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Learning How to Handicap and Bet on Horses

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Learning How to Handicap and Bet on Horses

Post  Mad Clint on 2009-05-02, 23:48

The Basics
Start with learning how to read the Daily Racing Form.

All races have conditions and you must know the conditions of the race to evaluate each horse's chances.

The Races:
Stakes races are the cream of the crop, the best horses around. Handicap races are frays where the racing secretary assigns weights for each horse, which theoretically will bring all the horses together at the end of the race. Allowance races are for the horses that are more valuable than claiming horses, are not offered for sale and who are aspiring to become stakes runners. Claiming horses are entered for sale and can be bought by anyone that has a racing license in the jurisdiction and has enough money on account in the horseman's office. And maiden races are events for horses that have not yet won a race.

Handicap:
The key to handicapping is attempting to figure out how the race will be run. You must be able to project where each entrant will be at any point of the race and this is done by comparing the fractional times, to where each entrant figures in this particular race based on his past performance. Once you can project or figure that certain horses will be near the pace, certain horses will be mid pack in the race, and certain horses will be far back, then you are well on your way to visualizing how the race will be run and who may come out on top when the smoke clears.

Human Factor:
Other important things to consider are the jockey, trainer, when the horse raced last and who has that horse been facing. Players must know the top riders and trainers on their circuit and then go a step further by investigating where those human players excel.

Betting Options:
When it comes time to stepping up to the plate and making the wager, be well versed about what you want to bet and how much you expect to make from that bet.
There is straight win, place and show wagering. Daily doubles are the winners of 2 designated races.Exactas, which are the exact one/two finishers of a race and quinellas, the one/two or two/one finishers of a race are both popular.Trifectas and superfectas are extended exactas to the third and fourth finishers respectively. Pick 3s to Pick 6s are the wagers that must pick the winners of consecutive races.

Rate your bets and determine how much a prime bet or a side bet will fit into your bankroll. Prime bets should be a percentage of your overall bankroll, sometimes in the 5% range, that you have put aside to bet on the horses. Side or action bets should be wagers that don't fit into your prime parameters but offer value in a certain situation.


Know Your Tracks

For the novice bettors, horse racing can appear to be overwhelming at the start. There is the unusual jargon, the appearance of hustle bustle, and the energy of the horses themselves, but to get a grip on the game and to make that first step toward making winning bets, one has to figure out the nuts and bolts of the game.

As an introduction, let's start with the track itself, how most of them are configured and what to look for when watching a race or handicapping.

There are keys right there that can make the difference between winning at the windows or going home early and if you don't know what you are looking at or what your are supposed to be looking for, then you are at a distinct disadvantage.

Most of the major tracks are one-mile ovals. They include famous venues like Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Churchhill. Belmont Park is a one and a half-mile oval. The most common distance to race is 6 furlongs. A furlong is an 8th of a mile, thus 6 furlongs is three quarters of a mile. When one looks at a particular track as a whole, there will be numerous poles around the track. Poles are so named because of their distance from the finish line. So the 3/4 pole is 6 furlongs from the finish, the 1/4 pole is 2 furlongs from the finish. The 1/8 pole is an 8th of a mile or one furlong from the finish. In reviewing past performances, the stretch call is always an 8th of a mile from the finish.

Poles and knowing where they are key to understanding the game. They are constantly referred to in the past performances and in the reporting of the race in the charts. Poles are color coded to make them easier to recognize in the heat of battle. The 1/8 poles are green and white. The 1/16 poles are black and white and the 1/4 poles are green and white.

Once one can figure out where each pole is, the running of the race can become crystallized be just reading the past performances and the comments in the notes. If a horse was 'steadied' at the 1/4 pole, the handicapper knows that the horse ran into a problem with 2 furlongs to go. If a horse was forced to 'take up' at the 1/8 pole, the racegoer knows that the horse had to stop his stride at a crucial part of the race.

Different tracks and different distance present the handicapper with new problems. If a horse draws the rail going a mile one a track like Santa Anita, which is one mile in circumference, the horse has a quick run to the 1st turn and a built-in advantage if he has the speed from the gate to take advantage of the inside post. Conversely, if a horse is in post 8 in a mile race on a mile track, he will need to expend serious energy in order to make or challenge for the lead because of the quick run to the 1st bend.

Aqueduct is a 1 1/8-mile oval. Thus, if a race is carded at 1 1/8 miles, the horse that draws the rail has a distinct advantage if he has speed and is able to break cleanly and reach the 1st turn quickly.

The configuration of tracks and turf courses must be understood and utilized properly when attempting to assess the chances of a particular horse and if you are blind to these nuisances, you will see the bankroll dwindle.


Class and Form

Form and class. They are intertwined forever and are two very important aspects to consider when betting on horses.

The current form of a racehorse is obviously of utmost importance to his chances of winning any particular afternoon. But form can be tricky.

Just because a horse is coming off a solid effort in which he won or was close to winning, one cannot assume he will repeat that performance. A win or loss by a narrow margin, which may have resulted from an all-out effort, can knock an ordinary thoroughbred off his sharpness very quickly. This can be devastating in distaffers and sometimes in older stock.

Good horses keep their form longer. That's why they are good horses and are more reliable from a betting standpoint. They are usually sounder physically than the cheap horses and are just plain better athletes.

It's difficult for an inexpensive claimer to maintain his good form for any long period of time. A bettor has to be able to attempt to evaluate how a particular horse is going to respond from a previous strenuous effort. Is the horse coming off an easy win, where he was allowed to get an easy lead and wasn't pressured at any point of the race? Or is he coming off a demanding race, a race in which he was pushed every step of the way during a serious speed duel and was life and death to hold off his foes at the wire?

A term thrown around the racetrack like a nickel is the word class. It can mean many different things to many people and prove elusive in the evaluating process.

The adage 'class tells' sounds great. It sounds final. But the truth of the matter is class changes, even in the very best runners. Class is trickier and more vague than form and must be thought of as a means rather than an end.

If a horse has beaten or run very close to better animals than his present foes, or if he's dropping to a level that he's been successful at in the past, he fits solidly class-wise in the race.

For instance, if a race is written for 3-year-old allowance horses, which are non-winners of three races, other than maiden or claiming, a horse that has won 2 allowance races and has even beaten older horses in the process should be awarded a great shot in this fray.

Class can also be directly related to speed. The faster a horse runs the better class of horse he can beat. Sharp horses can move up the class ladder beating higher-priced foes or intrinsically classier stock if things break their way.

If a horse is coming off a superior effort in cheaper company, but is catching a horse who has been running in top-caliber races but is at a disadvantage either distance-wise of pace-wise, the cheaper horse could become a prime betting opportunity.

Evaluate form with an eye to today's race. How is he likely to run today? When studying class, lean toward current class and try to put all the other elements into place before making a rash judgment.


Know the Pace

This entire game of horse racing is about what happened in the past. How much speed a horse showed last time, if the runner can get the distance, and what style the runner utilizes all are tantamount to handicapping.

Pace is the name of the game, believe it or not and it gets lost sometimes in the hype of the event, whether it is the Kentucky Derby or Breeders' Cup Day.

When beginning the handicapping process on a single race, players need to be able to figure out whom, how fast, and how cluttered the early portions of the race figure to be. After that becomes clear, the race starts to come into focus.

Once you realize the correlation between the time of a past race and where each entrant was during any stage of that race, the door begins to open, the light goes on, the puzzle starts to unwrap and one can understand what makes up the running of each race.

Just like humans, racehorses have styles. Some are bred to run all day long and dawdle out of the gate and some are bred to be flat out blurs and go to the front as fast as their legs can carry them. Long distance runners have styles too. Some like to maintain pace and be in the first flight, some, 1972 Olympic 800 meters gold medal winner Dave Wottle comes to mind, liked to come from far back swooping the field late.

When thinking about style and races one focuses on who the front runners in the field are, who the stalkers, or those that figure close up but not far back off the pace are, and who are the dead closers in the race. When analyzing the previous positions in a race run by today's entrants, one can get a clue on what to expect and how the race may materialize.

Once able to project where each horse will be at each juncture of the race, one can theorize which horses will gun for the front, which will try to gun but will have to settle for positions in the middle of the pack, and which horses that have shown no speed or propensity to lead and who figure to be far back early biding their time.

Basically, it's like this. When reading the past performances and a horse shows a running line for a 6 furlong race of 1 by 2 lengths, 1 by 3 lengths, 1 by 4 and the finish margin of 1 by 5, it means he lead the entire way to score by 5 lengths. The first call, 1 by 2, correlates to the first quarter time of the race, say :22. The second call, 1 by 3, correlates to the half-mile time of say :45. The 1 by 4 correlates to the stretch call which is always an 8th of a mile from the finish, say :58 flat. And the final time of say 1:10 is the finish of 1 by 5.

If a horse's running line in that same race says 2 by 2, 2 by 3, 2 by 4 and 2 by 5, it indicates he was second all the way to the winner and his projected first call time would be :22 2/5 and down the line.

Success then is based on visualizing the race before it starts. After getting a mental picture of the pace, a handicapper can evaluate each contender's other virtues, like class, fitness, surface and distance preferences. And hopefully smoke out the pretenders from the contenders.

And the process sure doesn't end there. In this day of super trainers and super connections it's almost as important as where a horse has breakfast as to what kind of runner he is. And even if one projects the pace accurately, these are animals and blood is running through their veins, not octane.
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Mad Clint
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