Picking a winner at the race track is tough, as any player will tell you. There are so many factors to consider, including intangibles, that sometimes handicapping horses seems to defy logic.
But the statement that Federico Tesio, the great breeder of horses, made about the rules of nature concerning breeding seem to apply equally as well to the handicapping of horses: "There are no exceptions to her laws. Only human error."
Some of the human errors the players have to endure come in the nature of the pressure the horsemen are able to put on the racing industry for a betting advantage over the paying customers, especially since many players have become more sophisticated.
Pressure from horsemen and veterinarians brought about changes which provided greater latitude in obscuring workouts and the manipulation of the condition of their charges through the use, or lack of use, of medication.
But the lack of an outery from the racing fan has perpetuated the almost universal contempt state government, the federal government and racing officials hold for the racing fan. Picking winners has been made tougher. But while a difficult task, it still is not impossible.
To successfully handicap a race, the player must correctly answer two questions:
How good is each horse in the race at his best?
How close will the horse run to its best?
This article will deal with the second part of that question since determining an animal's current condition is one of the hardest things to do.
Several years ago, it occurred to me that of the many patterns used to determine a horse's condition one could determine the entire conditioning concept. There is such a pattern. The study of this pattern will help in learning to handicap horses; it has stood the test of time for over a quarter of a century. Simply stated, it means you can win.
As we look at the above form of Little Crow as it appeared in the Daily Racing Form we see that his current form begins on June 17 when he ran in the 10th race at Penn National. As we read from left to right we see that the track was sloppy and the scheduled distance was a mile and 70 yards. Continuing from left to right we see that the half was run in 47 1/5 seconds, the three quarters of a mile in 1:13 2/5 and the final time of 1:45 4/5.
The claiming or selling price of that race was $2,000. Little Crow broke from the No. 2 post position and came out of the gate fifth at the start. At the end of a half-mile, LIttle Crow was fifth, 3 1/2 lengths behind the leader. at the end of three quarters of a mile we see that the 7-year-old gelded son of Raspeberry Ice was fourth, 5 1/2 lengths behind the leader.
And here is the important part, we see that at the eighth pole, or in mid-stretch, Little Crow was sixth, seven lengths behind the leader. That eighth pole call showed that he was out of contention when the racing got seious. At the finish he is 10th, beaten 9* lengths.
We also see that he was ridden by J. Labrakis, who received a 10-pound weight allowance as an apprentice. Little Crow had blinkers on and carried 106 pounds. His odds were $25.40 to 1 and he ran a 61 speed rating or 39 lengths slower than the track record for the distance. The race was won by Sketch Maker, who carried 116 pounds beating Shella's Prince by 2 1/2 lengths. The latter finished a length before Cut Across Shortly. The trackman's comment on Little Crow's performance was "tired." There were 12 horses in the field for that race.
As we go on up reading Little Crow's form line we see that he kept running poorly until Aug. 6. That day he got to within 3 1/2 lengths of the leader at the all-important eighth-pole call.
Then, on Aug. 17, Little Crow showed that he was about ready to run the race of his current life. In a 1-1/16-mile race he got to within a head of the leader at the eighth pole. If we picture his energy potential as a balloon, we can see that it was expanding and about to explode.
On Aug. 23 he won a 1-1/16-mile race by 2 3/4 lengths over Summit Point. His odds were $5.90 to 1 and he toted 115 pounds. Little Crow had won as a classic example of an "eighth poler," or a horse which indicates he is ready to run his best current race because he was getting closer to the eighth pole, or midstretch.
There are two refinements to his pattern that make this type of horse an even more desirable betting proposition. One would be if Little Crow were droppin in class to, say, $2,000 after his race on Aug. 17.
Another more favorable factor would have been if he were running a shorter distance than he did when winning on Aug. 23.
To conclude, if we have a horse get close at the eighth pole for the first time in tat least four races; drop in class, and then turn back in distance, we have about as good a definition of a "cinch" as is possible in the world of racing.
Little Crew had two of those factors going for him when he won by nearly three lengths on Aug. 23. Had he dropped a bit in class he would have joined a select group of horses this observer has seen withn by daylight that "couldn't lose." None ever has.