Finding the ‘Edge’

By Jonathan Stettin

Horses racing to the wire.

(photo via entourageaccess.wordpress.com)

Last week I talked about ways to not beat oneself betting the races. Today, I will discuss how one can find an edge against other players. You would be surprised at how many people don’t realize they are not playing against the horses, or the house (track), but against other players.

We are playing against each other — that’s the very nature of pari-mutuel wagering.

It is this very fact that make finding an edge all that more important. There are several ways to do this, but for today we’ll discuss one of my favorites and most successful.

Considering there is so much good information out there and so many excellent handicapping tools, how does one gain an edge? Well, deciphering information will always be one way as, although we may all have the same information, we don’t all land on the same horse. So it goes without saying that, to be successful at this game you have to be a good handicapper and money manager.

So, where do we get that edge? How do we get something the people we are playing against don’t have?

Make no mistake about it, watching races is a learned art. It’s one that goes against our natural instincts. When watching a race, the natural tendency is to watch only the horse(s) you bet one. Your secondary instinct is to watch the horse on the lead. Third, you’ll likely watch horses making a bold move or doing something “eye catching.” This is fine — and you will spot the occasional future winner. If you want to spot winners others miss consistently, however, you have to learn to watch races differently.

The first step is to make a trip to your local racetrack. Watch a race from the far turn or the clubhouse turn as close to the rail as you can get. Aqueduct used to have a hole in the fence at the top of the stretch in the 70’s which allowed me to watch races crouched down there while I was cutting school. (No, for the record, I did not put the hole there, but I definitely benefitted from it and learned a lot courtesy of the true culprit, whoever he/she was.)

If you have ever been to a fight ringside, you will know what I mean. On TV, it looks like a show; ringside, it looks like a fight; it sounds like a fight. You hear grunts, you feel vibrations, you hear pounding, you get hit with blood and sweat and you know you are watching a fight.

Watching a race from the far or clubhouse turn will give you a similar perspective. Ultimately, this will help with your wagering, but I’ll come back to that. You’ll hear horses gasping for air, you’ll hear horses breathing heavy, you’ll hear snarling and competitive animalistic sounds, you’ll hear jockeys yelling for room or, at times, berating other riders for not giving it to them. You’ll see and hear and feel things you don’t know are happening on TV. Once you do, you will learn to recognize them on TV or at the least know these things are going on.

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If you could bet races in the U.S. at the top of the stretch (you can in other countries), and you did so while watching from there, your percentage would be much higher than if you played the same way watching on TV.

Now back to the edge and learning how to get it from properly watching races. What do you trust more than your own eyes? A lot goes on in a race that telegraphs what is likely to happen in future races. One of the first things I look for is horses that are running with or against a track bias.

A track bias may exist on a certain part of the track. For example, horses racing on a “dead rail,” or a rail that’s heavier or slower than other parts of the track, may have an advantage next out. A bias can also exist in how a track is playing. If it is favoring speed, then speed horses that did well over it may be at a disadvantage next time out. Their effort over the speed-favoring track may look better in the past performances than it actually was. Furthermore, horses that made up ground and closed over a speed-favoring track may have an advantage next time on an honest-playing or even closer-biased track. The scenarios are plentiful and should all be explored when doing your homework and looking for that edge.

You should also look for horses that raced in traffic, or were steadied or checked. They are often good bet-backs. Horses that had gate trouble often fall into this same category. Again, what do we trust more than our eyes?

After watching some races outside on the turns, train yourself to watch the whole race. Scan the field for horses in trouble and watch the replays, preferably a few times to spot everything. Some horses go around the whole track never getting a chance to make a run due to traffic. Learn to look for these horses as opposed to the leader or who you bet.

Take notes on where the winners are coming from to spot false biases from real ones. If the first three races are won by the only speed, that happens to be the best horse, you’ll hear people say the track is speed biased. Is it? If the first few races are loaded with speed and suffer pace meltdowns and are won by closers, do we have a closers bias? Probably not.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a shortcut to handicapping. It isn’t. There are no shortcuts. You have to prepare and do your work. This is just a tool that can give you an edge and be extremely lucrative once mastered.

As I said, watching races is a learned art, but one that with work and practice can be very lucrative. There is nothing like the confidence you feel going all-in on a horse you know had a bad trip or was up against it last time.

The eyes my friends… they never lie.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan StettinJonathan has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings, as he practically grew up at the racetrack. His mother, affectionately known as “Ginger,” was in the stands at Belmont Park the day before he was born as his father, Joe, worked behind the windows as a pari-mutuel clerk.

As a toddler, Jonathan cheered for and followed horses and jockeys, knowing many of the names and bloodlines by the time he was in first grade. Morning coffee in his household was always accompanied by the Daily Racing Form or Morning Telegraph.

At the age of 16, Jonathan dropped out of school and has pretty much been at the races full-time ever since. Of course, he had some of the usual childhood racetrack jobs growing up — mucking stalls, walking hots and rubbing horses. He even enjoyed brief stints as a jockey agent and a mutuel clerk (like his dad).

His best day at the track came on August 10, 1994 at Saratoga, when he hit the pick-6 paying $540,367.

Jonathan continues to be an active and successful player. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin or visit his Web site at www.pastthewire.com.

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.