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Before the digital era, handicapping thoroughbred horse racing was an art more than a science, a blend of past performances and gut intuition that could only be gained through years of observation and experience. Even with all of that dedication, few handicappers ever made a profit. For many people, the sport has not changed at all following the invention of the Internet. Others, however, have recognized the vast potential to be found in an online database with results from nearly every modern race ever run.
Horse racing statistics alone cannot be used to predict the outcome of a race. There are so many variables that affect finish order, including acts of random chance, that can rob a favorite and send a longshot to victory. The whole point of an odds system is that the same race, run one hundred times, will show many different results. Statistics are not a guarantee. Instead, they look at how similar races ended and, when integrated into a handicapping system, provide an odds-line based on historical evidence.
The questions that influence the efficacy of a handicapping program are which statistics to use, how many and from where. There are the big considerations, like how many maidens win their debut, and then there are the smaller ones, such as how closers are faring over Santa Anita’s new track surface. It’s best to have separate programs, each geared toward a different surface or track. Some of the most common statistics used are the win, place and show percentages of favorites, second favorites and so on; performances of horses rising or dropping in class; Lasix usage; individual trainers and jockeys; and pedigree performance. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of numbers to measure and catalog.
The hardest part of using horse racing stats in handicapping is gathering them and compiling them into an accurate program. Many online horse racing services have extensive archives, including past performances, but translating that information for your own use is a time-consuming process. This is why most profitable players focus on only a few tracks: They have a narrow enough scope to create a specific, functional model. It’s also why many handicappers choose to buy established software rather than create their own.
Don’t forget to give other handicapping considerations weight. A computer can’t know that a horse was badly blocked in its last race, but you can by doing your homework. Always double check before putting down money, and don’t bet the farm before you are seeing profitability. Even if you are managing a positive return on investment, keep experimenting and tweaking to improve your performance. With the right data and a well-crafted handicapping program, you can transform hundreds or even thousands of numbers into meaningful and profitable information.
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