Spotting a horse that is ready to win a race isn’t always easy. In fact, it is often the horse who first appears to be least likely to win who puts forth a big effort and wins. When that happens, they pay well and surprise many people. On the other hand, someone bet on that runner, but why?
First of all, there will always be people who bet on longshots and who will almost never bet on a favorite. So in any race, when a horse wins and it isn’t the favorite, some of those people will have it. Then there are the numbers players or people who play it because of its color or name. There can be any one of hundreds of reasons why someone might have backed that one.
On the other hand, there may be a very good and logical reason why the horse is backed. For the handicappers who know what to look for, to know when a horse is ready to run, horse racing handicapping is not a mystery.
What I look for when I am choosing horses that I think will run well and possibly win the race may be put into several categories.
First of all, there is the visual category, in other words, simply looking at the animal and evaluating its appearance. When a horse is fit and ready its coat is dappled. The racing dimple, the crease along its hind haunches, is deeply creased. In the post parade it will have its neck arched and have a slight bounce to its step as though on springs. When it is warming up, it will move fluidly and not show signs of lameness. If you are at the track and can check the horses out before the race, this is an excellent way to start the evaluation process.
The second key to the hunt for the fit and ready horse is to use the past performances to spot a horse that has run at the same or higher class level than its competition today. It must have been competitive at that level. It would be nice if this process was as simple as looking at speed figures or purse value, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Each horse that it is facing today has to also be evaluated to determine its true class and ability level and then compared to today’s runners. That is a job for a computer. Interpreting the data, once the numbers have been crunched, however, is still a job for a seasoned handicapper.
Even though a horse lost its last race, it may have performed at today’s class level, if you factor in pace and the ability level of the competition in past races. That is why a horse who was 5th in its last race may still win today’s race and yet, for most people, the horse will not appear ready to win.