Learning how to handicap horses is a fantastic way to make immense betting profits.
Even though everyone develops a different handicapping style, there are a few core elements that always stay the same throughout any technique.
If you’re a beginner, these will give you the essentials of the trade and if you’re an expert, these will bring you back to basics which is very useful to do every once in a while.
Since horse handicapping is famously known for being quite difficult and taking a whole lot of time, you can always trust a professional to do it for you instead – it’s a great option when you’ve got limited time to spend on handicapping. You can read our best horse handicappers list to look at the best options.
Now without further delay, let’s begin!
If you want to properly learn how to handicap horse racing like a true professional, these are the 6 essential steps to follow. It takes time, effort and patience but it’s by far the best way to handicap horse races.
First and foremost, you’ve gotta make sure that the horse is in fine shape as everything else depends on it. Any runner that don’t seem to be fit should quickly be eliminated and the best way to determine which are and which aren’t is by simply looking through their racing history and workout routine – if a horse has NOT raced recently or doesn’t have a string of workouts that prove that it’s been active and raring to go, then you can promptly write it off.
As expected, having a recent competitive race on the records is the most valuable and reliable indicator of fitness so make sure to always check for it. If the horse hasn’t raced in more than 30 days than you should check if it has been performing regular workouts to maintain its shape and even better, you should also check the horse’s racing history to see if it has been able to perform well after short or long breaks – this is a true trick of the trade and an excellent indicator in the horse’s favor.
After this simple research, you should dismiss any group that doesn’t fit into the parameters as they aren’t worth the effort. It will also save you precious time that can be better spent analyzing the true contenders. Remember, even if a horse has a glorious past, it won’t mean much if it hasn’t been active recently so don’t get misguided.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t just cross a horse instantly as it might have a legitimate reason for recent bad performance such as racing unsuitable distances or on unsuitable surfaces or it can even have indicators of future success like moving from a losing barn into a winning one or positive workout performance after a freshener.
Now that you’ve got your first refined selection of horses, it’s time to consider how fast they can be on the field when they’re on their very best. Evaluating talent is easier than ever these days as you’ve got access to speed figures, performance ratings and many more tools that make it quick and easy. There are a whole lot of sources, be it TRD’s CPRs, FIRE numbers, Barry Meadow’s Master Win Ratings or even your own, simply go with the ones you deem the best according to your style and personal preference.
After having the knowledge at hand you’ve gotta figure out two things: what is the horse capable of doing and what does it figure to do today? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can confidently eliminate any horse that doesn’t figure within three lengths of the top contenders in the race.
One of the trickiest steps of the handicapping process, analyzing the horse’s class requires attention to details with a side of skepticism. In today’s world of year-round racing, horses can quickly improve or regress, making it somewhat difficult to analyse them. The legal medications that trainers give horses to get them to perform a few more races when they should have been resting only serves to further complicate the analysis.
Most often than not, outclassed horses will have been eliminated already by the second step which makes this step a bit easier but even then, there are a few crucial tips to keep you on the right path.
First of all, give an in-depth look into the horses that are stepping up in class due to a previous glorious effort and performance. Their efforts need to be analysed thoroughly because you need to find the reason behind it all. Was there a strong bias situation? did they race against a group of weak rivals? Was there an easy pace picture? Answering these questions will help you to determine if the horse is worth its new higher class or if it has gotten there by chance which will lead to the horse’s “demise” due to it being punching above its weight from the get-go.
This is often overlooked by many which is inexcusable considering its importance so ALWAYS check the horse’s past class. It gives you invaluable information.
Now that you’ve got a bunch of solid contenders, it’s time to look at external factors. How’s the race track? Does the horse like that day’s surface and distance? Does the race fit the horse’s historical winning performances?
Make sure that the conditions match the race’s preference or at the very least make sure that the horse can handle them – even if they’re different from what it likes. Even a horse that looks perfect in a specific set of conditions can perform absolutely terrible in an unsuitable race.
Keep the horses that either fit the conditions or that can adapt with a decent amount of certainty. Write off any horse that doesn’t fit these requirements.
Now that you’ve nearly crossed out the horse aspect out of the analysis, it’s time to look into the human one – riders, trainers and stables.
It holds high importance as even a fantastic jockey can’t win on a bad horse – although by now all the actually “bad” horses have most likely already been eliminated through the other steps.
Even then, the good horses you’ve got selected can still fail due to the rider or trainer’s bad decisions or actions. Check the records and eliminate horses that are trained or ridden by low-percentage stables or jocks. Another factor to take into account is both the rider and the trainer’s recent success. Any horse that’s trained or ridden by people that are going through slumps (chain of poor performances) should be eliminated from your group.
While a miracle recovery can certainly happen, it’s most often than not an unstoppable snowball of losses that gets worse and worse.
Now, on to the next and final step – checking the horse’s pedigree.
Getting to know a horse’s pedigree is extremely helpful when the horse you’re analyzing hasn’t had the chance to show, in the past, what it can do under that specific day’s conditions.
This applies, for example, when you’ve got a first-time-starter bred for sprint speed that’s racing against horses that are bred to run longer distances. Other situations that apply are sprinters that are trying to go long, horses that are bred to race on dirt that are moving on to turf surfaces, among others.
Now, breeding is an advanced and detailed analysis and as such you only have to worry about it once you’ve filtered all the horses through the first 5 steps above. When you’re betting on a horse that you’ve selected as having future potential to win a race, always get good value and always be willing to be against (or pass the race completely) if the favorites are not proven under the day’s conditions (check step 4), even if their pedigree points that they should be able to handle the situation.
Remember – just because they’re bred to do it, doesn’t mean they will. Else, racing and betting on horses would be a heck of a lot easier.
After passing a group of horses through all of the 6 steps above, you’ll have a clean list of contenders that doesn’t include any pretenders. A tip to follow is that the more disputable a race looks, the more value you should demand. It’d be a rookie mistake to back the favorite in a ten-horse field where you detect that five other horses can also win.
This is what horse handicapping is all about and if you’ve followed the steps closely, you’re on the right path to win the lottery.
Create an odds line to give you a better idea of which horses are true overlays and from there on out simply follow the saying, as Today’s Racing Digest elegantly put it, “buy low and sell high”.
Now, if you find this whole process too time consuming or difficult – as I’ve mentioned above – you can always get a helping hand from a professional and use their work instead. If you think this route’s more appropriate for you, be sure to read this article where you can find the best professionals to get your handicapping picks from.