Dec 09, 2004
Improve Your Win Percentage
By: Ray Taulbot
Most men capable of thinking will agree that ignorance is the most costly element in human existence.
Under certain cirucmstances it may even cost a man his life. Since this truth does not submit to argument,
it is clear that no matter what type of work we do, it is of vital importance that we know what we are doing;
and that we do it well.
Handicapping–that is, the making of good racing selections — is not a science nor in the strict meaning of
the term an art. Handicapping is a trade.
Surely no one will argue against the fact that one must learn a given trade before he can logically hope to
practice it effectively. Certainly, the reader would not assume that he can become a master plumber by merely
reading a few articles or books on that subject.
Reading and studying do, of course, constitute the starting point in the mastery of any trade. This is so because
one must first acquire a broad knowledge of the basic principles of a trade or profession before he can effectively undertake a study of the finer details and their proper application to the work involved.
In addition to reading and studying, there is a third step — practice, which in our trade is equivalent to serving
an apprenticeship in the manual trades. One cannot become a journeyman without first serving an apprenticeship. No more can one become a master handicapper without serving a period of practice work.
In the manual trades, the apprenticeship is served under the guidance of the journeyman. Unfortunately, in our
trade, few beginners have an opportunity to serve their period of training under the supervision of an expert.
The beginning selector frequently finds himself struggling with what appear to be insoluble problems, when in
reality these problems could be solved easily, if one had a reasonable knowledge of the facts of racing.
Our prupose this month is to briefly discuss some of these facts and persuade the reader that he must accept
them before he can solve his problems. First, horse racing is a business, not a sport. Most men who own and race horses do so for the purpose of making money. Therefore, the first fact one should accept is that every man with a fit horse in a race wants the purse money, and he is going to try to get it. No trainer in his right mind ever purposely
wastes a sharp horse. He can’t afford to if he wants to remain in business.
If one can’t bring himself to accept this fact, then he is in poor position to make effective selections. The very fact
that he may suspect a sharp horse is not going to try will trip him up so frequently that he will be hard put to
make his selections break-even.
The trainer, so to speak, is the middleman in racing. With few exceptions, his livelihood depends upon winning
purse money. Never forget that a trainer can be fired if he fails to produce.
A second fact that should never be overlooked is that all horses do not respond to identical methods of training.
Thus, we encounter different methods of procedure which we sometimes call racing angles. Therefore, one
must familiarize oneself with what a trainer has done in the recent past and what he is doing today. And more
important–why he is doing it.
We believe every reader will agree that he could improve his winning margin if he knew that every selection he
backs is a fit horse well-meant and properly placed. In many instances, this information is available to the
selector who knows his trade.
Let’s look briefly at a type of move which tells us what the trainer is up to. A horse turns in a fair effort over the
six-furlong distance. Next start, the trainer enters this horse in a route race and gives it an easy conditioning
race. Today, he has again entered this animal in a sprint race.
What does this trainer move tell a selector? It tells him that after the horse turned in a fair sprint effort its trainer
decided it needed more stamina. Therefore, he entered it in a route race in order to leg his horse up a bit. Today,
he has entered the horse in a sprint race, which means he believes his horse is now ready, and he is going to try.
horse is a figure contender, the selector knows it is a real threat — it figures well, and the trainer has practically
told us he is going to crack down.
This also applies to many other angles or other types of trainer moves. The selector who knows little or nothing
about training methods is unable to get the message the trainer has broadcast by how he places his horse.
There are three kinds of racing angles that help the selector in his work: Trainer angles, performance angles and
a combination of the two. Trainer angles reveal the method the conditioner has employed to get his horse ready for
the race. Performance angles reveal the condition of the horse through the manner in which it has recently
performed. When we have both trainer and performance angles, we have a strong combination angle.
A third fact that should be remembered and accepted is a two-part fact: 1) Sharp condition contributes more
toward a winning effort than any other single factor. 2) There is no such thing as a sure thing in horse racing. Any
horse in the field may win or lose. This fact, if remembered, should prevent the common mistake of going overboard
on a horse that looks like an extra good selection. In short, it is bad business to bet two dollars on one selection
and ten dollars on another. The player’s wager should be the same amount for each selection. Otherwise, one too frequently sees the two-dollar bet result in a winner and the ten-dollar wager in a loser. Don’t whipsaw yourself by underbetting one selection and overbetting another.
For some reason, we have found it most difficult to persuade some racing fans to accept the above facts. Yet, one
must accept them if he wishes to avoid beating himself.
When the effectiveness of sharp current condition is mentioned many fans ask: “What about horses that win when
there was no evidence in their chart to indicte sharpness?” The answer to this question is not as obscure as some
First, let’s look at the cardinal fact–the horse won, therefore, it ran faster than any other horse in the field; so it was
fit and ready. And now to the key question: Was there any evidence that the trainer believed his horse was fit and
ready despite its poor public form?
No one can answer that question, of course, unless he is familiar with all of the good trainer angles. We can tell
you, however, that in many instances such angles are present, and if you knew about them, you could pick up
many an extra good priced winner. As we said in the beginning–ignorance can be costly.
Let us examine the chart of a good priced winner which did not give evidence of sharp form in its last race.
Here are the top-two races of a horse that was cleverly prepped by its trainer:
Note that this horse was beaten 25 lengths last time out and nine lengths in its previous race. To the casual
observer, the horse appears in no way ready to win a race.
But let us look at how the horse was handled by its trainer. The penultimate race appears to be dull until we see
that the horse was allowed to run in one burst of speed from the half-mile pole to the eighth pole, making up 6-1/2
lengths on the leader.
Its “race within a race” shows us that the animal was sharp. Sharp enough for the trainer? No. Perhaps the boy
told him the horse had flattened out.
Accordingly, the trainer next entered his animal in a race of 1-1/4 miles, where he could employ the race workout and distance-switch angles.
Was this the time for the horse to try for such a win after its six-furlong speed sharpener?
No, the animal received some backing in its next-to-last race, but next time out it went off at 30-1. After being close
to the pace for half a mile, the horse was allowed to amble along behind its field.
What did the trainer achieve? He gave the horse a workout both for speed and endurance. Further, by now he has
shaken off about 90 percent of the novice race-track handicappers.
But how can we tell if the trainer is really trying in today’s sprint contest? We get a pretty good tipoff in the fact that
he has chosen a race where he must drop the horse $500 in value. If he was not going today, he would have waited
for a $3,500 or $4,000 race. This horse won, returning $87.40!
Drops in claiming price do not always signify that a trainer is trying. But when you get 40-1 odds, you can afford to
make a few mistakes. Bear in mind that if you can beat the price, you can beat the races.
Racing statistics are another factor that so many racing fans fail to use in their work of making selections. We
wonder, for example, how many of our readers know that slightly more than 50 percent of the races run during the
past 20 years were won by horses that finished in the money in one of their last two starts? And that when horses
that finished fourth, beaten no more than 1-1/2 lengths, are included, the percentage climbs still higher. Isn’t this
fact of racing important to the selector’s work? We think so.
How many readers know what percentage of races are won by horses that have previously won 35% of their starts?
We can tell you it is surprisingly high, although the prices on some of them are too short for profitable speculation.
It is not clear that the beginning selector can acquire valuable knowledge if he will devote a bit of his spare time to research? A careful check of a year’s racing papers will add tremendously to one’s knowledge of racing, and a
knowledge of racing is the very foundation upon which the work of making profitable selections is based.
Another fact that every racing fan should accept is that: “Every race a horse runs either contributes to the furtherance
of sharp condition or tends to dull whatever degree of sharpness the horse enjoyed at that time.” This is an irrefutable
fact, and to ignore it can prove very costly.
This is why speed ratings are not always a true indication of the degree of current sharpness. In some
instances, the speed rating will reveal the sharpest horse in the field; in other instances it will not.
This is so because we must first consider the probable effect of the last race upon the animal’s condition before we
can accurately judge the true value of a speed rating. Let’s look at an example that will make this clear. Examine
the running line of the two following races:
It is clear that Horse B had a very hard race, one in which it was under severe pressure from the first call to the finish. Horse A, on the other hand, was never under hard pressure and, as a result, may improve today, while Horse B will
almost certainly tail off.
Therefore, is it not clear that speed ratings of identical figures can mislead the selector? The problem becomes even
more complicated when the two races were run over different distances, or when the two horses earned their
respective speed ratings over different tracks. Speed ratings, which include the beaten lengths, if any, are a factor that
is useable in certain conditions, but to accept the figures blindly at face value in every instance is a dangerous
Another costly fallacy common to racing fans is what we call the pattern hangup. For example, last week the fan
backed a horse that ran as follows and won: 23 22 22 21. Today in the fifth, he finds a horse that ran its last race in
an identical, or nearly identical manner. Therefore, he reasons that because the horse he bet last week won, the horse should win today.
His loose reasoning is based upon the fact that he does not realize that no two races are identical in every respect.
While the running lines in the above example may have been identical, the two animals ran under widely differing conditions. For one thing, the horse in the fifth today is not meeting the same horses the winner of last week was
Another fallacy among beginners is their belief that claiming prices can be used effectively as an accurate measuring
rod of class. A claiming price is actually a selling price, that is, the price at which the horse is offered for sale.
Thus, the best that claiming prices can do is to roughly divide claiming grades. Therefore, the price of $3,500 does
not actually prove that the horse is of a higher class than one bearing a $3,000 selling tag. Class can best be determined through pace, combined with claiming price.
In the limited space of one short article, it is impossible to discuss all the many and various factors and facts of
racing. We have, however, pointed out some of the more important facts which one must accept if he logically hopes
to produce a respectable winning percentage.
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