Horse Racing Handicapping

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We’ve all been in this dilemma many times in our horseplaying careers, if not daily.

There are barns that always “send”, barns that “send” only when certain factors are evident and finally, barns that keep us in total darkness.

If we have substantial tenure in our game, the first 2 don’t concern us because we have a handle on their modus operandi.

The 3rd group is the question mark.

I’ve managed to keep that “question mark” to a manageable level for the past 40 years by including both “Nuance Handicapping” and “Physicality Handicapping” into my overall methodology.  And to complete my physicality notes for every race whether wagering or not,

I closely scrutinize all pre-race warm-ups and post-race warm-downs.

But to this very day in Southern California, there are a few barns that have kept me clueless!

Regardless of how good their horses might appear in the flesh when walking the paddock, regardless of whether or not the trainer personally saddles his runner, regardless of owners present or not present, regardless of how good the horse warms up, regardless of positive jockey changes, regardless of winning “backpaper”, regardless of strong morning worktabs, regardless of a favorable post positions, regardless of favorable running biases, regardless of favorable odds, and regardless of anything else I could possibly grade them on, they have my number or I don’t have theirs!

And again, this is only a couple of barns and they don’t impact my bottom line for the year.

However, I can’t imagine how many more “mystery barns” there would be without my employing both physicality and nuances! They are life savers, or should I say bankroll savers?

We all encounter these “mystery barns” whether we have only 1 or 101.

And when we do bump into them on any given afternoon, it follows that part of that specific race in which the “mystery barn” runs, is out of our control! 


If you’ve been around our great game for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard the term “stuck horse”.

A “stuck horse” is one that is listed to run somewhere on the day’s card, but the trainer tries to scratch him and isn’t allowed to unless unfitness of some kind is found by the track veterinarian.

Keep in mind that trainers might want to scratch a “racing sound” horse because they are a betting barn and the morning line is too low. In an other scenario, they might want to scratch after the overnights come out because they spy another horse that they know is “dead fit” and one that their horse positively can’t beat. They might even want to scratch because the owner unexpectedly can’t make it to the track that specific day and he demands to be on track each and every time his horse runs.

I’m sure I could come up with other reasons, but the point is that the overwhelming majority of “stuck horses” usually finds ways to lose their races on the days that they are “stuck”.

There might be racetracks that now list “stuck horses”, but I don’t know of any.

It certainly isn’t done at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita or Del Mar. These 3 tracks don’t even offer you a “shoe board” or offer shoe information to Equibase for the past performances, let alone offer their patrons a list of “stuck” horses.

Did I hear someone ask why? 

There are a couple of reasons.

First off, “stuck horses” do occasionally win races!

For example, in the case of a betting barn where the odds are too low for them to make any money, their horse might be in tip-top shape and ready to fire its best shot. The jockey might not be able to stop the horse from winning, even though instructed by the betting barn to do so.

This “in shape” horse doesn’t know that he’s “stuck”, so he runs his eyeballs out.

And for the jockey to be over obvious with a bizarre ride or a blatant out and out “stiff” , would only give reason to the stewards to bring both trainer and jockey before them to explain what happened.  If the answer wasn’t good enough to placate the stewards, both trainer and jockey could be set down for a very long period of time as well as fined!

Another reason the tracks don’t offer their patrons a list of “stuck horses” is because what they would be saying to the betting public in any race containing a “stuck horse” is that this “stuck horse” is “just out for exercise” and you shouldn’t wager on him.

Imagine how stupid they would look every time a “stuck horse” actually won!

Finally, some “racing sound” horses with no apparent physical aliments, are allowed to scratch because slick trainers get their own private veterinarians to declare their horses as “unsound”. But before they are scratched, these horses still have to be inspected by the track veterinarian to officially be declared as “unsound”.

However, in most cases where a private veterinarian gets involved, the trainer gets his way and scratches. But it has nothing to do with the “soundness” of the horse in question.

No track veterinarian wants to look like a complete fool should this horse actually break down during the running of the race, even though the horse is “racing sound” before the race.  Track veterinarians reluctantly go along with the private veterinarian’s assessment of unsoundness, even if they suspect that they are being scammed!  Track veterinarians don’t have the time nor the desire to go in front of their Horse Racing Board and/or the state stewards to explain why they allowed an “unsound” horse to race despite the warning from a private veterinarian.

So as you can see, there is no incentive for the racetracks to tell their patrons who is “stuck” on any given day. They are dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t!

So when it comes to “stuck horses”, they are out of our control and therefore part of any race containing a “stuck horse” is out of our control.

There is one exception!

From coast to coast on every backside of every racetrack I’ve visited, it is common knowledge every race day what horses on that day’s card are “stuck”.  I’ve seen overnights posted in common backstretch areas such as track kitchens.  A large “S” is placed before or after the name of any “stuck horse” on that day’s racing card.

One can only assume that the racetracks have compassion for all the grooms and trainers that might lose money by betting “stuck horses” on any given afternoon, but have no similar feeling for the general public who ends up paying all the bills to keep the game going.

If you have a friend that works on the backstretch or a trainer who will spill the beans, you have great “proprietary information” that could easily translate into a winning wager.