Run Style Isn’t Written in Stone

Run Style Isn’t Written in Stone

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Way back at the beginning of my handicapping career, I read a tip for picking winners. The author said to look for races with only one horse with an Early speed or E running style. He said that in these races that horse can often get the lead and keep it, even if it’s faded in other races, especially if it has a high number of speed points.

Now, I knew that this was true from playing greyhound races for so many years. Especially from the 8 box, if a dog is the only speed dog in the race, you have to take it seriously, even if it’s a fader usually. So, I decided to look for races with only one Early run style horse and play them on paper to check this idea out. I always try things out on paper before I risk real money. My experiment was a dismal failure, but not for the reasons you might think.

I found quite a few races where there was only one horse with the Early run style and a high number of speed points, meaning that horse wanted the lead. I kept track of these races and when I looked at the results, I was surprised to find that the horses that looked like they’d burst out of the gate and race to the lead didn’t always do that. In many races, the Early horses didn’t run like E horses or like E horses that wanted the lead, at any rate.

Right about then, I found IHandicapRaces with PacePals and installed it on my smart phone. It has good tutorials and I followed them and one of them gave me a clue about why my Early horses ran like Early Pressers or even Pressers. On the Pace Pal module, there’s a screen that shows the entries, their run style and also, more importantly, the run style they ran in their last race.

It was an eye opener! I couldn’t believe how many horses ran a different run style in their last race than they were “supposed” to run. E horses that ran like EP’s, P’s and in a few cases like S’s, horses that stay at the back of the pack and then close with a rush at the end. I decided to talk to my favorite handicapping authority, Bill Peterson, about this and he had some good insights into why this happens and what to do about it while handicapping.

Bill said that horses aren’t machines, which is true. They’re not as rigid as people think they are. True, horses are quick to develop habits, both good and bad, and they usually prefer one run style over other run styles. But, as Bill says, there’s a jockey on the horse and he or she may have their own idea of the best run style for the race and succeed at getting the horse to run that way.

Also, the makeup of the race and the run styles of the other horses has an effect on the Early speed horses. If they’re blocked at the start or get bumped or cut off very early in the race and don’t get the lead, they may lose their momentum and just decide to “run with the herd” or even try to lag behind. Need to lead horses almost always alter their run style when they don’t get the lead at the git-go.

After talking to Bill and adding IHRwPP to my handicapping arsenal, I’ve changed the way I look at run style and its effect on races. I still look at it, but I don’t take it as gospel. I look at IHRwPP to see if the horse ran a different style of race in its last race. I look at the horse’s last six running lines to see if its run style has been consistent over those races. And I’m not surprised if, after all this, a horse that has always been first out of the gate misses the break or just doesn’t beat the other horses.

I’m also not surprised if an Early Presser runs like an Early horse or a Presser runs like an Early Presser or vice versa. One thing I have noticed though with run style. Sustained or S horses almost always run like S’s. If a jockey does manage to get one to run faster than it wants to in the beginning of the race, that horse almost always fades to the back of the pack at the end of the race.

Sustained running style horses just aren’t made for taking the lead and you’ll find very few of them running different run styles in their last race on the IHRwPP screen that shows the run styles. So, when you handicap, keep in mind that run style is just one of the factors to consider in any race. So is post position advantage, but that’s a subject for another article.

When Early Speed Holds Up It Can Really Pay Off

When Early Speed Holds Up It Can Really Pay Off

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I use several handicapping aids but the first one I look at is IHandicapRaces with Pace Pals. And the first thing I look at on IHRwPP is the screen which shows the run style of the horses and also shows their speed rating. I scroll through the races, looking for sprints with one early speed horse, especially maiden races. I prefer them on the dirt, but I’ll look at a race on the turf if it’s 5 furlongs. On dirt, I look at races up to 6 furlongs.

On August 3rd, the 5th race at Gulfstream Park was a maiden race at 6 furlongs on the dirt. There were 3 first time starters, which would normally make me pass on the race. More than 2 and I think a race is a crapshoot. For some reason though, maybe intuition, I gave the race a look.

There was one “rabbit” or Early speed horse and it was in the 1 post, which is a good post in sprints at GP. Proud Legacy was being ridden by Pedro Monterrey who has 9% for wins for the last year. Not too impressive, but I keep in mind when I handicap GP at this time of year that the top jockeys have all gone North this time of year. The best racing action is at Saratoga and Del Mar, the Eastern Seaboard and Midwest tracks. GP is kind of in a holding pattern until the fall when their best season begins.

Monterrey had ridden the horse last time out when it was 7th by 4 and a half lengths. Not too impressive but maybe not as bad as it looked at first glance. I noticed that the horse led all the way until near the finish and that it was a turf race and Proud Legacy’s first race back since December of last year. Hmmm…

This 3 year old filly is now in a claimer for $20,000. When she was 2, last winter, she had been in Maiden Special Weight races with higher purses. Monterrey had ridden her last year too and she hadn’t shown much, just some early speed but never ran close to hitting the board. Like I said, I use several handicapping aids and one of them is Equibase to delve into a horse’s past results.

Phil Combest is Proud Legacy’s trainer and has been since her first race. He also is her breeder and co-owner. He definitely has a big stake in this horse and has spent money, time and effort on her for over a year. I’m thinking that he probably spent more than $20K, her claiming price, on her, so he probably wants more than that back. A win for the purse money would certainly help that situation, wouldn’t it?

I looked at the other horses in the race, of course. Why the favorite, Tricky Mint in the 3 post, was the favorite was a mystery to me unless the bettors were betting on the jockey, Miguel Vasquez, who is one of the top, if not THE top jock at GP right now. He and the trainer have won 2 out of 3 races together. But the horse didn’t impress me at all. Last time out, it lost its rider and thus never finished the race, officially. In its first race, it came in 6th by 15 lengths and didn’t show early speed or closing ability.

I went back to IHRwPP and checked the Pace Pals screen which showed that the run style which wins 6 furlong dirt races at GP most often is EP or “foxes” using the Pace Pals icons. There were none in this race. The second best run style for winning sprints at GP is Early Speed or “rabbits” and Proud Legacy, as I mentioned, was the only one. Unless one of the first time starters was an early speed horse and got the lead and kept it, I thought Proud Legacy had a good shot at winning this race.

I decided to take a chance and played it to win and place. When I do that with a longshot, I always play it in an exacta box with the morning line favorite, so I put down $4 on an exacta box with Proud Legacy and Tricky Mint, even though I didn’t think much of Tricky Mint’s chances.

Well, I was right about Proud Legacy but wrong about Tricky Mint. It was a very exciting race, as maiden races so often are. Tricky Mint sprinted out to the lead, surprising the heck out of me, and Proud Legacy chased her and caught up with her. They battled it out right up to the wire and crossed it evenly for a dead heat.

Proud Legacy paid $13.60 to win and place and the exacta paid $20.90.

Pedro Monterrey rode a very smart race and rated Proud Legacy well. She ran a very tough race also and just wouldn’t give in. I like that in a horse, especially when it’s at long odds and I have a bet on it.

I don’t always bet on dirt sprint races with only one “rabbit” that I find with IHandicapRaces with Pace Pals, but it’s a very good starting point. When I find one, I delve into the horse’s history, try to figure out if the horse is well meant in this race by looking at what the trainer has done with the horse in the past, look at the jockey’s strengths and weaknesses and then do the same for the other horses in the race. Proud Legacy isn’t the first longshot I’ve found this way and I’m sure she won’t be the last.

Been There, Done That

Been There, Done That

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My good friend and fellow handicapper Bill Peterson told me a long time ago that the best horse to bet in a race is the one that’s already done what they’re asking it to do in today’s race. Ever since he said that, probably about forty years ago, I’ve pored through programs looking for horses that have “been there and done that” or BTDT’s as I call them. If there’s only one in a race at long odds, I’ll put something on it to win. If it’s at really long odds, I’ll play it to win and place. I also play it with the favorite and two or three other horses that look like they could run in the money.

It’s a pain and very time consuming to go through programs looking for these horses, so I’ve been a lot happier since iHandicapRaces with Pace Pals made it easier for me by indicating BTDT’s with an icon. It’s in the Stats section that can be accessed by clicking on the horse’s Pace Pal graphic. I find that it really delivers the goods in big stakes races. Case in point – last Saturday’s United Nations Stakes at Monmouth.

I’ve always liked Joe Bravo, especially in long turf races for big purses. He’s what they call a money jockey, one who seems to be able to win races when there’s big money at stake, even though he’s no spring chicken and doesn’t have as high a win percentage as some of the leading jockeys like the Ortizes or John Velazquez. I thought he would be a big favorite in the United Nations Stakes, because he’d won it in three out of the last six years.

When I handicapped the race with IHR with Pace Pals and saw that his horse, Bigger Picture, was the only horse with the icon that told me that it had won at the distance on that surface at that track, I knew I had my bet on that race, but didn’t think I’d get very good odds. I was wrong. Joe and Bigger Picture went off at 10-1 and paid $23.40 to win. I had played Bigger Picture with three other horses in an exacta key and one of those exactas, the one with Can’t Stop Believing, came in second at long odds. The exacta was $238.60.

There were a lot of stakes races that day. I’m not sure I could have handicapped all of them if not for iHandicapRaces with Pace Pals. It takes a long time to go through past performances, looking for races at exactly the same distance, surface and track as today’s race. As far as I can tell, all of the past performance producers have stats for distance and track wins, but they give them within a furlong of today’s race, not for the exact distance. For many horses, there’s a big difference between a 5 furlong and 5 1/2 furlong race, or a 6 1/2 furlong and a 7 furlong race.

Many horses are specialists, I’ve found. They find a distance that suits their run style and stamina and excel at it, especially the odd distances. Take my advice and look for BTDT’s in 5 1/2 furlong, 6 1/2 furlong and 7 furlong races. Then focus on races over a mile, especially the classic distances like a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. Horses that can handle these distances are a goldmine.

I’ve noticed that they’re often late maturing horses and that they tend to have long careers. Bigger Picture is 8 years old and still winning at a mile and a quarter. Use the IHR with Pace Pals icons to find horses that have been there and done that, then play some exotics with horses with the icons for distance and surface wins, even if they haven’t won at the track. You’ll find that your win and exotics ROI will improve even though it will take you less time to handicap than searching for BTDT’s in past performances does.

Intentional Handicapping

Intentional Handicapping

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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.

A Tale of a Turf Race that Paid Off

A Tale of a Turf Race that Paid Off

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I made a nice score on a turf race at Gulfstream this last Saturday and the scenario is one that shows up frequently in these maiden events now that GP is in its slower summer season. The best jocks and trainers have gone north, taking the best horses with them. But for the discerning punter, there are still opportunities to prosper at GP in June. One such chance came in the 2nd race on Saturday the 17th of June in a race for maidens, most of whom had been maidens for a long time. The horse that IHR (iHandicapraces), the handicapping program I use, recommended, the 11, Lady Greatness didn’t look too great to me.

Jockey, Richard Mitchell, has 5% for wins in the last month. He has no wins in the last 10 days, no places and no shows. However, on the turf at this distance, out of 42 races this year, he has 10% for wins, 5% for place and 5% for show. What interested me strangely though was his ROI for this distance and surface a very healthy 326% ROI.
Mitchell comes from Jamaica where he rode for several years, so although he’s only been riding in the US since 2014, he’s not a newcomer to the profession. At Golden Gate, where he first rode in the US, he had respectable stats.

More importantly, as far as my handicapping was concerned, he and Lady Greatness had a good history together. He’d ridden the horse on both turf and dirt, fast and sloppy tracks and brought her in 3rd and 2nd. To some people, all the 2nds and 3rds would look like a maiden who couldn’t make it. And I agree that oftentimes, when a horse keeps missing as many times as this horse had – 22 races in two years – it’s just a dud that will never win a race. However, IHR (iHandicapraces), picked Lady Greatness for first with the 8, Perfect State, another seemingly perpetual maiden, for second and I’ve learned to trust its picks.

The 8 had another jockey with poor stats, but with better stats on this distance and surface – 10% for wins, 6% for place and 19% for show in Gerardo Corrales. But, once again, Corrales has a positive ROI – +80% – at the distance and surface also. Then I noticed something else. Perfect State’s damsire was Silver Deputy, a very good damsire for turf runners, indeed. And both of the top two horses that IHR picked were in the top 3 for earnings and that matters in maiden races.

I played the 11 and 8 in a $2 exacta and was richly rewarded when they came sprinting home in that order. The exacta paid $146 and change and I had played them to win and place also. The 11 paid $32 to win and $10 to place, so I got almost $200 from $8 worth of bets. I also got reinforcement for my belief that IHR is very good at handicapping turf races with large fields, especially maiden turf races.

If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s $3.99 for a whole day’s worth of all the simulcast tracks and there are plenty of turf races with a slew of horses in them, especially on weekends. I have no financial interest in it and I’m not an affiliate, but I would like to see more people use it for two reasons. One, if they win more they’d make more money and be happier handicappers and support horse racing by playing it more. And two, I want to see the program make money for its developers so that they’ll continue to offer it to handicappers. I’ll be using IHR this weekend and hoping for good weather and lots of turf races with large fields.

Changes

Changes

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I’ve been writing about and playing greyhound races for over 40 years now. I still love it and would love to play dog races every day, but I can’t. I live in a state where the nearest dog track is an overnight trip and the nearest greyhound simulcast is almost a day’s drive away. I go to the simulcast outlet once in a while, but not often.

Instead, I’ve gotten more and more involved in horse racing handicapping. I can play Belmont, Churchill, Santa Anita and all the major and some minor tracks at the local OTB, along with a slew of harness tracks. So, that’s where I go and that’s what I handicap and now, it will be what I write about.

I used to avoid horse race handicapping because it was so complicated compared to dog racing. Fractions, speed and pace figures, trainers and jockey combos, layoffs, meds and equipment… It seemed to me that you had to be an expert just to understand the jargon. And an Einstein to figure out the stats and percentages. I tried to handicap using the pp’s at our OTB and it’s not a bad program, but I didn’t do too well.

Then I found a software program that makes handicapping a whole lot easier and has yielded some nice winners, exactas and tri’s since I’ve been using it.  I don’t have a financial interest in it and I’m not an affiliate for it. I’m just an enthusiastic user who thinks that it could help a lot of handicappers who would like an easier, quicker, yet powerful way to handicap horse races.

The name of the program is iHandicapRaces. Here’s a link and it’s not an affiliate link www.ihandicapraces.com. If you handicap horse races, do yourself a favor and check it out. There’s a daily free race you can look at that can give you a good idea of the program’s features. Don’t be put off by the animated running style icons. I was at first, but I’ve come to value them for helping me find lone early speed and races that are set up for different situations.

For instance, if you see a race with a lot of “rabbits” and one “turtle”, there’s a good chance that the closer will be in at the finish and one or more “foxes” or “hounds” will be too, because the “rabbits” will deplete their energy in a speed duel. It’s a lot quicker to find pace scenarios with the Pace Pal figures than it is with a program. It seems to work particularly well in races with large fields, which are tough to handicap with the usual handicapping methods.

From now on in addition to my own posts, I’ll be including posts by Bill Peterson, with his permission, of course. He’s been handicapping the horses longer than I’ve been handicapping greyhounds and has taught me most of what I know about horse racing.

I know that most of my followers have joined because of an interest in greyhound racing, so if you’re not up for horse racing feel free to unsubscribe. No hurt feelings on my part. But if you want to explore horse racing handicapping approaches, stay on the list. I’ll be posting more soon.