By Jude “Pontiff of the Pick Four” Feld
I made my first wager on a horse race when I was 11 years-old. During the last 43 years, I have developed a systematic way of handicapping that suits my personality and style. For me, it is best to eliminate the dead wood, pruning the race down to the top contenders, instead of looking at all the entrants and finding the one I like best.
People often ask me where I start when handicapping a race. There are three basic “negative” factors that get horses tossed early in my process.
#1 No good race in a horse’s last three starts.
Any neophyte horseplayer can tell you that a horse beaten double digits in its most recent races is probably not a top contender. For me, if a horse hasn’t run at least one decent race recently, I don’t need to be wasting my hard-earned cash on him. I consider any in-the-money finish acceptable and any race where the horse’s finish position and beaten lengths equal 8 or less.
#2 No winning race in a horse’s last 10 starts.
We want winners. Winning is contagious. Losing is contagious too and backing horses that don’t have the will to win is a quick way to lose your bankroll. It always amazes me to see a 24-race maiden go favored. The public is usually a pretty good handicapper but when they embrace a perennial loser, there is usually some money to be made.
#3 Not fast enough.
New York sportswriter and author Damon Runyon said, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” If a horse is slower than his competition, he is going to lose. I find the horse with the highest lowest speed figure in its last three starts and eliminate all the competition whose best speed figure in their last three starts is below that highest lowest figure.
For example, let’s take a six-horse field:
The highest lowest is the 89 run by horse #1 three starts back, so any horse who has run under an 89 in all of their last three starts would be eliminated. In this case, #3 and #5.
You can find winners every day that break one, two or even all three of these rules, but the money wasted betting on horses that have little chance of success can better spent on a solid betting proposition. Avoiding stiffs is extremely important, especially in Pick Six through Pick Three wagering, when your ticket grows exponentially as your profit margin diminishes.
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