Three of these came last week: How do you handicap a race?
One was signed by a longtime horse player.
Forgetting what you should be doing is commonplace during a bad streak.
Before getting started this time, a brief aside about how great it was seeing our team back on the tube with the Gold Cup for ESPN over the weekend, chief among the experts being the Screwdriver, the handicapper who undoes so many of those Exacta boxes.
Here’s the way I handicap a horse race. First some words about superstitions and the stars under which we perform. I was born early in November, which places me under the sign of the Scorpion. Chief among our characteristics is we don’t believe in garbage like astronomy. So that’s where they dump the one and two-star days, into the bins of the disbelievers who never look. When somebody from another sign comes into money, it’s our money. Their love found is ours lost. Simply put, everybody else’s gain is our loss. When somebody who knows under which vibe I exist under calls and says it is a rare five-star day for me, I get a Racing Form, because it couldn’t hurt. Perhaps it is the Scorpio’s true nature to believe the good and ignore the rotten. On the whole, we are pre-destined not to believe in pre-destination. Now there’s some luck.
The reason to play a horse race is to make money.
So far as I have been able to tell, there are two basic ways to do make real money without going broke trying: With favorites that shouldn’t lose, or without the favorites altogether. Given those two choices, on any level, Triple Crown or Breeder’s Cup race, cheap claimer or middle-class maiden, I prefer looking at races with the intent of throwing out the favorites from the top two or three spots. The third of the favorites who win don’t pay enough to fiddle with, except on exotic wagers. So in handicapping a single race, I go into the puzzle hoping to be able to beat the favorite with two or three horses.
I prefer inland tracks to those coastal, which is to say I am more at home at smaller venues where the ringers are more obvious.
Each handicapper has a favored race, an event that fits his or her squinty eye. Whereas all races are different, some conform to a general stencil depending on the speed of the occasion. Cheap speed that is moving up in class and figures to be contested has to stop. Mediocre closers against below average fractions will remain back there. A race for non-winners of two will often offer enough red herrings to stock a CSI show. In one of those magical races for non-winners of two, the shadows that were formerly bodies in the crowd will come alive, illusions of quality will fade on the front end, and the Exacta will pay $300, the tri, $750.
It is in the non-winners of two category where you will find that unique combination of slow horse, feeble jockey and lousy trainer, beating seven other sore animals to win in the mud at 60-1.
There are some good-looking horses that go off favored after maiden wins, decent Beyer numbers made higher by anything from a favorable post to a lack of competition to a simple trip. Conditions always change for the better or for the worse. Seeing a decent favorite fresh from a maiden win move up a little in class against some rough and tumble horses several tough races beyond their first win, this is a race worth looking into.
To beat a decent favorite with two or three horses and inflate the Exactas and tri’s to lofty levels, you will need to find in the field some healthy animals whose surroundings are improving this time out — middle of the pack finishers with better posts or easier competition — where fifth or sixth in an open claimer is apt to be better than a fresh maiden win with much higher speed numbers.
As to the chiselers at the smaller venues, they usually take the form of speed freaks put quickly to the lead and race on around bug-eyed with mid-range odds.
When it comes to true form, tactical stalkers from tougher races and worse posts and better race tracks will fly past the solid but overmatched recent maiden winner and put up big payoffs.
Every race starts with whether or not we can beat the favorite. If we can, it’s why we play the game.
Originally Posted on ESPN