Horse Racing Handicapping

by | Last updated May 8, 2023 | Horse Betting

Horse Racing Handicapping – Handicapping Fundamentals Overview

Horse racing handicapping involves analyzing past performances of all the horses in a race, separating the contenders from the pretenders, and making a final decision on which horse you think is most likely to win the race.

Sometimes you can easily determine the winner, which makes a race more playable. Other times the race is a mish mash lacking any dominant contenders – which often makes a race unplayable. It pays to know the difference between playable and non-playable races. It also pays to know whether you are getting good odds on your final selections. The ability to do the aforementioned gives you an edge on the competition – your fellow bettors.

In horse racing all bets go into a wagering pool. The house takes their cut off the top for taxes, expenses, etc. and the remaining money is paid back out to the winning bettors. To gain the edge on your competition you have to do your homework – which requires intelligent handicapping.

While it may seem a little overwhelming at first, handicapping becomes easier with time. And it is well worth investing the effort to learn how to handicap a horse race properly. Why? Because the majority of horseplayers don’;t do it, and since they are your competition, rather than the house, the more homework you do, the more likely you are to win.

Despite the reams of handicapping information available today both online and off, you’d be surprised how many lazies and crazies prefer to show up at the track and bet without even a remote understanding of the Daily Racing Form or handicapping. These gamblers lose consistently – and there are thousands and thousands of them. It is their money you will be taking once you learn how to handicap a horserace properly.

Below follows an overview of horse racing handicapping fundamentals which we will expand upon in future articles. You’ll need to know how to read the Daily Racing Form to use many of these fundamentals, but don’t worry, it’s not near as tough as you think.

Current Form

How has the horse performed recently? Has it been racing competitively or finishing up the track. Is it making its first start off a layoff or has it raced regularly?


There are numerous class levels in horseracing and horses have to find their proper class level in order to win. Has the horse been performing well at today’s class level? Is it moving up or down in class?

Speed (Beyer Speed Figures)

Not to be confused with early speed and quickness, Beyer Speed Figures take into account the speed of the track surface (yes it can change daily and there are different levels of fast), the distance of a race, and to some extent a horse’s trip in a race, to come up with an accurate overall number that tells you how fast a horse ran. Beyer Speed Figures should not be used on their own to handicap a race. Why? Because everybody has access to these figures, which reduces the odds. Additionally, horses with the best figures don”t always win. If that were the case everyone would win all the time simply by betting the horse with the best numbers. Beyer Speed Figures are best used in general, to separate the contenders from the non-contenders and to determine whether a horse moving up in class can be competitive at a new distance or at a higher level.

Pace and Race Setup

How fast will the early part of the race be run? How fast will the latter part of the race be run? Will one horse be able to get the lead by itself (a big advantage) or are there other horses that will battle for the lead and set the race up for a closer. Understanding and predicting how a race will set up is a major factor in handicapping that most casual players do not use.

Trainer Patterns

Not considered a fundamental handicapping skill by some, understanding trainer patterns provides you with an additional edge over many bettors. Some trainers are excellent with first time starters, others excel on the turf. Some trainers are experts with claiming horses dropping in class while others win with horses moving up in class. Some trainers are simply terrible in every category, while others may be excellent in many areas but weak in a few others. It pays to know who is good at what.


There are few jockeys at every track that are better than the rest. They ride harder, they ride smarter and they always give their mounts a chance to win. Many jockeys are just passengers. A good jockey cannot make a bad horse win, but a bad jockey will often get a good horse beat. You want the best jockey on a contender at a nice price. Also note that the best jockeys are not always the ones at the top of the standings (the leaders may be just getting the best mounts) – you need to watch the races to get the real story. What you really want to know is – which jockeys always give their horses a chance to win by giving them better trips than the competition.

Trips and Track Biases

Horses that experience unfavorable trips due to traffic, start trouble, a bad ride etc. can often come back to win at good odds. Additionally, horses who race against a track bias can also come back to win. For example, a speed horse that tires on a track favoring closers will generally perform much better on a speed-favoring surface. A horse that raced wide in its previous race on a track with a golden rail might perform better if it can get to the inside today.

The short comment lines in the Daily Racing Form Past Performances will often indicate a horse that has been in trouble in previous starts. For example, the comment lines might say “stumbled start” or “blocked turn” or maybe even “poor trip.” There are hundreds of possible comment lines that can give you some indication of a horse’s trip in previous races. You can also read Result Charts to get further trip details.

The best trip handicappers watch the races in person and also study the replays looking for slight edges. Some horses that experience trouble will not come back to win – the published trouble wasn’t as bad as it looked. Other trouble is completely missed.

Not only will watching the races on a daily basis and taking notes help you become a better trip handicapper, it will also show you how the track is playing. Is it favoring closers, speed horses, or playing fair. Do outside or inside posts have an advantage? As you watch more and more races you will get the feel for both trips and track biases, and your notes will point out lucrative future winners.

Additional Handicapping Factors

Once the basics have been learned, you can delve into studying pedigrees, turf racing, European shippers, advanced speed and pace handicapping, workouts, key races, online information services and systems, creating your own odds line, properly and creatively structuring your bets, and hundreds of other handicapping and betting angles that can help you spot longshots in tough races.

Horse racing handicapping is a skill worth developing. Why? Because most of your competition is too lazy to do it, and like anything else in this life, you reap what you sow.

Learning horseracing handicapping fundamentals will give you an edge on the crowd. Further honing your handicapping skills will make you a consistent winner.

So is it worth doing?

It depends on how much you like money.

Now that you’re familiar with horse race handicapping, check out our Bovada Racebook Review (they take credit cards for deposits!) and start betting on the ponies!

How to Bet on Horses

Read our Race Betting Guide to get insight on all of the types of wagering options in horse racing. Dig deeper below to get tips on the most popular exotic wagers with winning strategies provided by expert Kenneth Strong.