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 Basic Horse Racing Handicapping


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Basic Horse Racing Handicapping

Handicapping Basics
Consistency factor
Importance of horse’s class
The horse trainer
The value of the jockey
Condition of the horse

Handicapping Basics


There is no foolproof method or system that can guarantee a horseplayer winning at the tracks. The best thing he can hope for is to win more money than he loses and show a profit in a long term. He can do that only by trying to get an edge in every aspect of the horse race from better horses and races to better trainers, jockeys and tracks.

The popular wisdom of professional horse racing handicappers says that “you can beat a race but you can’t beat races”. In other words, a collective experience of the pros goes against playing every horse race. It tells a player to choose carefully few races out of many and ignore the rest. Usually, less than 30% of all daily races can be considered for betting. Out of 9 daily horse races you should play no more than 2 or 3 races.

The horse races that should be avoided are obviously those that have too many unknown factors and variables, which will make any betting decision difficult if not impossible. This is the case with maiden races. Maiden horse is a horse that has not won anything yet. Since maiden horse has not proven itself, betting on such a horse will be a pure guessing game and no edge can be achieved by a horse racing handicapper. Another type of horse race, which gives a very little clue about the outcome, is a highly competitive race with many potential winners. Too many possibilities make a single correct choice extremely difficult. If you can’t narrow you choice down to 2 or max 3 favorites, the horse race should be avoided.

The horse races on the tracks with not the best conditions also should be passed. Muddy and sloppy track conditions introduce too many unknowns into the horse race killing a possibility of acquiring an edge. A horse running on a sloppy track has a higher chance to get in trouble. Only the fast track race must be of interest to a horse racing handicapper.

Very important factors that go into a handicapping process are obviously those related to a horse’s current form, class and consistency. If a performance of the horse was not consistent, that horse is a bad candidate. If a horse competes in the class where it has not been successful it does not deserve your bet. If a form of the horse shows a decline the odds are against it.

The following are the good rules for eliminating questionable horses. If a horse has not “shown” in the past month or has not won in the last two months or went down or up more than 25% in class, it’s not worth betting.


Consistency and current form of the horse


All the information regarding consistency and current form of the horse as well as other data related to horses and races can be found in Daily Racing Form, which is a must to have source for any horse racing handicapper. Consistency in horse’s performance is such an important factor many trainers in the country use it to determine a correct “claiming” price for a horse in the claiming race. Consistency can be determined by checking horse’s results in the previous races, which can be found in Daily Racing Form. If in the last dozen races a horse has won at least 20% and has been in the money 50% of the time, then this horse is a consistent performer worth backing.

Daily Racing Form also will tell you about current form. If checking the last three or four races reveals a poor performance by the horse, there is a good chance that a horse’s form is deteriorating and the horse will be a risky bet.


Importance of a horse’s class


A class is a level of a horse’s performance. It’s not easy to determine a true class of the horse. Daily Racing Form contains enough information for that purpose. If a horse competes in the claiming races then the size of a claiming price is a good indicator. If it is a race with a claiming price of $10,000, the horse has a higher class than the horses in the $5,000 race. It is more difficult to find out the class of the horse running in the allowance races where horses can not be claimed. Many horse racing handicappers use a simple formula to figure out an allowance level of the horse. They divide the amount of money won by the number of places taken by the horse. If the total money won is $15,000 and a horse took 5 places (for ex. two first, one second and two third places) an allowance level is accepted to be 20,000:5 = 4,000. If another horse won 15,000 and took the same number of places, the class will be 15,000:5=3,000.

A horse with a higher class, obviously, is a favorite against a horse from a lower class. If a horse is entered into a race that has a lower class, the horse has a good chance to be in the money and deserves a bet in that particular horse race.


The horse trainer


The quality, ability and experience of the horse trainer are a crucial factor to consider in your handicapping thought process. Not all horse trainers have been created equal. About 10% of all the trainers prepare 75% of the winners. A horse trainer knows his horse like nobody else. He knows what the horse needs to be best prepared for a particular race. He also knows his horse’s weak and strong points and chooses a correct race for his horse to run – a race where a horse will have the best chance to finish in the money. A horse racing handicapper should try to gather as much information as possible about the trainer of the horse he is betting on. A good horse trainer like a good horse is supposed to have consistent record of good results.


The value of the jockey


A jockey can’t make a horse run beyond its physical abilities. However, the good riders can squeeze the maximum performance out of the horse. The same horse runs better under one jockey than under the other. The difference between jockeys is confirmed by statistics. Less than 15% of all the jockeys win about 50% of all the races and 30% of the riders never win anything. Obviously, there are good consistently winning riders and there are less capable ones.

As soon as they start getting good results, the riders start to attract the attention of the horse trainers and owners. In result, they get opportunities to ride best horses.

Thus there are two reasons to include a jockey into a handicapping analysis. A good jockey usually rides a better horse and he is capable of getting the best performance from the horse.


Condition of the horse


Any horse, which is not at its best physical condition, should be excluded for an obvious reason from a betting consideration. Most of the time, the horses arrive for the competition in sound health. More than 95% of the horses in stake races and more than 90% in allowance races are of a sound health. However, that percentage goes down in claiming races especially those with smaller prizes. It falls even lower in maiden races. The maiden races with 4-year old maiden horses should be avoided period. How to get information on the horse’s health? Horse trainers, jockeys and other personnel allowed into a paddock area can physically examine a horse looking for a temperature in the areas of the knees, ankles etc… A horse player can inspect horses only visually from the distance. The usual signs of the possible health problems are heavy bandages on the horse when it enters a paddock. The bandages soaked in cold water and medication will be wrapped around horse’s legs all the way down to the knees. In this case the horse’s legs are not in the best shape. If a horse has a blanket over its shoulders that usually means the soreness in the shoulders especially when the sweat is clearly visible. A horse with any signs of soreness and health problems is not worth a betting risk.


Ten basic rules of horse racing handicapping


1)      Bet only on the fast track races.

2)      Never bet on the horse races with more than 3 potential winners.

3)      Never bet a lot hoping to win a little.

4)      Never make less than even money bet on the horse.

5)      Bet only on the jockeys who are consistent winners.

6)      Bet only on the horse trainers with consistent winning record.

7)      Never bet before you had a chance to look at the horse.

8)      Never make exotic bets.

9)      Never bet more than you can afford to loose.

10)    Never bet on maiden races.


Copyright Progress Publishing Co. 2006

Selected References:

John Scarne  New Complete Guide to Gambling The Gambling Times Guide to Winning Systems
Kelso Sturgeon  Guide to Sports Betting Alice Fleming  Something for Nothing/A History of Gambling
Carl Sifakis  The Encyclopedia of Gambling Alan Wykes   The Complete Illustrated Guide to Gambling