May 21, 2004
Half the Race is Out of Your Control (Part 2)
By: Joe Takach
Nobody would argue that there are many things out of our control when handicapping a race.
And while there might be more uncontrollable factors at the bottom claiming levels of horseydom than with Graded runners, doubt or uncertainty is present in every race.
As promised in Part 1 of this series, we’ll look as some of the more common things that are out of our control as well as a few I’m sure you’ve never considered.
1----THE STARTING GATE
I don’t know about you, but I wish I had a dollar for every race that I lost at the starting gate.
Every handicapper alive knows that terrible gut-wrenching feeling that swallows his entire being the moment he realizes that his horse broke poorly and is 5 lengths behind the pack before the race is 6 lengths old.
It gives me an icy chill and “goose bumps” just to write about it----almost as if “it” just came into this room and will somehow cling to me this afternoon causing one of my bets to miss the break.
Why is there so much trouble with the starting gate?
A “perfect break” would be one in which every horse was 100% ready to start his race.
In order for that to happen, all horse’s hooves would have to be motionless. Every horse’s assistant starter would have to be holding his horse’s head perfectly straight and perfectly still. And most importantly of all, the race starter would have recognize this “perfect moment” in time and simultaneously hit his starting button that opens the gates.
That’s a very tall order and one that is very rarely accomplished successfully.
Have you ever heard the term “stand time”?
This is the time it takes to actually get a race off. It begins with the loading of the first horse and ends with the opening of the starting gate. Obviously, the last horse loaded “stands” for very little time before the break, whereas the first horse loaded feels as if he’s been in there forever and can’t wait to get out of there.
Every horse is quite different in his ability to remain calm, cool and collected when placed in the confines of a starting stall. He has his own “stand time” beyond which he begins to get very fidgety.
As a rule of thumb, the longer a horse “stands” in a starting gate, the greater his likelihood of his breaking poorly.
So what’s out of our control at the starting gate?
We don’t ride our bets.
We have no guarantees that today’s “trip” will be clean and without trouble.
In fact, when you think about it, very few trips other than front-running efforts are clean and trouble free. Horses get blocked, steadied, checked, bumped, forced wide, etc. in every race and often thru no fault of their own.
Races are won and lost by a nose, so any hesitation by any horse in any race for any reason could cost him a visit to the winner’s circle.
Unquestionably, we have no control over our wager’s “trip”.
3----HANDICAPPERS DON’T TRAIN THEIR WAGERS
Of course we don’t train our wagers. Nor are we around the horse as long as a trainer to notice little things that aren’t quite right. Perhaps he didn’t eat this morning. Or maybe he’s been abnormally restless for the past 24 hours and failed to get his proper sleep. I could go on and on with “maybes”, but the point is that nobody is closer to the horse than his trainer and his groom.
Unknown factors such as these are beyond the control of most handicappers with only a single exception.
Any competent “physicality handicapper” perusing the paddock on any given afternoon or any sharp-eyed satellite player can usually determine if a horse isn’t feeling up to snuff and ready to run to his best.
Knowing whether or not he emptied his feed bucket this morning or if he had a sleepless night will be evident from his paddock deportment.
Horses don’t lie---they don’t know how! If they’re feeling only poorly or only so-so on any afternoon, they won’t hide it from you. They will have zero energy and no “attitude”. Their heads will be low and bobbing. Nothing about them will remotely suggest race “readiness”.
Conversely, if they are ready to kick ass, it too will be quite evident. Even novices of “physicality handicapping” can plainly see when a horse is quite full of himself and ready to run.
(Continued in Part 3 of HALF THE RACE IS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL)
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