by SCOTT SHAPIRO
Being an elite handicapper is something that takes years of hard work and experience.
Learning how to read and interpret the past performances is one of the first things a new horseplayer tackles. However, the more advanced skill of drawing a line through a poor performance and instead backing a horse coming off of a non-effort is something that has led to some of my biggest payouts.
There are several “clues” that can lead a handicapper to tossing a horse’s last race. Overcoming recency bias can differentiate your work from the public and provide lucrative returns.
Here are a few angles that I use most often:
With the growth of technology, watching race replays to find horses that suffered less-than-ideal voyages has become an extremely popular method of going above and beyond the running line presented in past performances.
Usually the PPs will point out major traffic issues and the price of a given horse will suffer. However, finding subtle trouble that results in a poor performance is still a method that can yield solid returns.
If time permits, I highly recommend watching as many past races as possible. You will be surprised how many non-efforts are much more forgivable than they appear on paper.
Adverse race shape
Often times a non-effort from a horse can occur due to the race shape and can easily be excused next time out.
Whether it be due to an abundance of early speed that leads to a pace meltdown or a race void of pace that makes it nearly impossible for a closer to come with his strongest effort, it is imperative to be aware of how the dynamics of a previous event differ from that of the race to come.
Finding a horse that was not quick enough to compete for the lead last time out or a closer that did not see an honest enough pace to get a fair shake is a common skill used by top handicappers and remains an excellent way to pardon subpar races last time out.
One tool to use to see if race shape compromised a horse is the OptixEQ plot, which graphs horses’ running styles and ability and allows you to look at plots for previous races.
The average horseplayer only looking at the running lines is not likely to be aware of a racetrack that favored speed or closers in the past, but paying attention to detail can help savvy handicappers find races that can be tossed due to unfavorable conditions for a given horse.
Finding a track that was unfair to off the pace types, or on the other hand discovering a surface that was tiring for front runners can allow you to ignore a runner’s most recent start and instead give him or her a much greater chance of performing well in their upcoming race.
I advise taking notes on the types of trips that were most successful each day and be careful not to make conclusions too quickly. Just because a speed horse won the first two races does not necessarily mean it is a biased racetrack.
Horses coming off a monster effort
Horseplayers are often mindful of a bounce or regression off of a career best performance, but sometimes they fail to forgive the poor effort that follows.
Whether you use Brisnet speed ratings, sheet numbers or other methods of quantifying a horse’s performance you should be willing to play a horse back off of an obvious regression spot, not just toss a horse off of a top effort.
Over spotted by connections
An obvious method of drawing a line through a non-effort is when connections spot their runners too ambitiously.
Sometimes horsemen will jump through their conditions to try stakes company or will want to prevent a runner from being claimed, so they will take on a field that does not give their horse a real chance.
Poor finishes when over spotted should not be judged too harshly if they are getting back to a more reasonable level next time out.
Hopefully you can connect with a horse or two this week that is being overlooked due to an excusable poor performance. It can result in some handsome returns when executed properly.