Handicapping a horse race is like the search for a good golf swing in two main ways.
There's a lot to remember.
And, pressure causes forgetfulness.
Over the last couple of weeks, I've heard from a number of people who could use a basic handicapping foundation a redefining of the essential elements for horse players stuck in old mud, and something like a basic strategy for those relatively new to the game.
Here's my favorite email on the subject: Listen, why don't you put together something that summarizes the "new handicapping" age. But not in a book for $25. Put it right here for free. Your reward will be in benefiting others.
1. Forget all but one or two of those how-to books.
If a system worked, the writer wouldn't have to write about it. Hard as writing can be, it's still easier than picking winners consistently.
2. Don't automatically dismiss dramatic drops in class.
Time was, a big class drop meant that a horse was not on solid footing.
But the other night, I saw one drop from $15,000 to half that and win like one fast mummy, all taped up, who knows for sure if the wraps were even needed.
Purses spun up by slot machine profits are now are now oftentimes worth the drop-down gamble.
3. Avoid extreme works too fast too slow, that's another way of saying the trainer lost it.
4. Don't let a long layoff be the only reason to keep you from making a play.
Not all works are official.
5. Odds-on big-time first-timers are great bets on pick 3's, 4's and 6's.
6. Play hot barns.
Not to cast too many aspersions, but winning can be habit forming.
7. If an obvious horse with mid-level odds doesn't get bet, leave it alone.
If they don't like it, why should you?
8. Late runners are for suckers.
They're usually shorter than should be the case because of the drama of the swoop that just misses.
9. Good female jockeys are almost always underplayed at the windows by yahoos.
10. It matters where a trouble line occurred.
Late, toward the front, yeah; fifth around the first turn, not so much.
Also, there's a whole lot of flopping going on – beaten jockeys oftentimes resemble beaten soccer players.
11. Horses that lug in are usually fine.
Lug in, dig in similar.
12. Horses that drift are tired.
13. Horses with speed are the best possibility for big long shot wins.
Uncontested speed at any distance and on any surface can represent a gift horse.
14. Cheap claiming favorites make little sense.
15. Many state-bred stakes races are about like $5,000 open claiming races.
16. A handicapper's mood is critical.
Bad moods lose.
17. Technical stats matter.
Bad trainers and jockeys seldom improve over the meet, forget overnight.
18. Small tracks rock and rule.
Purses spiked by slot machines attract better material than the larger fading money pits.
19. Wins against short fields are for the railbirds.
Subtract five Beyer points for each win against fewer than ten.
20. "Lost jockey" is not so bad. Except for the jockey.
If the jockey is decent and gets back on, so should you.
21. Never bet horses moving from the lint, or fake dirt, to the real thing.
It's your money. Soon it could be somebody else's. A person needs a rule or two.
22. Focus on exotics, play them first rolling doubles, pick 3's, 4's, etc., because that's all about looking for winners.
Steven Crist wrote a good book about why exotics make the most sense and money.
23. Think twice about L1 after a good race, first-time lasix after something like a win.
My granddaddy wondered how much better can a young one get, anyway?
24. Handicap late.
What's the rush? Biases are so important, handicapping the night before can seem like old news.
25. Don't let odds chase you off a horse, save for the exception mentioned before the horse that figures to be bet a little, but isn't.
Take a good look around at just who sets the odds: Goofballs
26. Heed expert selections.
What more could you ask than a guaranteed loser, or more, per big race?
Pressure puts the expert picker in a pickle: He or she would rather have company losing on the obvious than by trying a long shot and slumping alone.
Certain expert picker angles, like searching for "value," are like found money.
Searching for "value" is like not fouling at basketball when you're up by three with a few seconds left.
Did you know that nobody can recall a single basketball team that was up by three going to the last shot, and fouled, and lost? Once? Ever? If it has never ever once happened, why don't all coaches up three going to the last shot foul? Simple, they're scared dumb.
Similarly, nobody in expert horse race picking history can ever recall a "value" pick winning a race.
Guess what, all winners have value.
27. Learn how to pass on a race.
If a race doesn't make decent sense, watch it.
I can't recall passing on many races I would have won with a bet.
28. Breeding is important.
Get a book.
29. Don't drink and bet unless you're made of money and are walking.
30. An "off" track means everything.
Results from mud to dry, or dry to mud, are seldom similar.
31. Lay off the windows after a big win.
It isn't roulette. It's skill, remember?
32. Never bet more than you can afford to win.
Not betting enough causes bad beats.
If you don't have enough money to adequately cover what you like, stay home.
33. Don't make a big win bet to try to get even.
It's a loser's curse.
34. Ask somebody else about grass races.
About the only turf races I win are loose on the lead, or bad last to first, sorry, I know next to nothing of the difficult subject.
35. Post position bias is a little overrated.
Once you've hit a nice 11-12 exacta box at Lone Star, it's fairly obvious that speed and style are the most important gate elements.
36. Buy a Racing Form.
Trying to handicap from a program is like studying for finals with only Cliffs Notes.
37. Always bet pet names.
What's two bucks.
38. Think fast about post parades.
On simulcast TV windows, you're lucky if you get the opportunity to see all the legs.
Obviously, heated or flat behavior in the post parade can be cause for concern.
A halfway decent trainer told me that if a horse was shaking his head side to side with meaning, not up and down, side to side, it could be another way of saying: Forget it, no way I'm running today.
39. Be aware of front wraps.
Sure, it could be something innocent.
I know a man who, in inexpensive claiming races, boxes horses without front wraps; and makes money doing it.
40. Think about not taking a loved one to the races on a regular basis. It can be like fishing in a tiny boat with a spouse, or golfing in the same cart.
Horse racing is fun after it's work. You want to take a loved one to work, that's just you.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.