During relatively inactive periods when there are few if any bettors at windows and there are ample open windows, bettors have the opportunity to ask the ticket writers questions about how to lay exotic bets and other wagers. If the ticket writer is friendly and not busy, he or she generally won’t mind sharing some betting information, especially if it means more efficient wagering and more money coming in afterward. If another bettor steps in line behind you, it’s time to end the conversation and move away so that the next person can lay a bet and the race track or race book can take in as much cash as possible. Getting to know more skilled and experienced handicappers also can help provide insights into betting methods and help to advance the knowledge and handicapping skills of beginning race bettors.
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Handicapping horses requires knowing how they tend to run during a race and what to expect from them compared to others in the field. Some horses run at top speed all the time and may or may not have the stamina to finish strongly. Some horses typically will stay in reach of frontrunners until near the end of the race while others might lag far behind, saving energy for a hard charge during the final leg. When aware of how a horse runs, a handicapper has a greater probability of picking one or more horses that will enable them to cash winning tickets. How a horse runs also is affected by the jockey and strategy being employed by the trainer to give the horse the best chance at winning. But horses still are willful animals and like other animals will exhibit particular traits, running styles included. The influence of training and how the jockey handles the horse during the race have significant impacts, but the horse’s running style always will be a large factor in race results.
A horse that likes to be at or near the front of the pack and often times competes for the lead early in a race is known as a “front-runner.” Front-runners typically start out very strong and can finish strongly if they are in excellent shape, and tracking their recent workouts and race results can help to determine if they are in good physical condition or might be recovering from an injury and be out of shape. Front-runners typically do best in races where they are the only front-runners and can get out to a large early lead and finish well ahead of the pack. When challenged by other front-runners, the horses might push themselves too hard and fade at the end when they tire out. Shorter races can prove beneficial to front-runners, but when in excellent shape, they can do well in longer events, too.
Usually behind the front-runners early in the race are the “stalkers,” which are horses that pace themselves early on but stay within reach of the front-runners. When the front-runners tire, the stalkers often times have enough energy to make a late hard charge for the win. Stalkers and front-runners both can be strong runners and could push themselves too hard through the early and middles stages of a big race. When that happens, both types of horses can tire at the end, although if a stalker is in good condition and has saved some energy for the final leg, a hard charge could propel the horse to a win. If there are too many stalkers, it is possible for the horse to get boxed in by others and likely will wind up finishing out of the money. Stalkers tend to do well in medium to long races where front-runners are more likely to tire.
When it comes to creating greater competition among race horses and to make the outcomes more predictable, particularly in lower levels of horse racing, many tracks will “handicap” a horse by making it carry a heavier weight to slow it down some and help to make the field more competitive. The race secretary at a host track will go over the field and assess the capabilities of each horse and then decide how much extra weight it must carry as a handicap. The stronger and faster a horse is, the more weight it will have to carry with many tracks limiting the total to 130 pounds. The additional weight carried is called an “impost” and includes the weight of the jockey and saddle as well as the additional amount of weight needed to reach the impost mark. To add weight, lead weights carried in pocketed saddle pads generally are used The race secretary assesses a horse’s size, age and racing history among other factors when determining the handicap weight.
Because of how fast a horse matures physically, weights are necessary to allow younger, weaker horses to compete against their slightly older, stronger and faster counterparts. When a horse reaches two years of age, it has reached about 95 percent of its peak growth and strength. But it will be fully mature physically when it is at the end of its second year, which means horses that are closer to three years of age generally are stronger and faster than horses that are six to 12 months younger. Because age plays such a large factor in how well younger horses run, thoroughbred horse races will use a mostly standardized “Weight for Age” scale. The scale was created in England during the 1860s and takes into account a horse’s exact age, gender, race distance and the month of the year when determining how much of an impost to place on horses. The longer the race distance, the more of a natural handicap younger horses have due to their younger, less developed bodies.
That makes it important for bettors to know their horses and try to determine which one most likely will overcome the handicap and win the race. The entry-level Maiden Race circuit is the most common horse race in which weights are used to handicap thoroughbred horses and make the races more competitive. Allowance races also utilize weight-based handicapping as many horses are in the range of two years of age and vying to earn a spot in the top levels of racing where weights usually aren’t used but still can be in some prestigious races. Because horses generally are fully mature by the time they reach three years of age, top thoroughbred races, such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, do not need to use them. Races run by younger horses at the top tracks still likely will be weighted to handicap more physically mature horses and give younger horses a better chance at winning.
Harness racing is very popular at local horse racing tracks across the nation. Unlike thoroughbred horse racing, harness racing requires standard-bred horses to pull a jockey on a wheeled “sulky” instead of carrying the jockey. The horses have shorter legs than their thoroughbred counterparts and do not run at a sprint. Instead, they trot or pace themselves, and races are handicapped by making the older, stronger and more mature horses run longer distances than the others. Because of the size of the wheeled contraptions, traditional starting gates often times aren’t used. Instead, many horses begin from a trotting start with a vehicle usually pacing the field and pulling away when the race begins.
While front-runners and stalkers generally like to be at or near the front of the pack and are susceptible to late-race tiring, “closers” usually stay near the back of the pack and run a more strategized race. Closers and their jockeys will allow other horses to run faster and harder during the early stages but will slowly move up in position as the end nears. Many times, closers can be seen charging hard from behind on the outside and winning the race by several lengths as the front-runners and their stalkers fade. Closers generally do better when near the outside where it is impossible to box them in against the rail. When starting on the inside near the rail, a closer might have a more difficult time finding a lane to exploit, which is why they most often are found making a hard charge from the outside when they finish in the money and win races.
Not all horses run their best on different types of tracks, and that can make a big difference in handicapping and betting outcomes. Tracks essentially come in two types. One is a dirt track and the other a turf track that is covered with grass. Dirt tracks can be much faster than turf tracks when conditions are dry but become much slower in the rain or when otherwise wet. Although turf tracks can be slower than dirt tracks when the weather is perfect and the track is dry, but turf tracks don’t slow down as much in the rain or when wet due to the grass draining the water and holding the surface together.