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Handicapping 101: What Exactly Is Handicapping?

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With regard to horse racing, handicapping is the practice of predicting and quantifying the results of a horse race. That is, it is the art of predicting which horses have the greatest chance of winning a specific race, and thus profiting from these predictions.

Most people who are proficient in the art of handicapping have developed their own methods of prediction, and through much trial and error (usually a lot of the latter) have found a system that they feel comfortable with when they make wagers. Over time they refine their system, and for them going to the races is an enjoyable and sometimes a profitable hobby.

While I am sure that there are some who are successful with superficial systems such as throwing darts or jabbing a finger into the paper, generally they are only delaying the inevitable losses.

For the more successful ones, it usually begins with studying the Daily Racing Form (DRF). This is a national horse racing newspaper that is published daily. It comes in several editions, but the main two are the AM and PM editions. The AM edition contains the early running tracks – mostly eastern tracks, and often comes out the night before the race. The PM edition has the later tracks –mostly western tracks, and comes out in the morning of the race.

I could write a book on how to use the DRF, but there are many good books and articles on that topic already, so I will not get too deep here. The basic gist of the matter is when you look at a race; there are many factors that can come into play. One is: how well has the horse raced over the last few races? Have they raced in the last 14 days? Or has it been over 200 days? If so, have they been injured? Have they ever won a race before or are they still a maiden? If they have won, are they still using the same trainer? The same jockey? Was it on these track conditions? Did they have to travel to come to this track? Is this the same distance that they ran when they won?

See what I mean? It can get overwhelming if you try to figure out everything, especially when you are just getting started. My suggestion: start out with a few things. Obviously speed is a big factor. In the DRF, there is a number called the Beyer’s Speed Rating. It is a calculation that was developed by Andrew Beyer that classifies each horse against other horses and tries to allow the handicapper to match apples to apples.

Next, look at who has looked good in the last couple races. Where they in the money? If they were not, how close to the winner where they? Was it 2 lengths or 10? A number four horse who was closing may be a better bet than a number two who faded. Then look at their pace: Are they front runners? Or are they closers? Do they stalk or press?

With the advent of the personal computer and the ability to download stats from DRF and other sources, the sport of handicapping is becoming more and more refined. This, in turn, has fueled the rise of the increase of on-line handicapping contests and wagering. If you want to win, you have to know your competition and the tools that they are using.

Until next time, have a Happy New Year!

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • Nola Ross

    Sometimes nothing is a sure thing when it comes to handicapping. Mine That Bird