A cheesy image, with arrows, to symbolize the handicapping process :-)

The Handicapping Process: An Approach

The horse's name, the colour of the jockey's silks, a favourite number. These are all legitimate ways to choose a horse to bet. Sadly, they are all destined to be long-term losers for the committed (i.e. should be committed) follower.

As a reader of geegeez.co.uk, you obviously already know that, and are probably adopting a more scientific approach - occasionally if not consistently - to your handicapping endeavours.

In this post, I'd like to offer a few thoughts on the handicapping process: on how to find a horse to bet. The key word in the title is the smallest word in it - "an" - for there is no right or wrong way to handicap a horse race. There are better and worse ways, most being better than names, colours and lucky numbers.

Whilst on the subject of definitions, let me touch on what I'm trying to achieve with "the handicapping process". I'm not trying to find the most likely winner. I'll write that again, to be clear: I am NOT trying to find THE MOST LIKELY winner. Not necessarily, at least.

Rather, I am trying to eke out a long-term profit from backing horses whose chances are under-estimated by the market. In other words, I'm looking for VALUE. There will be no lecture, or even expansion, on the concept of value in this post - it has been covered ad nauseum elsewhere, including on this blog here (amongst other entries).

A better question than "What is value?" is always "How do I know if I've got value?". The answer to that second, more real world, question can be found on the balance of your betting ledger after a year. If it is positive, chapeau, you're on your way. If not, fear not, but pledge to work on your handicapping technique.

So, here follows an approach to the handicapping process. It is not the only approach, nor will it be the best or even necessarily an optimal one. But it has worked for me, and it may work for you too.

 

Why we need a handicapping process

As soon as one engages with the handicapping process, it is no longer enough to pick from the top two or three in the market based on the string of numbers to the left of a horse's name. A majority of horse racing punters have been conditioned into that by the presentation style of race cards in newspapers and on-course race day literature since forever.

It's just not that simple. It can't be, can it? Sure, if you don't keep score that will provide enough winners to convince the self-delusional that they're in front. But here is the cost of following the head of the market, in cash terms, since the start of 2015 in all UK and Irish races.

 

The wagering equivalent of self-harm.

The wagering equivalent of self-harm.

 

Backing the top favourite in all UK and Irish races since the start of 2015 would have led to a winning bet bang on one in three wagers. And a loss of 8% will give you plenty of fun before you inevitably go skint.

As can be seen, the second and third market choices win roughly the same amount of races combined as does the favourite. But the financial cuts are deeper: self-mutilation versus punting masochism.

That is not to say that there is never value at the top of the market. On the contrary, there may often be more value there than anywhere else in the list of runners and prices. It is how we sift that decides our degree of success.

For many, bizarrely, the need for winners is predominant. A need for vindication, to be proven correct, to solve the puzzle, trumps the quest for profit. There are thousands - probably millions - of punters who are happy to "BOOM!!!!!!!" after 'nailing' a 4/6 winner (that should have been even money in any case). If you need confirmation of that, just search 'boom' on twitter any afternoon during racing.

The good news is that, for those of us who prefer to eat less often, but gorge ourselves when we do, figuratively and relatively at least, those bombastic boomers butter our bread.

 

A Process of Four Parts

The approach I'm about to set out consists of four elements. It starts in a place where most punters don't go. And it ends in a place where most punters - casual punters at least - start.

The four parts are thus:

- Race

- Horses

- Actors

- Market

By looking at the race conditions, its shape, and its apparent competitiveness, we can take an early view on whether it is playable or not. Although that view will sometimes be incorrect, choosing the right battles is of paramount importance.

A bookmaker has to price up - or at least lay pre-race market odds - on every race. As punters, we can be as discerning as we wish. Only if we like the look of a race do we have to step forward to look more closely at the horses.

When looking at the horses, we can split them into three main groups: OBVIOUS contenders, CONCEALED possibles, and UNLIKELY winners. Note that there is no "no hoper" group. Any horse can win any race: our objective is to measure a proposition in terms of price and prospects.

Or, to put it another way, to establish if a horse is over- or under-priced against the chance we perceive it has.

Where a race is comprised of horses with many form lines already in the book, most of the evidence can be found therein. However, in races where there is less form - maidens, novice events, and early forays into handicap or Group class - a consideration of actors should be made.

By "actors", I mean trainers especially, but also jockeys and, sometimes, owners. What do we know about their past performance that could impact on the ability of a horse to show a different level of form in today's race context? As a consequence of this analysis, our three groups - obvious, concealed, unlikely - may be re-shuffled.

Finally, a decision to bet can only ever be based on the availability of a compelling offer in terms of the horse's or horses' perceived chance(s). Thus the market is the final arbiter of whether a bet is struck or not.

We are far from the realms of rocket science at this stage, but the steps in the process - and, importantly, their sequence - are worth the time to outline. Having done that, let's step through things in a touch more detail.

 

Step 1: The Race

Understanding race parameters is a crucial first stage in the handicapping process. Race distance, class, the going (especially in changeable weather), are just some of the more obvious factors to bear in mind. So the first question to answer is,

"What do we KNOW about the race?"

We know the course it will be run on.

We know the race distance (give or take a few yards for unadvertised rail movements, etc)

We know the class of the race

By post time, we will know the number of runners (barring very late withdrawals).

Everything else, we perceive. We think we know. And that's fine as long as we know we don't absolutely know. If you see what I mean.

We perceive the state of the ground. The going is arguably the most important least scientifically recorded element in horse racing today. Whilst most people who bet even remotely seriously think that needs to change - as do horsemen and, well, anyone who doesn't run a racecourse - the official going remains a very unreliable piece of 'data'.

So what do we know about the going? Well, we know the weather forecast for the day, which can help us understand going changes before they're announced. And, after race one, we will know both the race time and the horses who performed well and/or poorly. From that we can make some educated guesses as to the state of the surface. In the land of the blind, and all that...

As you'll have noted, there is actually very little we can unequivocally 'know' about a race. Even things which ought to be unambiguous - the race distance, the number of runners, and, to a lesser degree, the going - may not be quite as they seem.

Happily, predicting the outcome of horse races rarely involves a microscope or an atom-splitter (whatever one of those might be). Thus, reasonable approximations normally suffice:

If there were ten runners but one was withdrawn at the start, it will likely only affect the rate of return on a successful bet (unless that horse is a key to the pace of the race - more in a mo). If the race was advertised as six furlongs, but a rail movement added ten yards, only in the closest finish will that have a material impact.

When it comes to going, we should rely on our own awareness more than the official report. If the going is reported as good, but we know it has been raining for three hours in the morning (or is forecast to do so), then we do not need to wait for the revised going statement after race one, nor for the further revision after race two. Successful handicapping is about leading not following, and about taking calculated risks others might not take.

"About what can we have a reasonable opinion in the race?"

There are three things about which I want to have a reasonable opinion if I'm betting in a race. First, competitiveness: how many horses are coming into the race with obvious credentials? Are there horses with 'back class'?

Based on the first point, do I think the favourite/head of the market is opposable?

Unrelated to points one and two, is there a distinct shape to the pace in the race?

Looking at your average race card, either in the newspaper, race programme, or online, won't reveal much. But there are some tools - and of course Geegeez Gold is one - that offer a lot of answers to these questions.

Competitiveness

The answer to the competitiveness question can be found on this site most simply in a view called Instant Expert. Here's an example of a competitive-looking race. [N.B. What looks competitive may not transpire that way; and, of course, the converse is also true].

 

Lots of green and amber on the Instant Expert suggests many are suited by conditions

Lots of green and amber suggests many are suited by conditions

 

This is a form profiling tool which aims to visualize the historical performance of all runners in a race against today's conditions. The presence of a significant amount of green and amber implies that this could be a competitive race, whereas what we may ideally be interested in are races that look uncompetitive at first glance. As I've said, they may not turn out that way, but it is a better starting point, especially when the market leader(s) is/are not ideally suited to conditions.

Here's an example of an ostensibly less competitive race:

 

Lots of red, not much else, implies one or two might be better suited than the rest.

Lots of red, not much else, implies one or two might be better suited than the rest.

 

In this instance, one horse - Most Honourable - looks significantly better suited to conditions than its rivals. Note that the example is based on 'win' data, where 'place' data may give a more rounded perspective.

At this stage it is important to say that I don't restrict my betting solely to uncompetitive races, for two reasons: firstly, there are plenty of other ways to whittle a field; and secondly, I'd have no problem with backing more than one horse in a race, if the prices were right.

There is more on Instant Expert and the contrast principle here.

'Opposability'

The next opinion I want to form is whether the top of the market should sensibly be opposed. The key to value often lies in spotting a weak or false favourite. If there are solid reasons for looking beyond a 2/1 market leader, there could be plenty to go at elsewhere in the field.

We're wandering into element two, horse form, here so let's sit tight a while longer but, as you can imagine, the elements are intrinsically linked.

Race Shape

It is amazing to me that, even in 2016, most British and Irish punters don't give the shape of a race a second thought. Some will talk about draw bias in flat races, but generally without any real awareness of the difference between draw, pace and track biases.

Most however won't even go that far. Again, as a geegeez.co.uk reader, you can consider yourself ahead of many putting cash into the market, and you are hopefully already looking at the influence of pace in shaping a race. Geegeez Gold has two tools currently - soon to be improved/combined - for looking at pace and draw.

Let's take a look at some draw data for the five furlong distance around Chester's famously tight bullring circuit.

 

A very strong draw bias exists at the five furlong distance around Chester's track

A very strong draw bias exists at the five furlong distance around Chester's track

 

The top chart and table displays the draw information in thirds, the bottom view shows the individual draw output. Both reveal an almost linear relationship between proximity to the rail and chance of, in this case, getting placed (note the dropdowns on the charts are set to place%).

A low draw then can be considered an advantage at Chester, especially when amplified by a pace-pressing run style. The Geegeez Gold pace tab reveals the early running position of the field in their last four UK or Irish races. Here's the Gold pace view for the same race, sorted by draw.

 

A low draw and prominent run style is favoured at Chester

A low draw and prominent run style is favoured at Chester

 

This view looks complicated but it's really not. It shows, on the left hand side, the runner number, draw position, recent form figures, silks, horse name, trainer and jockey names; and on the right side, the last four pace scores (LR = last run, 2LR = second last run, etc), the total score, the percentage of the pace in the race, the master speed rating, and current odds.

Pace scores are from 4 to 1, as follows: 4 led, 3 prominent, 2 mid-division, 1 held up. Thus a horse may be scored from 16 (led in each of its last four races) to 4 (held up in each of its last four races) for four completed UK/Irish runs.

The above shows us that one of the (almost) guaranteed pace horses - Seve - is quite well drawn in stall five. Meanwhile, the other habitual front runner, Green Door, has been allotted a car park stall in 13: probably unlucky for him.

Three things worth noting in this particular example are:

  1. The market looks quite strongly influenced by draw. Boxes 1-4, those closest to the rail, are the first four in the betting, while 12-15, those furthest from the rail, are the outsiders of the field.
  2. Horses that do not normally chase the early pace may change their run style given a favourable draw. In that context, the likes of Roudee, Mukaynis and Kimberella could be gunned from the gate in order to take best advantage of their inside draw.
  3. Although the race does not look overloaded with pace on the face of it, the prospect of inside duels could set things up for a later running horse. Based on a cursory look, I don't expect that to happen, but it is something to keep in mind when framing races like these.

In any case, what I would be reasonably confident of is that Seve, with a slow starter on his inside, will be on or close to the pace at the first turn. That alone could make him moderately interesting at around 14/1.

 

Step 2: The Horses

By now, we understand something about the race - how competitive it is, whether the favourite looks vulnerable, and how the early part of proceedings might pan out. It's high time, then, that we got our hands dirty with the form book, drilling down into the horses themselves.

You may remember I referred to three groups of runners in my introduction: OBVIOUS contenders, CONCEALED possibles, and UNLIKELY winners. A horse from any group may win the race, but this is about a rough classification of their prospects.

OBVIOUS Contenders

As the name suggests, these will generally be horses whose chance screams from the pages of the form book. As such, odds will generally be somewhat compressed. Generally, but not universally. Examples of OBVIOUS contenders include last time out winners running under similar conditions; horses reverting to well-touted favourable conditions; and runners from big stables and/or ridden by high profile jockeys.

Let's look again at our example race, that five furlong heat from Chester.

 

An open handicap, but some runners are more 'obvious' than others...

An open handicap, but some runners are more 'obvious' than others...

 

This is quite an open race, if the betting is any measure, with best prices showing 6/1 the field. The OBVIOUS horses in this race might be the well drawn winners within two starts Roudee, Mukaynis, and Avon Breeze.

With no Frankie Dettori or Ryan Moore, and no Sir Michael Stoute or Aiden O'Brien, there are no jockey/trainer entries of a very obvious nature. But that trio of well-drawn in-form horses merits closer inspection at the prices, especially given what we know about the mountain wide drawn horses typically have to climb in this context.

Roudee first. Here, I've used the new Full Form Filter version 2.0 (or FFFv2 for short) to look at course and distance form. [Click on any image to view full size, and without blur]

 

Roudee has very solid course and distance form

Roudee has very solid course and distance form

 

As you can see, Roudee has won over course and distance, and been placed second twice, on a range of going. Indeed, the win was at this meeting last year off a rating of 85. Today's mark is 94, nine pounds higher. However, it is worth noting the running line for Roudee that day: he ran loose to post having unseated the rider, and was drawn widest of the five runners. He still managed to win. That suggests he had a fair bit in hand.

And again, when second last June, he was drawn second widest of the seven runners. He has led too, so it looks as though a lot is in Roudee's favour in spite of that high rating.

Mukaynis comes here off a second place last time out and a win on his final run of 2015. He's run twice at Chester, over six furlongs and a mile, the mile effort (three years ago) proving the better effort. However, in four more recent spins over this trip, he's finished 4142, the second placed finish being the only turf start.

Your first 30 days for just £1

With a tendency to fluff the start on occasion - something which is hard to overcome at Chester - he's not as attractive a proposition as the inside drawn Roudee.

As for Avon Breeze, she's won five of her 16 five furlong turf races, including two of her last four at that range. But all her Class 2 form - today's grade - has been over six furlongs and she may just found herself outpaced early, and possibly crowded out as a consequence. Her quote of 10/1 just about accommodates that concern, but with little latitude to my eye.

So I'd still be interested in 6/1 about Roudee of the OBVIOUS horses at this stage.

 

CONCEALED Possibles

The next bunch are the CONCEALED possibles. They are usually made up of two types of runner: those near the head of the market with no recent form - in the image two up, ordered by market rank, look at Growl, Kimberella and Lexi's Hero; and those whose chance becomes evident from a look at form profiles or the race shape.

That latter angle throws the pace-pushing Seve into the CONCEALED possibles group, along with Blithe Spirit.

Scanning through these, I can quickly see that all of Growl's placed form has come in fields of six or fewer runners. This double digit cavalry charge won't obviously suit him, and at 5/1 or so he's overlooked in spite of the Doctor (Marwan Koukash, owner and huge supporter of Chester races) Factor. It's worth noting that he's generally tardy at the gate and has never run over five furlongs before. Whilst he could improve for it, the worries make him no sort of price to be finding out.

Kimberella is a course winner at a furlong further, and has won at York over this trip. He's reasonably treated on his best form, but five and a half furlongs might just be his best trip, and he also has a slovenly tendency when the stalls open (though he did ping them when winning at York). 6/1 is unappetising to my palate.

Most interesting perhaps is Lexi's Hero. At eight, he's getting on a bit now, and his form last season - debut win aside - was pretty moderate. However, that 2015 debut win was over course and distance - in this race in fact - and with similarly 'nothing' form figures. Rated 87 then, he's down to 83 now, with Sammy Jo Bell's three pound claim a further lightening of the load, to 80. But he was drawn four then, and is in box nine this time.

11/1 recognises all of those truths, and a charmed run will likely see this occasionally talented lad go close.

Seve has no recent form but may get the run of things on the front end. Trained, like Roudee, by local handler Tom Dascombe (of whom more shortly), Seve is three from ten at the trip, and has been placed in six of those ten runs. His two Chester efforts comprise a maiden win, and a close fourth in a Class 3 handicap, both at today's minimum distance.

Although well beaten in his most recent pair of runs, he has had a nice break and went well on his only prior start after two-plus months off. He'd be on the shortlist at 14/1.

Last in the CONCEALED group is Blithe Spirit. A veteran of seven course and distance sprints, this lad has form of 2411491 in that context. Drawn eight - sub-optimal but not impossible at the right price - he was down the field in this race last year, but his overall profile begs for a second chance. 16/1 grants it.

UNLIKELY Winners

The rest - Confessional, Noble Storm, Masamah, Lucky Beggar (a non-runner in any case), Lexington Place, Green Door and Snap Shots  - are bracketed together in the UNLIKELY winners group.

In the case of Confessional, Noble Storm and Masamah, it is the combination of very poor draw (15, 10 and 12 respectively) and the passage of time that undermines their chance. Masamah and Confessional actually won this race in 2010 and 2012 respectively, the latter also running second last year.

Lexington Place has run well in defeat in his only two class and distance races, though probably wants the ground a touch faster. Snap Shots is a third string to Dascombe's bow, but he ran poorly on his only start here when eight lengths behind Roudee. Stall eleven hardly assists his claim.

Green Door has been unlucky with the draw, Robert Cowell's early speedster getting stall 13. Still, his gate speed should enable him to grab something of a position and, if he can break more alertly than Masamah on his immediate inside, there are five habitual late runners inside of that one. That could give him a midfield sit, and this former Group 2-winning juvenile (when with Olly Stevens) has plenty of 'back class'.

A winner of his last five furlong race in Britain (he's been running without much success in Dubai through the winter), the draw issue is clearly a big hindrance to his chance. But, with a fair shot at getting a reasonable early position, 33/1 might justify a piece of a portfolio wager (i.e. a bet covering a number of horses in the race).

**

Phew! Recap Time

This is a long post, because I want to talk theory and practice. If it seems involved, well, to some degree it is. If you want to make good bets, based on a solid understanding of the race, the runners, the actors and the market, it takes time. But with tools specifically designed for the job, it doesn't take that much time.

In fact, if I wasn't writing and explaining my way through this, I reckon I'd have spent little more than quarter of an hour to get to where we are so far.

And remember, the first thing we do is look at the race and make a call on whether we want to take a deeper dive. Generally speaking I'd leave a race like this alone, unless it was part of a big placepot pool I was targeting (as it will be - hint hint 😉 )

But it makes for a great example race, so that's that.

OK, things move a little quicker now.

 

Step 3: The Actors

Step three is about the 'actors': trainers, jockeys and sometimes owners. For the most part this is about trainers for me. However, at quirky tricks like Chester's very tight oval, jockeyship can be more important than at more run-of-the-mill circuits. And at this particular track more than most, one owner - Dr Marwan Koukash - is hellbent on getting winners.

Trainers first, and let's take another look at the Geegeez racecard:

 

Trainer pointers galore, both inline and at-a-glance

Trainer pointers galore, both inline and at-a-glance

 

Firstly, have a squint at the trainer/jockey column. Notice the little green alphanumeric combinations? They denote trainer form, 14 day, 30 day, Course 1 Year, Course 5 Year - and are an instantly digestible measure of who is hot.

Next, look at the horizontally highlighted box. That contains the underlying data from which the green form icons are generated.

In a less Geegeez-specific, more handicapping process-generic focus, we are trying to ascertain whether any given trainer performs especially well at the course, and/or is in good form right now. The level of information here shows overall performance, but form students might care to look specifically at trainer performance with sprinters (or whichever distance range is relevant) or, on extremes of going, with runners on that type of test.

In the example above, Tom Dascombe has a lot of Chester winners, but historically they've failed to pay for the losers. This is a microcosm of the perennial punters' challenge: do you want winners? Or profit?

Dascombe will deliver winners at Chester, as sure as night follows day. But we need to know if they will pay for the losers, and leave a bit over to butter our bread. The answer over five years is that they won't, Tom D's 24 winners coming from a whopping 206 runners, for a level stakes loss of 53.54 points.

More recent evidence, however, offers greater hope. He's done well in the last year and, materially, he's in good form right now.

In some instances, a trainer's form - either current or long-term at the track - can be a stronger pointer to a horse's chance than the horse's own form. In this case, it is probably slightly positive to the chances of Dascombe's trio of runners, without adding notable ballast to the form credentials of those horses. However, importantly, nor is his form a negative.

Contrast that with the form of Dandy Nicholls and Kevin Ryan, as seen below.

 

In form, or not? Actors are important factors in the handicapping process...q

In form, or not? Actors are important factors in the handicapping process...

 

Nicholls has had just one winner from 17 runners in the last fortnight, is 0 from 7 at the track in the past year, and three from 62 in the last five years. His place record at the course hardly offers hope either.

Kevin Ryan has a less than 8% win record in the last fortnight, though his place form is consistently fair (only fair, mind). Importantly, note the sea of red in the P/L columns, and the A/E (actual vs expected) of, generally, a lot less than one. These are complementary pointers to the general lack of value in these trainers' runners.

In the future, we are planning to introduce more contextual form into these inline boxes, covering things like the trainer's record first time in a handicap, or off a layoff, or a trainer switch, or with an unraced horse, or with a trip increment, or with a last time out winner.

The form line will only display when it is relevant - e.g. if a horse won last time, the trainer's record with last time winners will be displayed; if it didn't, it won't.

Trainer form is always important. When a trainer is hot, it can be a solid supplement to a middling horse's prospects. When it is cold, it can be, well, cold water to pour on the warmest fancy. Pay heed to stable form.

**

This same information is available on geegeez.co.uk for jockeys, and most of it is available for no charge. At Chester, it is quite well known that Fearless Franny Norton is the 'go to' guy. His winner record emphasises that.

Fearless Franny, Chester's main man...

Fearless Franny, Chester's main man...

He has both course icons, and a closer inspection of the inline form box shows he's actually in pretty good recent form too. Of course, he's riding for Nicholls, so one has to balance the various forces and make a judgement call on which is stronger when they're not pushing or pulling in the same direction, as this pair are not.

In this case - in most cases - it will be the price that determines which way to go. 6/1 is a no thank you for me, Franny or no Franny.

Dr Koukash has three in this race, and he'll have thirty-odd runners in three days on Chester's Roodee course, his eleven entries on the opening day attesting to that. Owner angles are not really my thing, except to look out for well-supported horses when connections are known to like a punt.

Sadly, this info is not available on geegeez.co.uk - nor anywhere else to my knowledge - but we are starting to gather data which could be used to this end, at some point.

Trainer form is especially important in races where there is little or no horse form - maiden races, unexposed handicaps, and the like. There, how a handler has performed in the specific context is often a huge 'tell' as to whether a horse might step forward markedly on previous racecourse evidence. This post about handicap first-timers is a must read if you've not seen it already (or even if you have - it's one of the best I've written, for what it's worth).

Step 4: The Market

If you pay more than you should, you'll go skint. I could leave it at that, but allow me to expound on that somewhat pithy statement. It is basically about getting paid a fair rate for one's endeavours.

Here's a question: when you spend twenty minutes, or an hour, or however long, researching a bet, how much do you want to get paid for it?

Let's say your normal bet size is £10 (it doesn't matter what it is, it's all relative), and you have the option to get paid £50, £60 or £70, which would you choose? I think you'll probably be with me and want £70 if you have the option.

And now what if you could get paid £70 flat rate, or £70 with a possible bonus for good (counter-market) research; which would you choose then?

Naturally, you'd opt for the potential of a bonus, all other things being equal. So, please tell me,

WHY THE HELL DON'T YOU HAVE ALL THE AVAILABLE BOOKMAKER ACCOUNTS AND ALWAYS USE BEST ODDS GUARANTEED WHEN YOU CAN?!!

Note: I know many of you do, and I know many of you can no longer avail of such concessions. But, for those who can but don't, this is like "winning at betting 101". If you continually under-value your efforts in this way, you are sabotaging your own bottom line. It's stupid and you shouldn't do it. So, please, for your sake, don't.

*puts soap box away (somewhere close by, will need it again soon)*

BOG is not the only option in town, and betting to win is not the only wagering option either. It is not within the province of this post to talk about 'bad each way', bookmaker arbitrage, or any of the other free money opportunities that will get you barred faster than a rocket-powered penguin (don't ask me, I was looking for a metaphor on google...)

But you should know that there are other marketplaces outside of bookmakers. If you don't need to get on early for fear of missing the price, then exchanges are a very good option, with plentiful liquidity in the immediate pre-race period. Tote pools are less attractive, for win and/or place betting at least. But they do have their, erm, place.

Exotic bets are an excellent way to compound value, by overlaying one opinion (say, the winner of a race, or a horse to make the frame in a race) with other opinions (the second horse in the race, to make an exacta; or a horse to place in five further races, a placepot).

The more you can balance the probable with the possible, the better your chances of long-term success. That is to say, the more you can recognise the strength (or weakness) of market leaders, and consequently when to go deep and when play tight, the better the punter you will become.

But it is all for nought if you fail to take the very best odds available to you.

Let's return to our example race, and the shortlist I tentatively drew up...

OBVIOUS: Roudee, prevailing odds 6/1

CONCEALED: Lexi's Hero 11/1, Seve 14/1, Blithe Spirit 16/1

UNLIKELY: Green Door 33/1

These prices are all Best Odds Guaranteed so, if I wanted, I could dutch them (i.e. back them all to achieve the same return, regardless of which one wins) at very close to 13/8 (£10 total stake returns £26.24).

In so doing, I would achieve a minimum profit of £16.24 for my example £10 stake. With BOG in my corner, that figure would grow if the starting price was greater than the price I took about any of the quintet.

But I don't think they each have an equivalent chance, and nor do I think they all represent the same value proposition. So I'd rather gear my stakes towards those I prefer: those I think have a greater disparity between their market price and their true chance.

I actually quite like Roudee (cue terrible run!) and think he should be closer to 4/1 with so much in his favour. From the same in-form stable, Seve appeals, as well, and I'd be happy to get the lion's share of any profit jam from that pair of well-berthed Dascombe dynamos.

So why not dutch this pair with £8, for a profit of £28.18 if either wins (total return, £38.18), and split the other £2 between the rest. Dutching that trio would guarantee a profit of £1.66 (return of £11.66) for a winner.

Now my preferred pair are worth £28.18 to me, as opposed to £16.24 in the first example. Of course, the lesser fancied trio barely cover the cost of the tea bag, let alone the hot water, should one of them prevail, but they do at least preserve the bank.

It was not really my intention to go into staking, so the above is what it is: an example of how one could play the shortlist. You might choose to back Roudee, as the main fancy; or to bet another each way, or to play an exacta combo, or whatever.

This is about the shortlisting process - the handicapping process - and it is but one approach to that infinitely-faceted conundrum.

 

Final Thoughts / Summary

Handicapping horses takes in as many elements of the narrow and broad fields of vision as the player chooses. For me it majors on four elements - the race, the horses, the actors, and the market.

Some people swear by ratings. I do not. Some people follow the money. I respect it, but generally have little desire to attend a wagering funeral having missed the wedding. I will, however, look to understand why a horse might have been backed.

Others follow the top of the market, or trainer form, or favourite jockeys, or last day winners, or whatever, in isolation.

But handicapping horse races effectively is a symphony performed by an orchestra of different sections, each bringing something significant to the composition, none especially pleasing of themselves. Together, there can be harmony - and sometimes discord - but the sum of those four sections is usually greater than any individual contribution.

The above may seem complex to the casual bettor, but with the right tools, and even average race selection in step one, the process will quickly become second nature.

I built Geegeez Gold to support this handicapping framework. With help from a small but dedicated development team, and suggestions from you, our passionate user, we are continuing to build.

This week sees a big change and a couple of small changes. The introduction of Full Form Filter v2.0 - showcased briefly in the above - is a size 13 step forward in terms of filtering form for all of horses, trainers, jockeys and stallions. Less significant but still useful, we're finessing our draw output; and have finally accounted for non-runners on the pace tab, updating the pace percentages accordingly.

In my opinion, the handicapping process should be fun. There are too many dry arses in racing for my tastes. (There, I've said it!). But that most definitely does not mean it cannot be profitable. More and more Gold users are finding their way into profit, and enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

I hope there has been at least something in this outline that you can take away and try. Thanks a lot for reading, and good luck with your betting, however you arrive at your selections.

Matt

p.s. Geegeez Gold is an evolving computer form book, with beautifully presented data/feature-rich racecards, form tools, and a suite of reports. You've seen some components in this post, and if you'd like to try it for yourself, you have two options:

  1. If you haven't already, register a free account here. That will give you daily access to Races of the Day, which include ALL of the Gold features for those races. You'll also get a daily Feature of the Day - which might be a report, or a tool, or a tip. That register link is here.
  2. Or, if you'd like unrestricted access, sign up for a ONE MONTH trial for just £1, and have a play with everything we have to offer. After your month is up, you'll be billed £30 monthly, or £297 for a full year. Naturally, you can cancel at any time, and we'll even sort you out if you forget for any reason. We're good like that 😉

>>>Sign up for a 30 day trial of Gold here<<<

 

p.p.s. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to share it on twitter, facebook, Google+, or via email. Thanks a lot - the buttons are below.

p.p.p.s. If you have any thoughts, or comments, on this post, or on the handicapping process in general, do please leave a note below. I love hearing from you, and will be happy to clarify anything you're not sure about if I can.

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7 replies
  1. Jim channon says:

    Great article. With true spring at last showing its colours great time to scour old form in the jump ranks.
    Having slogged through hated bogs all winter , many now getting their favoured surface and as a consequence are well handicapped, so well worth a delve beyond the last few months form, particularly when money coming for them.
    Keep up the good work, and thanks for the Irish winner.Most Honourable of you.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks Jim, and you’re welcome. Nice by-product. Just a shame Roudee couldn’t hang on. He ran very, very well though; and of course 7/2 about an early 6/1 is always good value.

      Matt

  2. George says:

    Just wondered Matt if you make any distinction regarding the class of race? I know quite a few people don’t bother below class 3 in handicaps, others the converse! Personally I like the low grade stuff for value bets from small stables- I havnt completely analysed 4-6 grades and lower but there seem to be more false favs there than in the higher grades.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Good question, George. As you say, some prefer higher and some lower grade action. I think, as long as the form is exposed, it doesn’t matter. That is, if you’re dealing with horses who rattle around with a class ceiling, it’s irrelevant whether that ceiling is Class 6 or Class 2.

      Obviously, proven alacrity in today’s grade – and with other conditions to suit – is the optimal combination when dealing with exposed types.

      I’m not sure if there are more false favourites at any given level, though there may be different reasons for them.

      In summary, I’d be looking at the race as a whole, rather than its class, as a going in position. Would then consider how many have shown ability to win in that class (as well as against other circumstances pertinent to today’s test).

      Matt

  3. Lee says:

    In depth . Brilliantly written and explained Matt. Full Form Filter 2.0 looks very useful.

  4. ron says:

    Hi Matt a very interesting article. I have a question regarding the stats right at the beginning-how is it they never seem to alter?
    On the flat for example, back in 1991 there were around 3200+ flat races a year, now there are around
    5500.So the number of races has increased by around 66% yet the % for the 1,2,3 favs are virtually the same.Win % of 33,20,14 but with roi of – 8%,- 10 and – 12%.With all the improvements made to the amount of knowledge available to us all these days ( geegeez a prime example ) how I want to ask can this be?
    (It should be noted that these stats are even worse if you ignore odds on favorites, then the % of winning favs drops below 30%)

    I am perplexed and wondered if you could shed some light on this.

    Keep up the good work

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Ron

      Percentage of winning favourites is a factor of many things. I think the growth in proliferation of handicaps has cancelled out the reduction in field sizes and developments in data provision for now. If I’m right about that, then handicap density will reach saturation point and we should start to feel the effects of reduced fields and greater market awareness in a larger number of winning favourites, albeit at shorter prices.

      Time will tell on that, as it always does…

      Matt

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