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How to pick more winners
The following is an excerpt from the recent DRF Press release "The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing" ($24.95) by Steve Davidowitz. The book is a compilation of lists and observations on a wide range of Thoroughbred racing topics by Davidowitz, a regular Simulcast Weekly contributor, who has been covering the sport for nearly 40 years. This excerpt lists the top 10 handicapping contributions and/or winning angles.
10. Consistent horses usually beat inconsistent ones
Robert Sanders Dowst, a handicapper in the 1940's and 1950's, wrote many articles on this subject for Turf and Sport Digest magazine during its heyday. Most of the principles Dowst explained still apply, but the consistent horse tends to attract much more play at the windows than in his era. Moreover, the modern era accents fewer starts per horse per season, so there is less chance to take advantage of this straightforward handicapping principle.
9. The drop-down from maiden special weight to maiden claiming
There is no more potent handicapping angle in the game than to prefer horses that have run against nonclaiming maidens in races where all the horses are entered for a selling price. This angle alone has dominated maiden claiming races from coast to coast for several decades and, surprisingly, it still can produce its share of overlooked longshot winners.
8. The turn-back angle
Speed at one mile or 1 1/16 miles turning back to 6 1/2 or seven furlongs. This "turn-back" angle accents the powerful combination of inherent speed matched with the added stamina gained from the longer race. In the shorter sprint, this type of horse usually rallies from a midpack or stalking position, or perhaps even from back in the pack.
7. Pace makes the race
In some quarters this means pace numbers. In the best handicapping approaches, however, it simply refers to the need to determine which horse or horses will be involved in an uncontested or hotly contested pace and which ones will therefore benefit from the pace configuration. Obviously, a hotly contested pace usually will favor horses who make their best bid after the pacesetters are tired from their efforts. Conversely, an uncontested, relatively modest pace tends to favor horses on or near the lead who reach the final furlongs with energy in reserve.
6. Track bias
The term refers to the way a racetrack may be naturally bent or manicured to favor front-runners, or closers, or horses breaking from favorable or unfavorable post positions.
When such a "bias" exists, it is possible to upgrade or downgrade contenders based on their running styles, or post positions. Likewise, when a track bias has been detected, it is possible to appreciate or discount performances of horses according to whether they ran with or against such a bias.
Basically, track bias is a tool to identify horses that might benefit from the prevailing tendency of the racing surface to influence performance. I coined the term in the mid-1960's while learning the game at different tracks in the East, studying handicapping in between classes at Rutgers University.
5. Workout interpretation
Workout clockings that are recorded each day are useful to detect soundness and overall preparedness, but they are not nearly as useful as workouts that have been professionally observed and annotated for a wide variety of characteristics. These may include whether the work was in company with another horse - perhaps with an older horse or a recent winner - with or without serious urging, or from the starting gate.
Also, raw workout clockings are only as accurate as the supervision provided by official clockers on the scene, something that must be judged by each handicapper in each jurisdiction. It would help if all racing commissioners and stewards in every racing state insisted upon accurate clocking and identification procedures with strict penalties for trainers who violated the protocol.
Because some enterprising horseplayers with clocking skills recognized the value of interpreting the way workouts are accomplished, several professional services were introduced in the 1990's to fill the void.
Bruno DeJulio's workout report in Today's Racing Digest, which covers Southern California racing, is one of the best. Another is "Handicapper's Report," which commissions clockers in different regions to provide similar reports. Still another is sponsored by a touting service, "National Turf," which also focuses on Southern California racing. All three are subscription services that distribute their analysis via web sites. In the age of simulcasting, the door is surprisingly wide open for similar services to be created elsewhere, especially New York, Florida, and Kentucky
4. Trip Handicapping
Essentially, this is the practice of using video replays to review races already run to glean important tidbits about how the horses performed. In the modern game, almost all good handicappers utilize trip notes published in Daily Racing Form result charts and past-performance lines, or add their own annotated notes for more subtle clues. Studying the pace pattern, traffic issues, the prevailing bias, if any, as well as the way jockeys did or did not maneuver inside or outside, with the pace or away from it, is a dynamic, almost mandatory aspect of professional class handicapping.
A good DVD recorder helps quite a bit in this regard, as did the VCR for its run of popularity during the 1980's and 1990's. My friend Andy Beyer wrote a good book on how to proceed into the world of trip handicapping with the efficient title "Trip Handicapping."
3. Trainer patterns
In my earliest handicapping research, charting the winning "tells" of trainers was one of the most potent handicapping approaches in the game. It remains a consistent price-getting angle, one of the best ways to anticipate an improved performance, or a winning effort by a first-time starter or an absentee, a recently claimed runner and/or a horse making his debut in a grass race. Beyond statistical summaries, which can be helpful, winning trainers repeat winning patterns - it is that simple.
2. Beyer Speed Figures
Perfecting a method developed by Andy's college roommate, Sheldon Kovitz, the approach was to compare all the clockings in a single day and factor out the relative speed or lack of speed in the racetrack that day. Doing that made it possible to compare clockings of 1:10.40 or 1:12 for six furlongs on one day to other six-furlong clockings on other days. It also permitted comparisons between different distances and different racetracks. Taking this one step further, Beyer developed a numerical scale that made it possible to refer to any adjusted clocking as a Beyer Speed Figure.
Beyer Speed Figures first became available in print when they were published in The Racing Times's enhanced past performances in 1991; they became a staple in Daily Racing Form past performances in 1992.
In addition, this approach to comparing the relative ability of horses has spawned many variations, including private speed-figure methods and the publicly sold Ragozin Sheets and similar performance figures published as Thorograph by Ragozin's estranged disciple, Jerry Brown. All of these approaches have made positive contributions to the art/science of handicapping.
1. Internet-based information for handicappers
Daily Racing Form, TrackMaster, Bloodstock Research Information Services, Equibase, The Jockey Club, and dozens of private information web sites have large volumes of statistical material that can be used by discriminating handicappers to refine insights on trainers, horses, breeding lines, and a host of other handicapping issues. This was not possible before the computer and the Internet linked up for business in the early 1990's. Moreover, the technology is improving logarithmically every year.
For example, DRF's Formulator program, available on its web site, provides lifetime past performances on demand and several years of a specific trainer's horses and their respective patterns with the click of a computer button. In the modern era, it is almost impossible to handicap effectively without using some of these ready-made tools and resources. It also is foolish to ignore them.