Horse Race Handicapping: Trouble on the Turns

by | Last updated Jul 13, 2022 | Horse Betting

Trouble on the Turns
By Kenneth Strong of

Trouble on the turns in a horse race is often the result of an incompetent jockey. Horses do get into trouble simply because of how a race naturally sets up, but the way a jockey handles the trouble can have a significant bearing in how a horse performs and where it finishes.

The run to the first turn, especially if it’s a short run, can cause all kinds of problems for horses.

Riders with inside posts have to send their horses early to avoid getting shut off by the outside speed into the turn. If these riders are unlucky enough to be riding a horse that lacks early speed they are automatically shuffled to the back of the pack. Conversely, horses with wide posts and early speed running styles are forced to send their horses wide into the first turn, causing them to lose valuable ground.

Indecisive riders who don’t know whether to send or take back into the first turn do a little of both and end up either wide or in all kinds of trouble. Smart, courageous riders win a lot of races on horses that shouldn’t win – simply by knowing what to do into these turns.

If you follow a race track that has this type of short run to the first turn, look for the jockeys who always seem to gain good position early and look for horses who have had poor posts and poor jockeys hampering their first turn run in previous races.

A better post or jockey can make all the difference in these races and a combination of a horse coming off a poor trip based on the run to the first turn, who is also getting a better post and a competent rider, can come back to win at great odds.

The turn for home, or final turn in a horse race, is also a common source of trouble for incompetent jockeys. This is the turn where horses begin to make their winning moves. If they get blocked or lack running room while getting ready to move, this can prevent them from winning the race.

The turn for home, like the first turn, is a scary place for some jockeys, especially if they are along the rail with lots of horse and nowhere to go. Some jockeys not only fear getting trapped on the rail, they also have hands of stone and tend to overreact and check or steady their horses severely at the slightest sign of contact with other horses or the rail.

Other jockeys in the same situation will sit patiently with soft hands and wait for room. If they don’t get the room they need, nobody really notices. The horse gets running room late in the turn and rallies mildly late, or rallies after the winner is long gone. The latter situation can result in one of the best wagering situations in racing.

The official result charts and comment lines will almost always make note of a horse that is checking or steadying in obvious trouble on the turn, but they will not often say too much about a horse that is trapped along the rail or between horses with nowhere to go, when the jockey is simply sitting quietly. This is another reason to actually watch the races in person or review the videotape replays.

You have to get to know which jockeys handle trouble on the turn quietly and which jockeys are not only always in trouble – but who handle tight situations poorly by overreacting. This almost always makes the situation look worse than it is, and the checking and steadying is recorded in the official charts and Past Performance comment lines as major trouble.

In fact, many horses experiencing this type of trouble due to inept jockeys will not come back to win. Yet they are over bet when the come back to run just because of the trouble comments.

If you have the opportunity to watch the actual race and review the video replays, you want to look for horses that were making a good move or who were actually full of run on the turn with nowhere to go. You especially want to note these horses when the jockey is not panicking or steadying or checking. This type of trouble is not likely to show up in the official charts or the comment lines and only the best trip handicappers will have it. This of course, will result in odds that are better than they should be when a horse comes back to run.

If a sharp chart caller does happen to see this type of trouble it will show up in the official charts or comment lines as “in vice turn” or “lacked room turn” or something along those lines. Many bettors do not view these types of comments to be as important as comments indicating severe trouble, when in fact the former comments can mean much more.

One of the best bets I ever made was on a horse coming off such a trip. He was an old class horse making his third start off a layoff. In his first start he had flashed speed and tired. In his second start he’d gotten trapped behind a wall of horses on the turn while obviously ready to make a good run at the leaders – but his jockey didn’t move a muscle. He waited quietly for running room.

By the time he had clear room in early stretch the two pacesetters had opened up eight lengths on the field. He finished decently when clear, but knowing he had no chance to win the jockey didn’t over do it and the horse finished about five lengths back in fifth.

When the horse came back to run, not only was their no mention of the trouble anywhere, he was facing one of the horses who had beaten him by five lengths in his previous start. Many bettors assumed he was five-lengths inferior to that horse and bet accordingly. The perfect trip horse went off at 8/5 and the old class horse went off at 9/2. I told every one I knew to bet on the horse. No one did except for me.

The class horse romped, winning by 11 lengths and paying $11.60. The favorite finished out of the money and I took home over $1,000 in win-place and trifecta money. Guess how good that felt!

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