When I first started following and handicapping the horses some thirty plus years ago, I was always under the impression that there had to be one constant in Horse Racing that seperated the winners from the losers…and so the search began.
Trainer patterns were part of my first search. I found several trainers that showed certain signs of readying a horse for a certain event or condition. I must have originally found more patterns that worked than not because I thought this was the Holy Grail. But then I realized that not all trainers can continue those patterns because lets face it, not all horses are of championship caliber. Unknown injuries that force a trainer to alter a horses workout regimen also wreak havoc with this theory. And so we moved on.
Breeding of course is a BIG factor. But how big I thought? In Stake events, mostly all horses competing have been bred down through the years out of championship stock. No advantage there. All to often in lesser events, the championship breeding gives way to a challenger of non-impressive breeding lines because of a lack of a good trip or trouble, so out the window that goes.
Final furlong times seem to give the best indication of a horses readiness and stamina. However, a horse that is placed into a race for experience and/or a trip over the surface, will not be trying his best during the final stages of the race. Up until now, this was a key factor in determining qualified finishers in each race. But what do you have to gauge in this area with first time starters? The quest continues.
Workouts and race conditions have always played an integral part in selecting horses to finish well. However, in clocking workouts with our own people, we have always found major descrepancies in posted times as well as even hidden ones. Race conditions change all the time and after handicapping an entire card, weather, trainers or Vets have changed the entire complexion of a race by withdrawing their charges from an event. Even in a field of as many as twelve horses, when two or more are withdrawn late, how the race sets up changes dramatically and usually gives you very little time to re-evaluate the race correctly.
Competition comparisons work well but only in determining the winner when others in the field haven’t competed well versus better competition. (or not competed versus the better competition as much) In a most recent example, the 20th running of the River City Handicap at Churchill Downs on Sunday November 16th, 10 horses entered, 1 late scratch, 9 went postward. Six horses entered had ANY Graded Stakes experience. Out of those six, four were Graded Stakes placed. But ONLY one was raced in nothing BUT Graded Stakes (9 straight since 1996) and won this event last year…Same Old Wish. Clearly superior racing against the best of the best. He was the fourth betting choice, Our Best Bet, and he won for fun returning a decent mutuel price of $15.80.