My approach to handicapping the thoroughbreds is pretty simple. The focus is on the 3 factors that I have found to be most significant for finding strong next out performers.

And of course strong efforts in today's race is the name of our game. I say strong efforts because a horse does not have to win to help contribute to a nice payoff. In one of the example races I review below, the horse that was key to a big score finished 3rd behind very logical win and place horses.

Years ago, when I first began dabbling in this sport, the wagering options were not as they are now.

Bets were pretty much limited to win, place, and show, an early Daily Double, and perhaps a couple of exactas and a quinella.

As you know, now we have an abundance of wagers to choose from in every race, ranging from standard WPS, exactas and trifectas in nearly every event, to many Daily Doubles, superfectas, and floating Pick 3's; not to mention Pick 4's, Pick 6's and even parlays.

Times have changed. And the amount of information we have at our disposal has increased tremendously also. But despite all the advancements in handicapping, such as speed figures and computer generated data, some things have remained constant.

Favorites still win at approximately the same rate, anywhere from 33% to 35% of all races run in North America. And betting nothing but favorites will still result in a negative R.O.I.

But despite the modern information age, there remain plenty of good wagering opportunities each and every week at all tracks in North America.

Why? Because the masses, as they were 30 years ago, are still all handicapping pretty much the same as their opponents, despite there being far more information now than in the past.

Before the fairly recent information explosion, players had to concentrate on the 3 C's, Class, Condition and Consistency. Then along came pioneers like Len Ragozin and Andy Beyer who developed their own speed figures, which gave them an extraordinary edge over their opponents.

Now speed figures are out in the open and commonplace. They as well as pace figures and pertinent trainer and jockey stats are everywhere. And everyone is focusing on these same handicapping factors.

When I say everyone, I'm talking about the great majority of players. The 5% that actually make money and show a profit at the end of the year have added a little more to the mix.

One of the 3 areas I focus on today remains a constant, and something that alert handicappers throughout the past 30 years and more have used to their advantage.

It's called Pace Shape.

Every race is a distinct and unique match up of runners. Part of the advancements in past performance information, besides speed figures, are additional points of call and positioning with beaten lengths.

This has allowed me to develop my present style, which has served me well for a number of years now, all facets of which I have disclosed in my book, "Calibration Handicapping - The Next Level", (details of which can be found by clicking here).

What has remained identifiable in the p.p.'s as it has for many years, is the running style of every horse in every race. And this is what defines the unique pace shape of each race on every card.

It can from time to time be extremely worthwhile to spend a few minutes labeling each horse's running style, which I do by placing an EP, P or S just to the left of the weight assignment for each entry in the Daily Racing Form.

The pace shape of any race is determined by how many early, presser, and late runners there are present.

The designations I use are taken from BRIS, BRIS being the initials of Bloodstock Research Information Services, a link to which can be found on my website by clicking here.

Their running style labels are E for early, EP for early presser, P for presser, and S for sustained closer.

What I do for the purposes of identifying the pace shape of a race is combine all early runners, both E and EP into one group I label as EP. As a result, I will have next to the weight assignment for each horse the designation of EP, P or S.

I'll then put in the space just to the top of the race conditions for a particular race the number of EP runners, followed by a dash, followed by the number of horses that are going to run in the race.

So if I'm handicapping a race in which there are 10 horses competing (after any late scratches) that have running styles labeled S, EP, P, P, EP, EP, P, S, P, and S, I will have the pace shape for this match up labeled as 3EP - 10. I'll always underline in red the number of EP horses as well as the total, in this case 10.

Generally, but not always, the group of runners (early speed or pressers and closers) with the fewest number have the pace advantage. So for the example given of 3EP - 10, the early runners would have the perceived edge in terms of running style for this particular pace shape.

Of course there are other dynamics involved that in such a pace shape may still give the advantage to a presser or closer. If all three of the early speed runners are not in top form, with none of them having displayed dominant speed over the others, a presser or closer who has shown recent signs that indicate a strong forthcoming next out performance may be the most likely winner.

Let's say the pace shape is 7EP - 10. You may say that this scenario favors the closers, and you could very well be right. But again, it depends upon the recent form of the pressers/closers as well as the speed group.

In such a pace shape, if from among the 7 early speed runners there is one dominant speed, he may very well outbreak the rest and go on to win, again depending upon what kind of indications or lack thereof of a pending strong effort the pressers and closers have displayed recently.

When there are quite a few early runners signed on I will always take a careful look at each. I'll note which have shown that they win only when on the front end, and which have shown the ability to sit a length or 2 off the early pace and score with a move from the top of the lane.

Let's say in the above scenario with 7 early runners, 4 of them have shown the ability to win only when in front with an easy lead all the way.

If 1 of those 4 shows dominant early speed over the others, the remaining 3 will very likely finish out of the money after wilting from trying to keep up with the speed of the speed during the first 4 furlongs.

This particular situation would effectively eliminate 3 horses, making it a field of 7 to consider. And from the remaining 6, not counting the dominant early speed runner, there would likely be 2 or 3 that could be dismissed for one reason or another.

Then it would be a case of deciding if the speed of the speed will hang on to win, or if one of the pressers or closers will come on to take it.

Such a decision is made easier for me by the other two focus areas of my handicapping approach, "moves within a race" and final fraction comparison.

Following are 4 examples of races run a couple of weeks ago that I capitalized on partly due to pace shape advantage, 3 of which I had listed on my private subscriber's selections web page, which can be found here.

Race 1 on Aqueduct's Inner dirt track on February 16, 2003 featured a pace shape of 4P, 5S - 9, a match up which immediately begged for a handicapper to locate the quality front runner, if there was one.

You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for this race by clicking here.

And the results chart is here.

As I've said in past writings, when I have found a race that I really want to look over carefully, one of the things I do is write down the order of speed as I see it.

As a matter of fact I will have 4 columns in the right hand space of my DRF p.p.'s on which I will write down in order beginning with the best first, horses numbers in the following significant categories:

SP for speed horses, Moves for horses that have made last out "moves within a race", F/F for final fractions, and R-Scan for Red Scan Qualifying horses.

In the right hand column of Race 1 on my Racing Form of Sunday February 16th, I had the following numbers next to these 4 categories:

SP: 8-6-1
Moves: 8-3-4
F/F: 9-4-5-1
R.Scan: 8-3-5-9

Here is the field of 9 that went a mile and an 8th with claiming tags of $12,500. I'll list the horses in post position order, and follow with the running style I've labeled each, last out Beyer, final fraction (raw/actual), and any "moves within a race."

1. Blue Krismas P 69 24.4/26.0 --

2. Roy's Secret S 68 26.4/27.2 --

3. Millennium Two P 71 26.4/27.1 T/M

4. Letrado S 72 26.1/25.4 SRE

5. Mickey The Groom S 81 26.0/26.0 --

6. Uncle T. P 26 -- --

7. Migrating S 57 27.1/27.4 --

8. Juan Valdez P 73 26.4/27.2 -- T/M

9. Weldlock S 69 26.3/25.1 --

Although I strongly stress final fractions in many situations, in a pace shape like this one, I will definitely consider running styles as being among the most important handicapping factors.

In this field of 9 there were 4 P runners or pressers, and 5 S runners or sustained closers. The most important asset in this match up could very well be the ability to get to the front and go all the way on top.

1.) Blue Krismas was one of 3 horses in here that could conceivably get to the front. But what about the distance of a mile and an 8th around 2 turns?

Even though he was exiting a pretty good performance, I tossed him due to having run his last 12 races at 6F, never having run at today's trip of 9F, and his Tomlinson distance figure of 240. I eliminated from consideration what would turn out to be the 2nd choice in the wagering - always a good thing if you can be confident about doing it.

2.) Roy's Secret was an S horse who had not finished close in any of his last 6 outings; another non-contender in this match up.

3.) Millennium Two was on my lists as a "move" horse, what I call a T/M play, and also as a Red Scan horse. Off his last race he had to be on my short list of 3 contenders.

4.) Letrado showed the 2nd best FF and was also an SRE "move" horse. I tossed him, however, from the top 3 list because of him being a stone cold closer in a pace shape with no EP runners signed on. He and the other real late closers would need a miracle to be able to get up in time for the win or place slots. At best they could be used for 3rd in trifectas.

If there were 4 early runners in here, all of which were not projected to have the ability to take this field all the way, Letrado very well might have been in my top 3. But with this pace shape and his positioning in his last 2 races at the 8th pole of 12 lengths and 14 lengths behind, he was placed on my non-contender list.

5.) Mickey The Groom had the 3rd best FF showing and was also a Red-Scan horse. And he had just run a lifetime best outing (81 Beyer) with the addition of blinkers.

When a horse runs a best lifetime race, it's a good idea to check just how much the best it was. In the case of Mickey The Groom, that 81 Beyer was 28, 14, and 17 points better than his previous 3 races, beginning with his 4th race back.

With that much of an improvement, there is always the possibility of a bounce, but off his last race I wound up placing him 3rd in my order of preference. In hindsight I should have had the courage of my convictions with such evidence that a bounce could very well be forthcoming, and eliminated this horse. Had I done so, I would have had the trifecta.

As you can see by the results chart, he did bounce badly off that last try, finishing 6th as the 5-1 3rd choice in the wagering.

6.) Uncle T was certainly one of the horses in here that could conceivably get to the front, but the way he ran in his last 3 outings for $16K and $14K, he had to be tossed.

7.) Migrating was taking a drop from a non winners of 2 lifetime $25K claiming race, but as an S horse was put on my non contender list.

8.) Juan Valdez was on 3 of my 4 right-hand column lists. All but the final fraction list, which is normally very important to me. But he was a T/M play with what I thought was the best chance from among the 3 "speed" horses to get to the front at some point and hold on for the win.

He had won his prior wire to wire at the $10K level, and was in for $1.5K less in this race than his last. He had also shown the ability to win at this distance, and was exiting a good close to the pace 2nd in his last at 1/16th longer.

9.) Weldlock was coming off 2 good races, a 2nd place finish to Juan Valdez and a going away score, both at the $10K claiming level. In addition, he showed a strong 25.1 last out final fraction advantage.

With all of this going for him, however, he was not on my list of contenders. Why? Simply because in a pace shape such as this with 4 P runners and 4 S runners, as an S runner and habitual deep closer, Weldlock was projected by me to have a real tough time getting into the exacta, and maybe not the trifecta, breaking from his outside 9-slot.

As can be seen in the results chart, the best Weldlock could do with the pace shape stacked against him was to close from dead last 9th to 5th.

On my private subscriber free selections page, which for some inexplicable (to me) reason only about one quarter of you look at (found here), my order of selections for this race were:

8. Juan Valdez (3-1) (2-1) - (morning line) (my value line)
3. Millennium Two (15-1) (5-1)
5. Mickey The Groom (7-2) (5-2)

Things happened to unfold pretty much the way I expected them to on this occasion with Juan Valdez quickly opening a 3 length lead after a quarter of a mile, while Uncle T and Blue Krismas faded out of it before the field entered the stretch.

I couldn't have written a better script as far as the winner and second place finisher were concerned as T/M play Juan Valdez went wire to wire holding off the late run of T/M play Millennium Two.

Migrating went well off the drop to get 3rd at 11-1.

The prices for the day's only race (after the jockey's cancelled the remainder of the card due to frigid temperatures) were:

8. Juan Valdez $5.40
3. Millennium Two 2nd, 8-3 ex. $34.00
7. Migrating 3rd, 8-3-7 tri. $272.50

Race 9 at Aqueduct on Thursday February 13th was another interesting match up regarding pace shape. From among the 12 four year olds & up that were going a mile and a 16th at the basement claiming level of $10K, I had the pace shape labeled 6P, 6S - 12.

You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for this race by clicking here.

And the results chart is here.

Once I had the pace shape noted on the top of the p.p.'s for this race, the first thing I wanted to do was take a real close look at each horse to make a list of which could possibly quickly bust out on top.

After careful scrutiny, I had in my speed column the numbers of four horses in order of most to least likely to actually get a clear early lead.

Here was the field:

2. Rich Celebration P 67 26.3/26.2 T/M

3. Strike Twice P 60 26.3/27.3 --

4. Heroic Sight P 67 26.3/26.3 --

5. Jumangi P 47 -- --

6. Prince Warrior S 53 -- --

7. Coby Appeal S 65 26.1/27.1 --

1. Monumental Vending S 53 27.2/27.2 --

8. Alyswell S 53 26.4/28.4 --

9. Baby Shaq S 71 26.4/27.0 T/M


11. Crowded Meadow P 73 26.2/25.0 D/P

12. Italian Pride P 43 -- --

14. Buckmont S 70 26.0/26.2 --

1A. Hope To Prosper LATE SCRATCH

A careful review of all the p.p.'s for these entries revealed to me that there simply were no consistent quality early speed runners.

But one of the group of 12 could conceivably get to the front by himself, and in a pace shape such as this, if that turned out to be the case, that horse could hold up a long way.

2.) Rich Celebration had to be my top selection because of his last outing in which he ran 2nd as a T/M play, and he was ranked 2nd on my list of potential speed horses.

3.) Strike Twice had shown some early lick in some of his races, but having run mostly on the New England circuit with lesser, I didn't think he was much of an on the board threat in this match up.

4.) Heroic Sight was coming off an okay 3rd in which he had the lead by 1 1/2 at the 8th pole, and was listed as the 4th speed on my list, but as a non contender.

5.) Jumangi - a quick look at his p.p.'s said toss this one immediately off his last 2 non efforts. I said a quick look. But I took a much closer than quick look at each of these 12 entries, and when I got to Jumangi, I eventually found my top ranked speed horse.

Following an October 5th to January 15th layoff, this horse had run in 2 6F sprint races on the Inner track. What was important about those races was not that he finished up the track in 7th (beaten 8 lengths) and 9th (13 3/4 behind), but that in his prior race he was within 2 lengths of the lead at each of the first 2 calls.

What about getting the mile and a 16th trip, a distance he had never tried? A quick glance down his p.p.'s showed he had successfully gone a lot further than that as a steeplechase runner.

Jumangi was listed number one on my speed list that after review of all entries was: 5-2-3-4. As one of only 2 horses stretching out from a last out sprint (the other being an out of form S runner just to his outside), and also because of his slight class drop, I gave him a shot to be in the money in this match up and made him my 4th choice.

In my selections, and this race was indeed on my free picks page, I will normally make a priority list of 3 contenders. If it is the finale on a N.Y. track I'll list a 4th or what I call a periphery play because of that being the only superfecta race on the card.

I'll sometimes also list a 4th or periphery play if there are 10 or more horses in the field with 4 entries looking like they could be a part of the exotic plays.

In this race, Jumangi, at 30-1 in the morning line, was my periphery play. I nearly crossed him off thinking he was a stretch off his last couple of outings, but fortunately I left him there.

I thought he did have a good shot at the lead in this pace shape, and if he could get it by a few lengths, he could hold on for a share of the exacta and/or trifecta.

6.) Prince Warrior was an S horse who showed nothing in his first race off a 9-month layoff.

7.) Coby Appeal was taking a slight drop, and off the late gain in his 2nd race off a layoff could have been considered a periphery play (one that I think has a shot for a minor award, but is not a top contender for the win); however I left him off my contender list.

1.) Monumental Vending was an S horse that showed nothing in his last.

8.) Alyswell didn't show any signs of a good race coming in his last couple of outings and was considered a non contender.

9.) Baby Shaq was on 3 of my lists as a T/M play, a Red Scan horse and the 4th best on the FF list. I made him a top 3 player off his last 2 races at $12.5K and $14K.

11.) Crowded Meadow was also in my top 3 off his last out D/P status including a field best last out FF of 25 flat. His undoing was probably being sent to the lead from his outside 10 slot.

It could be that either or both of his trainer and jockey when reading the p.p.'s decided to give it a shot to get to the front. He was 2nd for a half mile, but faded back to finish 5th at the end, missing the superfecta by a neck.

12.) Italian Pride showed nothing in his last at Suffolk Downs.

14.) Buckmont was an S horse going from the 12 hole off a 2nd to last finish in his first race back from a 68 day layoff.

My private newsletter subscriber selections page had this order of preference:

2. Rich Celebration (3-1) (2-1)
11. Crowded Meadow (8-1) (7-2)
9. Baby Shaq (9-2) (3-1)

Periphery Play

5. Jumangi (30-1) (10-1)

In spite of my top pick going off as the 9-5 favorite, when I saw Jumangi at such overlay odds (44-1 at post time), I knew I had to construct trifecta wagers for this race.

First I keyed Rich Celebration in the win and place slots in exactas as such: p/w 2/5-9-11, p/w 2/9-11, p/w 5-9-11/2, p/w 9-11/2.

Then I played these trifectas: key 2/5-9-11, p/w 5/2-9-11/2-9-11, p/w 2-9-11/5/2-9-11, and 2-9-11/2-9-11/ 5.

When Jumangi got a clear and easy lead and entered the stretch in front by 2 lengths, I had visions of a trifecta score with him on top as a $90 winner.

But he still did his job despite fading late to the oncoming Baby Shaq and Rich Celebration, transforming a $31 exacta into a $942 trifecta.

The payoffs:

9. Baby Shaq $11.60
2. Rich Celebration 2nd - 9-2 ex. $31.00
5. Jumangi 3rd - 9-2-5 tri. $942.00
7. Coby Appeal 4th - 9-2-5-7 super. $7, 073.00

I went into a lot of detail for the first couple of examples in this month's newsletter, because I thought it was important to examine the entire process I used to come up with payoffs in both.

But in the interest of time (your reading time) I'll go over the next 2 races a little more quickly.

As it happened, they were the 8th and 9th races run on Saturday February 15th, selections for the second of which I had listed on my free picks page.

Race 8 was the $75K Dearly Precious Stakes for 7 three year old fillies going 6F.

You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for this race by clicking here.

And the results chart is here.

Here was the field:

1. Ladyecho P 82 24.2/24.2 T/M

2. Three Roses EP 74 25.1/25.1 --

3. Harford Ghost EP 88 25.1/25.1 --

4. Reign Of Tara EP 81 24.2/24.1 --

5. Lizzy Cool EP 83 24.2/24.2 --

6. The Name Was Gone P 70 26.2/25.4 --

7. Hussy EP 72 25.4/25.4 --

In this pace shape of 5EP - 7, I had the order of early speed horses at: 3-5-7-4-2, with none of them perceived to have dominant front runnng capability over the others.

This was a case in which I felt the horses with the best final fractions showing should be the 3 prime contenders.

My selections on that basis were 4-5-1. Their FF's of 24.1, 24.2, and 24.2 were better by a good margin than the next best 25.1 recorded by the 4-5 favorite 3-horse and the 18-1 2-horse.

Here was a pace shape that seemed to favor closers, and the winner was indeed one of the 2 runners labeled P.

It also demonstrated the potency of final fraction comparison as the results were:

1. Ladyecho - $11.40
5. Lizzy Cool - 2nd - 1-5 ex. $87.00
4. Reign Of Tara - 3rd - 1-5-4 tri. $272.50

Obviously boxing these 3 in an exacta and/or trifecta would have resulted in making good money. Using all 3 in D/D's into race 9 with my top 2 picks in that race would have as you will see also yielded a very nice payoff.

Race 9 at Aqueduct on February 15th was a field of 11 four year olds & up going a mile and a 16th with claiming tags of $20K/$18K.

I had the pace shape as 4EP - 11, which would normally favor the early runners, and in this case, two of them combined for an exacta of $286 (listed on my free picks page as contenders 2 and 3).

You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for this race by clicking here.

And the results chart is here.

Here was the field:

1. Cajun Concert LATE SCRATCH

2. Hourly Storm EP 68 24.2/26.4 WIR/W.O.

3. Golden Contender P 78 25.4/26.4 --

4. Weston Field P 73 26.0/27.1 W.O.

5. Fact Not Fiction EP 57 26.0/- --

6. Coke's Tribute S 74 25.2/26.2 --

7. Gunning EP 83 26.0/26.1 --

8. Personal Journey P 80 25.4/26.0 T/M

9. Double Blue S 69 27.3/28.1 --

10. Good Man Sam P 80 25.4/25.2 -- T/M

11. K.O.'s Crypto S 77 26.0/26.2 T/M

12. Gratiaen EP 77 26.0/26.2 --

Because of the pace shape of this race favoring early runners, I stressed that capability as well as post position rather than final fractions as in the previous example.

My list of speed horses was: 5-2-7-12. If you look at the last out Beyer speed figures of my top two ranked speeds, you'll see that 57 and 68 don't match up too well with some of the other last-out numbers.

But in a pace shape like this in which you are trying to identify horses with the best chance of getting to the front while having shown in the not too distant past that they can hold up, the running style is more important than recent speed figures, which basically measure final time.

Horses can make last out moves (as in the case of Hourly Storm) or simply show what's needed in their previous p.p.'s (like strong early speed ability for Fact Not Fiction) that will make them logical contenders. Despite their recent speed figures, which is why I stress looking at each race as a unique match up.

My listed order of preference in this race was:

4. Weston Field (3-1) (2-1)
2. Hourly Storm (15-1) (6-1)
5. Fact Not Fiction (4-1) (3-1)

Periphery Play

3. Golden Contender (5-1) (7-2)

I put #4 Weston Field on top because of being close to a very swift early pace in his last, when the front runner ran a 22.3 first quarter, as well as the fact that he had won his prior at this level with a 25.2 FF.

Things turned out well as my top 2 listed speed horses ran 1-2, but not exactly as planned. Fact Not Fiction did indeed get to the front, and had a pretty good margin on the field, including 3 lengths with only a furlong remaining.

But Hourly Storm did not show the speed I thought he would, and won it with a strong late charge from 8th at the pace call (6F).

The clues were there though for these two, including the perceived early speed advantage.

They both were dropping in class from $30K to $20K, and there were a few other factors showing in the p.p.'s of Hourly Storm that made him my 2nd choice despite a morning line of 15-1.

Of no small significance was the 24.2 raw final fraction from his last race, which was considerably better than all the others.

The last out Beyer of 68 didn't bother me at all. One of the reasons why I underline in red each horse's best Beyer showing is to see where that stands in relation to the rest of the best Beyers showing.

If you look down to his 5th to last outing you'll see the 94 Beyer that I had underlined in red. In addition to the other things I liked about him indicating that he would very likely run a better than last race and maybe a real good one in this match up, that 94 Beyer staked up real well against the other 10 runners.

I would have to think the reason why the M/L oddsmaker had Hourly Storm at 15-1 was that he considered him a quitter, especially in his last outing when he lost 12 lengths from the pace call to the finish.

But this was a very fine example of what I call a WIR play. Anyone who has my book and wants to see a real good example of this play should look at Hourly Storm.

And in the latest edition of my book, I suggest that such a play meet at least one of 3 other criteria to be a solid contender.

Hourly Storm met 2 of those, and as such in this match up had to be considered a top 2 contender.

Will all such longshots in spots like this win? Of course not; most will be also rans, or at least not winners. No angle that can come up with horses that pay this well will win more often than they lose.

But fortunately in this case, Hourly Storm did get up in time to complete and begin very nice D/D and exacta payoffs.

The results were:

2. Hourly Storm $33.00
5. Fact Not Fiction 2nd - 2-5 ex. $286.00
6. Coke's Tribute 3rd - 2-5-6 tri. $3,896.00
4. Weston Field 4th - 2-5-6-4 super. $29,634.00

1-2 D/D - $238.00

As this month's example races show, it was a good 4 day span of racing at the Big A.

For the free selections I post each racing day on my private web page for subscribers to this newsletter, you can bookmark this web page:

Or you can click here.

Until Saturday April 5th, 2003, I wish you Fair Skies and Fast Tracks.