Gaining the Edge on Trainer Handicapping

By Art Parker

A year ago March I wrote an article entitled, “What do I do best?” The idea was to encourage other horse players to determine what they did best when it came to handicapping, selecting and wagering on horses. This is not an easy task. It is difficult for many to retain objectivity while doing a self examination of one’s habits.

It is easier to examine another person than it is to examine yourself. Why not examine those involved in today’s races? In the grand scheme of things jockeys don’t mean much when it comes to handicapping, especially when one considers the impact of trainers. With that in mind let’s examine trainers and see if we can cash more tickets.

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Few folks keep serious records about horse racing because it is time consuming and boring. In today’s racing world a tremendous amount of information is available that helps the horse player to avoid keeping records. I think it is great that so much is available and believe that any help is better than no help. Still, if you really want to increase your probability of winning you need to keep up with some things that are not readily available to all parties in the game.

Many players will take a quick look at a race and note something if it stands out. You may look at your buddy at the races and say, “I see where the trainer of the number four horse wins at 16% of his first layoff horses.” That may help you support the notion that the number four horse is a good bet. And while a 16% success rate is fairly good for a trainer with his runners when they first return to battle, it doesn’t tell you if that is what he does best. Don’t get me wrong. If you get 18-1 on a horse whose trainer stats say he wins one of six races under similar circumstances, you must take a hard look. The risk-versus-reward trade off demands you look at that horse very hard.

But what I am suggesting is that knowing where trainers succeed the most also shows where they are probably placing their greatest effort when it comes to preparing a horse to run.

One category that provides plenty of mystery is debut runners. Almost all horse players that have stats or read stats see that a trainer carries a certain percentage of wins with his first time starters. But they have no idea if the trainer does better or worse with his two-year-old first time starters. Take the case of one of the many trainers I have followed for quite some time. He has recorded 432 wins in the last 5 years. He has escorted 58 debut winners into the Winner’s Circle and wins with debut runners 13% of the time. Is his win percentage as good with babies as those that are age 3 and older? Yes, in fact it is much, much better. This one trainer has notched 40 debut wins with two year olds and only 18 with those older than two in the same time period. That is very important information. What is even more important is that about 75% of his two year old winners come with the same owner.

What did we learn? This one trainer is pretty good with firsters but he strikes much more with baby runners, and the large majority of those winners are owned by the same man. Armed with this info, we can now be more selective when we play this trainer.  Now we have a clear understanding of what he does best and that makes it much easier to examine risk-return positions.

Make it a goal to keep up with a little more information. Find trainers and situations that appeal to you and stay abreast with what happens. It will be worth it, and remember, playing the horses is not a game of luck, it is a game of skill.  A little extra works pays off.

— Art Parker is the author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns.”  The new Fall Meet edition will be out in September and available here at  Sign up for our no-spam newsletter to stay informed of site updates.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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