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10 Tips for Handicapping Race Horses

Interested in horse race betting? Do you want a good chance at picking a winner? Here are tips for horse racing handicapping that will help you decide which horse to bet on and help you successful handicap a horse race.

1. Get a copy of the post parade or the racing form. The information in the racing form is invaluable, even if you haven’t mastered the hieroglyphics representing the past efforts of each horse in each race.  The post parade contains important information about the meet, including a list of the leading jockeys, leading trainers.

2. Familiarize yourself with the leading trainers at your favorite tracks.  How well each horse does in the 1 ½ minutes on track is a direct result of the skill of the trainer to prepare and care for the horse over weeks or months.  The best trainers at your track combine a measure of horse sense, competitive savvy, and the salesmanship to attract moneyed owners to help fund their operations.  If any of these skills are lacking, as they are bound to be in most everyone at the race track, the trainer’s ability to win suffers.

3. Avoid races with large fields.  Research says that most of us top out at handling more than seven variables.  The same is true in races with large fields.  The more horses there are in the field, the harder it is to keep track of the rationale for and against each one.  It’s much easier to paint a mental picture of a race with a smaller number of entrants, and that means that it is easier to make good handicapping decisions.

4. Learn the basics of the race conditions. Every day at every track there are a mix of races run.  Each race has different conditions that restrict which horses are eligible, so that there are opportunities for the wide range of horses that form the local population. The best races, the stakes races, pit the most talented horses against each other.  But many other horse races are run for the benefit of the slow, infirm, immature, or unproven horses.  By and large the better the quality of the horses in the field, the more formful the race will be run.  Concentrate your efforts on these better races to get better horse racing handicapping results.

5. Listen to the pre-race commentaries and interviews.  You will be amazed at how much sound information you will get from trainers and commentators, especially prior to the better races. Trainers like to talk about their good horses, (it being a rare enough event), and will generally come clean if they expect their horse to put in a top effort.  While there may be an occasional effort to deceive the public, this is the exception not the rule.  With all of the time required to keep a stable running, spinning the media is a low priority for most trainers.  Few trainers bet at all, and fewer still bet heavily.  They already have wagered on the talent of the horse to bring home a part of the purse.  Making up stories to influence the odds is not part of the plan.

6. Master win betting before spending a lot on combination, or exotic wagers.  Everyone wants to hit a big superfecta that pays $1,000’s for a $1 wager.  But other than dumb luck, the key to long term success in the exotic pools is estimating the chances of each horse to win.  The largest part of the purse goes to the owner, trainer, and jockey of the winner.  The biggest effort will be spent on getting to the line first, and the most predictable results are those to win.  Learning how to estimate the chances of each horse winning is the key to later success betting on and winning the big wagers.

7. Exotics Horse Racing Betting Tip: Build exotic wagers with a mix of favorites and longshots.  Avoid the money wasting trap of betting 3 horse exacta boxes with the 3 favorite horses.  You’ll win less often than you think, and you’ll win less than you think.  Instead, match up a favorite to win with a few longer shots to finish second or with trifectas, third.  The order of finish gets progressively less predictable the farther back the finish.  While the public is uncannily good at predicting the odds of each horse to win, the odds of finishing second or third converge towards the middle.  This means that long shots to win generally have better than their win odds to place and show, while favorites have less than their win odds to finish in the minor places.

8. Develop a specialty.  With the wide range of race types and racing venues, there is an extremely large array of factors that you need to master to be an effective across the board handicapper.  Few horseplayers have the time and energy to master all facets of the game, and fewer still the focus to master a single facet.  If you are serious about developing as a handicapper, focus in on one element of the game and become master.  For example, you could become an expert in maiden races (for horses who have never won), trainers and their strengths and weaknesses, jockeys and their relative skills, off track form, turf racing, or many other subsets of the racing world.  As an expert, you will develop a new found appreciation for the intricacies of the horse racing game, and better position yourself for winning.

9. Wager smart.  It’s easy to get into the trap of mechanical wagering: 3 horse exacta boxes on your top picks, $5 win bet on your favorite jockey, $2 across the board on the likely long shot.  It’s easy to fall into mechanical wagering.  With all of the information you try to process just to handicap the race, it’s tempting to turn your mind off when it comes time to bet.  Unfortunately, this leads to missed opportunities and a diluted bankroll.  Better to tailor the bet to the situation, betting small or not at all if the race is confused, the favorites won’t return much money, or the race is too competitive.  Instead, save that money for another race where the opportunity is better, then make larger bets with better potential returns.

10. Ignore post position bias.  For the most part post position biases are a red herring.  The statistics published on post position results over emphasize the results for inside posts, and under-emphasize the results for outside posts.  Of course the horses on the outside win at a lower percentage.  If the horse is in the 12 slot, he has at least 11 other competitors to defeat.  A horse in the 6 slot, however, may have as few as 5 other competitors.  Without breaking out the win rate adjusted for field size, it’s not possible to determine if the published rate is significant or not.  Better to ignore win post position bias altogether and focus on other factors.

11. Have fun.  Don’t forget to have a good time when you are playing the horses.  If you are at the race track, pay a visit to the paddock to see up close the horses being saddled.  Don’t forget to watch the runners and appreciate the winner.  It’s hard to win a horse race, and all of the competitors deserve your admiration.


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