The Daily Racing Form is the bedrock resource for following the horses. It is indeed a daily newspaper, and it indeed has news stories and editorials and advertisements. But the DRF (as it is called) contains all this handicapping information in tabular format. There are individual charts on each race, showing what the race conditions are, and who has been entered in the race. There are individual charts on each horse in each race, showing all the data pertinent to the horse, its jockey and trainer, and the performance history of the horse, with lots of details of each previous race. An experienced reader of the DRF could persuasively “call” a race for radio with nothing but the DRF in front of him or her.
Figure 1 is a sample of a race summary from the DRF. It pertains to a race at Gulfstream Park, in Florida, on February 14 of 2004.
As part of a track program, or as an internet feed or print publication from the DRF, this informa-tion would be associated with similar information on all the races of the day, by track. Below this entry would be, in numerical order, the horses in the race. In this case, there were six of them. Figure 2 is a sample of horse 5’s previous performance (or “PP”) data from the DRF.
The print in the DRF is small, so a strong pair of reading glasses or a detective’s magnifying glass may be a useful accessory.
Here’s how the information in figures 1 and 2 can be read.
First is the race summary: This is an “allowance race” with a $36,000 purse. The race conditions are: (1) three year olds (foaled in 2001), which have (2) either never won or won just 1 race out-side the maiden and claiming ranks, or which have won only two career races, regardless of where. (3) The weight is 122 pounds, with an allowance of 2 pounds for non-winners of a stakes or allowance race since January 1, and 4 pounds if no wins since December 1 of the previous year. At 3 years old, the horses should be in their prime, but not necessarily experienced or wildly successful. Theoretically, a horse could have run and won a number of claiming races, but only one other allowance or stakes win would be allowed. The distance is just a tad over a mile, and a drawing of the race course appears next to the conditions. On a “race card” from the race book (or in a track program or in the newspaper) the approximate time of the race will be listed as well.
It turns out that 6 horses entered this race. Number 5, Farnum Alley, has run three races before. Figure 2 shows his data. As the type is small, sections are reproduced in tables, to aid discussion.
The number is the post position of the horse, and its number for purposes of placing a bet on him. The owners are named, and the saddle cloth color of the horse and the silks worn by the jockey are identified. The jockey’s name appears, and his record for the meet (sequence of current races) and year to date or previous year, depending on how late in the year it is. The current meet num-bers are usually scrunched together, but in order, are number of races, number of wins, places, and shows, respectively. The fraction is the proportion of winning finishes to total starts.
Next to this identification information is more data on the horse:
|Ch. c. 3 (May) KEESEP02 $150,000|
|Sire: Distorted Humor (Forty Niner) $50,000|
|Dam: Falon (Cox's Ridge)|
|Br: WinStar Farm LLC (Ky)|
|Tr: Reinstedler Anthony(12 2 3 1 .17) 2003:(190 34 .18)|
“Ch” refers to his chestnut color. [Other colors are b for “bay” (a brown anywhere from yellow-ish tan to auburn), dkb for “dark bay or brown”, gr for “gray”, ro for “roan” (a red), wh for “white” and bl for “black.”].
The next item is gender. “c.” means “colt” – a male under 5 years of age. [other abbreviations are h for “horse” (5 years or older), m for “mare” (5 years or older female), f for “filly” a female under 5 years of age, and g for “gelding” a male that has been neutered.]
The month in parenthesis is the month of foaling.
Next, if applicable, is purchase information. If the horse was purchased at auction, that informa-tion is provided. In this case, the horse was acquired at Keenland, Kentucky on September 2 for $150k.
On the next line, the sire (father) is listed, as well as the sire’s sire. The stud fee is also listed. The next line is the dam (mother) and the dam’s sire. Then the breeder’s name is provided and the state in which foaled (or country, if applicable). The current trainer is then named, with the statis-tics (like those for the jockey) for the current meet and for the year to date or previous year, ac-cording to how late in the year it is.
To the right of this information is the following:
This means that Lasix has been taken by the horse (described hereafter) and that the horse is rid-ing with 122 pounds, including jockey and equipment.
The Lasix indicator is that the horse has been taking Lasix, a diuretic that helps control internal bleeding. It is legal and beneficial for the horse. Nowadays, most horses have an “L” in this loca-tion. If the horse is running for the first time with Lasix, that fact will be noted by making the “L” be white in a black circle. A “B” could appear here, indicating the horse is taking Butazolidin, an analgesic. Some handicappers feel that “first time Lasix” gives a horse an extra push. The pres-ence of a “B” puts the handicapper on notice to inquire why the horse needs something for pain.
The next information to the right is a table:
This is the source for the horse’s career data: Number or races, wins, places, shows, purse money won, and the best “Beyer Speed Score” for the period. Beyer speed numbers are discussed later in this next section, but they are a rating on how fast the horse ran, considering the track and track conditions. It is designed to allow ready performance comparisons from one race to another. In-formation is given for life, by year, and then for life for this track.
Finally, at the top right corner of this table, is the same information by track condition or surface:
The figures in parenthesis are “Tomlinson Ratings” on the horse in terms of suitability for wet track conditions and turf. The source of this information is the pedigree of the horse and the performance of other offspring of the sire and the sire of the dam. (A third measure, distance, is sometimes added in the style of a Tomlinson rating for mudders and turfers, but strictly speaking, is not a Tomlinson rating.)
These measures are discussed separately, with the Beyer speed num-bers, later in this section. Handicappers sometimes quibble over the lower bound of a “good Tomlinson.” In general, it is safe to say a “wet” of 320 or more is pretty good. A “turf” rating of 280 is solid, and a “distance” of 300 or higher is encouraging.
All will agree a Tomlinson of 400 is great, no matter whether mud or turf or distance. “D.Fst” is a fast dirt track, where this horse has made two starts and won one of them. “Wet” refers to anything other than D.Fst for dirt, in-cluding “good” (including “good fast”), “muddy” and “sloppy.” This horse had one such start and won it. The “Dst” refers to races of this same distance. The last number in this portion of the past performance data is the lifetime best Beyer speed rating for tracks of the kind described in the line.
Skipping over the lines in the middle for the moment, which relate to previous races run and workouts, the next to last line of the entry for this horse contains the following information:
This information relates to recent workouts. To prepare for race day, trainers direct the morning workouts of the horses. Handicappers like to know how the horse prepared, especially if anything unusual crops up that might disclose a weakness, injury or other problem. The key to this infor-mation is that the track is named after the date, in this case, all Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland. The distance is given (5f in the first entry is 5 furlongs, or 0.625 miles), the track condition is given (in the first case, “muddy,” and thereafter, “fast”), the time of the run (with superscripts indicating fifths of a second) and a code or codes for comment on how the workout went (B – breezing, D – driving, E – easily, g - worked from gate, H – handily). The numbers in italics refer to the number of days between the workout and the race.
The last line of the information on the horse is about the trainer’s performance. Depending on the applicable facts, there could be up to six lines of trainer information.
Each set of parentheses give a number of starts, percentage of wins and average value of the winning ticket, according to category. The first shows this barn’s performance in races with horses meeting the current race conditions. The other categories are self-explanatory. Remember “routes” are races of a mile or more, having two turns. “Alw” means allowance races. Sometimes a low winning ticket value reflects the fact that the trainer is well-liked by the public, and tends to attract so much pari-mutuel betting that the ROI is low.
That is a lot of information about just one horse in the race! But all of this is just the superstruc-ture for the meat of the handicapping analysis: prior performances. This is the center part of the PP data on a horse. Each race is on a separate line. Farnum Alley has run three races in his career.
Each race needs to be broken down into segments. The focus for the moment will be on the first line, referring to the most recent race. The first segment is:
This first part describes the race. It was the fifth race at Gulfstream Park on January 24. The dis-tance was 1-1/16 miles and the track condition was “fast.” If there is an asterisk in front of the distance, it is an approximation. If the race took place on turf, a “T” in a circle will appear right after the distance. The fractional times are given for the lead horse at the time of measurement, to tell how fast the race was run. (Remember, subscripts are 1/5ths of a second). The fractional times can vary in accordance with the distance of the race. Fractions are given for all races over 5½ furlongs. In this case, the fractions are a quarter mile, a half mile, three quarters, and finish. The last item in this section tells the race type and conditions. It was a $34,000 purse allowance race. The N1X means “non-winners of one race in the lifetime, other than maiden, claiming or starter allowance races.” At that time, this horse had only won his maiden special weight outing. Often a number appears in front of the race class with an upwards arrow. This specifies age, as in “3 years old and up.” This allowance race did not have age conditions, as the other conditions pretty much limited it to young horses anyway.
The next segment shows how the horse did in the race:
The first number is the Beyer speed figure for this horse in this race. This is the subject of a sepa-rate discussion later, but know that 79 is respectable, but not fast. The next number is the horse’s post position. This time, Farnum Alley was in the inside lane.
Way at the other end of this string is the name of the jockey and some other information. In today’s race, the jockey is not the same one. Farum Alley was carrying 120 pounds and was using Lasix, but not for the first time. He was wearing blinkers (that’s what the “b” means. There might be an “f” here, too, indicating front bandages and/or an “r.” The “r” indicates bar shoes, which is a sign of possible trouble with a hoof).
All the numbers in the middle of this row of data (the 7’s etc.) relate to what the horse was doing at different points in the race. The superscripts tell how far this horse was running ahead of the next horse behind him.
The first one is “first call” and is either the position just after leaving the starting gate (in a short race) or after ¼ mile in a route race, like this one. There were 10 horses in this race, so 7 is not the worst possible start, but it’s not wonderful, either. At a half-mile, “second call,” this horse was still in 7th position and had opened up 1½ lengths on the 8th horse. Then something weird happened: At ¾ mile (“third call”) the horse had fallen back to 9th position, but still 6¾ lengths in front of last place. Then, in the “stretch call” with a quarter mile to go, Farnum Alley had cov-ered ground, passing 6 horses to be one length ahead of fourth position. By the finish, Farnum Alley had won by a nose. (“nk” means neck, “no” means nose for distances less than a length.) This must have been an exciting race for everyone, especially those who had money on Farnum Alley!
The next section gives the closing betting odds and some useful information about the horse’s speed.
Farnum Alley paid $16.80 on a $2 ticket to win. Had an asterisk preceded this entry it would have indicated that he was the betting favorite.
The other two numbers compare the speed of the horse to the overall speeds at that track for that distance, and how much the surface may have affected performance. The speed rating, in this case 84, is a comparison to 100, the best speed at that track in the last three years for that distance. For each one-fifth off that time, a point is deducted. So Farnum Alley ran 3.2 seconds slower than the 100-rated race. The second number is the track variant, which states the average number of points below par all times in all races came out. A low “track variant” demonstrates close to optimal track conditions. It also shows, in this case, that Farnum Alley ran only a point or so off “par” if the track variant can be trusted.
This last portion of the performance data reports who won, placed and showed, together with the weight carried and the distance to the next horse behind. A comment by one of the spotters is added to describe the horse’s performance. The last number is the number of horses starting.
The comments are sometimes useful. In this race, the horse obviously had to take the “long way” to the finish line by “angling out” to pass the intervening horses without being closed out in traffic or bumping. The fact that the horse ran farther to the finish line than the others is probably a point to remember for later, particularly in appraising his ability to hang in there as a pace horse in a fast race.
A look at the previous two races gives more of a portrait of Farnum Alley as a thoroughbred racehorse. He’s not had good starts ever, but the first maiden race seems to have been a real prob-lem. The fact he stayed in Maiden Special Weight and did not drop to claiming indicates the owner and trainer still had a lot of confidence in him. In the second race, he never was less than fifth in the field, but he also waited until the stretch to make his move, going from barely in 4th to second, to winning by a neck, all in the last half of the race. The speed rating and track variant for the second race, taken together, and considering that it was at Churchill Downs, are consistent with his 84-14 at Gulfstream. The trouble he got into early in his debut maiden race is probably not characteristic of him now, with more training and experience.
The thin line separating the date of his second and third races indicates that there was a layoff of 45 days or more between these two races. The line basically means, “time has passed.”
This junket into the DRF should persuade anyone of the great complexity in handicapping horse races. One would think that there would be no need for anymore information that that encapsulated in the PP data from DRF.
Well, there’s more – a lot more. Most of it comes at an additional cost, and, depending upon one’s presumed or demonstrated handicapping skills, may or may not be a bargain. The additional resources are of two types: (1) those that give additional information about horses in order to help form or verify implications drawn, and (2) those that process information already “out there” but in a form that allows handicapping to be easier. An example of the first category may be a huge database of equine genealogy, to look for promising bloodlines and to assess the impact of pedigree on performance. An example of the second type would be the Ragozin Sheets, avail-able by subscription. Like Beyer Speed figures and Tomlinson ratings, the Ragozin Sheets essentially package data in a proprietary way to make it easier to sift though all the information available.