October 19, 2017: A Step Back Before A Step Forward

Having trouble getting ready for the Breeders’ Cup? Not only are your handicapping tools rusty, but you don’t even know where you threw them after the BC Preview Days? Maybe it’s time for a refresher then. We have to make two decisions when handicapping a horse race. The first is deciding on which horses will contend for the purse monies. That’s where our Head, Eye, Gut, and Pedigree handicapping come into play. Our second decision is how to wager on the contenders we picked. This is the point where our Tail Handicapping takes over.


We always start with Head Handicapping because it’s where we look over the past performances to find out the running styles of the horses entered. Who are the need to lead types, the off-the-pace kind, and the closers. Looking at recent races, we know Keen Ice is a closer; Gun Runner ran off-the-pace for most of the Woodward Stakes; and West Coast led the way in both the Travers and PA Derby. So, in addition to the past performance, we can use Eye Handicapping to look at past races. Once we establish their running styles will can visualize how the race will unfold. Will there be loose speed on the lead or will it be contested? Is there enough early speed in the race to allow the off-the-pace types and closers to catch up coming down the stretch?


After getting some idea of how the race will unfold, we go to our Gut Handicapping. The Breeders’ Cup races have their own set of angles to play. We will go over some before the event. In the meantime, the usual type of gut plays also apply to the BC. For example, we need to know of any track bias. With the BC being held at Del Mar, we don’t have past experience of how the track will play. We do have a few November meets that have been held there though, so, we’ll have to rely on those plus any clues we get from the earlier races run on the day. If you followed the summer meet at Del Mar, you might think you know how the track plays, and even though the weather seems constant in that part of the world, November isn’t August.


Getting back to our Eye Handicapping, you might want to concentrate on watching and listening to what’s going on in the paddock and post parades before the races. We may have placed some wagers ahead of the race, but we can make some backup plays based on what we see before the race. As for Pedigree Handicapping, look to find out if a horse is being misplaced. Also, the three-year-olds now have to run against their elders. Do their pedigrees support their doing well with this challenge?

Lastly, we have our Heart Handicapping. This isn’t as much a handicapping tool as it is something that occurs. We have been following these horses for quite a while now and probably have fallen for a few. So, make a side bet on them. It doesn’t have to be a large bet, but something to satisfy those feelings.


Okay, that’s our review for now. Think about what tools are working for you and how they can help you tackle the BC. For the ones you forgot about, take them out of the tool box and sharpen them up with some races in the next couple of weeks. Most of all, stay positive and you’re bound to have fun on the two BIGGEST days in racing.

October 12, 2017: Think Good

We can now breathe a big sigh of relief, the Breeders’ Cup Preview days and the BC Challenge races are over. They were a tough piece of handicapping in most cases. What made them so difficult had a lot to do with the intentions of the trainers and the connections. The horses already in the BC were not giving it their all in the BC Challenge races on the Preview days. Just look at the Jockey Club Gold Cup. True, there was little pace, but Keen Ice wasn’t going to go all-out to beat the NY bred and eventual winner, Diversify. The connections want him peaking for the BC Classic, where there should be plenty of pace with horses like Gun Runner and West Coast.


So, did we just waste our time and bankrolls on these Preview Days? Let’s hope not, because we did get familiar with the horses going to the BC and we learned a lot about Gut Handicapping. These lessons will serve us well for the two-days of the Breeders’ Cup, when we’ll have nothing but prior favorites going at each other. What we need to do in the few weeks leading up to the event is get our confidence back. Thankfully, there are plenty of races to do just that. Many tracks have state bred days where the races mimic the BC races in terms of the conditions, but with the state thing being the restriction. If bankroll management is a problem, then these days can provide practice with that too. Overall, we need to concentrate on what we did right. Don’t say you didn’t do anything right. Even if you lost a race or two, maybe your Head Handicapping was great and you just needed to listen to your gut more. Maybe your choice of bet types (Tail Handicapping as we call it) was good in keeping with a bankroll, but your choice of contenders wasn’t.


What can make your handicapping fun? Think back to the summer when we just concentrated on having fun at the track. What made it fun? Winning? Matching your bet types with your handicapping? Finding longshots here and there? Now, take those positive thoughts and put them to work with the spots that didn’t work with the BC Preview Days.


Positive thoughts will keep us away from freezing up, when the BC is finally here.

October 5, 2017: Gutting Out the BC Preps

Well, our first Saturday of Breeders’ Cup preview races is over. Did you have fun handicapping the races? What’s that? No, because your head and gut were going at it to the point where you were left confused and frustrated. We were talking last week about how these BC preps leaned more to using our Gut Handicapping rather than the Head variety. Unfortunately, we have 9 more “Win and You’re In”, or as they are calling them now, BC Challenge races this coming week. If you had a miserable time with these type of races last weekend, please don’t avoid them this week. We need to get familiar with the horses running in the BC and not be so concerned with why or why not they ran in a BC prep.


Here’s an example of how your Gut Handicapping comes in handy in dealing with the BC Challenge races. (Are they called Challenge races for the horses or for the handicappers? Just wondering.) Last Sunday, the Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship race was run at Santa Anita. This race was not a BC Challenge one. That is the first piece of information that should have caught your attention. Why? Well, your head was probably telling you the horse Hunt was in the best form entering the race. He had won two Grade 2 races at Del Mar this past summer. His last loss coming at Santa Anita in July.


The big tip-off to us that he was entered Sunday for the workout comes from the fact that one of the Del Mar races he won, The Del Mar Handicap was a BC Challenge race. Therefore, he already won and was in. Our guts should have also led us to the fact that last year’s winner of the John Henry, Avenge was entered in this year’s edition.


So, what happened? Avenge did defend his title in the race that wasn’t a BC Challenge one and Hunt was literally pulled up by his jockey in the stretch to finish well behind. At first glance, it looked like Hunt might have been hurt to be pulled up in that manner, but there was nothing in the race charts or articles on the race to indicate such an event.


Now, what do we do with this information? Do we not consider Hunt in the BC, if entered? Not so fast, as we will have to look over the fields, and considering his recent success at Del Mar, we can’t just throw him out at this point. Just keep these races in mind for your BC handicapping. Overall, we need to listen to our guts more than our heads for this week’s BC preps. It seems like extra work, but it will payoff in the long run to make us better handicappers. And, a better handicapper is someone who has fun handicapping!