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.

Out of Many Figures, One Result

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerby Jude Feld (reprinted with permission of our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

This week, it seemed like every top handicapper I know was lauding the speed figures they use. These people are not just casual fans, but folks who make a living with Thoroughbred racing – turf writers, handicappers, owners, trainers and breeding farm executives.

Beyer aficionados, Brisnet followers, Equibase devotees and Ragozin sheets users – they all cited their favored speed figures as a reason they liked a particular horse or credited them for their success at the windows on Saturday at Keeneland [Lexington Stakes day, April 21, 2012].

All this discussion caused me to reflect on a couple of issues that often come up in handicapping discussions during forums at every level and on every medium. It also helped confirm to me that my assertions about those issues are correct.

Many people say handicapping at Keeneland is “impossible.”

Evidently this idea is nothing but a bunch of crap perpetuated by people who don’t know a good horse when it stares them in the face.

Two of the handicappers I know cashed winning late pick four tickets to the tune of $32,294.25 for 50-cents.

Another had the $3,715.30 late pick three for a buck.

Others managed to hit exactas and trifectas whose payoffs were excellent bankroll boosters.

The bottom line is these players did not consult tea leaves or flip playing cards to find the winning combinations, they used traditional handicapping methods and although the payoffs were not totally life-changing for any of them, they were considerably more than what was risked and will certainly allow them a nice Caribbean vacation should they opt to take one.

Keeneland’s Polytrack can be beaten by conventional handicapping – including speed figures. I have been doing it and saying it since 2006.

There is a speed figure pecking order – Some speed figures are better than others.

In his classic book Picking Winners, Andrew Beyer put the spotlight on speed figures. Handicappers were fascinated and some become as obsessed as he with the numbers. Ragozin and Thoro-Graph become hugely successful in the final 10 years of the last century and their refined numbers command a legion of followers. Brisnet and Equibase have both spent tons of money and countless hours developing their speed figures and also have their own devotees.

It is easier to convert a Muslim to a Jew or a Baptist to a Catholic than it is to get a “Rags” player to use an Equibase speed figure or a Brisnet purchaser to buy a Daily Racing Form to get the Beyer figures. It would be close to miraculous.

People will argue ferociously that the brand the use is, “the way, the truth and the light,” to cashing more pari-mutuel tickets and anyone who uses another type is doomed to eternal losing.

How can it be that they all show up at the same cashier’s line when their numbers are not aligned? How can Beyer, Brisnet, Equibase and sheets people all cash in on the same race?

It is because there is more to handicapping than that tiny bold-face number in the past performances. That is what makes handicapping so much fun – there are many ways to reach the same conclusion.
Trainer angles, horses for courses, pedigrees, distance switches, jockey changes, pace scenarios, trouble lines and weight shifts are just a few of the subtleties.

Speed figures have their place in that litany too.

No matter what the brand, they are an excellent way to compare entrants and narrow down the competition.

Nobody wants to bet on a horse that is too slow to win the race, but it is important to remember figures are just a guide. Some creativity of thought in regard to improvement or regression will pay dividends to the player. “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”

And now there is Trakus – A figure for the rest of us.