by Brian Nadeau
October 26, 2017
The Breeders’ Cup may still be more than a week away, but with pre-entries lists and past performances hitting the presses, next weekend is a lot closer than you may think. And we as handicappers may feel like we have plenty of time to peruse whatever pertinent materials we have at our disposal, there’s no time like the present to get a leg up on the competition, as things will go downhill quickly, and the last thing you want to do is wake up next Friday and Saturday morning and feel underprepared. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few exercises that should help you cover most of the bases before next weekend.
This is a handicapping angle close to my heart, as I get the majority of my horses I’m looking to bet off video review. It’s also arguably the last stone that is still relatively unturned in the world of handicapping, as not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, but far too often the masses take for granted what they are reading in the chart lines and don’t do the investigative work themselves. And that’s the beauty of trip handicapping, since not only are chart callers often inaccurate or quite simply incorrect, but the public takes those inaccuracies at face value and bets them like the truth.
In this day and age there’s really no excuse for not putting in the work and watching as many of the preps for as many of the horses as you can. You can watch all of the Pan and Head On replays at Xpressbet, so by next weekend, you really should know each horse inside and out. And that doesn’t just mean a horse’s last prep; I strongly advise going back 2-to-3 races to get a real feel for what a horse is bringing to the table and which way their form is going. It’s also a good idea because a lot of horses, especially the ones who have already assured themselves of a spot in their respective Breeders’ Cup race, aren’t likely to have all the screws cranked for their final tuneup. It’s a personal preference, but I’d rather have the horse who didn’t empty the tank as opposed to the one who ran a lifetime best. Blame in 2010 comes to mind as the former in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, while Aptitude in 2001 comes to mind as the latter in the same race. Blame parlayed an uninspiring and non-threatening 2nd in the Gold Cup to hand Zenyatta her only career loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while Aptitude bounced like a ball off a seismic win in the Gold Cup in the very same race (yes, drawing the parking lot at Belmont Park didn’t help him, but it also wasn’t the reason he was 8th, beaten almost 10 lengths either).
I like to do a few different things when watching replays; first, I think it’s important to understand how a race was run and who benefited the most. And I always, and I can’t stress this enough, have the past performances in front of me so I know who was supposed to do what in the race. If there were four speed horses and two broke slow and one took back, then I immediately understand that the rousing wire-to-wire winner was clearly flattered by the circumstances. If you’re simply watching that race with a notepad and without past performances, that’s not something that will jump out at you like it should. Conversely, if a pure speedball looked loose on paper and, for some reason, a few other stalkers gunned early and he caved, maybe you’ll want to view the effort with a grain of salt.
Watching a race is an art, but there’s no wrong or right answer, as it again falls back to personal preference, since one person might see something completely different from the other. I can only speak for myself, but I think it’s important to keep a level head when watching replays and not overreact, especially in regards to a horse you may have had a bet on. Far too often a horse breaks slow and people think it cost them a race. Well, if said horse is a closer who was going to be 8th after a quarter-mile anyway, was a slow start really that big of a deal? I certainly don’t think so. You also tend to maximize trouble when viewing a horse you bet on, which can be very dangerous going forward.
Which brings me to my next point; don’t overreact to trouble within a race, even if it’s late in a race. If a horse is rolling and gets stopped off the far turn, then of course make a note and give the horse a long look next time out. But the paper handicapper sees “checked midstretch” in the running lines and automatically thinks it cost the horse a placing or maybe even a win. And while it definitely could have, if you watch the race with an unbiased eye, you’ll really know what happened. The comment line isn’t going to tell you “checked midstretch but was going nowhere anyway,” it’s only going to tell you “checked midstretch.” Don’t elevate a horse because they had trouble if they were going nowhere anyway. That’s a huge mistake people make day in and day out, and it’s due in large part because they really didn’t even see the race, or if they did, they didn’t give it an honest assessment.
Identifying the Contenders
Obviously the post position is important, especially since Del Mar has a few quick runs to the first turn and the like, but, for the most part, you should know well before the draw who can and can’t win. The draw can elevate or demote a horse a slot, but it shouldn’t turn an A into a C or a C into an A. The legendary Steve Christ was the first to really popularize the A,B,C,X way to look at a race, and identifying every horse in such fashion is paramount to not only handicapping success, but putting tickets together and maximizing your opinion and bankroll, not to mention your time.
Again, it does have a flair or personality to it, but it’s still relatively clean-cut. To me, an A is a horse that is a very logical, potential winner. A B could win if they fire their best shot, but needs things to go in their favor to do so. I may stray from some on a C, but to me, a C is a horse who might win once a week. I’m very strict with who I tab as a C, because I don’t think they should offer anywhere near the same weight as an A or a B. An X is a horse that can’t win, period. And listen, in the Breeders’ Cup, when you’re dealing with full 14-horse fields, you’re going to have to draw a few lines in the sand. You can’t have six A’s and five B’s in every race or you’ll not only go crazy but you’ll find your bankroll is empty after your first two horizontal bets.
Betting Strategies/Bankroll Allocation
The last exercise, but arguably every bit as important as your actual handicapping, is what and how to bet. How many of us know great handicappers who, once they get to the window or the website, simply lose their mind and composure and just fire like a chicken with its head cut off? They might as well toss their money in the garbage, especially when we are talking about a two-day extravaganza that will test the resolve, let alone the bankroll, of the best of handicappers.
Point blank, know what your bankroll is going to be at the start of the day and what you want to bet. If your bankroll for the weekend is $2,000 and you’re looking to play a big late Pk4 Saturday into the huge pool that ends with the Classic, what are you doing betting $1,500 Friday? Have some discipline and carry it out. As a complete amateur, I was guilty of this many times and woke up Saturday morning wondering why I only had a fraction of money to bet when I started Friday with plenty of ammunition.
You really need to have a gameplan going in and a relatively defined blueprint on how you are going to approach the races. I’m a big proponent in loosening the rubber band on Breeders’ Cup Weekend and allocating more money than normal to your bankroll. But that doesn’t mean I haphazardly bet more, just because I have more. The “more” is still for your big plays, whether that’s a win/place bet, a trifecta or a Pk5. However, we are all gamblers at heart, so installing a 10% rule isn’t a bad thing, as that will allow you to scratch that compulsive gambler’s itch when it rears up. If you bankroll is $2,000 for the weekend, give yourself $200 to toss away on urges, last-minute overlays, fun trifecta keys, etc. That’s still enough to keep you entertained, but not big enough to ruin your bankroll for what you really had it intended for.
The Breeders’ Cup is a bettor’s dream, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t pre-plan and stick to your overall gameplan. Do the homework beforehand and you’ll get rewarded in the long run.