Friday, 05 August 2016 11:17

Here’s a way to Find a Horse to "Like"

By Tom Amello | Sports
Here’s a way to Find a Horse to "Like"

At the racetrack, “Who da ya like?” is the question.

Deciding which horse or horses ya like and why it is critical to pari-mutuel success. The answer is in the track program.

Though at first intimidating, the track programs’ past performances are less difficult to understand than you think. The “key” is learning where to look and in what sequence. Handicapping is FUNdamental if you know the Four Cs: Connections, Capabilities, Current Form and Conditions.

CONNECTIONS: Determining the horse “ya like” begins with people. Horses race under the care of trainers; a jockey rides horses. Nothing earth shattering here, but the top 10 trainers and jockeys win most of the races. Current standings are printed in the track program. Start with that list. Then move to the past performances and determine how well each trainer and jockey is faring. In our program example, trainer Mitchell Friedman has run but a single horse; jockey Aaron Gryder has but one ride.

CAPABILITIES: What a horse has accomplished on the racetrack is recorded in a career box. The box presents lifetime starts and earnings, race record over the current and previous racing season, performance over today’s course, surface and distance. Wins, in-the-money finishes and performance by surface provide a picture of consistency or lack thereof. The career box suggests Can Can Babe is better on synthetic surfaces, wet tracks and turf than on dirt. Can Can Babe won 4/10 races in 2015. She earned a win a second thus far in 2016 as she rounds into form. Additionally, each horse earns speed and pace ratings for each effort it makes in a race. The higher the number the faster the speed or pace. Fast horses usually win over slower horses. But horses are not machines and figures earned vary. Speed and pace figures help you decide who is fast enough to compete and predict which might be faster today. Can Can Babe’s most recent speed figure is an 81. She has run a 99 in the past.

CURRENT FORM: Equine athletes are not machines. They are trained and conditioned in much the same way as most professional athletes. After each race, like most athletes, horses feel the effects of their effort. Most need a certain amount of time to recover. Some are capable of holding form through several races. Others, like NFL players sustaining minor injuries, need longer “vacations”, layoffs, before returning to the race wars. Simply put, horses round into form, perform and cycle out of form. If horses were people, I imagine they would often call in sick. Health and race fitness is the trainer’s job. Trainers recognize when horses require time to recover. Can Can Babe has been rested since her June 16 race after being claimed (purchased) by these connections. Racing dates are listed at the far left of the past performance box. The dates indicate how often each horse makes it to the races. Lines between the dates indicate time away in recovery. Additionally, each line indicates track condition, surface and distance, fractions and final time of each race, the age level and sex of the runners, the class level (a topic for another time), pace and speed ratings, and the running position from start to finish. Some horses race better over different tracks, surfaces and distances. Some race well after a layoff; others don’t. Can Can Babe won once following a 30-day rest from December to January. Finish position is a reflection of current form against that day’s level of competition. Horses finishing in-the-money or in the front half of the field in their most recent races can be viewed as being in good form. Consistent rear-half finishers are cycling either out of form, overmatched at the class level, or cycling back into form. Can Can Babe returns to racing after a layoff since June 16.

CONDITIONS: Because it is so important to trainers, handicappers should pay attention as well. The Racing Secretary writes a book of races from which trainers will opt to race. This Condition Book is a form of racetrack bible. The intent is to bring horses of near equal ability together to race for purse money. Some races are open to all. Most races restrict or bar certain horses. The specific race condition identifies which horses may or may not enter to run. Why might horses be barred from running in a race? To keep young developing horses together, and to level the playing field for elders. If not, the better horses would always beat up on and defeat the lesser. So, the intent of the condition is to invite eligible horses of relatively equal ability to enter. Conditions are not unusual in sport. Professionals always win open golf or tennis tournaments; professionals are barred from amateur tournaments. Today’s condition example is a claiming race. All horses entered are for sale for $20,000 and may be bought by licensed horsemen through a “claim” process. This race is for females (Fillies and Mares), ages Three Years old and Upward. Three-year-olds carry weight of 120 pounds; older carry 124 pounds. Horses carry weight plus the jockey. Elders carry more than three-year olds. In this condition, Non-winners Of Two Races in 2016 are allowed to carry 2 pounds less. Non-winners of A Race in 2016 are allowed to carry 4 pounds less. Good horses that win are “penalized” and carry more weight than ‘Non-winners’, a euphemism for Losers. Weight carried is a concern for trainers. They seek race conditions that give their horse a weight advantage. Horses that best fit the written restrictions of the condition don’t always win, but are always contenders to win.

That’s why it pays to learn to read and understand the race conditions. Mastering the FUNdamental Four Cs of Connections, Capabilities, Current Form and Conditions will help you answer the question, “who da ya like?”

Tom Amello Tom Amello began his Thoroughbred education over 50 years ago. In 1984, Tom created his own database of New York trainers & horses that became the foundation for the Saratoga selection sheet, Trackfacts. For over twenty years Tom produced and hosted original programming covering Thoroughbred racing for Capital District OTB Television. Tom conducts numerous handicapping seminars and workshops, including participation in “Count Down to…” programs at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and the “History, Horses and Handicapping” program at SUNY Empire State College’s Academy for Lifelong Learning. In 2013, Tom published Playing the Odds Board: Gateway to the Game ™, a guide that makes betting easier to understand and more fun for those new to Thoroughbred racing. Tom, with his daughter Kate, owns and operates the Brunswick at Saratoga Bed & Breakfast at 143 Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Contact Tom at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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