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Andy Serling has been playing the horses for almost his entire life, and is currently the co-host of NYRA Live. To follow Andy on Twitter, click here.

Handicapping Now or Later?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Apparently there is often an impetus to handicap Triple Crown races weeks, if not months, in advance. That's probably not the best way to arrive at the winner, and as far as I know, you don't collect more at the window if you inform the teller " I predicted so and so would win this race on March 16th. " I could be wrong, but I would guess there is a major negative correlation between how much time before a race a handicapper arrives at his final decision and how well he ( or she ) does overall ( assuming an adequate amount of time is ultimately spent ). In fact, one of the reasons the job of a public handicapper is so difficult, is that decisions need to be made well in advance.

The other problem with making early decisions is that we effectively " marry " ourselves to these horses, and thus all too often, disregard other handicapping factors that we use on a day to day basis. Personally, from a handicapping perspective, I view every race the same. Each race is a matchup of relative talents, and the most likely winners are not just the most talented horses, but also the ones that will benefit the most from the dynamics of the given race. However, often when we decide well in advance of a race, we do so simply because we decide that our selection is the best horse. OK, the best horse does win a lot of races, but for the purposes of making money betting, you really need to determine the best horse given today's conditions. How effectively can you do this well in advance, before knowing the post positions, the track conditions, any possible track bias, or even how the horses look as they head to the starting gate? OK, the last one is hard for the sense of any significant pre-race opinions, but you get my drift.....the longer you wait, in theory, the better your chances of being right.

A lot of people seem to have decided that Charitable Man would win the Belmont just seconds after his relatively easy score in the Peter Pan. He looked good, but he also got a very easy trip, and he was hardly flattered on Monday when Imperial Council ( who finished second in the Peter Pan ) finished 8th of 12 in the Shadwell Met Mile on Memorial Day. Yet, I have yet to hear one of his proponents taking this new piece of information into account. Maybe it is meaningless......but I can guarantee you had Imperial Council even run well on Monday, Charitable Man's advocates would be citing this as further proof that their choice would be tough in the Belmont Stakes. You can't have it both ways.....unless, of course, you prematurely marry yourself to a selection.

Many people think Mine That Bird will be a cinch to annex his second leg of this year's Triple Crown. I can see this, he has run exceptionally well since adopting a deep closer's running style. However, he also got optimal set-ups in both the Derby and Preakness, riding a favorable rail in the Derby and getting a very sweet trip behind a strong pace in the Preakness. As of now, the pace in this year's Belmont Stakes does not appear nearly as strong as the one in the Preakness, but at the very least, wouldn't it be better to try to determine the pace of the Belmont once the final field has been assembled? Plus, how many deep closers have won the Belmont Stakes in recent years? Victory Gallop came from well back, but got up by a nose after getting one of the greatest rides in history by Gary Stevens, with his competition, Real Quiet, questionably challenging Grand Slam and Chilito at the three eighths pole. I wouldn't want to rely on that kind of confluence of events to get home what may well be the betting favorite. Now, maybe Mine That Bird is simply better than his competition, like Afleet Alex was when he came from well back to win the 2005 Belmont Stakes, but, at the very least, I think any ability gap is much smaller going into the 2009 Belmont than it was that year.

All of this may be moot if Rachel Alexandra graces us with her presence. Maybe she will, once again, prove herself superior to the 3YO colts currently attempting the Triple Crown races. Or, maybe she won't. Maybe she will help ensure the pace Mine That Bird needs to win the Belmont Stakes, and the added distance will, in fact, help him while hurting her as some felt could have been the case in the Preakness. How will her presence affect Charitable Man, a horse whose best chance may well be galloping along on the lead? Of course, we don't need to worry about any of this if we, at least, wait until Wednesday June 3rd when the entries are drawn.

Then again, if we don't worry about this kind of stuff well in advance, what would I have to write about?





Comments :

  • Seattle Sue | June 09 2009 12:42 AM

    so my charitable man didn't out last the Grey, I guess you can say MTB and Dunkirk squeezed him out of the way. Summer bird's shoes offered the required traction and Kent D did himself proud. I think did a good job at early handicapping :)

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  • Peter | May 31 2009 09:03 PM

    It looks like the weather for Elmont this weekend is sunny. So the track condition should be fast. As far as post position, not relevant for a 1 1/2 race at Belmont. The field in basically set. Let the discussion begin. The way I see it, Dunkirk wins this race by a few lengths. Pletcher may enter a rabbit for him, if so, he'll then win by a pole. His pedigree is far superior than the others entered.

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  • Gordon | May 30 2009 11:36 AM

    Excellent point about waiting until close to race-time to make your final selections. This is especially true in an event which could have a last-minute scratch--which would alter the nature of the PACE in the race. If a speed horse is scratched, for example, it could leave a previously unliked entry as the 'lone-speed' in which case that horse might be much more playable. By the way, with the scratch of Rachel, this Belmont appears to be setting up to be a virtually no-speed race. Given last year's outcome (a mediocre horse wiring the field after Desormeaux blew the ride on Big Brown) that is something to consider as the entries and post positions are announced.

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  • Seattle Sue | May 30 2009 12:50 AM

    So..As the Horse world turns". I'm thinking with the decision of Jess J. not to run Rachel A. Johnny V. attempts to control the pace and wire the field with Dunkirk; whom appears to be one of the two quickest of the unofficial entries. the other being Charitable Man with the one & only Garcia who stole last years Belmont with Da'Tara under a brilliant ride and probably looking to do the same thing this year with a very capable horse. I've never been on the Dunkirk bandwagon, I would choose Charitable man to out last the gray bunny and hope that the Summer Bird's new hind shoes give him the traction he needs and Mine that bird has something left in his "little engine that could" tank to finish up.

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  • Greg D | May 28 2009 04:58 PM

    I think the word "worry" is wrong. I like to refer to the process as cussing and re-cussing. hehe MOST of the time when doin' this "cuss" thang, I land on 2 or 3 "likely" animals hours before a race, then narrow it down at post time. To try and do it any other way would drive me up 10 walls 10 feet high!! And then again, sometimes the best play in a race is a NON play. Sitting on yer hands is just as important sometimes as making a bet. Maybe more so when it comes to the long run of trying to make money in this game.

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  • toni tyler | May 28 2009 02:48 PM

    Most winners can eliminate horses prior to a race but few can predict, prior to moments before the gate, the first horse expected over the wire; yet, those same few can identify the probable 3 with a realistic chance, under race time conditions with a 90% chance of being 'on the better's board, if not paying just Trainers or Owners. i would say, however, that it does pay to examine every known factor "Prior" to race-day (including watching the replays or Jockey and Horse)and making a determination of what 'that particular' horse 'needs' to win. Then, when the posts are assigned (drawn) it is easier to handicap. Too bad The Belmont Stakes Web-site does not give info until just a few days before -if they did - a lot of newer betters could learn how to judge horses via the chats/blogs/ etc. That was the interesting thing that The Churchill Folks did= IE. When they put a horse up as a possible, they placed the PP up w/Videos; it was a nice touch to see them gradually unfold. Pimlico did it two days before post-pull, not so much fun, Belmont could enhance both participation and anticipation by adding the videos/pps to the Horses Now Listed

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  • Peter | May 27 2009 10:25 PM

    You cannot make any wagers on any race until you have all the pertinent info. Class, distance & post position are available days prior to any race. Once you have these ingredients, you can make an educated guess on who you fell will win. The only other key elements missing, days before the race, are track condition & scratches. If your playing this game seriously, I feel you need to do your homework hours or the night before. I find that if you try to handicap a race from 20-25 min before post, you are setting yourself up for failure. The 20-25 min before each race are for tweaking(if you need to)your initial plays and of course listening to Andy's advice. Now that you know track conditions, early scratches, etc. at that time you can make your play. This is more relevant if your actually at the track playing. There are just too many distraction to try and handicap from scratch unless your playing birthday numbers or horse's names. I attend the "summer place to be" annually and there is no way to concentrate there.

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  • Seattle Sue | May 27 2009 04:35 PM

    Andy..I agree with you;my final decisions come down to the post parade and the horses demeanor.For me, I'll go the track(Emerald Downs) since I moved out of NY years ago,thank you to simulcasting & TVG, with my picks in hand & play them.Then I go to the paddock to look the horses over, I make any adjustments if necessary. Granted I could save some money if I wait to the last minute, I enjoy the process I've developed, I don't win them all but I try my hardest to be close and let's not forget you need the Luck from the racing gods.

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  • Andy Serling | May 27 2009 11:35 AM

    Thanks Sue. By the way, I have a friend in Seattle named Sue.....and I bet she would be rooting for Summer Bird as well.

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  • Andy Serling | May 27 2009 01:12 AM

    Seeking the Gold - I appreciate your thoughts, but really don't want to deviate too much on here from the topics at hand, and if you have any questions you should feel free to e-mail me at aserling@nyrainc.com. Send me an e-mail I will be happy to discuss it with you.

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  • Seeking the Gold | May 27 2009 12:20 AM

    Andy, How come NYRA does not give you and jason more airtime? There are twenty five minutes between races and you guys have to rush through the race in three minutes and then we get dead air until post time. Sometimes i am at home and don't have the form, and it would be nice if you guys could go through each horse in the race even if you think the horse is a throw out. The more information the better.

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  • John C. | May 26 2009 10:17 PM

    It is difficult for me to understand the drive to "win" an imagined handicapping race by making decisions early, inevitably prematurely; it's not the same as being the first to tell your friends about a great rock band, record, or movie: "Yeah, I new about Nirvana before they sold out to a major label" (I hate those people, by the way). Those who prognosticate days to months in advance of the actual race-day conditions are part-masochists and are increasingly guaranteed disappointment. Heck, I cemented my non-wiseguy pick, I Want Revenge, a day or two before the Derby and even that was too premature; oh wait, that was after my hopes for Quality Road were dashed, which was after my super-early pick of the 'mousse. This may lead to why I am the king of shut-outs as I wait until the charges are loading before I frantically punch in the super/triple/etc. combos- it is quite a rush though, haha. I do find that, if I change my mind just before a race, I am more frequently rewarded than chagrined. However,I think that most people, from an early age, are afraid to change their original "answer".

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  • Andy Serling | May 26 2009 10:13 PM

    So, Sue, apparently you don't subscribe to my theory that you are best off waiting until the race is drawn to fully handicap the race?

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  • Seattle Sue | May 26 2009 09:41 PM

    Prior to the derby I watched Summer Bird, and for me, immediately jotted him down as my Belmont pick.To my surprise they ran him in the derby, that would have been a great move, if they had replaced their regular rider.What were they thinking keeping him aboard? I watched his losing ride over & over ugh.. when they said the rail was the place to be ..he thought they meant the outside rail!. After the Derby I'm still thinking Belmont minus the inexperienced Joe. So I pray and wait to hear..finally today the connections learned a lesson; be it the hard way, and make a jock change, yipee I think until reading that Desormeaux got the mount for the Belmont. I can't win! They must of missed last years race. He's 14th on the standing list in NY,I don't love him,why bypass the top guys:Dominguez.Maragh,Lezcano,Valasquez they know the track inside & out, season after season.Sorry..just venting over things I have no control.I love handicapping & I love winning. So who do I think will win the Belmont you ask? Based on all the info,acknowledge & wisdom of the sport I have collected to date. I'd say:Rachel Alexandra,with heart & determination like Rags to Riches, will win.. followed up by Summerbird(as long as he's not 8 wide on big sandy),Mine that bird(personality & grit like afleet alex),Charitable man(talented,loves the track & Garcia).That's my Superfecta..for now

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  • lonnie lee | May 26 2009 07:04 PM

    I say you"re right we should wait with no RA no pace ? is whos the best sprinter .More than MTB will something left in the tank maybe all the van rides two tuff races catches up with him not like he been puting up tripple digits early in his career.Doing it three times in a row might be asking a lot could bounce but he is a good story so many will follow him.

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  • Getz | May 26 2009 06:26 PM

    All good points Andy, although there wasn't a person in the world that could have convinced me that Afleet Alex wasn't going to win the Belmont within a couple days of his Preakness victory. I imagine if the pace is considerably slower then the last couple of TC legs, that maybe MTB will be closer up. Good jockeys have instincts about the pace and often the horse tells them where they should be. As long as he's not hurried early, regardless of where that puts him, he should relish the distance. It's funny, I kind of have this vision of MTB and Summer Bird fighting for last going into the first turn...

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