Handicapping Tip of the Day #55 – The Only Race

A sharp trainer uses the condition book to plan the future of a horse especially when it comes to conditioning and training. However, things don’t always work out.

by Art Parker for AGameofSkill.com

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

I became friends with a trainer during my first year of playing the horses – the days when I was learning something new every day. One day I noticed he entered a horse above his usual class. After thinking he couldn’t possibly win, I decided to ask him why. I caught up with the trainer late in the day and asked him that very question after his horse finished seventh in a field of nine.

“It’s the only race I could find for him. He is fit and ready to run. That was the only thing close to where he belongs, so I entered. It looked like it would be another week or so before another race would be available, and I would rather run him and keep him in shape,” the trainer explained.

Understanding the Condition Book

That was before I learned all about a condition book. Once I got my hands on a book, I began to understand. We know that racing secretaries must write races that have a higher probability to fill and to make the races as competitive as possible. What is not possible is to have a ready-made class system that is fair to all and will provide an abundance of opportunities to all horses. Nor is it possible to have enough horses to fill all races and all races be competitive.

Understanding the Condition Book

I borrowed the words from a West Point Thoroughbreds website that best describes a condition book. “A condition book is the schedule of races for a given track during a certain period of time, usually a few weeks or a month. It is this schedule that provides a framework for trainers to develop the training regimens for their horses for this time period. While this seems straightforward, there are a number of factors that can change the timing of races. You see, just because a race is in the condition book doesn’t mean that enough horses will enter the race to warrant it being used. That is why you’ll see substitute races in the book as well. These are races that also get entries and can be used in place of another race on the card.”

A sharp trainer uses the condition book to plan the future of a horse especially when it comes to conditioning and training. However, things don’t always work out. A race perfect for one horse may not fill and a substitute race is used. When that happens a trainer that has a horse ready must find another race that fits his charge, but that is not always possible; hence, the horse may be placed in less than an ideal event.

When you examine past performances and you see an awful race last time out, don’t quickly conclude that the horse isn’t what he used to be. That last race may have been the only option for the trainer.

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If You Were the Trainer…What Would You Do?

By Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns”

It is early afternoon on August 20. You have a horse in the barn that appears to be ready for a top effort. You take out the condition book and look at upcoming races. On August 24 there is a claiming race for $12,500 at six furlongs. The purse is $26,000. But you know your horse is better than that and even though he may win he will probably get claimed and you want to avoid that. Not only is your gelding better than the $12,500 claiming tag, the owner will shoot you if you lose his horse at that price.

Tampa paddock inspectionLet’s see, what else is available? There is a race for a $40,000 price tag on August 25 with a hefty $51,000 purse. That looks inviting but your guy finished second in a photo for a $25,000 claiming price last out. This race may be too tough. At that level you always catch some of those tough allowance types looking for an easy score.

There it is; a race for $25,000 on August 31. Maybe a half-mile work in a few days and he will be ready. Oops. That race is a mile and your horse is a pure sprinter best at either 6 furlongs or maybe 6 ½ furlongs.

He hates the grass so those few turf sprints are out of the question. Well, the only thing left is a race on September 8 with a claiming price of $20,000. The purse is $31,000. He is really worth a little more than $20,000, but you just don’t have any more options.

So, what would you do if you trained this horse?

This is what a trainer faces nearly every day. The overwhelming majority of the betting public has no idea about this part of racing. They do not know what a condition book is. Have you ever sat around the track with some guys and they just cannot figure out why a horse runs for $20,000 this time since he ran well for $30,000 just a couple of weeks ago, or why a horse is jumping in price for no reason?

One of the things a good trainer does is find the right race for his horse… the best he can. It is almost impossible for a trainer to find exactly what his horse needs with any regularity. The reason is a track may have 1,200 head in the stable area and that translates into 1,200 needs. A racing secretary has the tough job of writing races that will accommodate the most horses as frequently as possible. Trainers must be flexible with their race selections and the training of their runners. It is not an easy job especially when you have a bunch of owners that never want to lose a race and constantly complain about the cost of keeping a horse in training.

Next time you look at past performances start to envision why a horse ran in each of his races. If you do this several times you may find yourself able to understand why trainers do the things they do. The sooner you can understand what trainers do, the sooner you escalate the probability of winning at the races.