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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the variables that matter in handicapping, but not the usual suspects i.e. speed, class, jockey and trainer stats and pace. While I believe that all of those things matter, there are some other things that aren’t so easy to evaluate that keep cropping up in my horse racing handicapping lately.
Intention is one of them. Why is this horse in this race? What is the trainer’s intention in entering this horse in this particular race at this time? Is the horse well-meant and expected to be a real contender? Or does the trainer want the horse to get a workout in preparation for another race that he thinks the horse will have a better chance of winning?
Why is this particular jockey on this horse? If it’s a top jockey, is he or she riding the horse because the horse’s run style is one that the jockey is good at taking advantage of? Or is the jockey doing a favor for the trainer in expectation of a better ride down the road?
If it’s an apprentice riding the horse, is it because the trainer doesn’t think the horse can win and doesn’t want to pay for a better jockey? Or is the trainer giving the apprentice a real shot at a win or an in-the-money ride to help his or her career? Did the trainer notice that this particular apprentice shows some ability with horses that run the way this horse does?
Things get even more complicated when the horse is a first timer in a maiden race or a horse trying something different for the first time, such as turf for the first time or stretching out in distance. One of the trickiest situations is when a horse is running its first race after coming back from a layoff.
You can go back over its career and see how it’s done after layoffs, assuming it’s had enough of a career to show a couple of layoffs, and I do that. You can look at the trainer’s track record with horses coming back from layoffs, and I do that also. You can look at its Morning Line and live odds, although that’s not always an indication of the horse’s ability. Sometimes people remember that a horse did well and bet it when they see that it’s coming back from a layoff, thinking that it will run true to its previous form. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t.
Even if you don’t use iHandicapRaces, which is the handicapping program that I use and recommend, this article on the iHR site has some very useful information on how to evaluate horses coming back from a layoff. It’s basically a step-by-step approach to using iHR to find horses coming back from layoffs, that are going off at long odds and are better bets than they look.
I’m looking ahead to Saratoga and a couple of other summer tracks that will be hosting more than a few horses who were laid off purposefully just to make their return to racing at these particular tracks. I’ll be keeping an eye on trainers whose stats tell me that they’re good at having horses ready to race off a layoff, and at horses that have come back from layoffs to garner double digits at Saratoga. And I’ll be scanning their stats and where their most recent races fall on the Quad Plot grid.