Handicapping 101: First Things First

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The first thing a handicapper should do when starting to look at a race is to read the race conditions at the top of the past performances. The race conditions details what type of race this is and what type of runners are eligible to compete in the spot. The conditions will also list the distance and surface, which are critical factors in the handicapping process. 

Race conditions for the Belmont Stakes

For example the race conditions may tell us that this is a  $10,000 claiming race, which means any horse in the race can be purchased for that sum. We then learn that the race is contested at one mile (eight furlongs) on the dirt.  As we read more into the conditions summary, we learn that this claiming race is restricted to three year olds and non-winners of three races lifetime. Therefore, a horse with only one lifetime win does not fit as well into the conditions as a horse with two lifetime wins. The former should be running in a race restricted to non-winners of two races lifetime. This type of structure is critical in the racing game, and handicappers should not overlook it.

The bottom line is that some runners are better placed in their proper conditions than other horses. You want to quickly weed out the horses that have been “ambitiously spotted” by their stable, most likely by connections (owner and trainer) that don’t win very often.

There are numerous types of races, which are complicated by various distances and surfaces. We’ll go into more detail on the different racetypes in future articles here at AGameofSkill.com.

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Editor About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 12-time qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is also a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program. He is now founder of AllStarPress.com, an e-book and print publishing firm, and AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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