You might ask how anyone, especially a newcomer, can possibly assemble all the possible variables involved in handicapping a horse race. It seems like an enormous investment of time and money just to assemble the data. Well, there is good news.
A newcomer can "buy" someone else's handicapping knowledge or obtain the raw data to do handicapping from scratch. In the old days, the track "touts" would make deals with the public about which horses look the best in a race. They were seldom trustworthy. Today, however, a number of private services not only provide the underlying data needed for handicapping a horse race, but several also make educated "picks" that you can decide to fold into your own betting strategy.
These handicapping materials are readily available in "hard copy" and online. In modern race books, people show up with their laptops, already filled with information, notes and analysis ready to start betting. Many of these materials come at a price, but most basic handicapping resources are not that expensive. These include:
The Morning Line is the name of the track's starting point on the morning of race day, predicting how the public's betting will affect the payoff odds. It's free at the track. Race books have their own version of the morning line, which is part of the race sheet produced at the book for any particular track and race day. It is like the race program at the track, in that it lists the horses and
races, but it also gives the predicted odds. Click here to read more about The Morning Line.
One tricky area is researching more than one horse’s performance in a previous race. The individual horse’s work is really well detailed in the Daily Racing Form’s Past Performance Data (shortened to DRF PP). A question might arise, “What was that race really like?” or “How did the other horses do?” or “How did horse XYZ do against horse ABC?” This sort of historical data is also available. The DRF Simulcast Daily and the Weekly editions are publications devoted to the immediate past (rather than to the immediate future, which is the focus of the DRF itself). There is also a lot of editorial copy on trainers, jockeys, horses and racing circuits. The outcome tables (“race charts”) are available for all the tracks around the country. This publication is especially helpful in the race book, as it has national coverage, just like the DRF and the race book itself. This is an extract of a race chart.
Andrew Beyer was the racing columnist for the Washington Post. He invented a measure, named after him, that permits the comparison of horses from race-to-race, track-to-track. The DRF publishes a Beyer Speed Figure for every horse in every race. The inherent speed of the track and the speed of the race, and the speed of the horse are the main components of the number. In the example from the DRF, Farnum Alley ran a 79 and an 80 in the last two races. (The first race, with a 53, reflected his bad start, not his speed.) If all other things were equal (a huge assumption), this horse should regularly outrun a horse with Beyers in the 60's range. Unless his Beyers go up with his next races, he will lose to a horse regularly running Beyers in the 90's and high 80's. Over time, horseplayers, race secretaries and others who see horses often will know how the range of Beyer scores fits with the class of a race, whether a lowly claiming race or a fancy stakes race. The best stakes horses are up around 120 range. The good allowance or low stakes horses usually come in around 100. Bottom level claimers typically run in the 50's and 60's.
The typical use of this measure is to figure out which horses are just not fast enough to win a given race, thereby releasing the handicapper's time and attention to be spent on the other horses. Beyers are less useful for telling the handicapper who will win the next race. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, many other elements determine the race outcome besides the native speed of one horse. (A race with one speed horse in it and weak competition is probably the easiest race of all to handicap, but it does not happen very often. Usually the race secretary sees to that.) Second, Beyer Speed Figures are not determinative of race outcomes because most horses do not run consistently or in the same way, race after race.
Another famous student of horses, Len Ragozin, invented the term "bounce" to describe the cyclical race behavior of horses. Most horses will show a consistency or pattern in their Beyers, and then for some reason, there will be a race with a much lower number. This is a "bounce." Then, maybe there's a layoff, maybe not. The horse starts another set of races, and the Beyer Speed Figures improve. They may even go up higher than before. Then, in one race, there may be another "bounce." Good handicappers say they are able to perceive the cyclical behavior (or not) of any
given horse and can judge (more or less) when a bounce is about to take place. This is a sophisticated use of the Beyers Speed Figures. The "Ragozin Sheets" attempt to take this to a much higher level.
It should also be noted that young horses, like Farnum Alley in the example above, have not really carved a niche for themselves, and their Beyer Speed Figures can vary quite a bit before establishing the "norm" for a more mature horse.
The Tomlinson track ratings indicate how a given horse might do in today’s race if the track were wet (well, anything other than fast), or if it were a turf race, or in terms of the distance of today’s race. The Tomlinson ratings are assigned to a horse if its sire and maternal grandsire had enough offspring to provide a meaningful measure. These are not measures of the horse’s ability, but a stab at the horse’s potential in mud or on turf, given its bloodline. Twice a year the Tomlinsons are updated from the results of many thousands of races. The lowest possible number is 0 and the highest rating is 480. Both extremes are, of course, quite rare. A dash in the Tomlinson ratings means insufficient sample size and an asterisk next to the rating means fewer than 80 observations. The distance measure is calculated in the same manner, but is not a Tomlinson, strictly speaking. It measures the success of the bloodline in running races of the distance of the race about to be run.
Software is available to support the acquisition of so much horse and race data by electronic means. Formulator is a software program that can be acquired through DRF to assist in downloading the statistics and keeping them organized. It assists the handicapper in keeping track of handicapping notes, race outcomes, and a lot more. Some handicappers may prefer other, pro-prietary methods of handling all the information. But the serious horseplayers in the Las Vegas race book will have their laptops whirring with Formulator and the latest DLF downloads.
Like the Beyer Speed Figures and the Tomlinson Ratings, Ragozin Sheets attempt to consolidate and rationalize handicapping information that’s already “out there” in some form. Unlike Beyers and Tomlinsons, which seek to measure only one narrow aspect of the horse, “the Sheets,” as they are called, present a more comprehensive picture of the horse in comparison with his com-petitors. They are available by subscription, and can be delivered electronically as well as in hard copy form. The original Ragozin sheets were plots of horses’ speeds on half-page format. The Ragozin rating for each race a horse runs takes into account the horse’s overall performance, in-cluding, speed, weight carried, track conditions or circumstances, whether the horse ran wide or saved ground by running near the rail, wind (headwind or tailwind), and any other unusual as-pects of the race or track. The lower the Ragozin number, the better. The number does not explic-itly consider who won the race, but rather how the race was run. Thus, a horse running to place might have a lower Ragozin than the one who won, if the place horse ran a much harder race.
Another handicapping aid is the compilation of speed figures or “figs” from Jerry Brown of Thoro-Graph, which, for 25 years or more has been putting out ratings of horse performances in individual races. Like Ragozin sheets, the lower the number for a horse in the “figs” the better he ran. The “figs” take into account many of the same criteria as the “sheets” – track, wind, whether the horse ran wide or saved ground, etc. Some serious handicappers use the “sheets,” others use the “figs,” and some use both.
Cary Fotias established Equiform, which puts out the “Xtras.” These compilations add in characteristics like conditioning and pace of the race as well as ground loss and track factors. The prod-ucts is called Xtras because it takes extra elements of information into account, and more than anything else, analyzes horse behavior from race-to-race in terms of a “form cycle.” The objective is to predict when a horse will hit his “pace top” (and conversely, when he will be in the trough of this form cycle). Like Thoro-Graph and the Ragozin Sheets, The Xtras are available for purchase, and can be delivered by electronic means or old-fashioned ways.
Brisnet is a product created by “Bloodstock Research Information Services” of Lexington, Ken-tucky. It is a value-added past performances database with ratings for pedigree and pace, par times, and more extensive trainer, jockey and workout information. Pace ratings help predict which horse in the race will likely set the pace, and whether it will be fast or slow or in between. Brisnet offers an Ultimate Race Summary, which gives much additional information pace and speed figures (fractions and finals) and more pedigree information on distance and surface. Historical research is available by CD Rom or download that includes bloodlines, maiden race stats and other handicapping research elements.
Much of the information mentioned above looks at the overall race, but does not necessarily take into account how the horse generated the intermediate times. The DRF does not report fractional times for past performances (unless the horse was in the lead). A California clinical psychologist named Dr. Howard Sartin commenced working on this aspect of horse racing in the 1970’s. His publications, and those of others who followed in his path, are grouped together under the subject of “pace methodologies.” The research requires access to pace data (through Brisnet, for example) and a fairly sophisticated, mathematical approach to calculating performance. There is no one “service” or “measure” like the speed figures to capture how a horse behaves in segments of a race, and why. In the race book some of the bettors may have their own version of Sartin’s or someone else’s pace methodology on the laptop.