• Handicapping Variables

    Fitnesssmhorse
    Before a horse can be considered, it should be determined that he's physically fit enough to be at or near his best. Athletes become fit via two avenues, competition and training. Examine the dates of prior last races, found at the far left of the past performance line. The more recent races he has, the more certain of his fitness.

    If he's been away from the races for two months or more, examine morning training workouts shown underneath the last past performance line. It is generally understood that fitness is best derived by a combination of competition and training. The longer the layoff, the more difficult the comeback. Make a final determination and if deemed fit, go to the next variable. If not, eliminate.

    Classsmhorse
    Class in Thoroughbred racing can be defined by saying that class is the quality of competition a horse can compete favorably against. Look at the prior conditions under which the horse has raced. Regardless of any other variable, a horse cannot be expected to win without having shown a past ability to do so against similar competition. If he has not shown the past ability, he can be considered a throw-out, unless he's rapidly improving and won his last race with enough authority to move up in class against tougher competition. If he's fit and can compete against the competition, move to the next variable.

    Distancesmhorse
    Through either breeding, conformation, running style, or training techniques, horses generally do better at certain distances. Few are versatile enough to handle short and long races effectively. Examine all races listed to determine if he's done well at the designated distance. If he's a proven competitor at today's distance, continue to consider him, and eliminate him if he's had numerous opportunities without success. He may show a potential to handle the distance, but can't be overly well regarded without proof. Remember, never expect a horse to do something he's never done before.

    Post Positionsmhorse
    The Post Position Draw, a random drawing done after entries for a race are taken, can often turn a potential winner into a dead loser, and vice-versa! Track biases exist at many tracks, favoring inside or outside post positions. Check post position statistics listed in programs or Lone Star Today to see if certain posts appear better than others. As a general rule, far outside posts in bulky fields in sprints (10 or more) can prove more challenging. The two inside posts in big fields can also be detrimental. Early speed is preferable for both inside and outside posts because without it, outside horses lose ground and inside ones get trapped. A horse's running style and the post position are directly correlated. In longer, two-turn-races, inside posts are almost always preferred. The shorter the two-turn race, the more it favors inside. If it can be determined that the post will not be a detriment, move on. But a horse can be thrown out if it is determined his chances will be badly compromised by post position.

    Running Stylesmhorse
    Horses generally settle into a certain style of running, broken down into three categories: pace-setter or front runner, horses who run in the lead or who are never further back than two lengths; stalker, horses who are never further back from the lead than 4 lengths; and closer or rally types, horses who are never closer than five lengths from the pace. Horses have been known to change styles, but the vast majority have consistent styles. True front runners always try for the lead when possible. Front runners are most effective when unchallenged early. The easier they are able to get a clear lead, the better the chances. Prefer front runners when there are few, if any, potential challengers or if a pronounced track bias favoring early speed exists. Otherwise, look more favorably upon those that can stalk or rally.

    A stalker rarely makes the lead, and seldom possesses a big late kick. They have the speed to stay close and pass tiring front runners, and can hold off the big closers that lag well behind. Stalkers can make the lead if no front runners are in the race. Prefer stalkers when numerous front runners are present, and without the presence of a strong and fit rally or closer horse.

    Rally or closers are best when an abundance of early speed exists and are often victimized when a front runner is loose on the lead. Playing rally or closers is more precarious than horses with speed as they can run into traffic problems. And, statistics show that horses closer to the lead win the majority of races. However, under certain circumstances, closers are a very positive choice.

    Trainersmhorse
    Give careful consideration to the trainer, who is like the coach. Everyone knows that some coaches are superior to others and there can be a large discrepancy be-tween the best and the worst. Trainers have a big job and must have a wealth of knowledge about a large number of facets of training a horse to race. They must not only be good horsemen, they must have excellent organizational skills in order to coordinate the efforts of an entire stable. Statistics point out the top trainers at the track and a handicapper that pays attention to the trainers of every horse in every race will soon have a good working knowledge of which ones are acceptable when making a final decision. If the trainer meets the handicapper's standards, he can move on to the next variable. But an elimination can be made if you feel the competence of the conditioner is in question.

    Jockeysmhorse
    The role of the jockey is often understated. Checking out statistics at most tracks, a small percentage of riders win the great majority of the races. It takes a great deal of skill to ride a horse in a race. To suggest that all riders are equally proficient is ludicrous. Jockeys must possess good riding techniques, have strength, intelligence, good judgment and timing and have an ability to communicate with the horse. Some jockeys are far more proficient than others, and by perusing the statistics or by simply watching them day in and day out, one can learn which are the most reliable. When making a final decision, be sure the horse you select has an acceptable rider. When eliminating horses in fields with numerous contenders, you may be able to eliminate a horse because of the rider alone.

    Present Formsmhorse
    When making a final selection it's important to determine that the horse is in good present form. Examining the finishes of his most recent races tells you if he's racing well and competitively. Statistics prove that horses that have recently won or have been reasonably close, win the majority of races. Most horses have form cycles in that they run well for a period of time, then tail off. Initially select horses that appear to be in form or rounding to form, and be wary of ones that have raced well, but show signs of tailing off. Sometimes horses that have not been close to winning of late are dropped in class and can still be considered viable choices, but the handicapper should expect that the horse in question at least showed some interest against better competition. Be careful not to give too much consideration to horses that are dropping down after showing no life at all as they may have lost their will to compete. After all, any horse can be last in a race. When making a final decision, it's a wise practice to play horses with good present form and eliminate those that are obviously off form.

    Consistencysmhorse
    Before considering a horse a top contender, examine his record for the year and his lifetime record. A handicapper should look for horses that are more likely to run well than not. If they have finished in the money 50% of the time, they can be deemed consistent. Many horses with poor consistency records cannot be heavily relied upon to run well after a good effort the time before. So, despite a good recent race, they have shown a past tendency not to repeat strong performances. A horse coming off a good race returning in a similar situation is hard to disregard. But if he's shown a lack of past consistency, his lack of reliability would make it difficult to make a serious wager on him. A handicapper should demand consistency before making a horse a serious contender.

    Weightsmhorse
    Some handicappers use the weight carried by a horse as a critical factor. This is a controversial variable among astute handicappers. A truism is that weight will stop a freight train. However, determining how a few pounds, more or less, will affect a horse's performance isn't easy to assess. Race horses can weigh well over 1,000 pounds. So humans, who generally weigh about 80% less, would find it hard to understand how 10 pounds affects a horse in comparison to a much less sturdy and strong human. Proportionately speaking, one could assume that ten pounds to a human, which is significant, may feel like only two pounds to a horse. Obviously, two pounds is hardly enough to slow him down much.

    If you decide to use weight as a handicapping variable, it would seem wise to consider it more important as the length of the race increases. It may also be prudent not to consider weight a factor unless it involves at least a difference of five pounds or more.You may also want to use weight if comparing horses in the same race if there is a significant switch in weights, like one horse taking off five pounds coming out of a race against a rival who may be adding five pounds. Generally, weight may play a lesser role than many have believed and without knowing each horse's capacity to carry weight, it may be impossible to use effectively. Nonetheless, for those who have found success using this variable, it may have a place in making a final decision.

    Speed Figuressmhorse
    Various speed figures (Beyers, etc.) have been compiled in recent years. These figures basically assign a number to each race run by a horse. Beyer numbers, for instance, are based almost exclusively by running times in conjunction with track conditions. Speed sheets, put out by Ragozin and others, also use difficulty of trip to determine the figure. Some arbitrary judgment made by the representative for each track also figures into the final number.

    The number certainly reduces a horse's past performance to just digits and can be used to quickly identify the contenders. However, as speed figure producers suggest, the handicapper is implored to use other handicapping techniques to be used in conjunction with the number.

    The numbers, if used, should be used more as a guide. Although at times, a horse with an apparently large advantage may be a play on the number alone. But, obviously no guarantee exists. Generally speaking, use speed figures as one of the many available handicapping tools.