Pedigree Handicapping: What to Look for and Why

The process of handicapping can be compared to an art form. No two handicappers look at the past performances in the same way, although they may come to the same conclusion as to the correct outcome of a race. Horse players may even use the same tools, yet place a different value on each resource. Speed figures, pace variances, track bias, pedigree, complex performance ratings, horse colors, post positions and even name plays — if you can think of it, someone out there uses it.

This week, we’ll look at using pedigree as part of the handicapping process. Pedigree and physical handicapping are formidable aids for determining precocity, surface and distance preferences for maidens and horses trying something new for the first time.

When you look at the past performances for a maiden race, what do you see?  Many horseplayers don’t see much data and often skip the race. But there’s a wealth of material if the astute horse fan knows what to look for.

Pedigree can be read in two ways: for breeding or handicapping.

When using pedigree for handicapping, only the first two generations in the pedigree are relevant. The reason for this is that any attributes from generation three to five have already been passed along. Noting that there’s a strain of “X” sire or dam four or five generations back doesn’t do anything for the handicapper, since the closer generations are the most influential. For instance, you might look like your dad, mom or maybe one of your grandparents, but you wouldn’t have as much in common with your great-great grandparents.

Appraising the sire, dam, her offspring and damsire are sufficient for most races. Here’s the easy way to break it down:

* Sire – Review the stats for a sire’s first-time starters. Most past performances have this information available. Past performances also carry stats for turf and mud. Avoid the Average Winning Distance (AWD) stats. AWD examines the sire’s progeny as a whole, rather than individually. A.P. Indy got winners from six furlongs to 1 1/2 miles, yet his AWD is around a mile. The sheer number of sprint races in the U.S. assures that stallion AWD figures are rarely greater than eight furlongs. Using AWD is like using a panoramic photo to pinpoint a specific tree in a forest. You can see that they’re all trees and relatively the same height, but you can’t tell the size of a particular tree.

* Sire’s Bloodlines – This will help further determine surface affinity if the sire in question is new or has few runners over a particular surface. For example, Lemon Drop Kid raced on dirt, but his babies love turf. Why? His sire is Kingmambo, one of the all-time great turf sires. Pioneerof the Nile’s offspring also excel over the turf. His damsire, Lord at War was a champion miler in Argentina. My friend and mentor Lauren Stitch coined the phrase “HT” (hidden turf). This analysis also works well for mud and we’re beginning to see second generation Poly sires too.A quick (and, more importantly, free) way to get an idea of the distance and surface preferences of a stallion’s progeny is to view his latest winners. Thoroughbred Daily News Progeny PP’s link is an invaluable resource.

* Dam/Siblings – Take a look at the dam’s race record to see her precocity, distance/surface preferences and class. Did the dam win in her first three starts or was she unable to hit the board before being dropped into a $5K claiming race?  How about our maiden’s siblings? How many starts/wins did they collect and at what level? If a first-time maiden starter has little class in its distaff family and most of the starters didn’t win until they were dropped to the maiden claiming level, this may be a horse to bet against when facing a group of well-bred maidens at an “A”-rated track. But what if the dam was unraced and/or none of her foals raced? Go back a generation and see how the dam’s siblings performed. Their class levels, precocity, distance and surface preferences can be helpful. To find this information, try the free version of Pedigree Query. The site isn’t always complete, but the exploring handicapper can use it to find many of the descendants of the distaff family.

It can take time to research a field of maidens, but the rewards can be worth it. As you get to know the sires and how their offspring perform, the task becomes easier.

Once the handicapper has figured out which horses in the race have a good shot based upon precocity and class, other components, such as trainer stats, workout patterns and the horse’s conformation and temperament come into play.