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Handicapping Past Performances

Horse Betting: Understanding the Past Performances
by Kenneth Strong

The Guts of the Past Performances - the Middle Section

The "guts" of the past performances are contained in the middle section. This is where all the details of a horse's last 12 races are listed and it is the section most used by handicappers when comparing one horse to another.

One thing to keep in mind when making decisions based on this section of the past performances - not only does every regular bettor have access to this information - most of them use it to make their final betting decisions. And their conclusions are strikingly similar - seemingly superior horses are favored.

If you'd rather not bet what everyone else is betting, you require an exceptional understanding of this section the past performances. This helps you to see what other handicappers cannot - to read "between the lines" - to spot those small edges that can be turned into large profits.

From left to right, data elements contained in each past performance lines include: (Note: data item being discussed is bolded in the past performance line)

Date of Race, Race Number, Track Abbreviation and Track Condition

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f

This horse raced on July 12, 2001 in the 8th race at Gulfstream Park over a fast track at a distance of 7 furlongs (one furlong = an one eighth of a mile). If an asterisk appears before the distance it indicates the race was run at an "about" distance. For example *7f would indicate the race was run at about seven furlongs.

Track abbreviations such as "GP" can be found in various track publications including the racing form. Track condition abbreviations for dirt tracks include: fast -fst, wet-fast - wf, good - gd, sloppy - sly, muddy - my, slow - sl, heavy - hy and frozen - fr. Turf Course condition abbreviations include: hard - hd, firm - fm, good - gd, yielding - yl, soft - sf and heavy - hy.

Always check the date of the last race. Horses coming off long layoffs must be proven off such layoffs, or their trainers must be proven winners with horses coming off a layoff. Also note that horses that have run well off a layoff in the past often continue to do so throughout their careers.

Fractional Times and Final Time

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f :22 3 :46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2

In this case the leader ran the first quarter mile in 22 3/5 seconds. The leader reached the half-mile mark in this race in 46 2/5 seconds. The leader raced six furlongs in one minute and 11 2/5 seconds. The winner of the race finished the seven furlongs in one minute and 23 2/5 seconds.

For all races further than 5 furlongs three fractional times are listed. The fractional times are those recorded for the leader at various points throughout the race. Numbers appearing before the colon are minutes. Numbers appearing after the colon are seconds.

Horses coming out of races with faster fractions should be given extra consideration when handicapping, especially if they were close to the pace in that race. Fractional times are used in conjunction with beaten lengths when performing advanced pace handicapping.

Age of Competitors and Race Conditions

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 223 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700

This race was for 4-year-olds and upward (4 with an up arrow beside it). It was an allowance race with a purse of $11,700. Examples of the different general conditions that exist include Claiming races (Clm), Maiden races (Mdn), Allowance races (Alw), Stakes races (Stk) and Handicap races (Hcp). Each of these categories also includes subcategories with regards to claiming price, purse size and money or number of races won.

Maiden races are for horses that have never won. Maiden races can also be tagged either claiming or allowance. In maiden claiming races (as well as other claiming races) horses entered for a certain "claiming" price can be purchased out of that race for that price. Claiming races keep the game honest. A trainer will not normally enter a $50,000 horse in a $10,000 claiming race for an easy win, for fear of losing it to another owner via the claiming route. By the same token, a trainer wouldn't normally enter a $10,000 horse in a $50,000 claiming race, as it would likely have little chance of winning. That being said, the sharpest claiming trainers often run horses for less than they are worth in an effort to "steal" races.

Maiden allowance races are generally for better quality horses. These often well-bred youngsters progress into condition allowance races termed N1X (non-winners of a race other than maiden or claiming) and N2X (non-winners of two races other than maiden or claiming) etc. until they have won out their conditions. Horses that win out their conditions will progress to the higher-class money allowances, handicap races, stakes races and hopefully graded stakes races (the highest quality of competition). Horses that cannot make it through their allowance conditions usually "drop down" into claiming races in search of a win.

Beyer Speed Figure

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87

This horse received a Beyer Speed Figure of 87 for this performance. Beyer Speed Figures are found in the racing form and are listed for any performance over a North American racetrack. Beyer Speed Figures take into account the horse's final time and the inherent speed of the racing surface to come up with a single number representing the speed and quality of performance. Beyer Speed Figures allow for easy comparison of performances between different tracks and distances. Theoretically, a performance that receives a Beyer Speed Figure of 87 at Belmont Park, New York should be equal to a performance that receives an 87 at Santa Anita, California. A 7-furlong performance that receives a Beyer Speed Figure of 87 should also be considered equal to a six-furlong performance that also receives and 87.

Post Position and Running Lines - Position and Beaten Lengths

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12

This horse broke from Post Position 3. The horse broke out of the gate in fourth position. At the first call (after a quarter mile had been run) the horse was third, two lengths behind the leader. At the second call (after a half mile) the horse was second, two lengths back of the leader. At the stretch call (usually an eighth of a mile from the finish) the horse was second, one length behind the leader. At the finish the horse was first, two lengths in front of the second place finisher.

The running lines indicate the horse's position and lengths behind the leader at predetermined points of call. If the horse is on the lead the superscript number indicates lengths in front of the second place horse.

Post positions are important when used in conjunction with distance and the makeup of the racetrack. At some tracks outside post positions are disadvantageous going certain distances. At other tracks, inside posts are disadvantageous going certain distances. It pays to know which posts the highest and lowest percentage of winners come from at different distances for each track. Post position win percentages are usually listed in the racing form for each track.

Running lines (position and beaten lengths at each point of call) require deeper discussion, but they are best used to determine a horse's running style. In very general terms, horses with a high percentage of 1s and 2s in their running lines like to race near the front. Horses with a preponderance of 5s and higher in their running lines usually like to race from well off the pace.

The important thing to remember is that once a horse has an established number of running lines that indicate its running style, that running style will rarely change. If it does change - you have reason to take note - it could be the sign of a wakeup.

For example, if a horse that always comes from well off the pace all of a sudden flashes speed - it could be ready to wake up at big odds. This is just one example of a running-line change that can indicate a winner at a price. Running-line angles are too numerous to discuss here and will be detailed in another article - suffice to know if you see a change in a horse's running lines - take a closer look.

An additional use of running lines is in determining how a race will set up. Good handicappers can always predict how a race will setup using the running lines. In a matter of seconds they can determine if there is a lone speed horse or multiple speed horses, which horses come from just off the pace and which are stalkers that come from well back. No matter what a horse's odds, if it has some type of speed it can make a difference in the outcome of a race. If there is a lone speed horse its chances are enhanced. Multiple speed horses might help set the race up for a stalker.

Many handicappers use a red marker to mark the running style of each horse on the past performances before they start handicapping. In general, horses with a preponderance 1s and 2s in their lines will get straight arrows ( "E" or early speed horses). Horses with a number of 3s, 4s and 5s in their lines might get a slightly humped arrow meaning they will come from just off the pace ("P" or pressers) and horses with numerous 5-10s in their running lines will be given big upside down horseshoes, meaning they will be coming from well off the pace ("S" or Stalkers).

Determining how a race will setup and run is critical to the handicapping process, yet it is often overlooked. Spending a little time with a red marker on the running lines will give you a definite edge on the crowd.

Jockey

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ

PJ Valenzuela was the rider of this horse on July 12. Knowing who rode the horse in its previous races is important for a number of reasons.

If a rider who has won on the horse before is on the horse today it might have a better chance. If a poor rider was on the horse in its previous races and it is now getting a leading rider, that can be significant. If the horse has been ridden on numerous occasions by leading riders without success, that might indicate the horse simply can't compete where the trainer is running it, especially if a lesser rider is aboard for today's race.

Always make sure you have a good understanding of each track's high and low percentage riders and the idiosyncrasies of each. Some riders can't rate a horse in a route. Some riders always get a horse in trouble. Some riders are brilliant in getting a horse out of the gate and on the lead. It pays to know who has been riding a horse and whether that rider has been helping or hurting that horse's chances. Also make note of successful rider-trainer combinations.

Medication

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 346 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ LB

Following the jockey name comes the medication indicators. "L" is used for Lasix (furosemide), a commonly used diuretic, and "B" is listed for Butazolidin (phenylbutazone), a commonly used analgesic. At many tracks these medications are so common that a horse may be at a disadvantage if not using them.

Common handicapping angles regarding medication include first- and second-time Lasix.

If a horse has not been racing on Lasix and it will be racing on Lasix for the first time today, it may improve. Many handicappers use this angle and the odds usually reflect this, but the second-time Lasix angle can produce winners at much better odds.

If a horse has raced on Lasix for the first time in its most recent race, without winning, look closely at the running line. Sometimes a horse on first-time Lasix will show speed, or make a move indicating increased confidence, before fading to finish out of the money. Many handicappers will be quick to dismiss or overlook such a horse when it comes back to make its second start on Lasix. These horses, which may have previously had trouble breathing or bleeding from the lungs before the addition of Lasix, sometimes gain enough confidence in their first start on Lasix to run a big race in their second start on Lasix.

Weight

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ LB 122

This horse carried 122 pounds including the jockey, saddle and any lead weight pads that may have been placed in the saddle to bring a horse up to its assigned weight. Some handicappers think weight is important - most do not. Horses that are carrying weights that are within five pounds of each other should be considered equals and additional weight spreads mean very little with one exception - when one horse happens to be carrying 10-20 pounds more than another horse or horses in a handicap or stakes race. The latter scenario also depends on the talent levels of the horses and the distance of the race. Large weight spreads will have more of a negative impact in the longer races.

Equipment - Blinkers, Front Bandages, Bar Shoes

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 346 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ LB 122 bf

This horse wore blinkers (b) and front bandages (f) in its July 12 race. If the horse had worn specially designed shoes called bar shoes, to protect its feet, this would have been listed as "r".

Always check the blinkers and equipment a horse has worn in the past as compared to what it will be wearing in today's race. Angles such as "blinkers on" and "blinkers off" produce a good number of winners at big odds, as do lesser-known angles such as "blinkers-on-off-on" and "blinkers off-on-off". Also, compare whether a horse will be wearing or not wearing blinkers today, against trainer patterns listed at the bottom of the past performances. Successful patterns repeat themselves.

If a horse shows up with front bandages in a claiming race, and its past performance lines don't show a listing for front bandages, this is probably a negative sign. However, some trainers will use front bandages on a horse when dropping it down or moving it up in claiming price, just to make other trainers think there may be a problem with the horse. The horse may be fine and ready to roll, but it is wise to exercise a little more caution when handicapping these types. A study of trainer patterns will usually reveal how a trainer's horses perform with first time front bandages.

With regards to bar shoes, "r", they probably hamper a horse more than help it, at least in a race. Always check the board outside the paddock for any shoe changes. If a horse has been running in bar shoes and they have been replaced with regular racing plates for today's race, the horse could improve. If a horse has not been racing in bar shoes, and the paddock board lists the horse with bar shoes for today's race, caution should exercised in your handicapping.

Final Odds

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ LB 122 bf *2.30

This horse went off at odds of $2.30-1 in the July 12 race. The asterisk preceding the odds indicates the horse was the favorite in the race and paid $6.60 to win ($2.30 * 2 + $2). From a handicapping perspective, a horse that has finished in the top three as the favorite in its previous race, will come back to win its next start over 20 percent of the time. Keeping that statistic in mind, horses that are repeatedly beaten as favorites should generally be avoided as sucker horses. And horses that perform well at long odds should always be given an extra look.

Speed Rating and Track Variant

12Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ LB 122 bf *2.30 85-10

This horse received a speed rating of 85 on July 12 over a surface listed as having a variant 10. The speed rating is a comparison a horse's final time with the best time at that track at that distance in the last three years. The best time has a par value of 100. To calculate the speed rating, one point is deducted from this par value of 100 for each fifth of a second this horse ran slower than the time that was equal to par. In the case above, the horse ran 15 fifths of a second (three seconds) slower than the 100 par time and received a speed rating of 100 - 15 = 85. The track variant indicates in points how much slower than par the races run at the track that day for that distance were. A lower track variant either means the track was faster or the quality of the races was higher, for that distance at that track on that day. Speed ratings and track variants are still used by some handicappers, but many now prefer Beyer Speed Figures as measure of a horse's speed and quality of performance.

Company Line and Key Race Indicator

2Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ LB 122 bf *2.30 85-10 JoBigHrs1182Smthy1201Jnstwn1182 (Continued from above - one line in actual past performances)

The winner of this race was Joe's Big Horse, who carried 118 pounds and finished two lengths in front of Smitthy, who carried 120 pounds and finished one length in front of Jonestown, who carried 118 pounds and finished two lengths in front of the fourth place horse. If a "D" appears in front of a horse's name in the company line it indicates the horse was disqualified. If a "DH" appears in front of a horse's name it indicates the horse finished in a dead heat, or exactly even with another horse in the photo finish.

The company line shows the first three finishers in a race, the weight they carried and the number of lengths they finished in front of the next finisher. If a horse's name in the company line is listed in italics (Key Race Indicator) it indicates the horse came back to win its next start. This helps to identify races of better quality (key races) within a certain class level. When you find a number of horses exiting the same race and coming back to win their next start, additional horses exiting that race should be given extra consideration when they are entered, no matter what the class level.

Horses do know each other and some horses simply can't defeat certain rivals. Horses that have finished in the top three positions in previous races where they also happened to finish ahead of another competitor in today's race, will show up in bold type in that competitors company lines.

An additional handicapping angle overlooked by many bettors can be found when the winner of a race or even the first two finishers in a race finish a large number of lengths in front of the remainder of a field.

For example, if you are examining the past performance for a horse that finished fifth beaten 12 lengths in its last race, this may appear on the surface to be a dull performance. A quick look at the company line, however, indicates that the winner of that race was a nose in front of the second place finisher, who finished 11 lengths in front of the third place finisher. So the horse that finished fifth beaten 12 lengths was actually only beaten one length for third. If the top two finishers are not in today's race, this horse may have a better chance than the odds indicate. You'd be surprised how many "sharp" handicappers miss this angle and/or dismiss the horse, due to the large number of beaten lengths.

Comment Line and Number of Starters

2Jly01-8GP fst 7f 22 3 46 2 1:11 2 1:23 2 4|^Alw11700 87 3 4 32 22 21 12 Valenzuela PJ LB 122 bf *2.30 85-10 JoBigHrs1182Smthy1201Jnstwn1182 4-wide, drew out 12(Continued from above line)

The comment line in this race indicates the horse raced four wide (four horse widths off the rail) and still had enough left to draw away from the field late for the win. The number of horses in the field, as indicated by the last number in the line, was 12.

Comment lines offer a capsule description of the horse's performance in a race. In the past, when a horse won, the comment would often give an idea of how the horse won. Examples of this include driving (the horse couldn't go any faster), ridden out (the horse had a little left), handily (the horse was being restrained slightly - in hand) or easily (the horse had lots left in the tank and was probably being eased up at the wire.)

Nowadays the comment lines usually contain more information, especially with regards to trips and trouble. Different types of trouble examples include steadied (jockey forced to mildly restrain the horse in traffic); checked (the jockey was forced to take up the horse hard, forcing the horse to lose momentum and possibly the race); blocked (the horse lacked running room); broke slow (horse broke tardily from the gate); widest (the horse was widest and had to run further than the other horses) etc.

Horses that have trouble indicated in their comment lines do come back to win at good odds, but not as often as expected. Most race watchers overestimate trouble when they see it in race and it is best to develop your own ability to watch races and get a feel for how much the trouble actually cost the horse in race. Eventually, the ability to tell whether the trouble was severe enough to affect the horse's chances of performing well will become second nature.

One thing to remember - trainers, jockeys, backstretch workers and inexperienced handicappers will almost ALWAYS overrate how much trouble a horse got in and over bet the horse the next time it runs. Again, watch the races yourself and make your own notes - this will produce winners for you and stop you from betting underlays based on perceived troubled trips.

Also, always watch for comments that indicate consistently good performances from horses, such as good try, good effort or gamely. These types of horses win more than their share at good odds.

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