Handicapping In An Unsure World

Handicapping In An Unsure World

All predictions are problematic. We try to use the past to project what the future will bring . . . but my gosh – the unknown variables potential is nearly limitless.

For betting the races, the question ever remains – is there a clear way to profits at the windows?

How many times have you known that you interpreted the available pre-race data spot on – only to have the outcome be completely different to what you expected?  Thousands of times!

As many of you are aware, Qantum Physics proposes that the observation of anything changes the actions of that thing – and therefore the results of that event. 

Some say this only applies at the particle level (not to larger objects and events), but then – everything is composed of billions of those individual particles . . .

So then . . . What cannot be observed?

All things can be observed (thus potentially changed/misinterpreted) except one . . . Your own consciousness.

The observer cannot observe the mechanism (consciousness) used for observing.

Your everyday mind is where consciousness becomes aware. That’s what we have to use – that’s what won’t ever be changed as a result of the “observer effect.”

With no other options, as handicappers we stick with that and trust our experience as astute ‘observers’ of the game will give us the edge required in order to profit consistently.

For myself, at the end of each racing day, I can (almost always) state only one indisputable observation . . . things happened in many of the races – that absolutely could not have been predicted.

It’s the old adage, “Anything can happen in a horse race” played out again and again.

However, on lots of occasions . . . we win races – we call it correctly.  Those inevitable, unforeseeable variables either go in our favor, or apply to horses other than the one/s we are betting, or are overcome or taken advantage of by the ones we are betting.

Profitable players ‘get lucky’ (the kind of ‘luck’ that favors the well-prepared) more often than the average player.


How does the handicapper then (short of delving into the minutia of the hundred and one potential handicapping variables – but while also allowing for the inevitable unforeseeable) handicap and formulate his wagers so as to be ‘luckier’ than the next guy/gal?  

Some points:

1. Accept a simple truth: We can be right about some of the factors we include in our handicapping (and wrong about some of them) – but – we can never be ‘right’ about the unknowns we can’t include.

2. Attempt to predict fewer races. Try to choose from a smaller whole – say from a 75% world – from which don’t expect to hit more than 55%.  This means shooting for only around 41% of all race winners.

3. Understand that the number of hits (win %) depends on two prime factors: How many horses are bet  – and –  At what odds will we bet them.

4. Consider and allow for what a horse CAN do – not just what you think it will most likely do in the ‘observed’ present once the gates open.  In order to get the less-predictable high odds winners, what a runner has proven it can do at any time in the ‘acceptable’ past needs be considered in the decision-making process for today’s race.

Of course, age, injuries, and general wear & tear take their toll on all living things. As well, all horses go through form cycles, layoffs, freshenings, etc., so there is need of some restrictions on this – but for profit’s sake, one should strongly consider opening up to the possibility of the less likely scenarios.

5. Approach the game as you would a business venture – not as you would an entertainment event. Look at it as a market – not an arena.


If you have a bit of time to spare, below is a further, random discussion on some of the above points – as well as a look at ALL races run on 10/8/20 as a group (this was yesterday’s racing as I am writing this on Friday morning 10/9) . . .


Quite a few players (and even writers of handicapping books) claim they have found a way to make long-term profits by exclusively betting favorites and other low-paying horses.

I suppose it is possible (?), but I have not found it to be so – and I know for certain that, if indeed possible, it would be a slow grind subject to profit-eating by even short negative streaks against the requirement of a consistently high hit percentage.

I think that part of the reason players tend to include low odds horses (other than the psychology of wanting to cash winning bets more often) is that they believe the percentage of winning favorites is going up in racing

In the “old days,” players considered 30-33% to be the norm – then over the decades it climbed to 35% – then 38% – then 40-41%.  In my own approach – it remains at around 32-33% –  why?

A few simple restrictions produce this figure.

Other than in the rare case, I don’t bet in:
Maiden Special Weight races
Races with 3 or more first-time-starters and/or foreign invaders,
Races with any first-time-starter or foreign invader off at 3-1 or less
– Races with fewer than 7 betting interests.

As an example – in yesterday’s races:

  • There were 14 North American tracks that ran a full card of races – putting up 121 races in total (bel, btp, ct, del, emd, gg, gpw, ind, kee, lrl, pid, rp, tdn, wo)
  • Using my above-listed restrictions there were only 59 qualifying races.
  • In those races favorites and other low paying horses (I use 2-1 and lower as the parameters for that category) won 19 for a hit rate of 32.2% – the average win pay of those was $4.90 (7-5).


There were 40 other winners and 25 of those (42.3%) – paid in the double digits. Their average pay was $25.50 (11-1) with $66 being the highest and $10.60 being the lowest (all other winners were in the 5-2 to 7-2 range).

Now – a player might choose to go after those 19 races where a low priced horse won – or the 25 races where a higher priced horse won – let’s compare:

If the ‘lower odds handicapper’ bet only one horse per race (always on 2-1 or lower odds horses) and still managed to hit all of those that paid off – he would have had $118 in (at the $2 test level) and got back $93.10 (19 x the avg. pay of $4.9) for a negative ROI of -21%

If the ‘higher odds handicapper’ bet two horses per race (always on 4-1 or higher odds horses) and only managed to hit 40% of them (an overall hit rate of 16.9%) – she would have had $236 in (59 races x $4) and got back $255 (.40 % of the 25 higher paying races = 10 x the avg. pay of $25.50) for a positive ROI of +8%

That is a huge 29% difference in profit potential.

(Remember – the above figures are for a fairly indiscriminate stab at all the initial qualifying races for all the tracks running that day)

How might a handicapper put himself in a position to reap that difference in potential profit?

A very simple first step . . . but a step that not one in a thousand handicappers will put into action:

. . .  For your final mix, eliminate horses that were 4-1 or less on the morning line – and then consider only those at 4-1 or higher close-to-post-time odds.

Take your lumps in the 32-33% of the races where those types will in fact win – and go from there.

As a further refinement and in order to be looking at fewer horses in large fields – you might also want to eliminate horses that are going off higher than 40-1.  

Of course you’ll be crying the blues on the very rare occasion when a $80+ or $100+ horse that you might have had wins – but your losing streaks will be shorter by not including those.  In the 59 qualifying races yesterday for example, 32-1 was the highest paying winner.


Just for fun – I’ll quickly run through that race for the highest priced winner of the day – using the ideas put forward above . . .

It was at Remington Park – one of those “cheapest of the cheap” type races – a $5K claimer for state-bred 3yr+ with a purse of $11.5K
Nine runners started (morning lines listed);

  1. Swannyland 15-1
  2. Stickwiththeguys 6-1
  3. Lord Stratton 4-1
  4. Flooded 10-1
  5. Slewa Red 20-1
  6. Gospel Abe 5-2
  7. Gospel Carlo 8-1
  8. Smok’n Policy 3-1
  9. Smart Pioneer 7-1

For the “higher odds” handicapper loosely following the guidelines mentioned above – the initial eliminations were #s 3, 6, and 8 (all at 4-1 or less on the ML). As well #5 was at over 90-1 near post time – another elim. – which left 5. 

I try to keep ‘typical’ handicapping to a minimum with this approach, but of course all runners need at least a cursory look to make sure. 

The #9 , Smart Pioneer, (his pp’s directly below) was a turf horse who had run only once on the dirt in last 10 races – and lost at this same 5k state-bred level (for a much smaller purse at the Tulsa Fair meet) finishing 18 lengths back of the winner – I eliminated this 7-yr old gelding as well:


All of the 4 remaining had run a 4th place finish or better on the dirt in one or more of the last 3 races, so they all at least had a pulse! 

I ran those 4 through and used the auto-generated 3-factor tally I go over in the P Method . . . the obvious two choices were #7 and #1.

*Note: Any viable 3-factors averaged and ranked – say early pace, late pace, class – or the way given in our A7 Method – or a ‘power’ ranking that crunches a few factors – would have got the winner in the top two of those four remaining runners. The key is eliminating the low-priced runners so they are not in the final comparison.

All of the ideas in this post pertain primarily to win-betting. Exotics are another animal, and the low priced horses will most often need to be included somewhere on your ticket. Check out the exacta payoff below when putting our winner to the 2nd favorite.





One of the tougher aspects of this kind of approach – is the ability to overlook obvious negatives on a few of the runners.  A 20-1 horse will never “look” as good on paper as the 7-5 favorite in the same race.

The idea here then is to go with counter-intuitive, not to put as much weight on the easily ‘observable’ aspects of each runner’s past performances.  Have yourself in the right place when the unknowable variables exert their influence

Be patient. Let the low-priced horses have their due (without your money), and then let the odds market guide you in the other races.

Comments welcome
Best of fortune to you           – Gary 




After by-passing the strange Ky. Derby and Triple Crown series, we will be issuing our annual HRG Breeders Cup Report. Order link below . . .  at our usual annual $25 rate – which we have not raised for 15 years!!)

Order Here


  1. Hi Gary
    Liked and very interested in your latest article. I tried it out on 2 previous days at Tam and it was terrific. Isn’t it always the case with a new toy. I tried then 3 days in another week and it came back to earth but for the 5 days it had anROI of 25% +$40 For 40 races $160 invested.
    I had one question regarding your method. it seemed to me you eliminated 4-1 ml horses but accepted others that went off at 4-1. Any particular reason for this “incongruity”
    Tx for all your great articles

    • B –

      First – the super simple ‘method’ as given in the article was not really meant to be a fully fleshed out approach, but more to emphasize the idea of eschewing the low priced horses while giving the higher priced runners a chance to get into the final handicapping mix.

      The under-informed ‘crowd’ pays a lot of attention to horses that are low on the morning line – and therefore those most often get more loose-money wagers than the others. On the other hand – if a horse was higher than 4-1n on the ML and it comes down to 4-1 near post time – then it is showing betting interest from (likely) other than the ‘crowd.’ Four to one was more or less an obvious cutoff that includes only double-digit winners, If you prefer to make it 9-2 – your results long-term won’t be any the worse for it.

      Warm regards – Gary

      • TD Gary.
        No 4-1 is fine. After Xmas I’ll do a few days @Tam.
        To select the double digit horses I’m using Brisnet Prime Power rankings. I had them available in my PPs and they are probably as good as anything else.
        I’ll keep you posted

  2. Edward Hill

    I have been looking for a way to further cut down the number of races I use with the A-7 method. Very interesting article. Thank You.

    • Eddie – Thanks. Players are inundated with stats in racing – and generally those stats apply to a large cross-section of the total number of races run – even ALL races, or all claiming races – etc.. I would venture to say that any good handicapper who concentrates on win and vertical bets plays in far fewer races, so the stats are often not indicative of the reality of his own play.

      A very general summation of the post might be: Tighten up on number of races bet, and loosen up on the odds at which you bet them. Best of fortune – Gary