November '99 Archived Newsletters

Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter
Saturday, November 13, 1999

In this edition of "Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter" I'll address some emails I've received since the last issue. Some of the content may be repetitive, but it really can't hurt to review things again. I have found that when it comes to being successful at horseracing, "brainwashing" or constantly being reminded of proper techniques until they become second nature is critical.

When we're in the "heat of battle" while trying to make the right decisions and wagers, it helps to have certain things engrained in our minds so that it's second nature to make the right moves the majority of the time. For each and every race I'm thinking of playing, I automatically initiate my 3-step procedure that will allow me to be consistent and cover all the bases. First, I ask myself the question "do I have an edge in this race?" (Or is it too contentious with too many contenders or too uncertain, such as having stale horses or first-time starters entered?)

If the answer to that question is yes, I move on to the second one, "is there enough value for me to construct a wager for this race?" If I can answer yes to that question, then I review each and every possible wager open to me for that race and decide on the best option(s) to optimize the payoff if my horse(s) wins. If there is an angle play or a horse that I really like more than other contenders, then I will want to have some money on that horse alone, whether or not I also opt for exotic wagering. Many times I will like one horse and find the rest of the field too contentious, which makes the wagering decision easy, win or win-place.

Here is the first letter I received, from Robbie: "Hi Jim, boy am I having some problems. I've been playing the horses for 15 years and used to be a good handicapper. I would read the Racing Form and make my plays. Then I started with Trackmaster, rag sheets (Ragozin sheets), speed ratings and now I am totally confused when I handicap. Is there a formula or system that you use?"

"When I was winning I would handicap this way. First I would eliminate horses (horses that were not fast enough, bad form, etc.). Secondly, I would get a mental image of which contenders would get the lead, stalk, and close. Thirdly, I would look for intangibles such as trainer/jockey angles, trouble last out, etc. When I was going well, horses would actually jump off the Racing Form at me. I enjoy your newsletter and would appreciate any suggestions for a frustrated handicapper who loves the sport of horseracing. Thanks, Robbie."

Actually that's pretty much the way I describe my own particular handicapping style, only with more detail, in my book, "Calibration Handicapping." To be successful, I have to calibrate or arrange in priority order all handicapping factors and make the process repetitive so that I do it the same way every time and not overlook anything. First I review each entry in the race for various things like conditioning and other pertinent data, then I label each horse's running style and jot down the pace shape and race shape of each match up. Next I go through a few more steps that enable me to get a picture of how the race will be run and help identify the contenders.

I then determine which running style or styles will have the advantage and which will be at a disadvantage. Finally, I narrow the field down to 3 or 4 contenders. If there are more contenders than that, I will usually forget about wagering on the race, unless there is a standout play, such as an angle horse (one that has made a move-within-a-race). In summary, I review and calibrate the running styles, pace shape, Beyer speed figures, "invisible" Beyer speed figures, final fractions and angle plays.

Dennis S. wrote, "my first question is very complex, but I would appreciate it if you would attempt an answer. I have learned the expensive way that I must become very selective about the types and number of races I play. What criteria make a race playable?"

I have also learned a lot of things the expensive way. You don't become a good handicapper overnight and the more wagers you make until you are, the more expensive a lesson it is. I agree with Dennis wholeheartedly that we should be ultra-selective about which races we play. That's why I say to specialize. Find your niche or forte'. With which kinds of races do you have the most success; sprints, routes, turf, claimers, maidens?

As I've said in the past I find that I have the most success and the best ROI with sprint races. Why? Because most sprint fields on the dirt are composed of horses that have last run in sprints, which makes the matching up process simpler. Sure, you will occasionally find a last-out router or a sprinter that last raced in a route on dirt or turf, but for the most part sprinters run in sprints. In addition, sprint fields generally are composed of horses that have run similar last-race distances, say 6F, 6 1/2F or 7F, which also makes for simpler handicapping.

On the other hand, in route races there are quite a few distances at which horses compete, such as a mile (8F), a mile and a 70 yards, which is 40 yards shy of a mile and a sixteenth (8 1/2F), a mile and an eighth (9F), a mile and three sixteenths (9 1/2F), a mile and a quarter (10F), a mile and a half (12F) and marathons of a mile and five eighths (13F) and beyond. It is a little more difficult and tricky to try to match up factors such as internal fractions in fields with entries having run such diverse last race distances, including the occasional stretch-out sprinter.

Am I saying that we should not play route races? Not at all, I'm just saying that I myself have found more bottom-line success with sprint races and I would recommend that anyone who is having difficulty with staying ahead of this game try the sprint game for a while and keep track of the results. A good place to begin as always is with "paper" bets.

The main reason why I prefer turf route races to dirt route races is that many times I can find a field that is composed entirely of horses that have last run on the grass and at similar distances. Then the handicapping process becomes easier with less chance of a total surprise result. I can compare final fractions and go from there.

As for what criteria make a race playable, my answer is the two things I talk about regularly, edge and value. If you don't have these two prerequisites, in my opinion you don't have a strong or major play. If you play only races that provide these two criteria, however, your ROI has to improve!

Bet construction is an individual thing, pretty much dependent on one's bankroll and per race allotment. There are some who believe that a certain percentage of your bankroll, such as 5%, should be allotted for each playable race. Others are not as rigid and have a pretty standard amount for each race regardless of the bankroll size. Still others have different wagering amounts depending on how strongly they feel about a particular horse or race. If one person's per race wager is $50, they can obviously cover more plays than someone who can risk $10 per race.

For anyone who has a small bankroll (for now), I would suggest win or win-place wagers on single horses rather than combination bets until a fairly sizeable bankroll has been accumulated, at which time they might begin to include daily doubles, exactas, pick 3's and possibly even trifectas. Even if you have to begin with $2 wagers, if you are selective and go for value horses, you can build up a bankroll.

Clear skies and fast tracks.

Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter
Saturday, November 20, 1999

Welcome again to another edition of "Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter." The first thing I want to cover is the following email I received from George P. from New Jersey:


"Just a quick email to let you know that your Wide Out play is alive and well at tracks other than Aqueduct. I'm attaching a file of the Daily Racing Form's past performances of the 2nd race at Calder yesterday (Sunday, 11/14/99). I'm sure you can spot the obvious Wide Out horse and since I bought your book, "Calibration Handicapping", I could see that this was a Profile horse also. I've found as you have said in the past that the best Wide Out play is one that also has made the move you call the Profile. The money I had on this $43.20 horse to win plus the exacta of $235.40 paid for your book more than 20 times over. Thanks a million!"


This is not so much a plug for my book as it is a demonstration that the new Wide Out play that I recently discovered is indeed a pretty good spot play, especially when the value is there as it was last Sunday in this race from Calder in Florida.

An interesting point with this horse also is that she went off at 20 to 1 in spite of finishing a decent 3rd in her last race, 3 ¾ lengths behind the horse that she beat in this match up. Thanks George, this is another fine example of what I've been emphasizing. A horse that makes the right move-within-a- race, such as the Wide Out move, will often beat a horse that has the best speed figure(s), and at much better odds.

Comparing the Beyer speed figures for the entries in this race from Calder, you can see that #'s 2 and 5 had the best last-race figures of 55. In each of their previous races, they earned a 56. Also, #1 had a 70 figure in her second race back. Those 3 went off as the top 3 betting choices in this order, #1 9-5, #5 3-1 and #2 9-2. The winner, #9 Dance For Rosemary? Her last figure was 44, a full 11 points lower than the top 2 last-race figures and her lifetime best was only 52. The 2-horse, by the way, completed the big exacta.

I've attached another file of DRF past performances, this time for race 8 at Calder on 11/15/99, for which I had the winner ($27.80) listed on top on my website that day under Free Selections (along with another top-listed Wide Out winner that paid $12.60). This race clearly illustrates another topic I've discussed, and that is matching up running styles. In this short field of 7, every single one of the entries possesses either an E or an EP running style. This means that there were only early presence horses and no pressers or closers.

This is a prime example of a match up that required locating the "speed of the speed", which to me represents the horse that will have the lead as they straighten away in the stretch. If there is a multi-horse early speed duel, this is the horse I calculate to emerge with the lead. If there is not a duel, this is the horse that should potentially be able to take the field all the way. In addition to having made the move-within-a-race I call the Profile move, Samantha the Great also was, according to the way I calculate it, the "speed of the speed" and she wired the field pretty easily at nearly 13 to 1. As it turns out, due to the lack of closers in the race, the place horse chased the winner all the way, resulting in a 2-speed finish.

Why was Samantha the Great allowed to go off at such generous odds? This is yet another good example of a race in which the public was fixated on speed figures rather than internal fractions advantages and moves-within-a-race, which as I've said are what beat the horses that show the best figures a good portion of the time and account for many winning overlay plays. Therefore I'd like to go over this particular race a little more closely so you can see the value of hidden overlay plays like Samantha the Great and also so you can spot future plays like her.

Here are the last 2 Beyer speed figures for each horse in the field beginning with the last race, in post-position order:

1.) 47, 72
2.) 57, 60
3.) 60, 61
4.) 59, 75
5.) 58, 73
6.) 71, 67
7.) 41, 63

As you can see from this list or by looking at the DRF p.p.'s, #2 Samantha the Great had pretty much inferior Beyer speed figures compared to much of her competition. As a matter of fact, her best lifetime figure on a dry track was her last, a 57 and if you look in the upper right-hand corner of the p.p.'s, you can see the best lifetime figures on a fast dirt track for each horse were in order: 83, 57, 75, 79, 73, 68, and 63. The winner, #2, had the worst figure of them all! By a large margin.

So how in the world could this horse win a race against such apparently superior horses? Again, it depends on how you look at things. Obviously, I can't talk about the content in my book; for one thing it would be totally unfair to the many who have bought it. But if you look at the "invisible" Beyer speed figures for each horse's last race, a different picture emerges. In post-position order, here they are: 74, 78, 60, 72, 71, 71, and 72. All of a sudden, the #2 horse can be seen in a different light, as possessing rather than the lowest figure, now the highest.

Samantha the Great won this race not because of her last race Beyer speed figure and not because of the potential shown by her lifetime best Beyer speed figure. She won this race because of the factors that pointed to her running a much bigger race and speed figure than she had before and that's one of the keys to handicapping. Samantha the Great won this race because she had made the move-within-a-race I call the Profile, and because she had the best last-race "invisible" Beyer, and because she was the "speed of the speed" in a match up that indicated success for such a horse.

Clear skies and fast tracks.

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