The Basics Of Horse Race Handicapping

By Ross Everett

One of the reasons that the popularity of sports gambling has skyrocketed in recent years is its accessibility. It's easy to bet on most major sports because everyone understands the basics, which teams are good and why they win. Horse handicapping, on the other hand, is a completely different and somewhat arcane discipline. Where there are some shared concepts, success at sports betting doesn't guarantee the same playing the ponies. Legendary sports handicapper Jimmy 'The Greek' Snyder was famous for killing the books with his sports plays--and giving it all back with his inept horse bets.

Were not going to suggest that the information here even scratches the surface of what you need to know to become a serious horse handicapper. There are countless books, DVDs and other media that you should check out if this is your goal. If youre interested in simply knowing the basics so that you can enjoy a day at the track, here are some basic concepts of horse handicapping:

Do your reading: When you arrive at the horse track you should purchase a copy of the Daily Racing Form (DRF for short) and the track program. The DRF is basically the 'bible' of horse race handicapping, and offers morning line odds, horse, trainer, jockey statistics and information on each race at every major track across the country. The track program offers similar information for that individual venue, often in more 'user friendly' form.

You're not playing against the house: One thing to keep in mind when playing the horses that is drastically different from sports betting is that you're not playing against 'the house', you're playing against other betters. The track just accepts and pays bets, taking out a cut (called the 'takeout') for their services. The track odds are determined by the money bet on each horse. Long odds on a horse doesn't necessarily indicate a 'bad horse' but just one that for whatever reason isn't attracting bettor interest.

So where do odds in the newspaper or program originate? These are known as the 'morning odds' or 'morning line' and is basically an educated guess as to where the betting will go. They can be helpful as a handicapping tool, but may or may not reflect what will happen in the actual betting.

Horse handicapping basics: This is where horse racing gets complex--there are countless theories about how to handicap a horse race. Some handicappers consider the breeding lineage of the horse, while others are more concerned with past performance. Still others put more weight on the training a horse has received, or its workout performance.

Once a handicapper gets an idea what will happen in the race, he has to factor the available odds into the proposition. A favorite may be an unattractive wagering prospect due to a prohibitively high price, while a long shot may be a good wagering value based on a high potential payback. It all boils down to wagering value, which is simply a matter of doing a math. Teaching the youth of America solid math skills is crucial for no other reason than to help them gamble effectively and profitably.

Trainers and breeding: Some handicappers prioritize a horse's breeding background--considering his bloodlines and the competitive quality of his parents and grandparents. Then training must be considered--a good trainer can often get a horse to 'over perform' much in the same way a good coach can get the most out of his team in sports.

The Jockeys: In the simplest terms, jockeys are independent contractors and thus to make money they need to do well. In theory, a jockey wants to get on the best horse possible in each race to maximize his chances of winning. That also results in sort of a chicken and the egg conundrum"are the horses winning because the best jockeys are aboard, or are the best jockeys merely adept at getting on the best horses? Most serious horse players look to the jockey as a secondary consideration. Its sort of a situation where a good jockey cant win with a bad horse, but a bad jockey can cause a good horse not to win.

Find your own style, and maintain discipline: Basically, there's not a 'right' or 'wrong' way to handicap a horse race. Figure out what works for you, and develop and refine your own methodology. As in any form of gambling, don't bet more than you can afford to lose and in particular when you're starting out there's no reason to be making big wagers. If you want to learn more, there's a number of good internet resources including the Daily Racing Form website. - 30230

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