By Jude “Pontiff of the Pick Four” Feld
A seven length victory in a horse’s most recent race stands out like a sore thumb. A 96 Beyer speed figure is a beacon on the page and three in-the-money finishes in its last three starts makes a horse an automatic contender. That’s the way most people handicap.
They open the ‘Form to their favorite track and look at the most recent race or two. Horses that show decent recent races stay in and those that look bad get tossed out. Nine out of 10 times they settle on one of the first three odds choices, circle him and go on to the next race where the process is repeated.
At the track, every horse they’ve picked is 7-2 or less and they lament about a “chalky” day and how it is impossible to make any money. When a $25 horse romps in the fourth, they look back and see that seven races back, the horse won at today’s distance, at today’s class, on today’s surface, with today’s rider.
Upon further review, they notice that after that victory, the horse was raised in class and ran a sharp second. Then the trainer stretched the horse out in his next start and he ran third. The next race was on the grass, which is a surface that the horse didn’t seem to relish and he finished eighth.
Back to a sprint in the third race back, the horse broke slowly but rallied through the lane and finished fifth. Two races back, the trainer tried him in a turf sprint, with the hot bugboy aboard and the horse finished eleventh. Last time out was a sprint in the slop at today’s level, which resulted in a sixth-place effort.
Today, back in where he belonged all along, on a fast track, with a rider up who has had success with him the past, the horse wins and pays boxcars.
This happens every day – sometimes a couple of times on the same card.
In order to win more money at the races, you need to figure out why a horse is running in today’s race. How did the horse get here? Is this a race that suits him? What is the trainer trying to do?
We accomplish this by handicapping from the bottom of a horse’s chart to the most recent race. This is our window to the horse’s preparation for today’s race and his trainer’s intentions. It gives you a crystal clear vision of the horse’s career and how he should perform today.
With a little effort, you can have a solid line on every entrant and know who are the contenders and who are the pretenders. You will bet on a lot more double-digit winners and your friends will think you own a crystal ball.
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