Handicapping the Visual: Going Beyond the Past Performances

Jul 20, 2012 | Handicapping

Danger Rules ASD

Danger Rules heads Gold Strike Mile

by Rob

When beginners come out to the races one of the first things they do is go down to the paddock, pick out the prettiest horse in the race and bet them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but is there validity to a method of handicapping that centers around visual impressions from a horse?

I am not a visual handicapper. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a stakes-class horse and a $2,500 claimer if they were right in front me. So I went to the experts to find out what people like to see from the horses in the paddock. The answers I received were mostly the same.

Trainers, jockeys, bettors and even casual race fans all want to see their horse show some degree of nervous energy in the paddock. They want their horse to be alert, on its toes and shiny. In theory, a horse that looks good should run to the best of its ability. People don’t want to see their horses sleepy in the paddock, nor do they want to see them wasting all their energy.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in looking at a horse’s legs in the paddock at Assiniboia Downs. Horses can have odd-looking knees and fat ankles and whatnot, but most of these are old injuries that do not prevent them from running.

Other visual cues I would look for are week-to-week changes in a horse’s appearance. If you watch the live cards carefully you can spot horses that look fitter than they did in their previous starts. Conversely, you can also notice horses in the paddock and post parade that just look tired, are soaking wet (acceptable sometimes if it is very hot) or overly nervous, all of which may be signals that the horse will not run well today.

Many regulars can recall a local horse’s Past Performances without having to look back at the Daily Racing Form or Equibase Program. Similarly, bettors should be able to remember certain physical attributes about a horse from race to race and use that information to their advantage. For example, Double Clutch, in the race where he finished seventh, was soaking wet and foamed up in the paddock. He looked like he had already run his race before the horses left the paddock. He came back in subsequent races with a calm and dry look to him, finished a good second and then won last Wednesday night.

The value of a horse’s appearance is unique to each bettor. For some it may become a useful tool, that when used in the right context, may find horses that are ready to run a big race. It can also be used to spot favourites that may not be ready to run their best race today.

This weekend features the Gold Strike Mile and the Winnipeg Sun Stakes prep on Friday. Danger Rules will be the overwhelming choice in the Gold Strike Mile, but I think he is beatable going two turns at a short price. It is a small field however, so he may be able to avoid what on paper looks like a duel, and still run a winning race. The Winnipeg Sun Stakes prep is an allowance race for fillies and mares that eliminates the winners of the earlier stakes and allowance races. I really like Finally Flying off her long works and good form against the top older mares. Look for Jilleah and Lucky Lady Go to complete a Triactor full of 4-year-olds.

Rob’s Best Bets and Weekend Longshots

Angelic Fiddler at $15.10 made for a good week last week. I’m not taking a ton of shots this weekend. There doesn’t appear to be much for longshots Friday night. I also don’t know what kind of price Rascal on Tour might be on Saturday night. Currently the picks are winning at a 43% clip and finishing in the money 74% of the time, so I’m quite happy so far!

Record-to-Date 10-3-4 from 23 starts

Wagered: $345.00 Returned: $448.65 Profit: $103.65

Friday Best Bet: Race 1 — Uncle Denny’s Gift

Friday Longshot: Race 8 — Our No Nah Me

Saturday Best Bet: Race 8 — Del Mar Drama

Saturday Longshot: Race 1 — Rascal on Tour

Next Post Time for Live Racing: 7 p.m. Friday, July 20, 2012