Learning the Curve

published on 01/09/06 at 6:50 pm

[Editor's Note: Periodically, PokerPlasm will publish articles that are not poker related, but still important to the gambling community. Learning the Curve is one of these articles, concentrating on the subtilties of horse betting.]

I’ve been a semi-regular horse player for almost two years. This past summer for two months I played regularly at Belmont and won consistently. I played every weekend and made occasional bets during the week. My best day was hitting the exacta at the Belmont Stakes, wheeling Afleet Alex with Scrappy-T and third forgotten horse. Unfortunately, most payoffs aren’t as lucrative as the Belmont exacta.

I believe that to be successful, you must stay consistent with your handicapping techniques. Exotic bets, guaranteed profits, and name races such as Triple Crown events should not change your handicapping or betting strategy. I am most comfortable placing single race bets, specifically the exacta. I feel that at my level of handicapping, I can understand a race well enough to pick the best two or three horses and place an educated wager.

I want to focus this article on two general observations.

First, I believe that if the pace of a given race can be accurately predicted, the odds of correctly handicapping the race increase dramatically. In races where I feel a pace battle will develop between two or three speed horses, a closing horse will be a good bet to win or hit the money as it passes the losers of the pace struggle. By playing consistently and recognizing horses and their ability, I was able to more accurately predict the pace and be selective in the races I choose to wager on. Many times, I am totally confused over the pace of a given race and will avoid it altogether.

Second, I strongly follow current form and class when I wager. These two principles are articulated very clearly in Handicapping 101 by Brad Free. Form is an indication of a horse’s current condition. A horse in good current form is stronger and should subsequently run stronger races. A horse in declining form will have poorer performances as it weakens. Class is a similar characteristic. Lower level horses enter claiming events to maiden races. As a horse jumps in class is enters allowance or stakes races. Generally, as a horse jumps in class, the competition is stronger and faster. Three top finishes in claiming level events must be factored in accordingly if that horse jumps to a stakes level race. Likely, that horse facing lesser competition will go off at longer odds. This is not always bad, considering a win will result is greater payoffs.

Handicapping is not an exact science in my opinion. Some methods argue that you should first find an overlay in the field, a horse who you feel has a better chance to win than the odds reflect, and wager accordingly. I believe that in order to be successful, you must first understand the race. If you then find a horse you feel is under-bet, the wager becomes that much more attractive. There is no sense in betting on horses that have no chance to win, whatever the odds may be.

The Flying Dutchman is an amateur horse handicapper, building his knowledge base through books/articles, fellow handicappers, and live betting experiences. His articles will predominantly be published during the summer (Eastern U.S. racing schedule).

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4 Responses to “Learning the Curve”

  1. Shrek

    Jan 9th, 2006

    I was interested by this comment…
    “There is no sense in betting on horses that have no chance to win, whatever the odds may be.”

    At what point does a horse have no chance to win? 15%? 2%? 1%?


  2. Grinder

    Jan 11th, 2006

    I’m glad there is no horse racing near me – I would be DOOMED.

    BTW – I’m always talking about Poker Tracker – if you need any info let me know. It’s a MUST for anybody that is serious about poker.

  3. The Dutchman

    Jan 18th, 2006

    Shrek, I wouldn’t neccessarily give it a percentage. It depends on the type of competition a given horse faces in any race. For instance, did Spanish Chestnut have any chance in the ’05 Derby, no, and everyone knew it. He was entered into the race to challenge Bellamy Road for the lead. Unfortunately, the Derby was such a cluster **ck that the horse who did win had no reason to be there. Closing argument, who finished 2nd, was also a lame horse, as his subsequent races showed. But back to your point, I would say you have to look at winning percentages on a case to case basis. Sometimes you might eliminate a horse that wins, thats handicapping…

  4. randall bly

    Apr 23rd, 2011

    I used to be good at horse betting but not any more.Your article is good, I would like to more.

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