The Basics Of Horse Race Handicapping

By Ross Everett

One of the reasons that the popularity of sports gambling has skyrocketed in recent years is its accessibility. It's easy to bet on most major sports because everyone understands the basics, which teams are good and why they win. Horse handicapping, on the other hand, is a completely different and somewhat arcane discipline. Where there are some shared concepts, success at sports betting doesn't guarantee the same playing the ponies. Legendary sports handicapper Jimmy 'The Greek' Snyder was famous for killing the books with his sports plays--and giving it all back with his inept horse bets.

Were not going to suggest that the information here even scratches the surface of what you need to know to become a serious horse handicapper. There are countless books, DVDs and other media that you should check out if this is your goal. If youre interested in simply knowing the basics so that you can enjoy a day at the track, here are some basic concepts of horse handicapping:

Do your reading: When you arrive at the horse track you should purchase a copy of the Daily Racing Form (DRF for short) and the track program. The DRF is basically the 'bible' of horse race handicapping, and offers morning line odds, horse, trainer, jockey statistics and information on each race at every major track across the country. The track program offers similar information for that individual venue, often in more 'user friendly' form.

The House Doesn't Care Who Wins: One thing that is important for the sports bettor to remember when playing the horses is that its a parimutuel situation. In other words, you're not playing against the house, you're playing against the other bettors. The track just facilitates the betting and acts as a middleman, handling the money for a fee (15 to 25 percent of the parimutuel pool). Another difference is that the track odds are determined by how much money is bet on each horse. If everyone bets on one horse"whether it is the best horse, or just has the catchiest name"it will go off as the favorite. Long odds on a horse doesn't necessarily indicate a bad horse, but just one that the wagering public isn't investing in. Sometimes this can be one and the same, but not always.

So where do odds in the newspaper or program originate? These are known as the 'morning odds' or 'morning line' and is basically an educated guess as to where the betting will go. They can be helpful as a handicapping tool, but may or may not reflect what will happen in the actual betting.

Horse handicapping basics: This is where horse racing gets complex--there are countless theories about how to handicap a horse race. Some handicappers consider the breeding lineage of the horse, while others are more concerned with past performance. Still others put more weight on the training a horse has received, or its workout performance.

Once a handicapper gets an idea what will happen in the race, he has to factor the available odds into the proposition. A favorite may be an unattractive wagering prospect due to a prohibitively high price, while a long shot may be a good wagering value based on a high potential payback. It all boils down to wagering value, which is simply a matter of doing a math. Teaching the youth of America solid math skills is crucial for no other reason than to help them gamble effectively and profitably.

Horses and Trainers: Some handicappers place a great deal of importance on the horses breeding lineage"the quality of his parents and grandparents "as an indication to his performance potential. This may be particularly important early in a horses career, but after a half dozen or so races what hes done on the track becomes more important than his pedigree. Trainers, like Bob Baffertt, can also be an important consideration much in the same way that coaching can play an important role in sports wagering.

The horse's jockey: Jockeys are free agents, meaning that they get paid on their performance. In theory, this means that they'll do their utmost to win in every given race. While there are a few exceptions, many serious horse handicappers downplay the importance of the jockey. Assuming the horse's 'mount' is competent, there are much more salient factors to consider when handicapping a race than the jockey.

Find your own style, and maintain discipline: Basically, there's not a 'right' or 'wrong' way to handicap a horse race. Figure out what works for you, and develop and refine your own methodology. As in any form of gambling, don't bet more than you can afford to lose and in particular when you're starting out there's no reason to be making big wagers. If you want to learn more, there's a number of good internet resources including the Daily Racing Form website. - 31490

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