Handicapping Tip of the Day #38 – Does the Favorite Make Sense?

by Rich Nilsen

Claiming races have often been compared to poker games.  The crafty trainers are making moves and hoping that their competition guesses wrong.  Recently at Laurel Park, red hot trainer Linda Rice (43% winner on the meet) had the overwhelming favorite Cheering On Al.  On the surface and with a cursory glance, the four-year-old filly look near unbeatable.  She had been very competitive at claiming levels more than three times the price of today’s race.  But therein lied the rub.  Why in the world was she in for only a nickel ($5,000) given her recent form?  Also, why had she not run back within two or three weeks off the claim?

Laurel past performances PPs

copyright 2017 Equibase and Brisnet.com

Her last race gave a clue as to why.  Bet down to odds of 7/5 she failed to hit the board, fading quickly in the final 1/16th of a mile.  Still, the fourth place finish beaten just over four lengths was a performance that should crush today’s competition.  Right? That disappointing race, however, came for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who is difficult to claim off of, and she had been shelved since the race in late December.  Red flags were popping up.

Does the betting favorite make sense?  If you had just claimed this filly, would run her in this spot?  You would only do so if her soundness was less than 100 percentage, and you were not happy with your $16,000 purchase.  That apparently was the case in this spot, as the connections were willing to unload her for $5,000.  She was a sucker bet at odds of 0.60 to 1, and she ran accordingly.

These opportunities don’t come along every day but they do appear frequently enough.  I just happened to be on 5-1 shot Weatherurnot, who looked like a winner in deep stretch, only to be nailed by a big longshot with improving form.

Laurel race chart

 

Handicapping Tip of the Day #37 – Never Be Afraid of this Type of Favorite

Handicapping Tip of the Day

by Rich Nilsen

There is one particular type of favorite that the experienced horseplayer should never fear.   I’m talking about the type of public choice, especially a maiden, who always runs well enough to get bet next time out.  His or her past performances always look like a horse in sharp form, with strong speed figures, and running lines that include a lot of 1-2-3s.  But what is always in common is a lot of “two’s” and “three’s” at the finish position.  This is the type of runner that lacks the will to win.  The horse is talented.  The  horse has speed.  The horse runs good enough to nearly get his picture taken, but the horse doesn’t want to “go on” and win the race.

A recent race at Finger Lakes was a perfect example of a money-burning maiden that fit this bill.  November 15, 2016 at Finger Lakes featured the heavy favorite Hazen’s Notch.  The New York-bred of D’Funnybone was seven-for-seven in the money racing at distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 mile and 70 yards and over tracks labeled fast, good and sloppy.

The versatile gelding was coming off another ‘good’ effort, a 2nd place finish at 3-1 odds at the maiden special weights level only 14 days prior. But look closer and this horse was life and death to hang on for second while drubbed 8 lengths by another rival.  In only one of his last five races had this horse gained ground in the stretch. In all but one of his seven career races he went off at odds of 3-1 or lower.  He was expected to win nearly every one of these races by many handicappers and had failed.

On this day Hazen’s Notch was odds-on during most of the wagering before finally settling at 1.05 to 1 at post time.  He finished third, beaten only two necks for all the money, behind $18.40 winner Winlocs Utopia.

The chart caller’s comments read:  Hazen’s Notch was well placed along the two path, angled out in the lane, gained some and hung.

false favorite

 

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.

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.

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?”