Handicapping Tip #39 – Pace Makes the Race

Handicapping Tip of the Day

by Rich Nilsen

On select major days throughout the year, I offer my professional analysis of the big race, e.g. Preakness, and the undercard races at that track.   This past Saturday I did the 14 races on the Pimlico Preakness card, which is always a great day of wagering.  One of the key aspects of my report is the pace scenario analysis for each race.  If you don’t understand the expected pace of the race, it can be very difficult to select the winner or the top finishers.  How the race sets up is critical to predicting the outcome.

In turf sprints I almost always emphasize early speed, especially if it is a 5 furlong grass race.  In analyzing the pace of race #2 on Saturday (May 20, 2017) one horse jumped out to be as the lone speed.  #1A FLIGHT CREW was 20/1 on the morning line, enough to scare off many horseplayers.  After determining that he was probably the early pace setter, I needed to look at the overall early pace to determine if he could “hold on.”  Was there enough other early speed to put pressure on him at some critical early juncture of the race?  I came to the conclusion that the answer was “no.”  It looked like a moderate pace, so now I was very intrigued with this longshot and dug deeper.

Pace makes the race

He was the son of Elusive Quality, who has sired many good horses sprinting on the law, and out of a mare by Danzig (enough said).  The pedigree was certainly there.  This was only the 2nd career grass start for Flight Crew.  In his only other attempt, he pressed a fast pace (+17 +19 on the BRIS Race Shape figures) while going 1 1/16 miles on a good turf course.  Despite that, and breaking from a poor outside post, he still ended up defeating half the field, finishing 5th.   He was trained by 15% local horseman Hugh McMahon.  What else did one need to pull the trigger on a big longshot?

Pace makes the race.  Flight Crew did not get the initial lead but by the time the field hit the far turn of this turf dash, he was in complete control.  At odds of 9-1, he opened up under Katie Davis and kept the field at bay down the lane. Scores like this are very sweet indeed.

Make sure you analyze the pace of every race you wager.  It’s the first step to selecting many winners.

Crush Keeneland with the Best Trainer Pattern Book

Rich Nilsen 13x NHC Qualifier

One score will more than pay for this book.  Our AGOS contributer Art Parker has a one-of-kind database on all the Keeneland trainers.  No one understands how these horsemen win better that Art. This year's guide is better than ever and now in a more user-friendly format.  It's a wealth of information for players wanting to attack the upcoming Keeneland meets.

Completely revamped. The 2017 Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns by Art Parker is now available.

Over 50 Trainers covered with a detailed summary of how they win!

Longshot horsemen identified for easy reference.

KEENELAND WINNING TRAINERS taps into Art Parker’s personal database and gives you the detailed pattern summaries on the 51 trainers, explaining exactly how they win at this prestigious meet.

Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns bookHow do they win? What handicapping patterns do they use?

How do they work their horses prior to victory?

Do they bring home horses at a price?

Do they score off the layoff?

What owners & jockeys do they team up with?

and much more.

Author and Agameofskill.com contributor Art Parker has taken a hard look into his comprehensive personal database to uncover the trainers that win the majority of races at the meet – the 51 Kings of Keeneland – with a close look at how they accomplish this.

This one-of-a-kind handicapping book includes three bonus handicapping articles written by veteran turf writers Art Parker and Rich Nilsen

The 2017 Annual Edition of “Keeneland Winning Trainers” is published by All Star Press LLC.
Buy Now

Handicapper Art ParkerQUICK & EASY DOWNLOAD TO ANY DEVICE

You can put this comprehensive trainer guide on any PC or Mobile Device, and then easily look up the Kings of Keeneland when you are ready to handicap or play a race! Only $14.97 for the complete 33-page, jam packed book.

THAT’S LESS THAN 30 CENTS PER TRAINER

The Kindle version on Amazon is available here

Tips For Handicapping Horse Races of Odd Distances

Guest Post for AGameofSkill.com

There are no real standard distances in horse racing other than the classic races and the classic distances. While many tracks offer 6 furlong events, there are many that also card everything from 4 1/2 furlong events to 1 and 3/8 mile races and everything in between.

It can get confusing and, despite the advent of speed figures and the use of track variants to help in comparing racing times, there is still some confusion and some inequities. I don’t trust speed figures for races under 5 1/2 furlongs because I have found that at the shorter distances, speed figures have a tendency to jump up and appear as though a horse was really much faster than it really was.

Mountaineer racetrack

Beware the bush track horse’s speed figures

A horse that has been racing in 5 furlong races may post speed figures of 100 while switching to 6 furlong events will have it posting nothing higher than a 90. I’ve seen this pattern over and over. Therefore I am very careful about comparing speed figures when horses are going from races of less than 5 1/2 furlongs. The same is true of races over 1 1/4 miles, they just don’t seem to compare well.

While many of the larger tracks shy away from races of odd distances, the smaller ones seem to embrace them. One pattern I have seen repeated is that a horse will ship into a larger track from a bush track. That horse has been racing at the odd distances and seems to have speed figures that make it a contender, but when the gate opens it trails the field, unable to keep up.

It isn’t long before that runner is back at the bush track, seemingly burning up the course. The problem isn’t just that the competition was tougher, it is that the horse never really was as good as its speed figures made it appear to be. On the other hand, look out for horses that do specialize at the odd distances. There are some horses that seem to prefer races of five furlongs or seven furlongs who regularly fail at the more prevalent distance of six furlongs.

If a trainer seems determined to get a horse in a race of 5 furlongs or seven furlongs and seems to wait for those opportunities, it may be that he or she realizes the horse has a penchant for those distances and will excel at them while failing at the commonly-run six furlongs, even if it is in with a softer field. Horses, like people, have their quirks and preferring a particular distance to race is one of them.

The most consistent horse racing systems have to have the basics and a handicapper must understand the basics. I have been around horse racing for 50 years including as an owner. Without the basics the rest is not going to do any good. If you want to learn how a horse owner and insider handicaps just go to Matchbook and get the truth. Also, for the latest horse racing odds, visit Matchbook.

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 #23 – Watch for this Sneaky Trainer Move

Up in class, distance switch

by Art Parker

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

I know you have seen it so you should remember it. A horse comes off a layoff and runs opposite of its historical successful distances. The horse gets trounced in his return to battle but then shows up a short time later for another race. But this time the horse goes back to its successful distance and goes up in class. For most players this move is a world of trouble simply because of the increase in class.

When you are confronted with this, take the time to view the replay of the return race. Did it look like the horse was intentionally wide in the trip? Was the horse gunned to the front when it is not usually a speed horse? If something doesn’t look right it may be that the trainer was using the return race to tighten up the horse. The trainer may know his horse is close to being ready and just needed to get a race in his charge. One key is the short turn around. If a trainer thought his horse wasn’t ready after a return race then why hurry it back to the track?

Other things to look for in this situation is a positive jockey change or a change in equipment. Catching a good trainer with a slick move is hard to do. Remember, suspicion will not work for you unless…you are suspicious.

How to Find Value: 4 Angles for Horseplayers

by Glen S.  for AGameofSkill.com

Sharp horse players are always looking for value.   Are you? It is tough enough to make money at the races, so betting underlays means you need to pick even more winners. The easiest way to find value is when the wagering consensus on the race, in your perspective, is incorrect.

I find the best way to find value is by uncovering overbet, vulnerable favorites.

Here are a few horse racing angles I always like to watch for to bet against:

-Maidens that finished 2nd and are now dropping a level.

Why would you drop a horse to a lower level when you just beat everyone at a higher level. The only way I may consider betting this horse is if the higher level was really slow time and the trainer knows that he needs to drop

– 28 days of no activity.

When a horse has not raced or worked out in over 28 days, I find this is a bad sign. Why wouldn’t you at least work your horse out if you can’t find a race for him to enter?  At “A” tracks this is a very strong angle, “B and C” tracks the top trainers still get away with it and may even hide a few works from time to time. I still would not make a strong bet on them.

-Dropping a horse after a good performance.

Why drop when the horse is competitive at a higher level while posting strong numbers? Sure the top trainers will run the horse down the others’ throat and you need to be aware of that. The poor trainers are poor oftentimes because they don’t have the stock to win. However, if a drop down off a good performance is trained by a weak (low %) trainer, then the class drop surely means a sore animals.  Small barns don’t have the luxury of “playing poker” like the big outfits, e.g. David Jacobson.

-First time front bandages.

This is strong when a horse was running well and is dropping. Also a horse that has had a good career and not worn them before, especially when the horse will be the favorite.

When these “bet against” angles occur, really take the time to find something to take a shot on. You will get your value. Maybe you will not win, but will feel much better knowing by picking a winner you will be rewarded. A few ways to play the race would be box a few horses in an exacta or take a bunch in a rolling pick three.   Consider even a bet in the win, place or show pool on your choice of the race.

Go find your value, it’s out there.

Click here for a custom rebate schedule and special BC signup offer

Click here for a custom rebate schedule and special BC signup offer

Horse Racing Handicapping is a Process

How to invest in horse racing

by Glen S. for Agameofskill.com

Do you have a process in handicapping a race? If you say “NO”, you are already behind the eight ball. If the answer is “YES”, then the next question: is it a successful one that makes you money?

There are many successful ways to process a race. Everyone is a little different in getting the correct result. Here is mine:

Step 1: Check the race distance and conditions. (self explanatory but kind of important) along with the betting options.

Step 2: Scan the entire field first, jockeys, trainers, last race and date, and workouts.

I find it important to get an overall perception of all the horses as a group first. Make some quick notes on each horse. This first scan gives you an idea of the level of competition.

Step 3: Now start to get some race shape of the field.

Find the early pace horses (the ‘need the lead’ ones if there are any in the field), stalker and closers. This part of the process is a absolute must. If there is a lone speed horse in the field that instantly makes that runner a contender

Step 4: Next, start to look at each horse a little more individually.

Confirm running style, and ask the question: is the horse in improving form or declining form? What is the top effort of the horse and can they run that today? I use the “Horse Street Par times” quite regularly, especially on the tracks I play (that is another blog entirely) to give me figures at where they might be throughout the race.  Perform a quick scan of the beyer’s figures simply to see their average level. I do not live or die on these figures.  The main reason for that is because too many people use these ratings and they effect the price (odds of the horses) too much.

Step 5: At this point I will have my contenders and pretenders.  I will view the replays of the contenders for sure, especially if the comments have a trouble line or many have run against each other. Replays are so valuable, because you can spot things that can’t be seen in numbers.

Step 6: By now I will have an idea in the direction I want to bet. If there is a standout in my mind that becomes a win bet.  I may throw a few runners that I like in an exacta box. If I have a top horse or two and then a few at each level then maybe a trifecta wheel comes to mind. I do not restrict myself on the same types of bets in each race. It all depends on what I come up with is how I bet the race; it may also mean passing a race and moving on.  With this type of handicapping process, you can become more successful at the races and enjoy it that much more.

– Of note, the first two steps of the process for myself usually occurs the night before and then I go with step three the next day. For me it really sets myself up for a strong day and clear vision day of racing, and saves a lot of time on race day.

I could write a short novel on the process but I tried to keep it as short and ‘to the point’ as I could. Any comments good or bad are always welcome. I am always willing to learn; everyone should want to improve their process in ‘capping races.

The Docket

A Horseplayer’s Starting and Ending Point

by Art Parker, author of the upcoming 2014 Spring Meet edition of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns

My occasional OTB location is a greyhound track that gradually built something of a customer base of horseplayers via simulcasting. I say occasional because for the last seven to eights years I have pretty much stuck to wagering from home or office with Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW). At first this OTB location offered a couple of lesser named tracks then expanded to four of the same. A couple of years after that, they got tired of listening to some of us experienced horseplayers complain about quality, so they started to simulcast most every horse track especially the top circuits.

One Saturday, about ten years ago, I was sitting at my usual table when a couple of guys came to the table next to me carrying what appeared to be a U-Haul full of programs. There were nine thoroughbred tracks running that afternoon, a couple of harness tracks and about a dozen greyhound tracks. Plus live greyhound races as well. The thoroughbred programs at the OTB were copied past performances sheets from some unknown source stapled together with a cover. The information was not too good and it was very limited. The greyhound programs were of traditional form for that sport. Most of the experienced horseplayers at the time were using either their own Equibase information, the Daily Racing Form or Brisnet information.

When these guys dropped all of the programs on the table they scattered and went everywhere, a few crashed underneath my table and of course I gathered up the AWOL programs and handed them to their rightful owners. The elder fellow, thanked me and then said, “We got so many damn programs we don’t know what to do.” I smiled and casually said, “You must have bought one for every track, for both of you.” He looked at me seriously and said, “That’s exactly what we did. We don’t get to come to the track but every few weeks, and we don’t want to miss anything.”

I quickly prayed for the poor souls sitting next to me.

The youngest said, “We spent over a $100 on programs, but we got them all.” They went on to tell me that they were father-in-law and son-in-law. I was curious and asked who corrupted who when it came to wagering at the track. The father-in-law said, “My son-in-law got me involved in the track and I love it,” as he slapped his son-in-law on the shoulder with love, admiration and pride.

I couldn’t help but think to myself… what a fool this guy was for letting his daughter marrying any idiot that tries to play every horse race and every dog race in an afternoon. You should have seen them-they looked like a pair of 3 year olds with Alzheimer’s attending a Barnum and Bailey Circus. They lost tickets. They lost programs. They looked at the wrong monitors. They bet the right horses at the wrong dog tracks. You name it and they did it. And all of the time they were talking about making money.

I’m just glad I never heard the old question, “Who do you like?” I would have had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out who I could like at 19 different cities across North America.

“A successful horseplayer must have a plan and must keep information for future use. “

That story reminds me of the many times I have written about track and wagering behavior. There is nothing wrong with someone who goes to the track and bets a couple of bucks on every race (at just one or two tracks). Going to the track and playing races can be good recreation and good therapy.

But on the days where making money is important, which should be almost every time you play (if not every time), then trying to do too much will kill you. On my typical day I review the entries and find the tracks that offer several of the type of races I play. Some days I may download information from only two tracks. Other days I may download information from five or six.

Regardless of the number of tracks you try to play, the important thing is to only play races that are comfortable to play, or at least only examine races with which you are comfortable. One of the things I do, which I recommend to anyone especially if you are going to examine more than a few races, is to use a docket. I chose that word because it is a list of those “cases” that must be examined. It is the word used in our judicial system for what comes before the court on a certain day.

I make my docket in chronological order based upon post times. Next to the time I place the track code and race number and a brief note as to the importance, such as “stakes race” or “short field” or “Daily Double possibility.” Any note that may encourage me or discourage me from examining a race based upon time or other impediments. When I first review the docket I eliminate races if I see a time conflict, such as two races going off a few minutes from one another with one appearing less inviting than the other.

When I make my final review I make sure that every race on the docket is a possible race to play. I also make it final in my mind that all of the racing I will consider is within the time frame on the docket. In other words, that’s it. It’s final. This is the job for the day.

The docket is also used for other things such as making trip notes or trainer notes. I go over the docket at the end of the day and, if something needs to be logged into a file, I have it right there. All of this may sound elementary and it is. But it works. A successful horseplayer must have a plan and must keep information for future use. Most of all I have found that using my little docket keeps me focused on the task.

Occasionally my wife will make the sad mistake of walking into my office at home, late on a Saturday morning, and ask me what I am doing. I usually hand her the docket for the day and say nothing. That’s when she says, “Never mind.”

New to Playing the Horses? This is the Easy Way to Start

Wagering Tote self service machine

copyright AGameofSkill.com

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

For several years my OTB location was a greyhound track.  This was not the best atmosphere for a horse player, sitting among a large number of those that play greyhound races. They think differently than horse players, handicap differently than horseplayers and, to a great extent, wager differently than horse players.

The pari-mutuel system is the same for both greyhound and thoroughbred racing, obviously, but the popularity of wagers differs. At greyhound tracks the quinella is the favorite bet and it seems like most greyhound tracks have a special tote board just for quinella odds. Exactas, trifectas and superfectas are popular at greyhound tracks also but there is little interest in horizontal wagers such as a pick 3, pick 4 or pick 6, which are popular at thoroughbred tracks.  Straight bets, such as win place or show, do not seem to appeal to those that play the greyhound races.

While I was using the greyhound location as my OTB home, I made several friends that played the other quadrupeds faithfully. Most of those tried to take an interest in horse racing since it was available. One of the attractions was the occasional big payout at the horse tracks in the vertical wagers, e.g. trifecta. Obviously one of the biggest factors for larger payouts is the size of the pools. At many greyhound tracks a big trifecta pool may be $8,000; trifecta pools at a thoroughbred track are often 10-20 times that amount, depending on the track. At almost all greyhound tracks fields are limited to 8 runners, and larger fields in a horse race can help trigger a larger payout especially when the longshots come home. The vertical wagers are often astronomical compared to those at a greyhound track.

One of the things that I could never get the greyhound enthusiast to grasp was the importance of betting to win or to win and place. It is deeply rooted with greyhound players to only play exotics wagers. Often I was asked for my favorite horse in a race. After telling my friend who I liked, he would go and throw my choice in an exacta box or trifecta box with a couple of other runners, only to tear the ticket up when his other horses didn’t run. I would often ask, “What happened? My horse won the race.” And then I would hear “Well I didn’t have the others,” or something like that. “Why didn’t you just bet the horse win,” I would ask only to receive crazy looks. I would hear “You can’t make any money,” or “That’s no fun,” or something else senseless.

All of this is one reason why I say, to anyone that is learning to play the horses or wants to learn, when it comes to wagering learn how to bet to win or bet to win and place first. It’s hard enough to pick winners so why make it more difficult on trying to figure out who will be there for second and third, etc.? Besides, if you are going to play any wager at a track you must first have some idea who can win the race, right?

The first advice I give anyone who is new to the game is this: Do not try and get rich in one day. The worst thing that can happen to a “debut” horseplayer is to hit a trifecta or superfecta and go home with $800 in their pocket. That person will be so entrenched on betting the bigger vertical exotics again they will probably send out $2,000 in the next few visits trying to score big again.

Making money at the track is like eating an elephant. You got to take one bite at a time and not try to eat the whole thing.

MISSED THESE GEMS?

A Profitable Idea for Trips & Trainers

13 Mistakes Horseplayers Need to Avoid in the New Year

A Method for Attacking Lightly Raced Horses

Interview with George Woolf winner, jockey Mario Pino

A Profitable Idea for Trips and Trainers

Post Parade Gulfstream Park maiden race

STS at Gulfstream Park.
Copyright Agameofskill.com

by Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns

Now is the time of year to pay attention to maidens, particularly what we all call the First Time Starter (FTS). It doesn’t mean you bet on them, necessarily. It is a great time to observe them especially when they become Second Time Starters (STS). The majority of unraced horses are no longer two years old. Those two year olds remind me of human teenagers; young, stupid and unpredictable. The bottom line is that more unraced horses now have enough maturity to start racing and a poor performance is not totally attributable to youth.

The overwhelming majority of those in the FTS category fall into the STS category because only a limited number of horses can win, obviously. But those that move into the STS category often have excuses due to a bad trip in their first race. If you in any way depend upon trip handicapping or believe that horses can have excuses, then these races are the ones where you have pad and pencil ready. For the next few months there will be tons of maiden races that will yield great trip information that is invaluable.

A long time ago a coach told my football team not to underestimate our opponent in the second week of the season. “Most improvement in competitors comes between their first and second games,” he said. I believe it is true in horse racing, or at least the opportunity for the most improvement is between the first and second races of a runner’s career.

If you accept the premise that the second race may demonstrate the best improvement and a horse had a rough trip in his/her first race, then you are well on your way to cashing a ticket. Maybe.

After you made the trip notes and you feel sure that a horse is going to improve then you must look in the other notes to find the icing for the cake. The other notes tell you if the trainer is good with those we call STS, and if they are, what is their normal plan of attack?

Last week I decided to rummage through all of my Keeneland files looking for those trainers good with the STS. The following very recognizable and successful names have enjoyed multiple winners with STS at Keeneland over the last few years: Rusty Arnold, Wayne Catalano, Al Stall, Jr., Eddie Kenneally, Ken McPeek, Graham Motion, Todd Pletcher, Dale Romans, Tom Proctor and Mike Stidham. I would be proud to have any of these guys train for me. But most important is understanding how these guys do it. What are the patterns to their winning second time starters?

All but two wins from all of these trainers with STS at Keeneland came after the horse was off for at least 25 days. Many of these did not run after their debut effort for at least 35-40 days. In other words, they did not rush their horses back to the track. I couldn’t help but jump in to my Woodbine file to check out the trainer, who in my opinion, is the best STS trainer in the business-Reade Baker. I noticed the same patience is exercised by Baker.

While each horse may be different, the best trainers regardless of their record with FTS, must obviously take the time to analyze, plan and determine the very best course of action with great patience for STS. An awful lot can be learned from a horse in its first race even if the trip is a clean one.

Now let’s put it all together. A FTS has a difficult trip and you have it noted, waiting for a possible play when he/she comes back. You know it is worth the note because the trainer has a good record with STS. Also, the trainer does not rush his horses. When the day comes you make sure it all adds up. And if it does, well then you have the makings of a good spot play.

And when you cash a ticket after all of this, you realize that the practice of handicapping can be worthwhile…and is a skill-based game.