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American Turf Monthly

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Trainers, Speed Figures and Class

Most persons capable of thinking will agree that ignorance is the most costly element in human existence. 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.

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. First, horse racing is a business, not a sport. Most men who own and race horses do so for the purpose of making money. No trainer in his right mind ever purposely wastes a sharp horse. He can't afford to if he wants to stay in business.

The trainer, so to speak, is the middle man 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.

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 a 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 him 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 his horse in a sprint race, which means he believes his horse is now ready and he is going to try. If the 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.

There are three kinds of racing angles that help the selector in his work: trainer angles, performance angles, and a combination of the two. The trainer angles reveal the method the conditioner has employed to get his horse ready for the race. The performance angle reveals the condition of the horse through the manner in which it has recently performed. When we have both trainer and performance angles present in the chart 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.

When the effectiveness of a sharp current condition is mentioned many fans ask: "What about horses that win when there was no evidence in their chart to indicate sharpness?"

First, 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 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. Here are the top two races of a horse that was cleverly prepped by its trainer:


1-1/4 Clm 3500 45 921 923 925 30.90

6f Clm 3599 59 59 421/2 99 6.30

Note that this horse was beaten by 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 the trainer. The penultimate race appears dull until we see that the horse was allowed to run in one burst of speed from the half-mile pole to the eight pole, making up 6-1/2 lengths on the leader.

Its "race within a race" shows us that the horse was sharp. Sharp enough for the trainer? No. Perhaps the jockey told him the horse had flattened out.

Accordingly the trainer next entered him 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 horse 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 racetrack handicappers. But how can we tell if the trainer is really trying in today's sprint contest? We get a pretty good tip-off in the fact that he has chosen a race where he must drop the horse $500 in value. This horse won returning $87.40.

Drops in claiming prices 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.

We wonder how many of our readers know that slightly more than 50 percent of the races won 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 higher. Isn't this fact of racing important to the selector's work? We think so. How many readers know what percentages of races are won by horses that have previously won 35 percent of their starts? We can tell you it is surprisingly high, although the prices on some are too short for profitable speculation.

Another fact that every racing fan should accept is that:

"Every race a horse runs either contributes to the furtherance of sharp conditions or tends to dull whatever degree of sharpness the horse enjoyed at that time."

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. We must first consider the probable effect of the last race upon the horse'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:

Horse A 54 33 22 21 speed 95

Horse B 11/2 11/2 1nk 1 no speed 95

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 might improve today, while Horse B will almost certainly tail off. 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 are usable in certain conditions, but to accept the figure blindly at face value in every instance is a dangerous procedure.

Another costly fallacy common to racing fans is what we call the pattern hang-up. For example, last week a fan backed a horse that had run as follows before winning: 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 aspect. For one thing the horse in the fifth today is not meeting the same horses the winner of the last week was meeting.

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 to 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 be determined through pace, combined with claiming price.

Redeeming a gift certificate or promotional certificate? We'll ask for your claim code when it's time to pay.