The Best Horse Racing Books

What are the best horse racing books?  Horse Racing has an excellent body of literature that surpasses most sports in its quality and variety. There's something about the beauty of the thoroughbred and the color of the backstretch that brings out the lyrical side of many writers. The focus here is on non-fiction books, although there's no shortage of fictional horse racing books. I've divided this article into two sections, one focusing on handicapping books, and the other on more general interest books. Sadly, several of the books mentioned here are out of print, but they can often be found on ebay or at abebooks. Here are my choices for the best horse racing books.

Handicapping Books

Betting Thoroughbreds by Steve Davidowitz
For my money this is the best general handicapping book ever written, and a great place to start for novices looking to expand their knowledge as well as more seasoned players looking to move up. Davidowitz gives a solid treatment of virtually all aspects of handicapping from speed and pace handicapping to workouts, conditioning, trainers, pedigree, and betting strategy. A must for every horseplayer's bookshelf.

Figure Handicapping By James Quinn
As the title suggests, speed and pace figures are the focus here. Quinn gives an introduction into how figures are made, as well as their application as part of the general handicapping process. He also provides a figure method for the turf based on late speed as a deciding factor.

Modern Pace Handicapping By Tom Brohammer
If you only read one book about pace handicapping, this should be the one. MPH contains a complete overview of the classic Sartin Methodology by its best-known (and perhaps most successful) practitioner. If you've ever wanted to know about feet-per-second calculations, early, late and sustained pace, decision models, track profiles and all the other tools of high-tech pace handicapping, this is the place to start.

The Odds Must Be Crazy by Len Ragozin
Ragozin is the creator of the famous "Sheets" performance figures (which some consider a bargain at $25 a pop), and this autobiography cum handicapping tome gives a broad overview of how the numbers are created as well as how their users employ pattern matching to find live horses that may offer solid value in the mutual pools. I particularly enjoyed Ragozin's war stories about his experiences as a horse owner and bettor (he and his partner Len Friedman have poured millions into the parimutuel pools over the years). Ragozin doesn't give away the store here, but there's still plenty of good information as well as an enjoyable read for horse racing fans.

Kinky Handicapping by Mark Cramer
Cramer is one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking handicapping writers there is, and Kinky Handicapping is his magnum opus. Cramer virtually invented the idea of unconventional handicapping as a way of uncovering hidden value, and here he offers ways to use pedigree handicapping, company lines, and other contrarian methods to beat the speed handicappers at their own game.

My $50,000 Year at the Races by Andrew Beyer
Andy Beyer always delivers a good read, and this account of his home run year of 1977 when he beat the races for 50 large while splitting his time between Gulfstream Park and the Maryland tracks is one of my favorite racing books ever. The book is more notable for its exiting narrative than its handicapping secrets, but speed figures and track bias played a large part in his success.

Speed Handicapping by Andrew Beyer
By the time this was written in 1993, speed figures had lost most of their value in the parimutuel pools, but Beyer is nothing if not a die hard figure player. Beyer on Speed gives a solid overview of how speed figures are made as well as how they might be employed for betting success. My favorite part of the book details Beyer's expedition into the virgin territory of Australian racing, where he attempted to use his figures to conquer the fat betting pools down under.

The Winning Horseplayer by Andrew Beyer
Written in 1983 it's still an excellent introduction to trip handicapping and how to relate trips to speed figures. Beyer always interleavens his handicapping books with lots of good stories that bring out the magic of the track from the bettor's point of view.

Handicapping Magic by Michael Pizzolla
There haven't been a lot of additions to the body of handicapping knowledge since the glory days of the 70's and 80's, but former Sartin disciple Pizzolla at least contributes something new with his Balanced Speed Ratings and Fulcrum Pace. Not a great place to start for the novice, but well worth reading for more experienced players.

The Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping by James Quirin
Quinn was the most prolific of handicapping writers in the 80's and 90's. In this book, recently republished by DRF Press, he brings together a comprehensive overview of most aspects of modern handicapping theory. A great book to dip into when a losing streak has you looking for new ideas.

Thoroughbred Handicapping State of the Art by William Quirin
Quirin was among the first to do a major computer study of American horse racing. This book covers speed and pace figures, Quirin Speed Points, pedigree handicapping on the grass, even trip handicapping. The information is certainly a bit dated, but there's still lots of good food for thought considering the book was published 25 years ago.

Money Secrets at the Racetrack by Barry Meadow
Many consider this the best book ever written on money management and the mathematical aspect of value betting and exotic betting. Meadow is a serious player and the information here is rock solid.

Commonsense Betting by Dick Mitchell
Winning at the track takes more than good handicapping. It also requires solid money management, and that's where Commonsense Betting comes in. In addition to an excellent chapter on money management, Mitchell teaches you how to calculate the cost of any exotic wager, make an odds line, as well as how to know when a bet is offering value on the tote board.

Exotic Betting by Steven Crist
Most of the best handicapping books were written before exotic betting came to dominate the mutual pools, and this has left a big hole in the literature for horseplayers seeking the big score. Crist, an executive and columnist with the Daily Racing Form, has ably filled that hole with this book, which offers some solid strategies for tackling both single and multi-race exotics. Crist is a pick six specialist, and his treatment of how to use multiple tickets to tackle that difficult bet is well worth the price of the book.

General Interest Horse Racing Books

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
A book that hardly needs an introduction, given the sensation it made when published. A meticulously researched account of Seabiscuit's rags to riches story, as well as that of his owner, trainer, and jockey.

Champions by Daily Racing Form Staff
An awesome collection of lifetime past performance for every eclipse award winner since the 1890's. I've spent countless happy hours with this book revisiting some old friends as well as learning about the greats before my time. I can't imagine a horse racing fan who won't enjoy paging through this book.

Stud: Adventures in Breeding by Kevin Conley
A behind-the-scenes look at the world of high-class breeding, where millions of dollars are at stake, and wealthy breeders roll the dice as they "breed the best to the best and hope for the best." Conley gives as a look into the breeding life of the great sire Storm Cat, as well as the Godolphin breeding operation, where Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum spends tens of millions trying for that elusive Derby winner

Horse of a Different Color by Jim Squires
A great account of what it's like to be a small time breeder by Jim Squires, the former Chicago Tribune editor turned thoroughbred breeder who hit the big time when he bred the Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.

Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack
Nack is a long time Sports Illustrated writer who had unprecedented access to the great Secretariat and his connections during "Big Red's" amazing career. Nack gives us a ring side seat for all the twists and turns leading up to his incredible Triple Crown Campaign. A great portrait of the greatest horse of all time.

The Race for the Triple Crown by Joe Drape
New York Times writer Joe Drape gives an excellent history of a year on the Derby Trail among the high class stables of New York, a world far removed from the scrape-along lifestyle at most race tracks.

Laughing in the Hills by Bill Barich
Barich is a terrific writer, and here he gives a wonderful account of bumming around the Northern California racing circuit in the late 1970s, marking time and getting to know the colorful denizens of the Golden Gate Fields backside.

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Comments 8 comments

Ponus profile image

Ponus 6 years ago

I've read about half of them and tend to agree with you. The best of them is "Modern Pace Handicapping By Tom Brohammar" despite it's flaws. It boils down the essence of handicapping and I did glean a lot of useful information from it.


susan benson 5 years ago

A Great series of fictional racing stories featuring Bonnie "The Sweet Running Filly" the likes of Zenyatta is now available on amazon


Richard Reese 5 years ago

I agree with most of those books, but I think James Quinn's Handicapper's Condition Book is a must read in today's racing environment. Learning how to truly understand the conditions of a race can be gold to the astute handicapper.


Kirchnec 5 years ago

Seabiscuit was page for page the greatest book written on horse racing. Combining the plight of the downtrodden during the great depression combined with the hope and enjoyment this horse provided to the down and out was a welcome change during this dark time in our nations history. The movie was great also even though the Biscuit's last race at Santa Anita was jazzed up for movie drama... my dad saw that last race from the infield and was always very animated in retelling the race.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 5 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

I would have to agree about "Seabiscuit" -- it's just an amazing story how those three men came together to make Seabiscuit a champion. But I would go to the other area of horse racing, as well -- harness racing, to include the story of Dan Patch, a phenom of pacing.

And then there's the unbeatable story of Phar Lap.

All three of these characters learned championship racing from humble starts.


Andy R. 4 years ago

Sea Biscuit was an overall better book, but Lord of Misrule was probably the best fictional account of horse racing I've ever read. My Dad wrote "How to Make Money in One Day at the Track". It's a bit technical and complex, but well written.


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