Handicapping 101

"What is handicapping?"

Handicapping is the art of picking winners. All that you need is a track program, a pencil, and your mind!

After reading through the "race review" page of the program, you can glance over at the right page. This side contains what we call past performances - descriptions of each horse's last few races. The object of the game is to pick the horse that looks like he or she is ready for a winning effort.

No two people handicap races in the same way - but all of the fans are aiming for a winner! At the track, most people handicap using similar information. Those who can best interpret this information often end up going home winners.

Some popular methods of handicapping include:

1. Speed Handicapping: Usually involves Beyer Speed Figures (found in the Daily Racing Form) or Equibase Speed Ratings (found in the track program). The philosophy of speed handicappers is that the horses which have run the "highest figures" will continue to do so and, consequently, win races.

Advantages: When you bet on the horse(s) with the highest speed rating(s), you may end up winning three or four races per day, but most of the time you will be betting on favorites - horses who are obvious contenders but don't offer much wagering value.


2. Trip Handicapping: Trip handicapping is a bit tougher than speed handicapping, since it doesn't attempt to boil a race down to one figure. It entails watching a horse's last few races (in person or via race replays) and searching the track program or racing form for excuses for any sub-par performance.

For example: Sometimes you will see that a horse went wide around both turns, or was shut off in the stretch (couldn't find racing room), or maybe a jockey made a mistake. After finding a good explanation for a sub-par performance, you would wait until the next time the horse runs, and assuming that they weren't in over their head, make a bet.

The Skinny: When it is done right, trip handicapping can be a highly successful method of picking winners. Since the majority of bettors don't keep detailed "trip notes," you may very well find a "live longshot" in one or two races per day.


3. Pace Handicapping: This method of handicapping requires a lot of patience and an affinity for math. A typical pace handicapper calculates the velocity of each horse at various points-of-call during their past few races. After crunching numbers by hand, calculator, or with sophisticated computer programs, he or she comes up with a few highly-precise figures (measured in feet-per-second) which tell the handicapper how fast a horse was moving at designated stages of the race.

The Skinny: Why in their right mind would somebody want to do this? It's simply a matter of preference. Many experienced handicappers feel that this is the best way to analyze races. The point of any "handicapping system" is to gain an edge over other bettors. Some people are willing to work very hard to find an edge, while others prefer less-rigorous tactics. If you have just discovered handicapping, you should put off pace handicapping until a year or two from now. There are quite a few fundamentals to be learned before we can dive into advanced handicapping techniques.


4. Class Handicapping: Around the racetrack, you may hear one or two popular definitions of class. Some people attribute a horse's class to his or her desire or ability to prevail under less than ideal circumstances. From a handicapping standpoint, class is the level of competition that a horse has been racing against. When someone says that a horse is "dropping down in class," they mean that it looks as though the horse is facing weaker competition than in the recent past. The opposite can be said for a horse "stepping up in class." Such a comment means that a horse (who most likely has done well against lesser competition) is facing tougher horses than in the recent past.

The Skinny: The most popular method of class handicapping is to note the conditions of today's race, and compare them to a horse's past races. In order to do this, you must have a basic understanding of class levels at Monmouth Park. Here are four main levels of racing that you can identify in our track program:


Maiden Claiming (abbreviated Md )
The term "maiden" can apply to Thoroughbreds of any age, sex or ability. It simply means that they have yet to win a race. Maiden claiming events are races in which horses can compete while running for a tag. Simply put, any horses entered in a maiden claiming race can be purchased for their designated claiming price. Since these horses are for sale, the competition at this level tends to be much softer than that of any other race run at Monmouth Park. On the past performances page, maiden claiming races look like this: Md 10000 to Md 40000. The number on the right represents the horse's claiming price. Generally speaking, the higher this number, the tougher the competition.


Maiden Special Weight (abbreviated Md Sp Wt)
These races are similar to maiden claimers, but with one notable exception - the horses are not for sale. For this reason alone, many of Monmouth Park's maiden special weight entrants are of a higher caliber than maiden claiming horses.

When Thoroughbreds win their first race, it's said that they "broke their maiden." After this victory they have three major options: claiming, allowance and stakes races.


Claiming (abbreviated Clm)
Most horses who graduate from a mid to high maiden claiming tag, or from a maiden special weight race skip right into allowance company, but the least impressive often end up in the claiming ranks. Claiming races make up the majority of all races carded across the country. Like maiden claimers, the competition gets tougher as you move up in claiming price. (Claiming prices at Monmouth Park range from $5,000 to $60,000 and appear in the program like this: Clm 5000, Clm 60000.)


Allowance (abbreviated Alw )
Allowance races have difficulty levels, but since the entered horses are not for sale, a different system is used. The allowance ranks are divvied up by what are called "conditions" (which can be found in bold type, directly under the race heading on the left program page). Many different conditions are available, but for now, we'll just concentrate on the four most popular ones at Monmouth.


Non-winners of "a-other-than"
To enter this race, a horse must not have won a race other than maiden, claiming, or starter in his or her racing career. Because of this condition, the majority of "a-other-than" contenders are stepping up out of the maiden or claiming ranks. This is the easiest of all the allowance conditions. It can be found on the past performance pages as "Alw 25000n1x" (25000 is the purse value and n1x is the abbreviated form for "a-other-than").


Non-winners of "two-other-than"
To enter this race, a horse must not have won two races other than maiden, claiming, or starter in his or her racing career. Since it allows horses that have already cleared their first condition to enter, it can be considerably harder to win. (Two-other-than races appear in the past performances as Alw 30000n2x).


Non-winners of "three-other-than"
As you can probably guess, this race is open to horses that have not won three races other than maiden, claiming, or starter in their racing careers. Only the best horses are able to make it through this level at major tracks. A convincing "three-other-than" score can have an owner dreaming of a lucrative stakes victory. (Three-other-than allowances appear in the past performances as Alw 35000n3x).


Money Allowances
These races are usually written for horses that have "run out of conditions." They often carry higher purses and much looser restrictions (i.e. for horses that have not won $18,000 since January 1, 2008) - as a result of this, they often attract stakes horses who are prepping for bigger races down the line. (Money allowances appear in the past performances as Alw 40000n$x).


Stakes (listed as the name of the race, i.e. Revidere or Sapling)
There are two main types of stakes races at Monmouth Park: Graded and Non-Graded. Graded stakes carry the most prestige and purse money, so they attract the best horses from all over the country. Non-Graded stakes carry lower purses, so they tend to attract some of the better local horses.

Jockey / Trainer Angles
Some people like to keep track of how trainers' horses handle different situations. After analyzing racing statistics, they come up with a list of "angles," which tell them how profitable or costly it would have been to bet on a trainer's horses in a given situation.

For example: Trainer Joe Schmoe ran fifty horses at Monmouth Park last year. Twenty five of his horses ran first or second whenever they were dropping in class. His other horses stepped up to a higher class and did not fare well. If you had bet $2 to win on all of Schmoe's horses that were dropping in class, you would have earned a profit of $175.

Whenever such an angle exists, it is said to be powerful, since it produced a $175 return on a $50 investment.

The Skinny: Horses and trainers are individuals, possessing their own strengths and weaknesses. Trainer angles can help you make a decision by providing a trainer's success rate in various situations.  Like any other system, trainer angles do not guarantee winners, but at the very least will provide you with a deeper understanding of the game.

Equipment Changes: Very few people will make decisions based on equipment changes alone, but they can be a powerful addition to one's repertoire. The most common equipment change is blinkers on or off. Blinkers are highly visible because they cover the upper half of a horse's head and shield his or her eyes on either side. Naturally, this causes horses to focus most of their attention on running - not on other horses or fans.