Commentary

Back to handicapping basics

Updated: June 9, 2008, 2:41 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Given what happened to the big loser at the Belmont Stakes, which was that it received one of the goofiest rides imaginable, and given what happened to the winner, an uncontested lead on a speed-favoring track at a speed-favoring distance, it's time to get back to handicapping basics.

First, that hell-bent-for-leather beginning: You would have thought it was a quarter horse race, not a mile and a half marathon with a short field. What was the rush to get in the three-hole before the first turn, banging and bumping, when you could have gotten to the three-hole, well, anytime?

What happened to the horse? What happened with the ride?

Now, let's review what is considered to be popular handicapping technique.

First, get your speed figures and arrange them in stacks, biggest numbers to the top.

Next, line the subscriber-only computer-generated power rating spreadsheets on your work space, just below the stacks of speed figures. Using light-colored Magic Markers, highlight the best and worst of each power rating, green for the top ratings, yellow for the worst.

Next, locate and denote the differences between the speed figures and power ratings and pace statistics. Sometimes you might find a .031 power rating on one horse, and a minus 1.456 power rating on a competitor with similar past performances. It's important to compare the greatest differences in speed and power ratings in order to compute your wager, which is based on the Value Index.

This might be a good time to take a break and have a quart of vitamin water and a sprout-on-20-grain wheat bread sandwich  take a brisk walk or pump a few miles on a stationary bicycle.

With power ratings and speed figures and variances and discrepancies listed on note cards, it's time to move to the Value Index, which compares morning lines and near-closing lines, and betting trends in between, and suggests to the well-meant horse player exactly what to bet, and on whom or what. Tote board betting patterns that decrease and then increase to form the classic "N" pattern call for a double unit value wager.

Once you have all your numbers and ratings and indices and graphs neatly arranged, pour some bacon bits on it and use it to line the snake's cage.

The search for an easy answer to a horse race leads many to fantasy handicapping. Thinking is so hard. Why not find a way around it? Reducing a gamble to a rote reaction can be done in blackjack, why not horse racing? Life forces are hard to systemize, that's why.

The only basics of horse race handicapping are as follows.

Think of handicapping components as forming a pie full of mostly equal slices.

Handicapping elements of approximately similar value are: speed and pace figures; power ratings; owner, jockey and trainer connections; track bias; geography; post position; form; work patterns; medication and equipment patterns; weather; the alignment of the stars.

Of double importance in the basic handicapping pie are breeding, common sense, ignoring experts, and many more visits to the track.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.