I Love Handicapping – Part Two

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If a Flat race is for horses rated 56-70, for example, then nothing rated higher than 70 is eligible for entry. Horses rated lower than 56 are allowed to run, but they would normally be given weights as if they were rated 56 irrespective of how much lower than this they are actually rated. It would be stupid for the trainer of a horse rated 46 to enter. He would have to carry ten pounds more than the weight that we think would give it an equal chance. Any horse running under those circumstances is said to be “out of the handicap”. It would be better to run the horse in a race where he would have his proper weight and a proper chance.

(Link to “I Love Handicapping – Part One”)

The deadline for entering a horse is noon six days before the race. Once that deadline has passed, the BHA publishes the list of horses entered, together with the weights they have been set to carry. Right, now this is the time when I get involved, and see what my trusted “Horse Tracker” has brought to the surface. I have many noted horses and the Racing Post Horse Tracker lets me know when they are entered in a race. It is at this time, that I look at all the runners, consider all the form and previous winning performances, and history. This can be counter productive to some because it is likely that half of them will not run, but I don’t mind that because it gives me a feel for the race I have chosen to select in and I can try and get into the mind of the trainer because he will also be going through the same procedure, but slightly different to me, because I don’t decide whether the horse runs in the race, he does. But if the trainer does decide to run, I’m one step ahead of the game. The decision to run has to be made by 10am in the morning 2 days before the race.

Another area where I take more than normal interest in is penalties. If I wanted to I could assess horses’ performances everyday of the week, and in some cases I do and I’m able to compare ratings of horses that I’m particularly interested in from a betting point of view. What the handicapper does not do is assess horses from a betting angle and that is where you can compete, because sometimes he gets left behind as all of the handicappers only get the chance to change their ratings once a week, in time for the publication on Tuesday morning. The latest form that they are allowed to take into account is up to the end of Saturday, where like I said, I can assess the ratings every day if I feel like it.

This means that if a horse wins a handicap then its rating will almost certainly go up. Since we thought that every horse had an equal chance, the winner will normally have run to a higher level than his current rating.

The average amount that the rating of a handicap winner goes up, is six pounds for Flat races. It would not be fair to let the winner run again off the handicap rating from which it has just won since this would not give its opponents an equal chance. If connections want to run again before we have had the chance to reassess the rating, then they can do so but must carry a penalty. This is typically the same as those average rises; and it is added to the weight calculated from the old rating. It is the fairest way of making things equal before the new ratings come into effect. I can assess the penalties in respect of the winning performances and whilst they may not follow up in a better grade, I can assess them for future runs under the same conditions, and it is often the reason why I get the big winners, is that many have forgotten what went on a few months back and they think purely in the moment.

You may wonder how I assess the performance of a particular horse. Well that is done by the strength of the opposition. You always have to look at what the horse has beaten, and what ratings the beaten horse were, and I do that with every winning performance. I then make calculations based on the weights that the horses carried and their relative finishing positions in this race. In Flat races one length is typically reckoned to be worth three pounds in sprint races, two pounds in mile races and one pound in staying races. All the maths people can then work out that if the winner of a mile race is considered to have run to 90. A horse that finished five lengths behind it at level weights might be considered to have run to 80.

Remember what I said about the handicapper not assessing from betting point of view but he is dealing with every horse, not just winners like me and even the simplest calculations of each performance will take into account the distance of the race, the going, the weight carried, the immaturity of the horses, any apprentice allowances, the distance the horse won by, or was beaten by, and the quality of the opposition. Having said all that, every race throws up a range of possible interpretations, but the value of the form can only be classed as sound if the horses have reproduced their previous form.

I watch many races using the BET365 archive, and it is important to watch them in the cold light of day, because often you are so mesmerised by your own selection that you forget or fail to see what the rest of the field are doing. Horses are slowly away, unsuited by the draw, raced too keenly, hampered or get unbalanced in the race. Things might not have been to the horse’s liking i.e. the going, the track, the distance, the pace of the race and so on. I take all these factors into account and often it brings out theories concerning trainers who are running horses wrong to protect their handicap rating or keep fit for a race they have planned for in the future.

Make no mistake here, handicapping is a skill and the more practice you get interpreting the form the better you will get understanding it. You must also be prepared to admit that you got it wrong. Once a horse has a handicap rating, it may be raised if the horse performs above that level, and it will be dropped if the horse keeps performing below that level.

I think I’ve gone on enough for the moment but there’s more to come with Weight For Age and Apprentice Allowances which can often be used to your advantage.

Article contributed by Mick Taylor

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