Potential To Win

Potential To Win

By looking at what a horse has done in recent races, and using that as a major factor in our betting decisions – we set ourselves up to make one of the most serious, yet most common mistakes we can possibly make as race players.

The discussion in the last post touched on this – the concept that most handicappers latch onto the most obvious and most recent data to ‘anchor’ their handicapping and decision-making.  But unfortunately for our long-term bottom-line, the obvious is, well . . . obvious!

Which means it’s obvious to all the other handicappers and bettors out there – which means that information will be over-used and therefore over-bet – which then assures us of a steady stream of underlays if we are also making that info a major factor in our handicapping.

Certainly we are not oracles, and we don’t have crystal balls, and therefore must use what we do have; the published past performance data, our own collected data (the handicapping of our personal results), the visual appearance of the horse, and the money flow on the toteboard – as input factors for our handicapping and betting decisions.

But the main point here is that the astute handicapper needs to look for POTENTIAL.

How do we go about this – looking for potential?

One thing seems very apparent – most players are not nearly as sharp at handicapping as they think they are (and yes, you and I should probably also include ourselves in this category!). 

Part of the problem is that over the years, we build up a backlog of “hossy sayings” and so-called race track wisdom.  Our heads are filled with dozens of handicapping aphorisms – and with factors that may or may not be valid in today’s race, or even any longer in modern racing at all ! 

Folks use them almost sub-consciously in their decision-making, and then wonder why they aren’t making the kind of profits they’d like – while betting on horses that are ‘obvious’ to all the other handicappers as well.

Serious handicappers create algorithms, test past races, extrapolate from that data and then come up with factors they believe will be more predictive than other factors.  These they combine and mix in various ways with various value weightings – and all this in hopes of predicting the future in a manner sufficient to make a profit betting the horses that rate high on those factors.

BUT –  all that we have done is to study the past.  And as you’ve heard time and again – past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. 

So – what to do?

I won’t go a lot further now, but will come back to this subject in a future post. The important point is not new, or earth-shaking, but it is absolutely under-used . . .

We should try to estimate potentialmore-so what a runner might be capable of doing rather than what it has (recently) done

Since the future cannot be predicted – I’d suggest you gear your handicapping in a way that will let you get in front of the potential in each race. The rewards will be worth the effort.

Again – food for thought – and we’ll return to this discussion in a later post.  Your comments are most welcomed.

– Gary



  1. Paul in PA.

    I hit a $80.00 horse at the N. Hampton fair by asking why was this horse in this race when it was the last day of the meet. He looked so bad that it did not make sense.
    The answer Jumped off the racing form 10 races back they had pulled off another long shot play at the end of the meet. The horse actually ran second but a inquiry DQ the front horse and placed our horse first. I guessed the track people had some money riding on this one. Always look at past odds and how they set the horse up. Read the race paper back two front first. Note the highest three odds horses or scratched horses that are going today. Position Placement is every thing. Watch the ODDS Board for the conformation. You can not cash a ticket unless you Buy ONE. They do not wager to feed the horses.

    • Paul – Great hit as a result of some sharp handicapping. The game isn’t just always just crunching and interpreting numbers – a player asking themselves the “why?” question as you did will set the mind in the right groove.

      I’ve always (without however long-term empirical proof) thought the last race of each day, and more particularly the last day of each meet are sort of an “open-season” where anomalies occur – anomalies that benefit someone – with the general “okay” of others that submit to going along with it. – Gary

  2. A number of years ago, when I was convinced that I was a very capable handicapper, I learned to do do a post-mortem on all those races that I had lost (which turned out to be MOST of the races I played!). In that review, invariably I would look at the past performance data on the winning horse (oftentimes that 10 to 1 longshot that was easily past over in my initial review)…I would find that, sometimes 6, 7, or even 10 or more races back, that long-shot winner today who looked so weak in the last two or three races, had, indeed showed that he was capable of winning against the group of horses that ran today….many times, that long ago performance cycle, now forgotten by all of us “experts”, showed that it certainly held the POTENTIAL – albeit, if the horse returned to that form, to win today and usually at generous odds.

    While pin-pointing that ever-elusive “win cycle” that we all seem to look for in those last two-three races will always remain a challenge, perhaps, as you mention in your article, these horses can give us a glimpse at “potential” …..having shown that ability at a time in the past….

    It seems to me that, when those signals make themselves apparent, that it might often be worth the extra cost to include those types in our strategies…..

    • Carl – Thanks for the comments. It’s a fairly rare race where the potential of the winning horse can’t be seen once we go back over that race more carefully. It’s just that – as you said – handicappers don’t tend to give nearly as much credence if; the positive factors occurred several races back, the horse hasn’t been winning or running close in recent races, has no obvious early speed, has a low % jock and/or trainer, it appears to be on a down form cycle, etc. etc.

      And all of that deserves looking at – maybe . . . The thing is – again – everyone else is also looking at those factors. And look and judge as we might, but if that individual horse has the potential – why it just might come up and run to that potential today.

      A couple of posts back – Terry commented and had a golfing analogy. If you are a golfer (and I know you are, Carl), then you are aware that on certain days it just happens. No particular rhyme or reason, everything simply falls right on this day – and you shoot a score as good as or close to your all-time best.

      Odds have such a strong effect on most players’ decisions. That $84 winner that was in the HRG Index on Sunday (2nd at Mth) – certainly showed potential in past races. Heck – it was 2nd in last race at same track at slightly higher class level, and had won at a higher purse level six races back! It was 10/1 on the ML and bettors completely ignored it.

      Anyway – that’s kind of what I meant in the post – handicappers need to cap in a way that they can (at least occasionally) put themselves in front of that kind of potential. – Gary

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