Perhaps one of the most overlooked handicapping advantages available to horseplayers is the act of looking at horses that are scheduled to race. By turning a critical eye on possible contenders, horseplayers can unveil a number of clues to give themselves a potentially lucrative edge over players with their noses in the Daily Racing Form. There are several approaches. Some of the terms that fall into the category of “reading horses” including “physicality handicapping” and developing an understanding of “equine body language”. All these approaches involve looking at the horses to collect information.
Golden Gate Fields handicapper, Monty of Jack’s Blue Card is a handicapper renowned for his ability to read and remember important information about horses. Like other handicappers with this talent, Monty can remember horses in much the same way that other people remember faces. In describing his process, Monty said, “Going into it, I have an opinion of how I like to see a horse look. As a rule, I can remember what they looked like in the last race – if they’ve gained or lost weight, if they were hot, if they were excited in the paddock or were well behaved the whole time.” As confirmation of this ability, Monty can often call the scratches before they happen.
Handicapping Advantages From Reading Horses
Handicappers emphasize that the overall decision about which horse to select is a combination of several factors, including physical cues. Monty described his intuitive approach. “I basically just put [all the factors] into a pot and mix up my own formula and see what I come up with… Last week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, speed [at Golden Gate] probably won 80% of the races. On those days, you go down to the paddock mainly to look at the horses you think are going to have speed. Then you decide which one you thing is going to do best.”
For horseplayers, one of the key uses of visual data is for eliminating horses from consideration. Monty recounted this story from a recent race. “This past weekend there was a race that was strictly a two horse race. Both horses broke their maidens on the same day 3 weeks ago. Of the two horses, one of them looked outstanding and the other looked frail. It looked like he had lost weight from possibly fighting a bug. It was probably not a good thing for that horse to have raced. They are probably going to lose some time with that horse now. Anyway, the horse that looked sharp and good won by 4 to 5 lengths and the other one wasn’t even in the top 4. ”
Details to Notice
Depending on a handicapper’s emphasis, there are a number of details they will notice and consider. Those emphasizing equine body language, will look at the things like the position of the ears and the way the horse moves. This information helps them interpret a horse’s readiness and state of mind. But the physical information can also reveal health issues as well, Joe Takach, publisher of "Southern California Horses to Watch", offers readers a free series of 16 articles on adding physicality to your handicapping via the track feed. Among other things, he shows readers how they might miss information about front wraps on horses and when to watch out for them. Monty advises players with an interest in reading horses, “It’s a good idea to watch the horses warm up if you have an eye for it.” He uses an array of physical indicators in his handicapping. Indicators he named include the following:
Coat - It should have a nice shiny color. If the coat looks bad and the hair is turned the wrong way, it’s usually a negative.
Behavior – Well behaved horse will often perform better. Horses should not be sweating or overheating before the race. It can be an indicator that a horse is nervous or injured.
Fitness - Indicators of health such as muscle tone and, carrying the right amount of weight are positives.
Movement – If a horse looks like it is expending all of its energy before a race, it may not enough left to fully compete.
Developing the Ability
Although Monty describes himself as “self-taught” from being around horse all his life, he believes that he is improving and developing his skill over time. For players interested in learning the art of reading horses, reading Takach’s article series and books on horse body language can help. However, in contrast to other types of handicapping, there is no substitute for time spent around horses -- watching, studying, and looking for an edge.