It’s Time to Review, Hone Your Handicapping Tools
With the Breeders’ Cup less than two months away, the time is right to sharpen your handicapping tools. The two that rank at the top of my list are speed and pace figures.
Pure speed handicappers look at the final time. Pace handicappers check the fractions. In this so-called upcoming race:
Say Horse A the last time out closed to win, running six furlongs in 1:12. That would be the speed handicapper’s selection.
Say Horse B the last time out in a different contest ran the opening quarter-mile a second faster than the speed handicapper’s pick and the next quarter-mile two ticks quicker before fading to fifth, running six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. The pace handicapper would lick his chops, especially if the horse is lone speed in the next race.
I often employ both tools, especially in sprints. But remember handicapping isn’t all speed and pace figures. The key to success is coming up with the right formula that leads to cashing tickets.
For instance, looks can count, too. While not all horseplayers can pick a winner by eyeballing a field, sometimes a thoroughbred looks so good in the paddock that you decide the animal is worth a bet.
You don’t have to be an excellent judge of horseflesh to spot positive signs of a potential winner. I like a horse that appears perky or bouncy and exhibits aggressive but controllable behavior while warming up. Also a good sign: a fluid transition from a walking gait to a gallop and a well-groomed shiny coat.
Negative signs include excessive kidney sweat between the flanks and, on cool afternoons or evenings, heavy sweating during saddling in the paddock or parading to the post. Another negative: uncontrollable behavior and a dull coat.
Too much information, however, can prove confusing. I limit mine to about a half-dozen factors that include horses coming off a bad trip that performed gamely, winning jockey-trainer combos, changes in medication or equipment and racing patterns.
Blinkers allow the wearer to better focus. The cloth hood with cup-like eye openings limits vision, preventing horses from swerving from objects or other rivals.
Using blinkers is determined by running style. Adding them will intensify a horse’s speed, defusing distractions. Blinkers come off primarily to help a horse relax.
Front bandages may signal a horse has tendon or ligament problems. But trainers keep us guessing because those bandages also protect the animal from hitting itself. One negative: first-time wraps can slow down runners and throw them off stride.
One factor in handicapping that divides horseplayers and professional handicappers is the Bounce Theory.
Basically, a horse than bounces suffers a negative reaction to his previous outing. Many handicappers, like me, believe that usually happens after a runner exerts a strenuous effort. Others have their doubts.
Say a horse’s speed figures have languished in the lower 70s until winning a route on the grass, posting an 88. In the next start, the thoroughbred is most likely to bounce if the runner is:
Racing on dirt. Grass is an easier surface where horses can string together more consistent trips.
A pacesetter. Pressured front-runners are susceptible to fading.
Entered in a sprint. Pace is faster in shorter distances, taking its toll on horses. Routes have more even pace figures.
Coming off the comeback race within three weeks or less.
A claimer. Cheaper animals tend to regress more than stakes horses, which get better handling and more rest.
A filly. Females have a tendency to bounce more often than males.
Horses usually regress off a big move forward that might be triggered by first-time Lasix, a new trainer or jockey, switching to a new surface, changes in equipment, etc.
Reasons for the big move forward likely will have an impact on the possible bounce. Past performances can be your guide, but consider each case individually.
Managing your money is perhaps the most important part of the wagering game, especially when you’re on a losing streak. Some advice:
Quit betting for a spell and take notes. Watch for horses that finish well despite a troubled trip and tab them for later.
Alter your handicapping system. Maybe you’ve been ignoring the track bias. Maybe you’ve been playing too many favorites and they’re not hitting the board. Maybe you’re dropping some contenders and they’re winning.
Don’t talk yourself out of playing selections you really love. There are exceptions like when the horse looks washed out or is fractious.
Avoid playing more races than you originally handicapped. I don’t like giving back winnings because of snap handicapping picks.