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Horse Race Betting Strategies

Updated on June 1, 2021

Horse race betting strategies have been debated over the years producing many schools of thought on the subject. The strategy that produces the best results is very simple. A high speed-rating of the competing horse at today's distance to be run over today's surface usually produces a winner. There are hundreds of horse races run every day at major circuits in NY, Florida, California, Illinois, and Kentucky and minor circuits located in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Nebraska, and others. The average horse race handicapper plays horses that have top riders, top trainers or is a top money earner in the race, however, this is not a way to consistently catch winners going off at good odds like 5-1 or better.

The horse race handicapper's best tool in determining the three major factors of speed, distance, and surface is the Daily Racing Form. It can be purchased online or at most newsstands throughout the major racing communities. A speed rating for today's distance and surface is not always easy to locate, especially in lightly raced animals. For the purpose of our discussion here we can eliminate most of those races when looking for a good value play.

The Daily Racing Form has a Beyer speed figure that can be used to determine the best speed rating. The common distances run by horses are 5 furlongs, 6 furlongs (3/4 mile), 7 furlongs, 1 mile, 1 1/16 mile, 1 1/8 mile, and the classic distances of 1 1/4 mile and 1 1/2 mile. All distances in between these could be estimated, however, it is always best to get an accurate figure at today's distance. Very frequently good value plays for young horses come at infrequent distances like 7 furlongs, 1 mile, and the classic distances of 1 1/4 mile and 1 1/2 mile. This is because the young horse has not fully developed and these distances are challenging to their underdeveloped frames. A race for 2-year-olds at 7 F or 1 mile might only contain one or two animals who have negotiated these oddball distances or close to these oddball distances (like 6 1/2 f). They are usually the best value play. The races at the classic distances, such as the KY derby at 1 1/4 mile or the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 mile, require more knowledge about the horse than speed and distance. It may require another variable such as the surface. The surface not only refers to dirt or turf but also racecourse. There is a saying called "horses for courses" which may be the most significant factor in determining the single horse that would be most successful in negotiating today's race. In the Kentucky Derby, you may want to look for horses that have had prior successful races at Churchill downs, or the Belmont stakes, horses that ran successfully at Belmont.

There have been many examples of top speed, distance, surface winners that paid handsomely in many of the major races. One horse that comes to mind immediately is Drosselmeyer in the 2011 Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Drosselmeyer had a high speed figure at 1 1/4 miles. He had 1 win and 1 second at this classic distance and was a horse for the course at Churchill downs, His prior record over the Churchill downs course was 1 for 1. He went off at 15-1 and won fairly easily, coming from behind. It is also important to point out that Drosselmeyer did have a top-stakes-winning jockey named Mike Smith, who was aboard for the win. He was also aboard for the Belmont stakes win 5 months earlier also at a classic distance of 1 1/2 miles.

Today, horse race betting strategies have become much more sophisticated, due to the abundance of new information included in the racing form. Each horse now contains 4 or 5 pieces of encapsulated statistical information of the trainer pertaining to the situation. For instance, a newly claimed horse will contain the trainer's win percentage off of claims. A horse given Lasix or wearing blinkers for the first time will show the trainers' percentage of success with these types of runners. The depth of the data is limitless, given the horseplayer additional information regarding his choice. These extra tidbits will add to the strength of the wager, but should not be used by themselves as a selection tool.

A horse with a top speed figure on today's surface, at today's track negotiating today's distance at 5-1 odds or better is the best value play.

An interesting test race: The Preakness 2013

Several weeks after this article was written, a very interesting race was run at Pimlico on May 18th, 2013. The Kentucky Derby winner, Orb, was going off at odds of 3:5 off of a very large speed figure on a sloppy Churchill Downs track two weeks prior to the Preakness. In the meantime, several horses had prior speed figures over 1 mile that were close to Orb's fast track speed rating of 102. GoldenCents had a 106 over Santa Anita, Departing and Mylute had a 102 and 105 respectively at the Fairgrounds. Oxbow and Will Take Charge had 101's at Oaklawn Park, and ItsMyLuckyDay had a 106 at Gulfstream Park.

The Preakness was being run at Pimlico on a fast track at 13/16 miles. Churchill Downs had always been an honest track where closers and pace horses had equal chances to win. However, the Preakness at Pimlico had been frequently regarded as a speed favoring and close to the pace racetrack. Of the horses listed above, Goldencents, Oxbow and ItsMyLuckyDay were speed or close to the pace animals, whereas Orb was always known as a fairly deep closer. Oxbow won the race at odds of 15-1 , on the lead every step of the way, while It'sMyLuckyDay finished 2nd and Orb ran a disappointing fourth.

In this instance, since no horse entered in the Preakness had a prior race at Pimlico, the horses for courses running style of speed or close to the pace, came into play, resulting in an exacta over $300.

Drosselmeyer - 2011 Breeders Cup Classic

Andrew Beyer - Horse Race Betting Strategy (part 1)

Andrew Beyer - Horse Race Betting Strategy (part 2)

Zenyatta - Greatest Filly of all time


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