Horse Racing Handicapping

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Eliminating Horses

HOW DO YOU ELIMINATE HORSES WHEN HANDICAPPING?

PART 1

One of our DAILY SCHTW clients recently emailed me asking exactly how I eliminate horses when handicapping.

Rather than offer her an off the cuff answer, I thought that it might make a good handicapping series that others might find interesting.

In this series we’ll examine every throwout angle and elimination factor that I employ.

This is not to imply that I’ve cornered the market on tossout angles, because I’m sure that in addition to my personal methodology, there are many other valid dismissal factors that I don’t use.

Additionally, every circuit that I handicap is unique unto itself in various ways.  By this I mean things like certain tracks have very discernable running biases on both surfaces at different times of the year etc.

As I begin to list my exclusions, keep in mind that I’m not listing them in any particular order and I don’t consider any of them necessarily more important than another until I get down to my final category.

Here goes:

1----LAYOFFS

It seems as if there is no universal definition of exactly what constitutes a layoff.

Some layoffs are good things, but most indicate problems.

To some handicappers the lower end might be considered as little as 6 to 8 weeks.  The next bunch would fall into the 90 or more day category. And finally, a third grouping sets the minimum cutoff at 180 days.

I fall into the 2nd bunch and consider 90 or more day disappearances as potentially legitimate layoffs.

Why the 2nd and not the 1st or 3rd and do you ever make exceptions?

I’ve always believed that there are exceptions to just about every rule and it matters not what game you’re playing at the moment be it horseracing or life itself.  While certain things are surely carved in stone, they are very few and very far between.  So yes, my 90 day cutoff date is always negotiable.

Why 90 days and not 60 or 180 days and above?

Here’s a real quick sidebar.

1----Up to 60 day mini-vacations.

My above term mini-vacation doesn’t really constitute a “layoff”.  It is nothing more than a breather that can be caused by specific races not “filling”, to situations like inclement weather.  As a perfect example on my Southern California circuit, we just went thru a solid 3 week period of rain and there was no turf racing for 3 weeks.  They just started to again card turf races and many entrants haven’t raced in 40, 50 or 60 days simply because they couldn’t. 

2----90 days to 180 days.

Suppose a horse wins back-to-back races in between October 15th and November 25th and then gets shelved until February 25th.  That comes to 92 days.

To me that scenario presents one of 2 possibilities.

It might be nothing more than a well deserved rest.  There is no point to overextending a good horse and most knowledgeable trainers know that a short 3 month rest can do wonders and extend a horse’s entire running career.

If not a deserved rest, it is most likely a minor injury of some kind like a twisted ankle or a pulled muscle that requires rest, but not intensive therapy and shelving for over 6 months.

3----180 days or more.

This situation has major injury written all over it----period!

That completes our sidebar.

The first thing that I noticed when relocating to Southern California 13 years ago was that layoff horses on the West coast won their first returning race many more times than did their East coast counterparts.  During my first year of relocation, I was shocked to see horse after horse win with total authority when returning from vacations of 3 months up to 2 years!

This simply didn’t occur back East during the 60s, 70s, 80’s and 90’s.  It might happen now as I don’t closely follow East coast racing any longer, but when I lived there it was virtually unheard of.

So why did it always seem to happen in California but not in New York?

The only answer I could come up with is that on the East Coast, trainers would offer their returnees a slow workout or two and then throw them into a race that was light years above their last winning level.  They did this so that their horses wouldn’t get claimed.

For example, if they had an established 25K routing claimer coming off an 8 month hiatus, they’d first give him a 3 furlong and a 4 furlong workout and then run him in a 50K two-turn race.  They knew that nobody in their right mind would claim their 25K horse for 50K and if anyone did, their owner was literally stealing money and tickled pink at the same time.

Of course the 25K claimer would get buried in the 50K race and finish dead last, but the race itself was only intended as a conditioning effort to bring their 25K claimer closer to race readiness.  This process would continue for a few more races until the East coast trainer felt his horse was ready to effectively compete at their old established winning level of 25K. The horse would then be dropped back to 25K with winning intentions.

I quickly discovered that on the West coast, most trainers were literally “going for the throat” with their runner’s first effort coming off the shelf!

Unlike their East coast counterparts, the California conditioners brought their horses to race readiness thru many workouts of varying distances.  There was no “racing them into shape” as is so often the case in the East.

It took me a while to grasp this West coast reality, but after repeatedly getting my “clock cleaned” at the mutual windows by first-time returnees, I learned a very valuable lesson!