Been There, Done That

My good friend and fellow handicapper Bill Peterson told me a long time ago that the best horse to bet in a race is the one that’s already done what they’re asking it to do in today’s race. Ever since he said that, probably about forty years ago, I’ve pored through programs looking for horses that have “been there and done that” or BTDT’s as I call them. If there’s only one in a race at long odds, I’ll put something on it to win. If it’s at really long odds, I’ll play it to win and place. I also play it with the favorite and two or three other horses that look like they could run in the money.

It’s a pain and very time consuming to go through programs looking for these horses, so I’ve been a lot happier since iHandicapRaces with Pace Pals made it easier for me by indicating BTDT’s with an icon. It’s in the Stats section that can be accessed by clicking on the horse’s Pace Pal graphic. I find that it really delivers the goods in big stakes races. Case in point – last Saturday’s United Nations Stakes at Monmouth.

I’ve always liked Joe Bravo, especially in long turf races for big purses. He’s what they call a money jockey, one who seems to be able to win races when there’s big money at stake, even though he’s no spring chicken and doesn’t have as high a win percentage as some of the leading jockeys like the Ortizes or John Velazquez. I thought he would be a big favorite in the United Nations Stakes, because he’d won it in three out of the last six years.

When I handicapped the race with IHR with Pace Pals and saw that his horse, Bigger Picture, was the only horse with the icon that told me that it had won at the distance on that surface at that track, I knew I had my bet on that race, but didn’t think I’d get very good odds. I was wrong. Joe and Bigger Picture went off at 10-1 and paid $23.40 to win. I had played Bigger Picture with three other horses in an exacta key and one of those exactas, the one with Can’t Stop Believing, came in second at long odds. The exacta was $238.60.

There were a lot of stakes races that day. I’m not sure I could have handicapped all of them if not for iHandicapRaces with Pace Pals. It takes a long time to go through past performances, looking for races at exactly the same distance, surface and track as today’s race. As far as I can tell, all of the past performance producers have stats for distance and track wins, but they give them within a furlong of today’s race, not for the exact distance. For many horses, there’s a big difference between a 5 furlong and 5 1/2 furlong race, or a 6 1/2 furlong and a 7 furlong race.

Many horses are specialists, I’ve found. They find a distance that suits their run style and stamina and excel at it, especially the odd distances. Take my advice and look for BTDT’s in 5 1/2 furlong, 6 1/2 furlong and 7 furlong races. Then focus on races over a mile, especially the classic distances like a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. Horses that can handle these distances are a goldmine.

I’ve noticed that they’re often late maturing horses and that they tend to have long careers. Bigger Picture is 8 years old and still winning at a mile and a quarter. Use the IHR with Pace Pals icons to find horses that have been there and done that, then play some exotics with horses with the icons for distance and surface wins, even if they haven’t won at the track. You’ll find that your win and exotics ROI will improve even though it will take you less time to handicap than searching for BTDT’s in past performances does.

Posted in Horse Racing | Comments Off on Been There, Done That

Intentional Handicapping

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the variables that matter in handicapping, but not the usual suspects i.e. speed, class, jockey and trainer stats and pace. While I believe that all of those things matter, there are some other things that aren’t so easy to evaluate that keep cropping up in my horse racing handicapping lately.

Intention is one of them. Why is this horse in this race? What is the trainer’s intention in entering this horse in this particular race at this time? Is the horse well-meant and expected to be a real contender? Or does the trainer want the horse to get a workout in preparation for another race that he thinks the horse will have a better chance of winning?

Why is this particular jockey on this horse? If it’s a top jockey, is he or she riding the horse because the horse’s run style is one that the jockey is good at taking advantage of? Or is the jockey doing a favor for the trainer in expectation of a better ride down the road?

If it’s an apprentice riding the horse, is it because the trainer doesn’t think the horse can win and doesn’t want to pay for a better jockey? Or is the trainer giving the apprentice a real shot at a win or an in-the-money ride to help his or her career? Did the trainer notice that this particular apprentice shows some ability with horses that run the way this horse does?

Things get even more complicated when the horse is a first timer in a maiden race or a horse trying something different for the first time, such as turf for the first time or stretching out in distance. One of the trickiest situations is when a horse is running its first race after coming back from a layoff.

You can go back over its career and see how it’s done after layoffs, assuming it’s had enough of a career to show a couple of layoffs, and I do that. You can look at the trainer’s track record with horses coming back from layoffs, and I do that also. You can look at its Morning Line and live odds, although that’s not always an indication of the horse’s ability. Sometimes people remember that a horse did well and bet it when they see that it’s coming back from a layoff, thinking that it will run true to its previous form. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t.

Even if you don’t use iHandicapRaces, which is the handicapping program that I use and recommend, this article on the iHR site has some very useful information on how to evaluate horses coming back from a layoff. It’s basically a step-by-step approach to using iHR to find horses coming back from layoffs, that are going off at long odds and are better bets than they look.

I’m looking ahead to Saratoga and a couple of other summer tracks that will be hosting more than a few horses who were laid off purposefully just to make their return to racing at these particular tracks. I’ll be keeping an eye on trainers whose stats tell me that they’re good at having horses ready to race off a layoff, and at horses that have come back from layoffs to garner double digits at Saratoga. And I’ll be scanning their stats and where their most recent races fall on the Quad Plot grid at iHandicapRaces.

Posted in Horse Racing | Tagged | Comments Off on Intentional Handicapping