Pointers Along The Way

Pointers Along The Way

Which way to go?

In this game, it seems there are a never-ending number of ‘paths’ a player could go down. Systems, methods and approaches of every shape, size and color. Which do you choose?

I’ll just list some of the main sectors and factors of handicapping the races . . .

Types; Maiden, Maiden Claiming, Claiming, Optional Claiming, Allowance, Stakes, Graded Stakes / Restricted or open / For; 2 yr. olds, 3 yr. olds, 3 yr. old and older / On; dirt, poly, turf.

Factors; Distance, Speed (early and total) / Pace /Class / Form Cycle / Trainer / Jockey

Now – there are many other factors that could be considered separately, or as a sub-group in one of the above – like; individual track, interior fractions, pars, track variants, track condition (fast, sloppy, muddy, good, firm, yielding etc.), pedigree, workouts, trips and trouble, and on and on.

Okay – then when forming a handicapping approach – what are your possible choices . . . i.e. how many combination of factors exist from which you can choose? Let’s say you decided to choose just 5 from those listed above, and you wanted to ‘weight’ them by importance to your method – how many combinations/permutations of your potential method would there be?

An amazing 142,506 potential ‘methods’ (or ways to look handicapping a race). And remember – that’s if you chose just 5 factors from all those you could consider from the whole of handicapping.

So – again the crucial question arises – which way to go?

It becomes fairly obvious that the handicapper searching for consistency (and the ability to actually understand and ‘grasp’ what he is doing) has to narrow down.

The handicapper should consider choosing a smaller ‘world’ – getting good at a more restricted niche.

Quite a few of the successful handicappers I have known have really ‘niched’ way down – to a localized circuit (say 3 tracks), and then to just one or two types of races (say claiming for 3yr +), and then just one or two main ‘filters’ (say trainer and par times). Using our formula from above – if 7 possible factors and only weighting 5 of them – the potential number of ways of looking at a race now are down to just 21.

Research has shown that information overload is detrimental to decision making. If a person uses more than 5 factors in their decision making process (the research was done on commodities futures market traders) their results start to seriously decline.

This is exactly what – to my way of thinking – hurts most players, and is precisely what’s wrong with most handicapping software: Too many factors are included in the approach – resulting in a bucket of sand in which they’re trying to find a flake of gold.  That “many factors” approach necessarily puts you on the more obvious horses, lowers your average payout, and pretty much guarantees a losing game in the long term.


Below, for example, is how you could (if you were so inclined) start to really focus down on just one aspect of the game – trainers.

First – I know that a few of the greats of the game (Howard Sartin, and Dick Mitchell to name two) have held the opinion that trainers are an insignificant factor in the handicapping process. 

I don’t necessarily agree.

Perhaps their attempt at ‘all inclusive’ handicapping (being able to handicap any kind of race at any track) made that true for them, but for niche players the facts could be very different – as our own Pareto’s Ponies method showed.

Consider this:  Taking all the trainers who started horses at Churchill Downs in last year plus the current meet so far (dates 10/28/12 through 11/10/13) . . .

– 652 trainers had 1 or more starters
457 of those trainers did not put a single winner across! (another 38 trainers had fewer than 10% winners)
Those 457 zero-win trainers entered 1,746 horses!!

Several of those 457 were well-known trainers, otherwise good trainers – but not at Churchill Downs

Many of those 457 come back every meet – they entered horses in all 4 of the Churchill meets covered in these stats (I only keep last year + current meet stats – which usually equates to a few months more than a calendar year).

Do you think you could help your bottom line (not to mention the time saved) by being able to throw out 1500 or so losing horses right off the top – with no consideration whatsoever?!

And this kind of “narrowing down” niche-restrictive filtering can be done in many areas of your handicapping. 

Your ROI can be far greater than it is currently – this I assure you

Of course, you can get to the point where the number of plays is few, and your approach becomes more like a spot play . . . but there are ways to then accommodate this happy state of affairs so that profits still go up without needing to get into large bet sizes.

Anyway – as I often phrase it – “food for thought.” 


Comments and conversation welcomed.               Best of fortune to you    – Gary



  1. Gary
    Ok, first method where I am a little perplexed. Are you looking for trainer stats at the specific track you are looking at or their overall win%? Went to equibase site, only have overall stats, not track specific. Just handicapping Parx today and noticed almost all trainers at 11%or greater so not much is narrowed down.i am assuming with no pps, you would look at trainers listed for race and look up their win%. Just seems 11% to low. Since so many qualify would it be better to compare win% and go with the best?

    Best regards

    • Ray – Yes track-specific stats. Equibase does provide those. Do this:
      1. Go here: http://www.equibase.com/index.cfm
      2. Go over to “Stats” tab and a box will pop down
      3. Under “Starters by track” – click on “Trainers” – this takes you to a new page where you then click on the down arrow under “Available tracks” – and choose the track.
      4. Now go over to the other down arrow, “Available race meets” and you can get the data not only track-specific, but also meet-x-meet.
      5. And – if you want to go further – you can on those stat pages (there are usually 2 to 6) of individual trainer stats – filter by age, first time starters, surface, stakes races only, etc.
      – Gary

  2. Thanks Gary….as always, your comments help lead us to perhaps filter out much of the “noise” that can erupt when we mere mortals attempt to juggle all the different factors at our disposal in handicapping…

    • Carl – Always good to hear from you.

      As you well know, I have at times made excursions into more ‘complex’ approaches to the game. They are almost never more profitable than the simpler methods. I always remember a quote from Richard Swinburn (to paraphrase) “the simplest theory proposed as an explanation of an event is more likely to be true than any other available theory.” I think that back in the age of simplicity (pre-computer racing) those first guys that came up with ‘more complex’ methods with their proprietary data – had an advantage. But now in the age of complexity and data overload – I think it’s very likely that the opposite has become true. – Gary

  3. Joe Riley B.

    As Always Gary,

    No truer words were ever spoken.

    (As far as handicapping goes.)

    Joe Riley B.

    • Joe – Thanks for the comment – I trust your ‘capping (and your life in general) is going well. – Gary

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