How to Study the Races Effectively

by Tony Kelzenberg

As horseplayers, especially as weekend players, we may make an observation or two that we think explains how the races work.  Or we may remember hitting one or two long shots over a few months of playing and base our (positive) experiences as an extrapolation to ALL future races, or at least to a significant portion of future races.  On its face, this is a falsely based assumption because our pool of data is biased.  Largely we are affected by anecdotal evidence:

Evidence based on personal observation, case study reports, or random investigations rather than systematic scientific evaluation

I was a huge abuser of using anecdotal evidence.  First, I tend to be lazy and since I was watching the races anyway I just stuck with what I knew.  Also, I am quite good at looking at animals and I know what physical types I like to bet on, especially with first time starters, turf milers and 2 year old runners, so I was able to limp along.  “Limp,” being the operative word.

PPs Ill Have Another

2012 copyright and Equibase

A lot of this changed after I met a horseplayer named John Dingley.  John was what I would call an empiricist – he would buy any reasonably prized horse betting system advertised on the market.  Then after he got the system in the mail, he would see how the system worked against the results of real races.  In other words, he validated these systems with REAL RACING DATA.  What was interesting was many of John’s plays he came up with were “unconventional” and had great wagering value.  Many horses John selected had unique workout patterns, or seemed outclassed, but John was a fairly successful contest player for many years while he ran several small businesses in the Twin Cities’ area.  He now has significant business interests in Iowa that preclude us from getting together and playing the races as much as I would like.

Many years after I had met John, I independently decided to use “systematic scientific evaluation” on the races.  I can affirm that these studies work, as 2011 was my best year including touting and betting on a 58/1 horse named Exothermic when he broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park in his first start.

First step:  What handicapping angle do you want to learn about?

Asking this question will narrow down your search.  Each handicapping topic will require a data base of at least 30 races of the same type and class level.

Second step:  Acquire the data

Probably the best sources for getting race results are the FREE result charts posted at, or

Third step:  Analyze the results

Are there trends in the data?  Are certain workout patterns producing winners?  Are certain trainers or bloodlines more productive in getting winners?  General metrics to quantify trends could be win %, in the money %, and $1 R.O.I. (Return On Investment).

What if there are no trends?

If there are no trends in the data perhaps the scope of your study needs to change.  For example, I would not start off with a study comparing 2 year old winners at Delaware Park to winners on the Belmont/Saratoga circuit, because while good horses and trainers do come from Delaware Park, in general the horse and trainer populations are quite different.  Another question to consider is the data sample LARGE enough?  While 30 is a convenient number, the sample size needed to get more accuracy may be 50, 100, or 1000 races.  Please see a college level Statistics book, such as “Intro Stats,” 3rd edition, by De Veaux, Velleman and Bock, for clarification (such a text can be purchased used on for under $30).

Without going into too much specifics, I have put out a plan that any horseplayer can use to increase his or her knowledge of the game through study.  Good luck and happy researching!


Tony Kelzenberg is a horseplayer that has contributed essays and commentary on handicapping and betting for, and Derek Simon’s’s podcasts dealing with International horse racing from Australia and Royal Ascot.  He is a very active student of pedigrees and hopes to get into the bloodstock business in the near future.  He also has a horse betting themed blog titled “The Flat Bet Prophet.”  He can be reached as ANTHONY KELZENBERG on Facebook or through e-mail: