Handicapping Tip of the Day #36 – Mud vs. Slop

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

by Art Parker

Many players get caught up in the “off” track versus a “fast track.” That is a mistake. There is only one type of fast, but there are multiple versions of “off.” It is important to know the differences with the most important difference being a “sloppy” track as opposed to a “muddy” track. A sloppy track may have puddles of water on the top of the surface but the track is such that horses can have excellent footing. In fact, you will sometime see times for a sloppy track be as good, or better, than a fast track. A muddy track is a different story. Once the water mixes well with the packed sand, a muddy track is created and can be like ‘goo,’ or even soft-but-thick peanut butter. Normally the times on a muddy track are noticeably slower than fast or sloppy.

Tips For Handicapping Horse Races of Odd Distances

Guest Post for AGameofSkill.com

There are no real standard distances in horse racing other than the classic races and the classic distances. While many tracks offer 6 furlong events, there are many that also card everything from 4 1/2 furlong events to 1 and 3/8 mile races and everything in between.

It can get confusing and, despite the advent of speed figures and the use of track variants to help in comparing racing times, there is still some confusion and some inequities. I don’t trust speed figures for races under 5 1/2 furlongs because I have found that at the shorter distances, speed figures have a tendency to jump up and appear as though a horse was really much faster than it really was.

Mountaineer racetrack

Beware the bush track horse’s speed figures

A horse that has been racing in 5 furlong races may post speed figures of 100 while switching to 6 furlong events will have it posting nothing higher than a 90. I’ve seen this pattern over and over. Therefore I am very careful about comparing speed figures when horses are going from races of less than 5 1/2 furlongs. The same is true of races over 1 1/4 miles, they just don’t seem to compare well.

While many of the larger tracks shy away from races of odd distances, the smaller ones seem to embrace them. One pattern I have seen repeated is that a horse will ship into a larger track from a bush track. That horse has been racing at the odd distances and seems to have speed figures that make it a contender, but when the gate opens it trails the field, unable to keep up.

It isn’t long before that runner is back at the bush track, seemingly burning up the course. The problem isn’t just that the competition was tougher, it is that the horse never really was as good as its speed figures made it appear to be. On the other hand, look out for horses that do specialize at the odd distances. There are some horses that seem to prefer races of five furlongs or seven furlongs who regularly fail at the more prevalent distance of six furlongs.

If a trainer seems determined to get a horse in a race of 5 furlongs or seven furlongs and seems to wait for those opportunities, it may be that he or she realizes the horse has a penchant for those distances and will excel at them while failing at the commonly-run six furlongs, even if it is in with a softer field. Horses, like people, have their quirks and preferring a particular distance to race is one of them.

The most consistent horse racing systems have to have the basics and a handicapper must understand the basics. I have been around horse racing for 50 years including as an owner. Without the basics the rest is not going to do any good. If you want to learn how a horse owner and insider handicaps just go to Matchbook and get the truth. Also, for the latest horse racing odds, visit Matchbook.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #35 – Start at the Start

by Art Parker

Saratoga starting gate

Good horseplayers investigate troubled trips when trying to determine the truth about a horse’s past. The best way to do this is by watching video tape replays. The best place to start watching and begin your analysis of a troubled trip is the start of a race. The first three seconds of a race can mean everything. A horse may be prohibited from his usual running style. A slight squeeze at the start can cost three-four lengths. Trouble can be found at any point in a race, but more trouble occurs at the start than anywhere else. And, when you view the start of a race try to get a view from every angle possible.

Related Article:

Racing’s Most Important Moment is When the Gate Opens – great insight on this topic

Handicapping Tip of the Day #34 – the Usain Bolt Lesson

Usain Bolt lessonHandicapping Tip of the Day – the Usain Bolt Lesson

by Rich Nilsen

Once again champion sprinter from Jamaica, Usain Bolt, dazzled the world with his brilliant sprinter performances.  Two Olympic Games back, he became the first sprinter in history to win gold in both the Men’s 100 meter and 200 meter races.  He did it again in London in 2012, and then he repeated the feat last week in the 2016 Rio Games.  Bolt competed in nine events over the three Olympic games, all at distances for him of 200 meters or less, and he won all nine.  For those wondering, 100 meters is equivalent to 109.36 yards.

So what lesson could Bolt give to a horse racing handicapper?  Well, it came out recently that Bolt, the fastest sprinter in the world, had never run one mile. Huh?

It’s hard enough to beat this game without making wagers with a low probability of success.

Time Story: Bolt Has Never Run a Mile

It’s hard to believe but true.  Usain Bolt has never done the thing that most American high school kids have had to do at some point in their lives. His agent, Ricky Simms, confirmed this amazing fact in a statement to the New Yorker publication.

So why would Bolt never run a mile?  Simply because it would not benefit him.  His game is all about those fast-twitch muscles involved in short-distance racing – his strength.  Usain Bolt has stuck to his strengths, not deviating away from what he does best, and the results have paid off in spades.

As handicappers we are often tempted to tackle challenges where we do not excel.  Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to improve your overall game, but too often players can get sucked into playing races, tracks or wager types, e.g. Pick 6s, where they simply are out of their element.  It’s hard enough to beat this game without making wagers with a low probability of success.  Review your recent wagering actions and determine if the Usain Bolt lesson applies to you.  I bet for many reading this, that it does.

https://youtu.be/93dC0o2aHto

 

Handicapping Tip of the Day #33 – Horse Racing’s Biggest Drop

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

Dropping in class? Are you sure? There are many ways to try and determine if a horse is dropping in class. There is one way, in a given set of every day circumstances, to determine a class drop. And, make no mistake about it. It is the biggest drop in racing. Years ago one of my mentors told me to do one thing first when look at maiden claiming races. Find any horse that is dropping out of maiden special weights into a maiden claimer race.

Few horses that win stakes races or multiple allowance races begin their careers by winning their first race in a maiden claimer. Horses that run for the bigger money later on usually start where the purses are higher and that is not in the maiden claiming ranks. The most inviting class dropper is the one that ran in maiden special weights a few times, showed some talent such as some early speed or the ability to stay in contention, but now drops down for some class relief.   The maiden special weights to maiden claiming move is the most potent class drop in horse racing.   It is one of the easiest ways to find a way, sometimes at remarkably good prices.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #32 – Just Like Baseball

Baseball and bat_promo_smaller by Art Parker

In baseball one is considered a good hitter with a .300 plus average, which means hitting safely in on or about 1/3 of the player’s official at bats. In horse racing we know, since it has been true for years and years, that the favorite wins about 1/3 of the races. But what about the horseplayer? Every player should strive to maintain a high average and a 1/3 strike rate with winners is actually good. Therefore it gets down to price odds. If you can select winners at about a 1/3 clip and you do not always bet the favorites then you have a chance at making money. Just like good hitters in baseball, the favorites fail 2/3 of the time and that should tell you that playing favorites is not a winning proposition.

Recap of the Belmont Stakes Card (2016)

track announcer with binoculars

Ed Meyer is the track announcer at Belterra

 by Ed Meyer, special for AGameofSkill.com visitors

The Triple Crown trail officially ended with the running of the 148th Belmont Stakes. Many watched these runners since their two-year-old seasons and you may find yourself getting a little sentimental about this chapter of their racing career ending.  Before you start putting away your notes and stats, we may have just started the real handicapping. We have late summer racing and, of course, the road to the Breeders’ Cup.   So start up your notes and watch-lists again as the best is yet to come.  Some of these runners will have serious Breeders Cup implications.

The (G-1) Acorn Stakes – One mile on the dirt

There was a solid group of six who went to post and the big chalk was the incredible Cathryn Sophia. All of these gals glimmer in their own right, but here is one you’ll want to keep on your watch list for future racing.

Go Maggie Go  has done very little wrong and comes to the races from the Dale Romans bran. This daughter of Ghostzapper had her worst finish in her brief career (4th) and I’m looking forward to her races down the road. She has two 1 1/8 races (9 furlongs) under her belt and looks to be finding herself with every race. She responded well to the rider’s commands and looks like this race is just a stepping stone for bigger things to come.

The (G-1) Ogden Phipps Stakes – 1 1/16 on the dirt

Seven fillies and mares took to the track led by Curalina who was the public favorite this day.

Sheer Drama doesn’t have to take her track with her. She is consistent and shows tactical ability at all distances. She lunged at the start this day and was wide before trying to uncork a bid.   This race is a “toss out” and handicapper’s beware. This daughter of Burning Roma is going to blossom into a real monster with a little racing luck.

The (G-1) Just a Game Stakes – One mile on the turf

A field of thirteen fillies and mares assembled and with a field this size you may have to go back and watch the replay three or four more times to get the correct read. Here are a couple of gals who will should be on the radar screen for handicappers down the line.

Faufiler – California jock Drayden Van Dyke was aboard for Graham Motion, and both rider and trainer are well versed on the greensward. This daughter of Galileo is a stone cold closer. As long as there’s a solid pace she’ll come rolling from the clouds. In time I think we’ll see her a few strides closer to the pace setters, and that will make double dangerous to pick off runners late in the lane. She mainly has traveled a flat mile, but her breeding suggests she may enjoy added ground. After shipping across the pond from France, she appears to be getting better with every start.

Recepta has a late punch that could knock down the champ at any oval. John Velasquez was in the irons this day, and she did very little wrong except come up a bit short nearing the wire. She’s well traveled and merits respect anywhere she’ll run. Her best efforts may range from one mile to 1 1/8 on the turf.  Things look very bright for the future.

The (G-1) Metropolitan Handicap – One mile on the dirt

Just like a well-aged wine I think Frosted will only improve with time. The time figures from every publication are off the charts and he dismissed the “Dubai-Jinx” after getting beat at Meydan and putting on one of the best shows of his career. His late summer-fall campaign will be one to behold if all goes well, and right about when the Breeders’ Cup frenzy is at a fever pitch this will be one of the runners we’ll all be talking about.

The  (G-1) Manhattan Stakes – 1 1/4 on the inner turf

Nine runners went to post and the public made Flintshire from the Chad Brown barn the public choice at the windows.

Flintshire (GB) – This world traveler from the Chad Brown barn had the services of one of the best turf riders in the game with Javier Castellano.  His passport is stamped in Hong Kong, France, Dubai, and the United States. He missed by a 1/4 length in the 2014 edition of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and this son of Dansili looked like he has yet to find his best gear.  One thing is for certain, every time he takes to the track he will be one of the tough guys to contend with, and if this race is any indication I can’t wait until we see him back on the weeds.

The (G-1) Belmont Stakes – 1 1/2 – The Test of Champions

As the media missed an opportunity to see Nyquist return for some payback from his Preakness loss, and the rumors swirled around Kent Desormeaux for personal problems. The fans we’re treated to a full field of thirteen runners and, in the end,  one incredible finish for the Triple Crown.

Destin – This son of Giant’s Causeway has the look of maturing colt at the right time. Add in some well deserved rest and a plan for the later part of the year and we’ll have one tough cookie going to post.  Take nothing away from the fast closing effort of the winner Creator who received a well timed ride from the ultra-talented Irad Ortiz Jr.  Looking ahead, I see a runner with tactical ability who will be feared as a front end presence or stalking just off the hot pace. He should probably find his best races in 1 1/16 – 1 1/8 events. His tactical style fits like a glove and this kind of ability plays well on any oval. By the time Breeders’ Cup is in full view, he’ll be one of the major players on everyone’s tickets.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #31 – Pretenders and contenders

 

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

by Art Parker

Most people believe that playing the horses is simply the act of picking winners. But before one can “select” a winner, the first logical step is to “de-select” those that can’t win. In other words, the most important process in handicapping a race is to separate the pretenders from contenders. There are many different ways to do this; speed figures, class, current form, etc., but one needs to find the method that works for them. Once the field is narrowed down, the handicapping task becomes easier. After all, it is much simpler to select a winner from just a few than to select one from a large field.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #30 – Conviction

Buddies Brad & Howard at the 2015 NHC

Buddies Brad & Howard at the 2015 NHC

  Know When to Turn Off Your Track Buddies

By Art Parker & Rich Nilsen

One of the great things about going to the track is developing friendships. It’s great to have a group of guys that sit around the table and discuss racing and enjoy the company of one another. But there needs to be a time when you tune out your buddies, especially if they begin to spew an abundance of analysis. One thing about playing the horses – it is your pocketbook that will either swell or diminish when you go the track. Therefore, it is best to depend solely upon your judgment and what is revealed by your own study.

The same goes for the ‘talking heads’ on TVG.  Take what they say with a grain of salt.  Now if they interview a trainer and that person gives some revealing information about their runners, then that is a different story.   But don’t let who TVG Analyst #5 likes in the 7th at Belmont sway your opinion on that race.   Stand firm in your convictions.

Handicapping Tip #29 – The Quarter Pole in Horse Racing

The big red and white pole at Churchill Downs

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

by Art Parker

There two critical points in the running of the Kentucky Derby: the start and the quarter pole. Located at the very top of the stretch at Churchill Downs is the quarter pole, meaning it is a quarter of a mile to the finish line from that point. The race does not end there but one should always view the race, in some ways, as if it does stop at the quarter pole. Why? Because if a horse cannot gain position by the time he hits the quarter pole his chances of winning the roses are greatly diminished.

All too often we hear the talk of distance runners that will close with all the extra ground in the Derby, but that really doesn’t happen much. Those that are on or near the lead at the top of the stretch have the best opportunity to win the Derby. So when you handicap the Kentucky Derby, ask yourself the question, “Who can win the race, without emptying the tank, if the race were only one mile?”