01/07/2015 12:36PM

Fornatale: Handicapping and what's really important

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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.

M More than 1 year ago
For an interesting handicap challenge: try the allowance over at Los Al with Fri.. What a mixture: mixed gender (FM get 5lbs), mixed breed TB and QH (who recalls Prince Valiant and Griswold back in the day--wow!), a novel distance (870 yard, about 3.95 F), and most interesting class mix you will see anywhere (some off Del Mar allowances, others off very low level claiming).... And none have won at 870 (the condition on the allowance).. Still scratching my head over a stakes placed mare, 8YO gelding with back class, or consistent 4F local to that track...a one start stakes QH with good 660 works? Oh, and throw in a one turn, super short affair where position on turn means so much with post position, ability to turn, and an array of interesting jockeys--old vets, up and comers and some that even make it over to big circuit. Not enough, you have a full field of 8 with one interesting AE with a hot jockey.. It is an interesting rubics cube they wrote.. fun, too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow, fascinating. Thanks for calling that race to my attention.
Jim More than 1 year ago
I agree with you relative to the time factor in handicapping. Simplistic handicapping starts with a spreadsheet with the speed figures of all horses sorted for best to worst and same for the exact distance of the race. It can be (but not always) easy to dismiss the bottom feeders and concentrate on the talent at the top. This basic format is, sometimes, all that we have time for. Aside from the basics, a video review of any entrant with a hope of being the the exacta is essential. This video review is the time killer. When scheduling allows, the win % can be dictated by how diligent you are with this aspect. Thanks for your article. It makes me feel less guilty when I do not perform every ritual prior to deciding. JIMPEREGOY
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wise man once told me that one of the skills you need is the ability to discern when you have to do the 100% job as opposed to when you're better off doing the 90% job on a larger set of races.