For the Love of Thoroughbred Horse Racing!!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Handicapping With an Edge

Unless you’re an industry insider like an owner or trainer or some industry executive, for the rest of us this game is all about cashing tickets. And to cash tickets consistently there is one thing you need to have, an edge.  Somewhere within the race you are handicapping and the past performances you are studying lies an edge. You have to discover it, learn how it’s being applied and correctly weigh it against the rest of the field if you are going to achieve success and cash a ticket on this race.  This edge I speak of is an angle, a maneuver where a horse or trainer is trying to create a way to get to the winner’s circle. This angle has to be realized and the intent must be understood in order to be able to reap the benefits

There are so many unknowns in this game that it would be just impossible to win consistently going at it without an edge. For instance, about 20 years ago I was at Penn National Racecourse in Pennsylvania and as I was waiting to see the horses come onto the track I realized that they were all lined up on the side of the walking ring in the Receiving Barn.  With many United States racetracks you can’t see the horses prior to the race in the Receiving Barn. Many times you can’t see the horses prior to the race till they get on the track so I thought it would be a good thing to see the horses prior to entering the track giving me more time to check out their body language.  What opened my eyes was the fact that most of the horses in the Receiving Barn had one of their legs in a bucket of iced water! Here I was following this game for years not realizing that a horse can have his legs in iced water in the Receiving Barn just minutes prior to the race. I mean how sore are these horses that they have to be iced minutes before the race?

So I began by crossing off every horse that was being iced prior to their race. This of course knocked each race down to only a few real contenders and on the night I did well and yes two of those horses being iced had still won on the night. But I couldn’t help thinking that yet again there is another unknown to deal with in the way of trying to cash tickets.  In reality it is a very tough game to succeed at no matter where you stand. We all know about racing luck and jockeys messing up and traffic problems and jocks not reading the pace scenario correctly. There are amillion ways to lose and tear up your tickets compared to only a few ways to cash those tickets. So in order to succeed we have to discover the edges and try to use them to our advantage.

1 – Knowing how to read the pace scenario is a huge edge.
Understanding how the race will be run is a huge edge. Judging which horses will go to the front and which horses will lag can knock a race down to only a few real contenders. How many times have we watched a turf race scheduled to be run at along distance say 1 ¼ miles where one horse gets loose on the lead and never looks back? In the body of the race there is one early speed type that never won going as far as 1 1/8 miles so many would cross this horse off.

The rest of the field is filled with horses that have won 2 and 3 races in a row, at higher class levels and all look like tigers. However when the starting gate opens the speed horse gets loose on the lead, loping along under a first half mile in about 50 seconds. And of course he gallops home with an easy win leaving everyone that didn’t have him pissed.

So knowing the pace scenario and how the race is going to be run can bea big edge. After that you can rate horses as to where and what position they should be in at certain points of the race by knowing how fast the early pace figures are you can estimate which horses will be able to rally and which horses should start to flatten out.

2- Each horse’s block of past performances tells a story.
What I try to do is read and interpret each horse’s set of past performances and create a kind of profile for each horse.

Once I have done this I start to compare each horse’s profile against each other and figure out if any horse has a likeable edge that I feel can make the difference in them winning today’s race. Then I work on how the race figures to be run and how this horse with the likeable edge fits in.

For instance let’s say that I have found a horse with a decided class edge. He has been knocking heads with several horses that are real tigers, fighting every step of the way in seemingly almost every race they run.

Today our angle horse is dropping into a much softer spot although entered at the same class level of his last three starts. So unless you know or realize the abilities of the horses he was facing in his last few starts this class drop goes undetected. On the board our angle horse is 12-1.

However, according to how the race will be run, our 12-1 shot will be running about 8th in the early going because there is an abundance of early speed signed on. So while this horse has a class edge it gets negated because he is going to be too far back for my liking.

3- Sometimes I like to skip a race.
If I can’t find an edge or an edge that I like enough and have confidence in backing then I will simply skip the race. If I find more than one horse in the race with an edge or an angle that I like then of course I will try and bet according to how the horses are telling me they will run.

Since I feel both of these horses are telling me they are going to run big races today, instead of trying to toss one of these horses out I will use both of them in perhaps a Double or an Exacta or in my Pick-3’s and Pick-4’s. In doing this I feel I am locking up the race.

These three edges I have discussed should open up some new paths and ideas in your handicapping. In the next issue I’ll get into more ways to find some more hidden angles that can turn into some very rewarding edges.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Behavioral Overcompensation: The Greatest Hurdle for Efficiency-Of-Motion…

by Kerry M Thomas
Like its cousins running free in the wild, the horse was born to run– swift and magnificent. But one of the greatest obstacles preventing it from becoming a successful equine athlete is Behavioral Overcompensation.

What is Behavioral Overcompensation?
It is when the equine athlete alters its natural running style, due to a physical or an emotionally-perceived restriction, resulting in a loss of the athlete’s efficiency of motion.

What causes Behavioral Overcompensation?
Footing surface and condition, blinkers, shadow rolls and even the tack a horse wears are a few examples of physical restrictions that can cause the horse to alter its natural running style. Emotional restrictions canstem from experiences on the racetrack such as when the horse has been banged and jostled about resulting in cautious or timid behavior.

The horse has to feel comfortable and have confidence in order to perform at peak levels. Even being asked to run in a race can sometimes cause Behavioral Overcompensation. The late world-renowned breeder and trainer Federico Tesio, in his book Breeding the Racehorse, gives a good example of this when he tells the story of a horse entered in the starting gate but when the gate was opened the horse refused to run.Anything, physical or emotional, real or anticipated, that restricts freedom of movement can result in Behavioral Overcompensation and it is the toughest challenge for domesticated horses to overcome.

The most important factor for the equine athlete is to perform with peak efficiency of motion. If your horse does not transition well, orswiftly, he/she is not being efficient, and you are not getting the mostfrom their ability.Emotional Conformation can help you identify those areas where your horse may feel restricted and inclined to alter its natural running style.

Behavior Overcompensation and Speed
There is a steep set of basement steps in my older home, yet I can swiftly traverse them without any fear of falling when all of my senses– vision, touch and hearing – allow me to safely navigate the stairway. However, on laundry day I cautiously walk down the stairs because my vision is obstructed by the basket full of clothes I’m carrying. I still make it safely down the steps but I have to over compensate for the lack of vision by using my feet to help guide me to the bottom of the stairs. I complete the same distance from the top of the stairs to the washing machine, however, I do so in a slower time in motion.

Behavior Overcompensation and Pace
When protracted time in motion is combined with speed, the efficiency with which a given distance is covered is ultimately controlled by focusability; concentration. If you think of it like a relay race where abaton is passed from hand to hand, the first leg of the race will always be started by reaction and speed. Yet as the time in motion protracts and the burst of physical energy is waning, a different strategy is employed to maintain motion – the baton is handed over from speed to the hand of pace. Focus thus becomes the determining factor of the efficiency with which physical distance is covered. This means that during a race you can have two horses, side-by-side, covering the same distance of ground, each with exactly equal physical ability, but the two horses can have different time in motion. The determining factor between them, if indeed each horse is physically equal, is thus their individual ability to manage the time they are in motion. Over distance horses are less reliant on pure speed and more reliant on focus ability which determines pace. Mental training, mental nurturing and training forward the focus ability is the key to efficient motion.

The Herd Dynamics of Focus and Concentration
The efficient transition from speed to pace is obviously different from individual to individual. The equine athlete’s Individual Herd Dynamic determines this and can be found in investigating the Emotional Conformation of the horse. An evaluation of this determines the P-Type (Personality Propensity Typing) which is a system developed by the Thomas Herding Technique to indicate the horse’s individual herd dynamic and range.

Once we determine the horse’s naturally occurring focus agility w ealso get a gauge on its distance aptitude. The goal is not to change the natural equine athlete but to find ways to make it more efficient.Training for physical speed, getting the horse physically fit to cover adistance of ground is obviously necessary; covering that distance efficiently and with pace means negotiating the time in motion. The ability to stay focused while moving determines the time at which the distance will be covered.

A good experiment to measure focus agility and how it affects time in motion is to go to a track where you exercise by walking laps and time how long it takes to walk a lap with a stop watch. You can easily see how concentration determines how time in motion and distance are anything but the same. The first lap you make an effort to concentrate on your motion. Smooth and relaxed you go; never losing focus you cross the line and hit your stop watch. The next day you repeat the exercise but you are not so focused because there are other people walking or running laps, your mind wonders a bit because of emotional distraction.  Even though you are the same athlete covering the same distance your time is slower.

A key element to maximizing the potential in your equine athlete is within the effort to make them as efficient as they can be within their individual herd dynamic. Different emergent properties and behavioral tendencies showcase themselves in style of motion. Getting the equineathlete physically fit can only be fully maximized by an efficiency ofpace within the time in motion required to cover a distance of ground.Mental Stimulus Training protocols can be developed as part of the overall process to elevate the individual athlete.

For me, I use this simple equation: physical energy (speed) + emotional energy (the ability to maintain pace) = time in motion.