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Horse racing is one of the only sports that allow fans to participate in the game directly, through wagering. Millions of dollars are bet each day on races in North America, enticing players to put their handicapping skills to the test. It truly is an art form, and getting great at it will take time.
Handicapping is the process of determining which horse has the best chance to win a race. It is a test of your creative intelligence, not systematic computation. To do this, you’ll need the Daily Racing Form, which you can buy upon entering the track.
Beyer numbers often serve as a starting point in the handicapping process. They are the bold numbers found in the middle of each DRF, indicating the horse's past performances. Handicappers often use the horse with the highest last-race Beyer as their focus and eliminate horses that have never run a figure close to this horse's figure. There are two numbers: pace and speed.
Pace projections. By scanning the past performances, handicappers try to estimate the pace of the current race and determine which horse will benefit most from it. The first bold-face number, pace, shows whether the horse likes to be on the early lead or not.
Speed projections. This is not the same as pace. Speed (the 2nd bold-faced number) shows the horse’s ability to pass other less-speedy horses as they near the finish line. Speed does not equal consistency (which pace can).
Look at that race’s distance. Distance is one of the biggest factors when it comes to betting. If you’re looking at a horse that tires out around six furlongs and you’re at the Belmont Stakes where it’s a whopping twelve furlongs, you probably don’t want to bet that horse. How has your horse run in other races of this similar length?
Distance, pace, and speed are very powerful in tandem. Looking at how your horse runs (and, as importantly, how she finishes) in different distances will clue you in to how she’ll perform in races of different lengths.
Take into account the track and the weather. This is called “track bias”: no single factor in handicapping can change the complexion of a race like a track bias. If wise bettors detect any kind of bias in the racing surface, they incorporate it into their decision-making. What is track bias? Every horse has their preferred surface, whether it’s turf or dirt. You want to know how your horse will perform on whatever your track is.
Handicappers must ask themselves questions about each horse. Is her last race a true representation of her ability? Is she likely to improve or regress on race day? Which horses raced against a bias last out and can be expected to offer a peak performance today? Horses, just like humans, are never 100% consistent.
One thing to consider is the size of the purse and where the horse is coming from. If the size of the purse is large, this is one classy horse – she’ll probably be pretty consistent (she didn’t get to the big leagues for nothing). And if she got flown in from somewhere, her owners paid a pretty penny to get her there, so they’ll probably break out all the stops to see her win.
Bet with friends. There's such a thing as a "parlay bet" and it can make betting on the horses even more fun. If you're with a group, get everyone to chip in, say, $5. Then, each person picks 1 horse to show on a certain race. Place the first bet, and then if you win, place the next bet including the winnings. If you hit a streak, that $5 can add up very quickly.
Make sure the winnings (and the losses) get split evenly. Have everyone agree to a basic set of guidelines before participating in any betting. Some people may argue that they won while others lost – establish protocol before this happens.