An Excerpt From our new book: A Year in The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping Volume I
Since the book, The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping Or How to Have Fun at the Track was published, it has more than achieved its purpose by reaching scores of race fans, who were lost in the difficult to grasp and jargon-laden aspects surrounding the sport. However, there was a depth of information lacking in our simple guide. In response, the weekly blog called the Tip-of-the-Week was born. No, it is not a tip like which horse to bet in the fifth race. Instead it is more of an aid in helping you make your own decisions. Oh yes, we fixed the typos, trimmed the long entries, well, some of them, and threw out the boring ones. What remains provides the reader with a glimpse of how we handicapped the terrific races given to us in this single year and a look back at those moments that are forever etched in our horse racing minds and hearts.
An Excerpt from The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping Or How to Have Fun at the Track:
"It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races." - Mark Twain
Have you ever gone to a Thoroughbred race track with someone who couldn't tell you the difference between a sprint or a route; a filly from a gelding; speed figures from pace ones; or even turf from dirt? On the other hand, you are fully versed in every horse racing statistic ever concocted. Like a fine wine, your knowledge has ripened over the years of race going. You've learned system after system; practiced methodology after methodology; and tested theory after theory. You even devised your own practices, whereby, you've accumulated 497 rules, which you are ready to meticulously apply in every conceivable race situation. You've read and heard all the experts, as a consequence, you recognized their strengths and detected their weaknesses. You've hit exactas, triples, multi-race bets, and even a pick 6 (it was the lowest paying pick 6 on record, but you did hit it). Yet, despite the Grand Canyon-like gap of expertise and experience, the neophyte you brought with you today hits the long-shot winner of the last race, and your pick, well, is still running.
Does the embarrassment over this loss cause you to forsake all your handicapping know-how? Probably not, as you'll just toss the incident into the beginner's luck category of your 400 plus rules. No, you're not mortified by the fact you've spent the minutes between races pouring over a seemingly endless array of numbers and data, not to mention the "light" reading of the past performances you did the night before. As for the next race? You'll just stick to your handicapping genius and probably continue to bang your head against any available wall, while your "I like the gray one in pink" seven-year-old daughter has made enough to pay for dinner at her favorite restaurant and then some. (You did play her long shot didn't you?)
If your philosophy or even thoughts in general on horse racing are like this dad's, then this book isn't for you. What we talk about is more geared toward the kid, well, the kid in every race fan. You know, the ones who go to the races to have fun and maybe win a bit along the way, no matter how silly the ways of picking horses employed by them may appear to the racing experts in attendance. Sometimes though, it's difficult to have as much fun possible handicapping and betting, especially when it seems like everyone is talking a foreign language or simply reading the racing program is like trying to unlock a secret military code. You wouldn't mind learning more, but how?
Hopefully, what we talk about in the following chapters will be the "how" you seek, as this book has been written for the fan who wants to learn more about the great sport of horse racing. We also extend an invitation to those race fans, who find they have somehow lost their way climbing through the mountains of handicapping and betting information available to them. No, we didn't come up with anything new in these pages adding to that ever-growing mountain. How could we, when the sport has been around for such a very long time? Also, we certainly didn't invent a methodology giving everyone, who can remotely understand it, "the edge". You know, the edge to picking winners gamblers for centuries have been looking for, like the searches for some ancient treasure existing only in myth. Instead of any edges and at the risk of dashing your hopes of winning a fortune every time you enter a race track, we just humbly offer a perspective.
To us, it seems most people become fans of horse racing in one of two ways. One way is through the betting. Like our little friend above, who is tagging along with dad, she may grow up to be a fan because of the betting aspect, often referred to as "the game" as in game of chance. Or maybe she'll want to return to the track because of the horses, which she fell in love with on this visit. Riding lessons could make a viable substitute for the track, when it's the latter case. How about in the future though? She'll probably still love the horses. As for the betting, she really didn't pay attention to dad's expounding all those years ago (can you blame her). Although the track has pleasant childhood memories attached to it and the betting a grown-up appeal, we have to wonder whether these reasons are enough to bring her back one day, maybe even with her own kids. We like to think "the sport" of horse racing brings her back, along with the challenge of handicapping, rather than it providing a way to gamble. Therefore, the perspective provided herein is for those of you who enjoy the "sport" of horse racing and find the "game" a part of the appeal of spending a fun day at the track.
We realized most casual fans have questions about horse racing, which aren't being answered when they are at the track. So, they may have resorted to reading books on it for the answers. Yet, so many books have been written on the various aspects of the sport, it is difficult for a race fan to know where to begin to find the things needed to make their handicapping, well, handicapping. Most of the books addressing the basics were written long before technology inundated us with information to take into our decision-making consideration. Then there are the books which are narratives. These types of books teach us about the sport, while at the same time tell us the stories of people involved in racing, those who work with the horses or at the track itself. Of course, there are the numerous biographies of the famous horses having distinguished racing careers. They give us an idea of what makes champions. The pedigree-related books explain what makes champions too, but from the breeding perspective. It can come in handy to know something about the breeding industry if you intend to breed race horses or even own them one day. However, do just-for-fun handicappers have to read volumes on the whole breeding industry to decide which horse to pick today?
One category of horse racing books we have to mention, because of the sheer volume of them out there, are those by the experts. They're the ones with the systems allowing you to pick nothing but winners. These folks may have been successful following their own decision-making process concerning handicapping. The thing is: not everyone makes decisions, handicapping or otherwise, in the same way. There are those of us, when faced with similar decisions, who may consider some factors more important than others of us would.
Unfortunately, the books focusing on the "game" of horse racing exclusively give a you such a limited view of the "sport", you're often left either needing more in the way of explanation or just totally confused. What happens is the handicapping and the betting strategies become all mixed together, or you're given half-a-loaf, getting a method for picking winners, but nothing to figure out how to bet those winners in the form of a betting strategy. Our main annoyance is the way the methodologies generally involve only the numbers related to past races. Those numbers are on a two-dimensional piece of paper. Horses on the other hand and the people who wager on them are alive in three dimensions. We are all here in the present, doing things like breathing and moving. So, if you just use the numbers, then your efforts are, well, a dimension short. No wonder you're banging your head against any large, immovable object within striking distance.
What's wrong with just handicapping by the numbers, you ask? Well, there are no rules saying you can't, but are you really going to follow such a limited way to make your handicapping decisions, especially when you keep losing time and time again? Are you going to say, "this race offers a trifecta, so, I'm going to pick the three horses with the lowest odds". Your handicapping then consists of just picking horses based on the numbers, which in this case happen to be the odds. What about all the other information available to you besides just the odds of the horses entered? By handicapping in the dimensions in which you reside, you're making decisions in a way familiar to you. No matter how you've arrived at your decision, all of it is good, when you are happy with the result or at least satisfied with your efforts. Your handicapping decisions shouldn't be hard work nor should you hand them over to some expert, who makes the pick for you. Let's face it, you can lose your own money, as well as, they can and what fun is that anyway?
You may be thinking how can these experts make picking a horse and betting on it, so complicated? After all, the human brain can only juggle so many things at a time. You have to remember, they think they are helping you in their own convoluted way. Typically, they tell you what they think you should know, instead of the things you might consider important in making your decision. For instance, to aid you in your decisions, some handicapping experts devised statistical models (methodologies) based on numbers from past races to forecast the outcome of a future race (what we call picking a horse by looking at the race program). They tend to become so enamored of their work, they forget there are things that can't be quantified (put into numbers), namely, the human ones. You know how you like to skip over all those numbers in the race program? Well, the methodology folks seem to do the opposite by throwing out everything, except the numbers. Instead of using these methodologies as tools to handicap, they use them to the exclusion of anything and everything else. It simply becomes a case of the tail wagging the horse.
It's kind of funny when you think about it, these number-dependent experts holding fast to their methodologies because of an emotional attachment. We can see how this type of thing can happen though. After all, decisions in general are a gamble. They're motivated by emotions, so, you're taking a chance your choice was a good one. Emotion seems even more evident when you decide not to make a choice at all. You may be thought of as a chicken, being too afraid your choice will be a bad one, so, you don't make one. However, when handicapping, the decision to skip a race may just be the best one to make. Surely, those experts' methodologies aren't foolproof enough to work every race. With emotions present, you have to ask yourself, how lucky do you feel this day in making your choices? If you're feeling very lucky, then how long is it going to hold?
So, your handicapping really boils down to a question of just how much are you going to let emotion, whether it's luck, fear, or something else, take part in your natural decision-making abilities. Confusing isn't it, but that's what emotions do. Look, the whole point here is making a decision can be as complicated a thing as we want to make it, whether you are deciding what to eat for lunch or what horse to pick in today's fifth race. With lunch, we have to figure out things like how much time we have; how hungry we are; should we eat healthy or grab something quick; do we really want what's in the brown bag thrown together last night; and there's always the problem of justifying all those calories. So, it seems the simple decisions we make everyday involve many things to consider. Thankfully, not all of them are serious and some are actually fun to make. Our horse racing decisions should fall into a category of fun decisions too.
Now, we don't mean you should totally throw the numbers out when handicapping. They are necessary and effective tools to use, but numbers are numbers. They can't tell you the things your eyes can, when looking at the post parade; or what your gut is reminding you about a horse in today's race, who hasn't run in a year; or what your heart is telling you upon seeing a two-year-old colt run for the first time, who reminds you so much of his daddy. Just think of how much fun handicapping could be, if you could combine some or all of these human factors in making those handicapping decisions.
Well, you're already using your head, so, you say. Yes, but your whole head? If you are just following the numbers, then it's just half of your brain. What if you could also use the other half too? You know, the half controlling your imagination. Yes, your imagination, the thing usually going hand-in-hand with fun. But just getting both halves of your brain to work together is not enough for our handicapping though. We really need to use our eyes and see the horses for the athletes they are, or maybe aren't, on this race day. While we are looking at them, we might want to know whether they were bred to race under the conditions they are facing in today's race. Then there is the gut. It's the feeling we get and tend to ignore. It tells us there's something more we should be taking into consideration, than just the logic stuff the brain is throwing out there for us. The last warrior in our handicapping is our hearts. No, we don't usually think of hearts as warriors, but when a horse is running down the stretch striving for the finish line, beating back every challenge without an ounce of strength left, you know it was its heart carrying it across the finish line first.
So, you see why we said we aren't bringing anything new to the decision regarding picking a horse. Rather, we are bringing to light the way you go about making decisions and applying it to your handicapping. We start with the basics, in order to fill in any gaps. In the chapter called, Handicapping with your Head, we go over how to read the race program. Too simple? Well, not for our goal of having you visualize how a race can unfold. The next chapter is for all of us who need to see some proof before making our decisions, which is where handicapping with your eyes comes in handy. What about the athletes themselves? Shouldn't we know what kind of family they come from (we know, it sounds like meeting your daughter's new boyfriend). When it comes to horses, knowing their pedigrees can be very helpful, so, we talk about it in our chapter called: Handicapping the Blood.
Of course, we can't forget that gut feeling too. How can we, when it's always there, especially when we don't want it butting in on our decisions. We tend to ignore it, because it hints to us something just doesn't make sense. No, it doesn't tell us exactly what, which means we have to take the time to figure it out. This figuring out is what we talk about in our chapter titled, you guessed it, Handicapping with your Gut. Since, we brought up feelings, we really can't forget how our hearts influence our handicapping. However, when it comes to handicapping, we often find the heart can be just as annoying as the gut. Some folks are so fond of a horse, they fear if they bet on it, their support will cause it to lose. Sometimes, they are so anxious about the outcome, they can't even watch the race. See what we mean by annoying?
Lastly, we have a chapter we call: Handicapping by your Tail. No, humans don't have tails, rather we are referring to the second decision you need to make, namely, the one dealing with the betting. All the great handicapping in the world will be fruitless if the decisions concerning your betting are not in line with those involving your handicapping. So, in this chapter, we talk about how to develop a betting strategy. We call it handicapping by your tail, even though it's not about handicapping, as much as, it is about betting strategies. It's simply the tail, because it comes after you've done all your handicapping.
Those are our chapters. Take from them what you will. You don't have to read them in any order, and can jump around within in each chapter too, but we do suggest you read the last chapter, well, last. Who knows? You may find you've been a head handicapper all along, but now want to break out of just relying on your head to make decisions and throw in a little of those gut feelings or heartfelt emotions. We don't mean you should start crying tears of joy when you see your pick enter the winner's circle, but you have these abilities, so, why not use them?
Like our anatomy of horse race handicapping, the sport of horse racing can be thought of as interactive. In what other sport can you participate like you do in horse racing? Can you by watching basketball players dribble up and down the court for seemingly hours, only to have the outcome decided in the final minutes? Is falling asleep at a baseball game, as they change pitchers for the umpteenth time, a way to participate? Some folks may think having a few adult beverages at the tailgate party preceding a football game is the only participation they need to do.
With horse racing, you're getting to participate in pure theater. There's the build-up to the race, as the horses and their jockeys parade in front of us. Then, after you give them a careful look, you're diving into the race program. In one ear, you're listening to your friends argue in support of their picks, like lawyers giving closing arguments in a trial. In the other ear, you're listening for any late changes being announced. Finally, you get out of your seat to place a carefully constructed bet. As you receive your bet slip, it feels like you just bought a piece of a race horse. You picked it and it is running for you. Then the moment has arrived. All your focus is on the starting gate, as you get to watch the kind of drama only horse racing can provide. As the horses speed around the track, you strain your ears to hear the announcer calling your horse's name. It seems like they have been on the backstretch for an eternity, when suddenly, there they are turning for home. You find yourself on your feet; yelling your horse onward. As they cross the finish line neck and neck, you then anxiously await the results to appear on the tote board. Will the number of "your" horse appear first or second. The waiting seems to take forever. Then in a flash, your brief ownership in the horse pays off and you have bragging rights, at least until the next race.