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Handicapping methods and information on how to bet on horse races, and pick winning horses.
Handicapping strategy and skills that can help you make money at the racetrack.
How to handicap a horse race using the most common methods
Handicapping, betting on horse racing, or picking horses, is as much an art as it is a science.  No one method is better than others and a good handicapper is always learning.  Any great handicapper will tell you that he is constantly changing and adapting his methods, always learning, and always on the lookout for another angle.
 
Winning at the racetrack requires uses an ever changing mix of strategies to pick horses.  Each race is a different puzzle, and finding the solution to that puzzle requires experience, patience, and of course a little luck.

Becoming a good handicapper requires years of study, and we will only highlight a few of the basic methods used to pick horses.  Become familiar with these strategies, find the ones that work best for you, then refine them and learn more about them as you develop your handicapping skills.  For a quick start guide to horse betting consider a Horse Betting System, or take some advice from experts and sign up for picks from the Donerail Project - they use a sophisticated computer simulation to find lonshots, and undervalued horses to bet on. If you want to use a simple, yet very powerful computer program to help you pick horses take a look at the Free Horse Race provided every day at Betmix.com. All of the methods discussed below can be used to pick horses there with the aid of computer software.

Speed Handicapping 
The fastest horse always wins the race.  Right? Not really.  There are books upon books devoted to calculating how fast a horse ran in a particular race and giving that speed a numerical value.  The most famous number available is the Beyer Speed figure.  Developed by Andrew Beyer and featured in the Daily Racing Form's past performances, the Beyer Speed figure represents how fast the horse ran and takes into account track bias and other factors, so that in theory a horse that ran an 80 speed figure at Churchill Downs would be comparable to a horse that ran an 80 speed figure at Belmont Park.  Comparing the recent speed figures of horses in a race is a good starting point for separating the contenders from the pretenders.  A horse that has earned figures in the 60's in his last few starts would probably be in tough with a group of horses earning speed figures in the 80's.  Throw him out with confidence.  When giving weight to speed figures it is important to consider the track bias - are most races won by horses on the lead, or are closers winning more often.  Some tracks are "fair", some have a speed bias and some change from day to day.  Using speed figures as your only handicapping method will not produce consistent profits, use it as part of your overall handicapping strategy - but mainly as a way to throw out some obvious non-contenders.  MORE ON BEYER SPEED FIGURES

Pace Handicapping
Pace makes the race. Pace handicapping involves predicting how the race will unfold once the horses leave the gate.  Which horses are speed horses, which ones are closers, who can make that dramatic middle move?  Looking at the running lines in the past performances will give you an idea of how a particular horse usually runs a race.  One of the most profitable angles in handicapping is finding a lone speed horse in a race full of closers, he can dictate the pace up front and when they turn for home its all over.  Not having been pressured early the lone speed horse has plenty left in the tank to finish the race.  Throw a few other speed horses in that race and there is a good chance they will burn each other up in the beginning of the race setting it up for a closer to pass the tired speed horses down the stretch.  If you have started handicapping a race and have thrown out a few horses based on their speed figures from the above example, don't forget to consider if they will impact the pace of the race.  Although they may be in over their heads in this race, they might be able to run fast enough at the start to cause some problems for your early speed horses.

Class Handicapping  
When talking about class and horses we are mainly discussing the company they keep, or the races they have been running in.  A horse who has been running in $5,000 maiden claiming races at Turfway that suddenly shows up in a Maiden Special Weight at Keeneland is out-classed.  That being said, you like to see horses rising steadily in class, doing well at each level and making improvements each time out.  When you see a horse win by 10 lengths in 15,000 claiming race, with a decent speed figure, and who did not have a super-favorable pace scenario you have to consider that horse worthy of being in an entry level allowance race or higher priced claiming race.  On the flip side, we often encounter class-droppers - horses that have been running in better races dropping in class.  Figuring out how to deal with class-droppers is often more difficult than dealing with horses jumping up in class.  Consider a horse coming out of a $40,000 claiming race, he ran consistent with his recent form, and finished 3rd beaten by 3 lengths.  He shows up today in a $20,000 claiming race. Why would the horse be entered at this low level?  Is the trainer trying to win a race and build the horse's confidence?  Has the horse developed a physical problem since the last race, and the trainer is trying to unload him?  Who knows?  Check the tote board and see if the odds reflect a horse that outclasses his opponents, also watch him in the paddock and post parade to see if he appears to be in good shape.

Trip Handicapping
Trip handicapping simply put means watching horse races.  Easier said than done.  A trip handicapper wants to know how easy or tough the horse had it in his last race.  Did everything set up perfectly for him?  If so, can we expect that dream trip to be repeated today?  Did the horse have trouble with traffic that compromised his expected late run?  An error most handicappers make is looking at the results of previous races without asking what happened during the race to create those results.  More than any other handicapping method, trip handicapping requires dedication and plenty of time.  You need to watch replays of the races, and if possible head-on replays of the stretch run that give you a better view of horses drifting in and out.  The comments in past performances will often provide details of major problems in past races such as "broke slowly", "stumbled at the start", "bumped", "5 wide" etc.  A trip handicapper is looking for the information that may not show up in the past performances and he will use that to his advantage.

Influence of Breeding or Bloodlines on Handicapping
Who's your Daddy?  Does it matter?  Bloodlines are most useful before a horse has started running.  It can suggest whether the horse will be a sprinter or a router, like the turf or dirt.  Once a horse has established a race record it hardly matters what his bloodlines are.  He either can or can't do what is being asked of him today, and his recent races will tell you much more than his bloodlines will.  When a horse is trying the turf for the first time take a look at the bloodlines to see if there are some prominent turf influences in his breeding.  If a horse is running a route race for the first time (A mile or longer) check to see what the avg. winning distance of the sire and dam are.  Certain sires produce horses that run early, or are precocious, this could give them a leg up in 2 year old races.  Your knowledge of bloodlines and breeding will be useful to you, but is not as important as other handicapping factors.

Trainers and Jockeys
Good trainers train good horses, and good jockeys ride good horses.  Oversimplified to be sure, but a trainer's reputation earns him the business of owners with deep pockets who can buy the best horses, and jockeys that are skilled at what they do are in demand by the trainers with the best horses.  Trainer statistics can be found in the past performances, and can give you a statistical breakdown of how often a trainer wins under the current races conditions.  How successful is he with first time starters, with horses who have been layed off for 60 days, first time with a new horse off a claim, turf to dirt, etc.  This information is very useful to the handicapper and should be given consideration when picking a winner.  A trainer with a very low win percentage with first time starters is not a bad trainer, it only means that his training methods differ from others who may have a horse ready first time out.  Certain trainer/jockey combinations also have high win percentages and should not be ignored when you are handicapping.

Putting it all together - simple handicapping strategy. 
For a novice or expert handicapper it's often easier to start handicapping a race by finding the losers rather than the winners.  Look at each horse entered in the race and try to find horses that are obviously overmatched.  Do their speed figures fit with the other horses?  In looking at their last few races are they in good form or bad?  Do they have recent workouts that suggest they are fit and ready?  Are they racing at a distance or on a surface that they do not like?  Are they making too big of a class jump?  Throw out as many duds as you can and hopefully you are only left with a handful of contenders.  Next, try to imagine how the race will unfold, look at the pace scenario and try to figure out if it will be an advantage or disadvantage to your remaining horses.  Try to eliminate another horse or two based on the expected pace scenario.  In the end you should only have 3-4 horses that are candidates for winning the race, make your selection based on their their record at the track, distance, average speed ratings, trainer and jockey.  If you still end up with too many horses that are logical contenders, pass the race.  Handicapping is about using your skills to figure out the winner, not gambling.  Watch the races you don't bet on with as much interest as those you do.  See if the race unfolds the way you thought it would, look at the results and ask yourself if the results are consistent with what you knew going into the race.  Make a note of any horse that had serious trouble in the race and make sure to use that to your advantage the next time he runs.  Have fun and keep learning - handicapping horse races is truly a great game.