start after a layoff is a negative against a horse. Usually when a horse returns from a layoff, it will need at least one start before returning to previous form.
2: The second and third starts after a horse's layoff are often excellent performances. If a horse is on its 2nd or 3rd start after a layoff, it has the potential to return to its previous peak performance.
To find that peak performance, you may have to go back several races.
The question you must answer: if this horse returns to its prior peak performance, will that performance be strong enough to beat the rest of the horses in the current race?
First time Lasix
Race horses sometimes bleed in their lungs as a result of intense exercise, and the bleeding negatively impacts a horse's ability to perform.
Lasix is a drug that can prevent the bleeding (or drastically reduce it), thereby allowing the horse to breathe properly during a race.
You've no doubt heard the phrase "first time Lasix". That phrase is used to describe a horse that is using Lasix for the first time in its racing career.
Despite what you may have heard from other handicappers, Lasix is not a magic drug.
It will not make a horse suddenly perform better than it has ever raced in its life. However, it can allow a horse to return to its best form; the horse may run equal to a previous peak performance.
Whenever you see a horse racing for the first time on Lasix, you need to look back several races in order to find the horse's true potential.
There is a chance the horse may suddenly return to its peak ability with the addition of Lasix.
In this trainer angle the horse had to have run at least one or more races (all races before today's addition of Lasix) without Lasix ever being administered - less races, the better!
Thoroughbreds race at a variety of distances, anywhere from 5 furlongs all the way up to 12 furlongs (and sometimes further).
One furlong is equal to 1/8 of a mile. Thus, a one-mile race is an 8 furlong race; a 6 furlong race is a 3/4 mile race; the half mile call is always taken 4 furlongs into a race, and so on.
I've noticed that some handicappers get hung up on the distance of a race.
Their burning question is: can this horse win at this distance?
Although I'm sure other professional handicappers will disagree with my input on this matter, I don't feel that race distance is a significant factor.
That being said, there are a few distances when I feel the need to question a horse's ability to go the distance.
When I handicap 5 furlong races and 5.5-6 furlong races, I generally lean towards very quick horses.
They have a tendency to finish well in short sprint races.
When I handicap races at 8 furlongs or longer, I will take the time to dig a little deeper into a horse's racing history to see if it has won at long distance races. Other than those distances, I don't feel it's an important issue to delve into a horse's win/loss ratio at specific distances.
From what I've come to understand about horse racing, the most significant portion of a race is the last couple of furlongs.
Quite often, the jockeys will set a leisurely pace around the track, and then it’s a mad dash for the last quarter mile. As long as a horse has decent sprint ability for at least a few furlongs, I'll consider it a potential winner at any distance.
In my opinion, when it comes to bloodline, there are only two scenarios when pedigree matters:
First time starters - how often does a sire or dam's offspring win their first start? First time on turf - how often does a sire or dam's offspring win their first start on the grass? Once a horse has raced its first race and raced on the grass, I no longer care about pedigree.
And I almost never wager on a horse based on its pedigree alone, but I will definitely use them in exotic wagers if I feel the bloodline is an indicator of a potential surprise winner.
When reviewing the past performances of horses in a race, if you notice there is only one front runner (a horse that is on the lead or close to it until the 1/2 mile fractional call of its last few starts), and the rest of the horses are late closers (remain off the pace until the half mile call and then gain ground), you've found what is commonly referred to as "The Lone Speed Horse".
When a horse is allowed to get loose on the lead, there's a good chance the horse will take the race wire-to-wire, particularly if the jockey can control the pace and keep it slow until the 1/2 mile call.
The great thing about these types of horses is they sometimes win at very big odds.
When reviewing the past performances of horses in a race, if you notice there is only one closer (a horse that gains ground in the later stages of a race) and the rest of the horses are front runners (horses that are on the lead or close to it up until the 1/2 mile of their last few starts), then you've found what is commonly referred to as "The Lone Closer".
When there are multiple speed horses in the race (horses that like to be on the lead), they usually duel against each other during the first 1/2 mile and setup the race perfectly for the one horse that finishes fast.
In this type of race, the speedsters will tucker themselves out and The Lone Closer will close extremely fast during the stretch run and win the race.
Whenever you see a favorable jockey switch, such as going from an apprentice or a low win percentage jockey to one of the top jockeys at a track, this is a favorable sign.
You should know where to find the latest stats on all jockeys and be able to quickly research each jockey's history.
Most trainers have their favorite jockey, their "go to" man when they want their best effort from a particular horse.
Always take note of the Win percentage for the current jockey/trainer combination for every horse in a race.
This isn't a crucial element in the handicapping process, but it's important to be aware of because some jockey/trainer combinations win at a high percentage rate.
Allowance to Open Claimer
These are potential long shots that come from allowance class races. Since horses entered into allowance races are not up for sale (and aren't at risk to being claimed by another trainer), allowance races are safe training races for stakes caliber horses.
Trainers will often place their best horses into allowance races in order to prepare them for an upcoming stakes race.
When any horse that previously raced in an allowance race is entered against open claiming competition, it's often a significant drop in class and the horse may give a very strong performance.
Next time you plan on visiting the race track, glance through the racing form and look for any horse that is moving from an allowance race to an open claiming race. That horse is a potential long shot winner.
You'll need to research the Win/Place/Show horse of that previous allowance race. If any of those three horses are stakes caliber horses, then the allowance race was potentially a stakes caliber race and if the horse that is now facing open claimers finished well in that allowance race, it has a good chance of winning.
Quite often, a loser moving from an allowance race into a claiming race will win at very big odds.
Basic class levels & trip handicapping in horse racing
There are basically 4 class levels in horse racing, listed below in order of difficulty from least to most:
- Maiden Races are for horses that have never won a race.
- Claiming Races are for horses that are up for sale at a particular price.
- Allowance Races are for horses that are not for sale but must fit a specific set of conditions in order to compete in the race.
- Stakes Races and Handicaps are for horses that are not up for sale and are competing for the highest purses available.
By understanding the hierarchy of class levels, a handicapper can immediately determine whether a horse is moving up in class or moving down.
In maiden races, the claiming price of the horse is a potential indicator of the horse's class level.
However, don’t rely on that alone as an indicator for a horse's potential.
If a horse is moving from a $10,000 maiden claiming race to a $50,000 maiden claiming race, the obvious assumption, in theory, is the horse is moving up in class, but in reality the difference between those two levels is often insignificant.
Take care when wagering on maiden claiming races because the difference between class levels isn't nearly as significant as other types of races.
In fact, if you're new to handicapping, I suggest you avoid maiden claiming races altogether until you are more proficient at the game.
Honestly, go ahead if you "must", but we suggest you avoid maiden claiming races altogether, as they are highly unpredictable, with runners that are already up for sale, without even winning a single race yet!
Maiden Special Weights are a different story altogether.
These maidens are not for sale, and of a much better quality than the maiden claimers; but again, they must prove themselves eventually - the sooner the better!
In regular claiming races, it's easy to see when a horse is moving up or down: look at the claiming price.
If a horse recently competed in a $40,000 claiming race and is now competing in a $75,000 claiming race, the horse is moving up in class.
Pretty simple. In allowance races, it's not always so simple to determine whether or not a horse is moving up in class or down.
One of the more popular conditions of allowance races is "non winners of two races in a lifetime", or sometimes "non winners of three races in a lifetime".
When a horse moves from a "non winners" conditioned race into an unrestricted claiming race, it often indicates the horse is moving up class.
And the flip-side is also true: when a horse previously raced in an unrestricted race and is now competing in a race that is restricted to "non winners of two races in a lifetime", then the horse is most likely dropping in class because it's now competing against a softer group of horses.
In stakes and handicap races, the simplest thing to do is to look at the value of the race.
Higher stakes races will draw the highest caliber horses.
If two horses are competing against each other and both won their previous stakes race, the horse that won at the higher purse level was more than likely racing against tougher competition.
Trip handicapping & video replays
Watching video replays is an advanced form of handicapping that you must learn if you wish to be successful at the races.
This form of analysis is referred to as Trip Handicapping. Before you wager on any horse, you should watch the horse's last race video replay and take trip notes.
You should also review every race replay for each of the horse's competing against your selection. Why watch video replays?
The idea is to take notes of a horse's trip and determine if it had a troubled trip that might have resulted in a poor performance.
This part of handicapping is time consuming but it is unavoidable if you wish to become a profitable horse player. What is a troubled trip?
Whenever a horse encounters trouble of any type during a race, the horse is considered to have had a troubled trip.
Any one of the following descriptions indicates a troubled trip for the horse:
a) Traveled wide on the turns - if a horse travels in the three path or further out on the turns, it's a difficult trip. The wider the horse travels on the turns, the more difficult the trip.
This is because for each path the horse travels off the rail, it actually runs a longer race than its competition.
If a horse travels in the five path on both turns, it's possible the horse ran several hundred feet further than horses that traveled in the one path (actual distance loss on turns varies between tracks).
b) Pulled on reins / steadied / checked - whenever there is potential for a collision between one horse and another, a jockey will often steady the horse and restrain it from moving forward. Obviously, safety is the number one priority, both for the horses and for the jockeys.
When a jockey steadies a horse, the horse will often lose one or two lengths as a result, making it even more difficult for the horse to recover those lost lengths and win the race.
c) Clipped heels - sometimes a horse will gain ground rapidly on another horse directly in front of it, and the result is the two horses will clip heels.
In order to prevent this, the jockey will maneuver the horse around the slower horse, or will perform a hard check and pull on the reins in order to slow his horse to prevent a collision. When this happens, the horse will lose significant ground as a result of the jockey's check.
d) Broke slowly - not all horses break fast from the gate.
Some leave the gate slowly and then make up ground to the quicker horses. While some horses break slow every time, sometimes a horse will, for any number of reasons, break very slow when leaving the gate.
When this occurs, the general rule is the horse lost five lengths as a result.
When handicapping and watching race replays, be on the lookout for these profitable scenarios:
1) A horse had a difficult trip in its last start and finished decently despite the troubled trip. It is now dropping in class to a lower level.
Obviously, you can expect a horse dropping in class to finish closer to the wire than it did in its last start, and if it had a troubled trip in the previous race, then it might easily win the race at this lower class level.
2) A horse had a difficult trip in its last start, won the race, and is now moving up in class to a higher level.
A horse that overcomes a troubled trip and still manages to win is in great form and should be considered as a potential winner in its next race.
Any horse that had a troubled trip in its last start will most likely perform better in its next race, provided the competition is equal to its previous class level or lower.
Ideally, you should review every horse's last race video replay and use that information to help you find a potential winner!
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