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 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


Handicapping Tip of the Day #3 – Every Runner Has This

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

Handicapping Tip of the Day #3 

Every race horse has one particular distance that they excel the best at, and the handicapper is wise to look at every runner in a race to determine if today’s distance meets that preference.   Even most champion runners have preferred distances, but what separates many of them is that they can carry their game across a variety of distances and, sometimes, even surfaces.  Secretariat, and more recently American Pharoah, are classic examples of horses with this rare trait.

Many average horses, e.g. claimers, can perform well at multiple distances but they are always at their best at a short range of distances; for example, 5 1/2 furlongs to 6 furlongs.  Constantly be on the lookout for a horse that is switching back to his or her preferred distance after attempting something outside their scope in their previous start or two.  This angle alone can lead to some nice parimutuel prices!

Read Tip # 2 – The Winning Jockey

Read Tip # 1 – The Class Drop in Horse Racing

First Things First – Part II

Understanding Race Conditions

by Rich Nilsen

As we discussed briefly last week, the first thing a handicapper should do when looking at a race is to analyze the “conditions” at the top of the past performances or program page. The understanding of race conditions and their importance is a basic handicapping principle that is overlooked by many horseplayers every day. What follows may be too basic for the experienced handicapper, but if reading the conditions of the race is not your first step before handicapping, then you will be well advised to read on.

There are two types of races for horses which have never won: maiden special weight races and maiden claimers. In maiden special weight races (MDSPWT) the runners are not eligible to be claimed, whereas in maiden claimers the horse is “for sale” at the listed claiming price. Not much buying goes on in maiden claiming races, since most horses are not usually worth the asking price. In other words, the horses are usually running at inflated prices. Generally speaking, the winner of a maiden claiming event, i.e. Mdcl $20,000 usually ends up competing at half that price in “open claimers”, $10,000 for example.

It is this reason that a maiden graduate at $20,000 will rarely repeat in its next start for a claiming price of $20,000. In addition, many experienced handicappers will not play a first time starter in a maiden claimer since it indicates a lack of confidence from the owner and trainer. One of the lowest percentage wagers in all of racing is a debut runner in a maiden claiming event.

Some maiden claiming winners and almost all maiden special weight winners will move on to the next condition – the allowance race for “non-winners of two races lifetime” (NW2). In allowance races the horse can not be claimed.

Race conditions header horse racing

The other entry-level allowance race is for “non-winners of one race other than” maiden, claiming, optional, or starter (NW1X). There is a big difference between these two allowance conditions, and many people overlook the significance. When a runner drops from a NW1X race to a NW2 allowance affair, take notice. This runner will likely be meeting easier competition because of the way the conditions are written. For example, a claimer with 15 lifetime wins, all in claiming races, is eligible to run in a NW1X allowance race but not a NW2 race. Inexperience is a big factor in any sporting event, so a horse with only one lifetime win is at a disadvantage against horses that have visited the winner’s circle many times, even if those wins came against claimers.

After a horse wins the first allowance condition, they must run in a race for “non-winners of two races other than” maiden, claiming, optional, or starter (NW2X). Some racetracks write races for non-winners of three races lifetime (NW3L), so this would be the easiest step up for the winner of a NW2 race. If a runner is able to succeed at either of these two levels, then non-winners of three races other than (NW3X) is the next step, or a non-winners of four races lifetime at some tracks (NW4L). A very small percentage of the racehorse population makes it to this level due to the difficulty of the competition.

The final step before stakes competition is either “open allowance” races with no conditions, or allowance races limited to earners of a certain amount of money since a particular date (NW$). Some tracks also write races for “non-winners of two races other than…in 2012” (NW2Y). There are various ways that these races can be written, but it is important to note that they are the most difficult races to win, with the exception of stakes.

Non-winners of two races lifetime is not only written for allowance races, but also for claimers at many tracks. This is also important to understand, because there is a big difference between a $15,000 claimer for non-winners of two races lifetime and a $15,000 open claimer. A hardknocking horse in the latter race will have little trouble beating a horse running at the conditioned level. As with maiden claiming victors, winners of conditioned claimers (NW2) often have to compete for roughly half the claiming level to succeed against open claimers.

With any of these race conditions, it can be helpful to note the number of attempts a runner has made at a certain level. If a horse has tried a certain type of race more than five times, he will likely need a drop to a lower level in order to win. For example, a runner who has faced NW2 allowance competition six or seven times without winning will need a drop to claiming competition limited to NW2 in order to win. A proven loser at a certain level is a poor bet and must be avoided by both the professional bettor and the casual racegoer.

Analyzing the race conditions should be the first thing that all horseplayers do when they first handicap a race. The race conditions dictate which runners are best suited to the type of race. Horse racing is a big money game and race conditions drive the decisions of track officials, jockey agents, and racehorse trainers. If you overlook the importance of the race conditions, one thing is for sure, you will be left at the gate come post time.