The Newcomer’s Guide to the Races — Essential Reading

As an occasional series, I plan to discuss the basics that every horseplayer should know.  Yesterday, I re-published “The Generic Horseplayer,” an article that I wrote back in 2006 that argued against too many early consumption of handicapping knowledge.  I still believe that avoiding mainstream thinking is essential to becoming a contrarian player.  But, a player still needs to understand the basics in order to interpret data.  These are:

  • Speed
  • Bias/Trip
  • Pace
  • Class
  • Form
  • Value
  • Bet Structuring

The best general book on the market is Steven Davidowitz’s, “Betting Thoroughbreds.”  He covers just about everything, and does it in clear, enjoyable prose.  I learned a ton about the basics from this book, and I keep it handy for reference.  Right behind is Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing”  which only is second because it is, sadly, dated in parts.  But Ainslie, which was the pen name of Richard Carter, has insights into the game that still apply today, and he provides angles that still are a steady source of mid-price to longshot winners.  It also is an important book in the history of handicapping, representing one of the first serious attempt to publish widely on handicapping.

The other books are focused on particular areas and serve a solid intermediary-level introductions to the field.

For speed, it has to be Andrew Beyer’s “Picking Winners.”  Understanding how speed figures are made — and their inherent subjectivity — is paramount.

For pace, I recommend Tom Bromaher’s sensational “Modern Pace Handicapping.”  You don’t hear the name Doc Sartin all that much anymore, but at one time, you did.  There are very good insights here.

For trip and bias, I go to again to Beyer, but this time to “The Winning Horseplayer.”  Here, Beyer is  is born again as a trip handicapper, and he imparts valuable wisdom about modifying speed figures for these factors.

For class, I love James Quinn’s “The Handicapper’s Condition Book.”  Understanding the conditions for races put you immediately on the next level of handicapping.  No one explains this like Quinn, whose entire body of work is superb.

For form, I like Mark Cramer’s  “Thoroughbred Cycles”.  It’s a great work that tries to nail down some of the elusiveness of form. Cramer’s narrative style makes this book flow like a novel.

For value, I like Cramer’s ” Value Handicapping.”  It is an excellent introduction into making your own line — something that all beginning handicappers should  do (at least informally).

Lastly, I recommend Barry Meadow’s “Money Secrets at the Racetrack” for beginning to understand basic money management.  This is what separates the good players and the great ones.

What do you think?  Vote in the poll here.

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Image: “Happy Turn of Fortune in Hong Kong” Copyright 2008 Akshay Mahajan.