What is the Best Way to Handicap Horse Races, Cumulative Ratings or Single Factors

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One thing that you will learn as you handicap horse races is that you need some kind of systematic method to succeed.  Just reading past performances and trying to pick a winner or exotic bet is a good way to waste a lot of money and wind up pretty confused.  In the process of learning how to handicap horse races I tried that method and quickly lost a lot of money.

You need a good reliable way to rate the runners so you can then compare them and the odds and come up with what I call a fair value bet.  A fair value bet is a bet that covers the probability of the horse winning.  IN other words, if you bet the horse ten times at those odds, it will win and return enough to get your money back and a little profit.

Making ten percent profit is no small feat when you’re handicapping horse races for a living.  You have to remember, you’re not only making that ten percent but also the vig and breakage.  You’re really making about thirty percent at one of the toughest games on the planet.  So it all starts with a good reliable way to rate the horses.  I’m not saying there’s only one way, but I do believe there is room for discussion about several methods.

First of all, some people try to find one single factor and hang their hopes on that.  The may bet the horse with the most class, early speed, or earnings in a race and hope that it wins.  Single factor handicapping can be effective if a runner has a big enough advantage.  On the other hand, a horse that stands out that much in any area will usually be bet down pretty severely.  It is hard to get fair value on such a prospect.

Then there is another angle.  Some handicappers use a cumulative score or rating to evaluate each runner.  Each factor that is included in the method is given a separate score and then they are added together.  Some factors may be given more weight so a multiplier might be used, but the end result is one number.  That number can then be compared to the odds board to find some value.

Knowing the spread and the winning probability can point out some good winners.  For instance, if your cumulative method gives a three digit score to each runner and you know that a ten point spread between the top horse and the next horse indicates the top horse has a 50% chance of winning the race, then you look to find a horse like that going off at better than even odds.

This method seems to be great at first look, but there are pitfalls. What if that abnormally high score and spread was caused by one factor that the horse has a huge advantage in, such as class?  There must be safeguards in the system to point out an unusually high number and that must also be compared to past results to see if horses with that kind of advantage in that factor alone did actually win 50% of the time.  When we encounter this situation, lo and behold, we’re right back to single factor handicapping.

I tend to lean toward cumulative handicapping methods but with the caveat that each pick must stand the test of being a fair choice based on the actual factors that it scored well on.  In other words, if it rated abnormally high in one area but not so well in others, you have to know if this horse really deserves to be considered a good bet and the only way to know is from past performances under the same conditions.