Handicapping the races is based upon the principle of weighing many factors, both past and present, to predict the future, the outcome of the race. In order to succeed in any kind of game involving a certain degree of chance, your approach needs to be one mixed with mathematics, a trained eye, and of course, a bit of luck.
People going to the races for the first few times would do well to avail themselves of selections of Matt Jukich and Archibald who are our two Public Handicappers. Their picks are available each day in our daily programs.
It is difficult for the novice racegoer to do any serious in-depth handicapping on his own, because the reading and evaluating of past performances won't be mastered until later. However there are some key factors that can help a novice player to have some early success while the finer points are being learned.
Similar to other athletes, racehorses have their own styles. While a basketball player may be known as a rebounder or a jumpshooter, horses are also categorized by their best qualities. Horses with an exceptional turn of foot from the starting gate are known by a number of terms, including front runner, pacesetter and Speed Horse. These horses try to lead from the starting gate to the wire and are sometimes susceptible to speed duels, where two or more front runners "hook up" and battle in the early stages of a race. Other runners prefer to lie just off the early leaders and are said to possess tactical speed. Such performers are often referred to as stalkers. In a race devoid of a quality pacesetter, a stalker may find itself providing the early pace. Perhaps the most exciting style of running comes from performers who unleash a furious rally from the back of the pack. Closers, later runners, and stretch runner are just a few of the names for such horses. Its often smart to see if more than two or three horses are ‘speed’ horses, because many times if there are multiple ‘speed’ horses in a race, chances are they may burn each other out early on and set it up for a closer.
In either your Portland Meadows racing program or your Daily Racing Form, you’ll find a number in the center of each past performance line that is bolded. This is a Speed Figure. In layman’s terms, it’s a simple grade of that race for each horse, the higher the number the better. So a horse who has been running speed figures in the 80’s, has been running better and faster races than one whose speed figures have been in the 60’s. Looking at Speed Figures and finding a horse with consistently higher ones than his rivals, is often a good way to scope out a winner.
Jockeys and Trainers
Jockeys and Trainers are the two key human participants in the races and knowing them, their strengths and weaknesses, and their numbers can help you pick more winners. For both jockeys and trainers, a strong win percentage is considered 20%. If a jockey or trainer is winning at over a 20% rate, they are having a good season. For example, Joe Crispin, who was our leading jockey in 2010/11, won 127 times last year, out of the 451 race he rode in. This gave him a 28% winning percentage. Some jockeys and trainers are also very good with different types of horses. Some riders are very good on speed horses, while some are good at riding closers. Some trainers are great with first time starters, while others like to bring a horse along more slowly. The more you visit the races, the more you’ll learn, but when your first starting out, look for jockeys and trainers with strong statistics, after all, they are the one’s winning the most races!
Betting the Chalk
When the public wagers more money on one horse than any other in a given race, that horse is deemed the wagering favorite. The popularity of favorites stems from the general premise that more fans in attendance have wagered on that horse than any other. Oftentimes, the favorite will be referred to as the chalk. In the early days of racetrack wagering, before the era of computerized tote boards, English bookmakers would tally odds on slate chalkboards. As handicappers touted their race favorites, the slate would become clouded in chalk with the constant changing of the odds. Hence the term "chalk" was born. The favorites win roughly 35% of the time, however, because the horse is the favorite, the payoffs are usually less, but you generally will win more often if you back the favorite.
Show Betting is a great way for beginners to start out because it’s the easiest bet to win. If you bet a horse to show, you win money if the horse finishes either first, second, or third. Since it is easier to win than a Win or Place wager, the payoff is usually less however. But it is a fun way to start out simple and cheap, and can make your money last longer.
Horse races are divided up into a class system, with claiming races being at the bottom and stakes races being at the top. Claiming races are designed to make a race have a level playing field. If a race is say a $2,500 claiming event, every horse in the race is for sale for $2,500. This prevents a really good horse from coming into the race and easily winning, because if they do, they are at risked to purchased for $2,500, which is well below their actual value. So pay attention to when horses who have been running for higher levels of claiming races drop down to lower levels, and vice versa. You have to theorize whether the horse is ‘dropping’ because he can no longer compete at the higher levels, or if he’s ‘dropping’ because the trainer is trying to get him in against horses he can easily beat. Allowance and Stakes races typically match the top horses in each division against one another, and none of them are for sale in the race. Thus a horse who runs in a Stakes race one week, and then runs in a claiming race the next week, he or she is taking a “drop in class