Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire
I try to give handicapping advice here to people who plan on betting on the horses only occasionally, for leisure and fun, as opposed to handicapping advice for the horseplayer who plans to play the races for an entire meet or for big money over a long period of time. This former group can include people who are fairly comfortable with past performance data and people who are intimidated by all the numbers and abbreviations. I will do my best to try to keep both groups in mind as much as possible.
Often what a gambler needs when they have narrowed down what seems to be a pretty evenly-matched race to just a few similarly-qualified horses is an angle. An angle is just a handicapping concept that can separate one horse from other similar horses in the same race. An angle could be that one horse is running with a top jockey riding it, or that it is trained by a hot trainer. To me, virtually anything about a horse apart from how a horse ran in its past races qualifies as a betting angle.
An angle I find myself playing over and over again is the change-in-strategy angle, which can take many forms.
Equipment change – My wife loves this one most of all. She calls blinkers, the hood that a horse sometimes wears with cups over the eyes to limit peripheral vision and help the horse focus forward, a “hat.” She loves to play horses that have “their hat on for the first time.” It isn’t a bad angle. If a trainer is putting blinkers on a horse for the first time, that change can sometimes produce dramatic results in how a horse runs. Sometimes the horse just needed some help getting focused on the job at hand. Likewise taking the blinkers off of a horse that has run with them for a long time can also produce a big change in form. If you look in the trainer stats at the bottom of a horse’s past performances you can see the percentages for how successful the trainer is with the blinkers on or off strategy, and use that as your guide. If the numbers are high, perhaps this trainer knows when the right time to make the change is.
Another form of blinker is the shadow roll, a roll of material draped across the horse’s nose, also to limit the field of vision. These changes aren’t tracked in past performances, so make a note in the post parade when you see your horse running with a shadow roll, and remember it next time you see that horse run.
EQUIPMENT CHANGES CAN IMPROVE A HORSE
Photo courtesy Benoit & Associates
Surface change – Most horses stick to one kind of surface, dirt or turf. Some are versatile and run well on both. Some are versatile and run poorly on both, with a trainer switching up surfaces time and time again looking for the right one. To play this angle, look for a horse that is riding on this particular surface for the first time ever. It isn’t common, but from time to time horses have been known to run completely different when given a chance to try out a new surface. Trainers often initially make the decision about what surface to race a horse on based on breeding, but sometimes a horse finds that it takes better to a different surface from whatever its parents liked. That isn’t much different from humans, when you think about it. Again, check the trainer stats for a window that says Turf/Dirt or Dirt/Turf for stats on this particular surface change. These numbers will be a little off for this angle, though. They will reflect every time the trainer has switched surfaces, and not just the time a horse has been asked to try a new surface for the first time ever. But still, a high number could give you more confidence. Another thing to consider is that a horse that has gone from dirt to polytrack and shown some improvement and is now running on turf for the first time stands a better chance of enjoying the surface change. Polytrack runs much more like turf than dirt.
Medication – The use of Lasix in horse racing has been debated a lot recently. It is a diuretic drug used preventively for horses who may bleed internally in their lungs during physical exertion. You will find that most horses run with Lasix in the U.S., indicated on the racing past performance with a capital letter L. From time to time you will find a horse that has run without the use of Lasix and is being given it for the first time. The use of this drug has been known to make a horse run off of previous form at times. This could be due to the amount of weight a horse sheds from the use of a diuretic, or perhaps from the relief it gets from the effects on internal bleeding. Sometimes, of course, there are no changes at all. But the times that a young horse being given Lasix for the first time after running poorly its first few times out is a great chance to hit a big live longshot.
There’s plenty more angles like these, and I’ll revisit this topic again, but remember whenever a race seems close to look for the angles that can separate one good horse from the rest.