01/07/2015 12:36PM

Fornatale: Handicapping and what's really important


What handicapping angles are the most important? When you’re looking at past performances, what are the things that leap out to you? --@Twitcapper https://twitter.com/horseracing4beg]

There are so many ways to answer this question. With the National Handicapping Challenge coming up in two weeks, it seems like a good time to take a crack at it. Because for me, the answer changes depending on if we’re talking about day-to-day handicapping or a contest scenario like the NHC, where there are many races one can potentially bet.

I’ll begin with the day-to-day answer. I prefer to focus on the fundamentals of handicapping rather than any angles per se. Those are speed, pace, class, and form. There are a number of books with great, in-depth discussions of these, among them Brad Free’s Handicapping 101 and James Quinn’s The Complete Handicapper.  Angles – things like cutbacks in distance or equipment changes -- don’t mean anything to me in a vacuum.

That said, they can be extremely helpful under certain circumstances, a great way to include or exclude horses you’re on the bubble about. Over the years, I’ve used a number of them. I’ve included horses based solely on trainer/jockey combinations (remember Ramon Dominguez riding for Mike Hushion at Saratoga?) and I’ve also used some esoteric breeding angles (any horse sired by Walter Willy at Del Mar back in the day).

Angles are typically given too much credit by an array of handicappers, myself included. I would call an over-reliance on angles as my greatest weakness from my old days as the public handicapper for the Saratoga Special. Even when you’re “right” about an angle, you still need to be careful or you can end up chasing your tail. Yes, a lot of horses Ramon Dominguez rode for Mike Hushion won at Saratoga, but those horses didn’t win solely because Ramon Dominguez was riding for Mike Hushion. There are a variety of complex factors that go into analyzing each and every race. If you dumb it down too much you’re asking for trouble. You run the risk of confusing the signal and the noise.

My trepidation about chasing angles changes if we’re talking about spreading in exotics or contest play – especially in a contest like the NHC, where there are many tracks to analyze and a lot of optional races. In this situation, you may simply not have the time to do the 100 percent job of thoroughly handicapping each race. This is where angles can really come in handy – as a shortcut, a way of putting certain horses on your radar.

Like everything else in handicapping, price is a factor. The thing about cap horses in contest play is that nearly any reason to like them is good enough. That horse with poor current form but some back class in blinkers for the second time? Why not take a flyer at 20-1. The cap horse making the switch to an aggressive apprentice in a field apparently devoid of pace? Sign me up.

Trainer angles are worthy of their own discussion here. Some have argued that trainers are really the fifth fundamental factor in modern handicapping and I can’t disagree. With a tool like DRF’s Formulator, you can see how trainers do with a great variety of moves/angles, positive and negative.