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Home / Articles / Essential Strategies for Making Informed Horse Racing Bets

Essential Strategies for Making Informed Horse Racing Bets

By: Jeff Hochman     Date: Jun 11, 2024
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When it comes to handicapping horse races, experienced gamblers understand the importance of analyzing past performances to make informed betting decisions. By considering specific wagering angles, we can identify patterns and trends that can significantly enhance our chances of success. In this article, we will explore my top wagering angles. As the great Trevor Denman (Voice of Del Mar) says, “And Away They Go!” Trevor will return to announce Del Mar this Summer (2024) in his 40th season.

Class Levels:

Horses move up and down in class levels based on their performances. Winning at lower levels may prompt a move up, while poor performances at higher levels may cause a downgrade. A horse dropping in class after competing well at higher levels might have an edge. Class refers to the level of competition a horse has been competing against. Analyzing a horse's class helps determine if it has consistently performed well against similar or better competition. A drop in class may indicate an opportunity for the horse to perform better than its recent form suggests.

Examples: Suppose a horse has previously competed in high-level Graded stakes races but is now in a lower-class claiming or even an Allowance race. In that case, it may have a competitive advantage over its rivals due to its experience in higher-class races. Additionally, looking out for maiden special weight horses dropping down to the claiming ranks is recommended, especially if the horse finished in the money during its last start.

Speed Figures:

Speed figures measure a horse's performance in previous races. They are calculated by considering factors such as track conditions and distance. Higher numbers indicate better performances. Consistently high-speed figures suggest a strong contender, but sudden jumps in speed figures could indicate a horse coming into its prime. These figures allow us to objectively measure a horse's speed and help identify consistent performers or potential improvements.

Example: A horse consistently earning high-speed figures in its recent races may indicate current solid form and potential for success.

Pace Style:

Have you ever heard the phrase "pace makes the race?" It highlights the importance of considering the pace of a horse race when predicting which horse might perform the best. Pace analysis involves studying how a race is likely to be run based on the horses' early speed and running styles. These styles are Early, Early/Presser, Presser, and sustained. By identifying the pace scenario, it is possible to determine which horses may benefit from a fast or slow early pace, influencing their chances of winning

Examples: A horse with a solid finishing kick may have an edge in a race with a fast initial pace. This is because it can use its late burst of speed to overtake the exhausted frontrunners. Conversely, a horse that performs well in high-speed races may struggle in slower-paced races because it will have already spent all its energy and will have little left for the final stretch.

Form Cycle:

The term "form cycle" refers to the recent performance history of a horse. A horse in good form has been performing well recently, while one in poor form has not. However, a wise gambler knows that form can be cyclical - horses often have periods of peak performance followed by downturns. Identifying a horse entering or exiting a peak can create excellent betting opportunities. To evaluate a horse's fitness, assess its recent workouts and races. Horses that have performed well in the past few weeks may carry momentum into the race, while others may require additional time to reach their peak form.

Example: Monitor horses with improving speed figures in their last three races but haven't won yet.

Jockey/Trainer Combinations:

Successful partnerships between jockeys and trainers can be an indicator of future success. When jockeys and trainers work well together and understand their horses' strengths and weaknesses, this can result in winning combinations. To factor their success into your handicapping, review their combined win percentages. Additionally, monitoring their return on investment (ROI) figures is essential.

Example: Trainer Mark Glatt and jockey Mike Smith have a 30% win rate when they team up, and their ROI is +40%.

Pedigree Analysis:

The pedigree analysis examines a horse's ancestry to determine its potential for success on different track surfaces or at different distances. Specific bloodlines are known for their strength in sprinting, while others are bred for endurance. By studying a horse's lineage, it is possible to gain insight into its likelihood of performing well under specific conditions or distances. Pedigree analysis can help identify untapped strengths in a horse's bloodline that might have gone unnoticed.

Examples: Tapit's offspring are bred for long-distance runs on dirt tracks. On the other hand, Square Eddie's progeny excels in short-distance runs on turf tracks. Kitten Joy's progeny is known for its love of long runs on grass tracks while Twirling Candy's offspring are versatile but perform best when switching from dirt to turf tracks at any distance. Into Mischief, Mineshaft, Gun Runner, Quality Road, Goldencents, Justify, Constitution, Curlin, Arrogate, Good Magic, Uncle Mo, Munnings, Nyquist, and Street Sense are also excellent sires with a high "in the money" rate.

Track Bias & Post Positions:

It's important to note that certain tracks may have specific characteristics that favor certain running styles or post positions. For example, tracks with tight turns may favor inside posts. Understanding these biases can help you identify potential advantages or disadvantages for certain horses. The starting gate position can also impact a horse's performance, with certain post positions presenting advantages on specific track layouts. It's vital to incorporate post-position trends within your handicapping analysis to make better-informed decisions while placing bets.

Example: Horses starting from post 10 through 14 have won only 9% of 1-mile turf races at Del Mar since 2002.

Trainer Patterns:

Examining the trainer's past performance in various scenarios can help improve your odds of winning a horse race. By analyzing a trainer's historical success rate in specific situations such as distance, surface, or class changes, one can gain valuable insights into a horse's chances of winning. This information can help make informed decisions about which horse to bet and how to strategize for the race.

Example: A trainer with a reputation for performing well with first-time starters might suggest that a thoroughbred has been adequately trained and could be worth considering. Bob Baffert has an excellent record of winning with his two-year-old first-time starters in dirt sprints. Chad Brown and Phil D'Amato are well-known for their skill in all turf races.

Jockey Performance:

A horse's performance greatly depends on the jockey's role. Several factors are taken into account to evaluate a jockey's performance, including their track record, current form, and familiarity with the horse they are riding. If you have a preference for a particular horse, the jockey who rides it can give you more assurance about the horse's performance.

Example: If a jockey has a high win percentage on a particular horse, it may indicate a strong bond between the two, increasing their chances of winning. Currently, eight jockeys, namely Irad Ortiz Jr., Flavien Prat, Juan Hernandez, Antonio Fresu, Luis Saez, Manuel Franco, Paco Lopez, and Florent Geroux, are winning more than 20% of their races. Keep an eye on Mike Smith and John Velazquez, both Hall of Fame jockeys, who excel with limited mounts compared to younger riders.

Layoff Period:

When horses return from a long break, it's paramount to remember that they might need a few races to get back to their best performance. This is because, after a prolonged rest period, horses may experience a decline in their fitness levels and form. People interested in horse racing should examine a horse's performance in previous races after similar rest periods before placing bets. Upon reviewing this historical data, it is possible to evaluate a horse's chances of performing well in an upcoming race with greater accuracy.

Example: After a layoff of at least two months, Grade 1 and Grade 2 winners perform better than horses that win low-level allowance or claiming races.

Surface & Distance Changes:

Surface changes from turf to dirt and vice versa can significantly affect a horse's performance, impacting how well it adapts to its new environment and potentially improving its chances of success. It's worth considering how changes in distance affect racehorses. If a horse has previously been successful at a new distance, such as switching from sprint races to longer routes, they may have an advantage. This adjustment can affect their stamina and overall performance.

Horses for Courses:

The "horses for courses" approach emphasizes horses that excel on specific tracks or surfaces. Some horses perform remarkably on certain tracks due to the track configuration or surface type. Knowing these preferences can be crucial in predicting their performance at particular venues. I rely heavily on this approach while handicapping.

First-Time & Second-Time Geldings:

Some bettors consider the first-time gelding angle significant when making their bets. The gelding is a surgical process of removing a male horse's testicles, which may result in behavioral changes and improved focus and competitiveness on the racetrack. Observing the second race after this procedure is also advisable, especially if the horse posted a decent speed figure but lost the first race. Ensure the horse did not have a bad start (stumbled at the gate) in the previous race, which may have cost him the victory. This comment is included in the past performance section of all races (male or female). There will always be an "excuse" from the horses that don't win.

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