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Basic Handicapping For Horse Racing

Before a horse can be considered, it should be determined that he's physically fit enough to be at or near his best. Athletes become fit via two avenues, competition and training. Horses are exactly the same. A HUGE proportion of races are won by horses that have started twice in the previous 45 days.

Class in thoroughbred racing can be defined by saying that class is the quality of competition a horse can compete favorably against. Look at the prior conditions under which the horse has raced. Regardless of any other variable, a horse cannot be expected to win without having shown a past ability to do so against similar competition. If the horse has not shown the past ability, he can be considered a throw-out, unless he's rapidly improving and won his last race with enough authority to move up in class against tougher competition. If he's fit and can compete against the competition, move to the next variable.

Through either breeding, conformation, running style, or training techniques, horses generally do better at certain distances. Few are versatile enough to handle short and long races effectively. Examine all races listed to determine if the horse has done well at the distance of today's race. If it's a proven competitor at today's distance, continue to consider, and eliminate if it's had numerous opportunities without success. It may very well show a potential to handle the distance, but can't be overly well regarded without proof. Remember, never expect a horse to do something he's never done before. It is often a wise move to eliminate any horse competing at a distance that is shorter than any previous winning effort. Longer distances do not seem to pose the same hurdle (pardon the pun!)


Barrier Position
The barrier position draw, a random drawing done after entries for a race are taken, can often turn a potential winner into a dead loser, and vice-versa! Track biases exist at many tracks, favoring inside or outside post positions. As a general rule, far outside posts in bulky fields in sprints (14 or more) can prove more challenging. The two inside barriers in big fields can also be detrimental. Early speed is preferable for both inside and outside barriers because without it, outside horses lose ground and inside ones get trapped. A horse's running style and the barrier position are directly correlated. In longer, two-turn-races, inside barriers are almost always preferred. The shorter the two-turn race, the more it favors inside. If it can be determined that the barrier will not be a detriment, move on. But a horse can generally be thrown out if it is determined his chances will be badly compromised by its barrier position.

Running Style
Horses generally settle into a certain style of running, broken down into three categories: front runner, horses who run in the lead or who are never further back than two lengths; the stalker, horses who are never further back from the lead than 4 lengths; and the fast finisher, horses who are never closer than five lengths from the pace. Horses have been known to change styles, but the vast majority have consistent styles. True front runners always try for the lead when possible. Front runners are most effective when unchallenged early. The easier they are able to get a clear lead, the better the chances. Prefer front runners when there are few, if any, potential challengers or if a pronounced track bias favoring early speed exists.

A stalker rarely makes the lead, and seldom possesses a big late kick. They have the speed to stay close and pass tiring front runners, and can hold off the big finishers that lag well behind. Prefer stalkers when numerous front runners are present, and without the presence of a fast finisher.

Fast finishers are at their best when an abundance of early speed exists and are often victimised when a front runner is loose in the lead. Betting on fast finishers is more precarious than horses with speed as they can run into traffic problems. And, statistics show that horses closer to the lead win the majority of races. However, under certain circumstances, fast finishers are a very positive choice.

Give careful consideration to the trainer, who is like the coach. Everyone knows that some coaches are superior to others and there can be a large discrepancy between the best and the worst. Trainers have a big job and must have a wealth of knowledge about a large number of facets of training a horse to race. They must not only be good horsemen, they must have excellent organisational skills in order to coordinate the efforts of an entire stable. Statistics point out the top trainers at the track and a handicapper that pays attention to the trainers of every horse in every race will soon have a good working knowledge of which ones are acceptable when making a final decision. If the trainer meets the handicapper's standards, he can move on to the next variable. But an elimination can be made if you feel the competence of the conditioner is in question.

The role of the jockey is often understated. Checking out statistics at most tracks, a small percentage of riders win the great majority of the races. It takes a great deal of skill to ride a horse in a race. To suggest that all riders are equally proficient is ludicrous. Jockeys must possess good riding techniques, have strength, intelligence, good judgment and timing and have an ability to communicate with the horse. Some jockeys are far more proficient than others, and by perusing the statistics or by simply watching them day in and day out, one can learn which are the most reliable. When making a final decision, be sure the horse you select has an acceptable rider. When eliminating horses in fields with numerous contenders, you may be able to eliminate a horse because of the rider alone.

Present Form
When making a final selection it's important to determine that the horse is in good present form. Examining the finishes of his most recent races tells you if he's racing well and competitively. Statistics prove that horses that have recently won or have been reasonably close, win the majority of races. Very rarely do horses that were beaten by 6 lengths or more at their previous start win - unless they are dropping in class from the last race to the present one. Most horses have form cycles in that they run well for a period of time, then tail off. When making a final decision, it's a wise move to bet on horses with good present form and eliminate those that are obviously out of form.

Before considering a horse a top contender, examine his record for the year and his lifetime record. These figures are expressed in win% and place% terms in most form guides. A handicapper should look for horses that are more likely to run well than not. If they have finished in the money 50% of the time, they can be deemed consistent. Many horses with poor consistency records cannot be heavily relied upon to run well after a good effort the time before. So, despite a good recent race, they have shown a past tendency not to repeat strong performances. A horse coming off a good race returning in a similar situation is hard to disregard. But if it's shown a lack of past consistency, its lack of reliability would make it difficult to have a serious bet. A handicapper should demand consistency before making a horse a serious contender.

Some handicappers use the weight carried by a horse as a critical factor. This is a controversial variable among astute handicappers. A truism is that weight will stop a train. However, determining how a few kilos, more or less, will affect a horse's performance isn't easy to assess. racehorses can weigh well over 500 kilos. So humans, who generally weigh about 80% less, would find it hard to understand how a few kilos affects a horse in comparison to a much less sturdy and strong human. Proportionately speaking, one could assume that 5 kilos to a human, which is significant, may feel like only 1 kilo to a horse. Obviously, a kilo is hardly enough to slow him down much.

If you decide to use weight as a handicapping variable, it would seem wise to consider it more important as the length of the race increases. It may also be prudent not to consider weight a factor unless it involves at least a difference of 2 kilos or more.You may also want to use weight if comparing horses in the same race if there is a significant switch in weights, like one horse taking off 2 kilos coming out of a race against a rival who may be carrying 2 kilos more. Generally, weight may play a lesser role than many have believed and without knowing each horse's capacity to carry weight, it may be impossible to use effectively. Nonetheless, for those who have found success using this variable, it may have a place in making a final decision.

Speed Figures
Various speed figures have been compiled in recent years but are not popular in Australia. This in itself may be a reason to use them as you are then not "betting with the mob" and will probably get better value per selection. The only way we have seen these to be effective is by assigning a par value time for every track in the country for every distance in every track condition and then rate each run as par time = 100 and then + or - 1 point for each tenth of a second over or under the par time for that track and distance and condition. Very time consuming. You may choose to use this approach. The great difficulty comes in assessing each race based on how fast the pace of the race was to allow the time to be recorded.The number certainly reduces a horse's past performance to just digits and can be used to quickly identify the contenders. However, as speed figure producers suggest, the handicapper is implored to use other handicapping techniques to be used in conjunction with the number.

The numbers, if used, should be used more as a guide. Although at times, a horse with an apparently large advantage may be a bet on the numbers alone. But, obviously no guarantee exists. Generally speaking, use speed figures as one of the many available handicapping tools.