05/13/2014 11:05AM

Ask Pete Fornatale: How to deal with weather uncertainty in tournaments


Ask Pete is a new feature of my blog where readers get the opportunity to ask whatever questions they have about contests and contest handicapping. If you have a question, ask away in the comments.


How do you approach handicapping turf races 24 hours in advance, when you know that rain may be in the forecast? Do you handicap the race as both a turf and a dirt race, making guesses as to which horses might scratch if it comes off the turf? Or do you just skip the race entirely the day before, and only handicap it once the changes are announced?

Mud Caulks

Dear Mr. Caulks:

This is an excellent question where I’d say the answer comes down to what type of player you are and what type of tournament it is. For example, if we’re talking about a typical NHCQualify or BCQualify format with no more than twelve mandatory races, it’s pretty simple. Since the contest won’t be starting until later in the day, this should afford you plenty of time to simply wait and do the work once changes are announced. It seems inefficient to me to do the race fully twice before scratches and track condition is known – though some of the more OCD tournament players (you know who you are) may choose to operate that way.

Where this question gets awfully tricky is in what I call the Las Vegas–style formats like the National Handicapping Championship or the Orleans’ contests where you have a menu of 50+ races and you have to play a certain number of them. For me, it is essential in those formats is to have some idea in advance of races where I might want to make a play.

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If we’re talking about a circuit I don’t follow regularly, I might just ignore those races (potentially to my own detriment, but hey, it’s hard to look at everything anyway). If we’re talking about a circuit I do follow regularly, I would ideally want to at least glance at the race from both perspectives to get a feel for what I might do if the race stays on turf or if it washes off. Perhaps there’s a horse I have an old note on in Formulator who is 12/1 on the morning line or maybe a good wet race by a 15/1 twelve races back that doesn’t appear in the printed form. In that case, I’d at least be able to make a note in my spreadsheet to pay attention to the race and try to look again once the changes are in.

Contest formats that require you have to have all your picks in before the start of the first race offer another challenge in this regard. My typical move in those instances is borrowed from the book of the shrewd Daily Racing Form New York handicapper Dave Litfin. Since Dave has to make his selections long in advance, he frequently has to simply guess what the weather will be at post time. If storms look likely, he’ll often pick a MTO (main-track-only) entrant on top of his selections and put his top turf choice second. This way, the bases are covered. If it rains, he has a horse with a presumable advantage. If the sun shines, no worries, he scratches into his top turf pick. The same exact strategy can work in any contest that offers alternate selections and requires picks to be in before the start of the first race.

Stay dry,