Horse Racing: Articles - Terminology - How to Bet - Home
How to pick winners in Horse Racing, Horse Handicapping 101
Picking winners in horse racing is known as handicapping. It is the art of selecting winners, using all the information and statistics available. It is more of an art or skill as opposed to a science.

This tutorial should help you become a better handicapper or race picker. Here we highlight some important factors to use when selecting winners and hopefully help you become more successful in picking winners!!
Factor #1 Track/Course, Post Position & Distance Factors

Has he/she run well previously at today's distance?
is the horse proven at the distance or is he/she untested, a decent winning percentage at today's distance is a major plus

Does he/she handle this track/racing surface?
does the horse like this racetrack, does the horse handle turf, dirt, synthetic etc.

what is my horse's post position like?
sprint races around one turn usually favor outside posts, while route races (2 turn races) at longer distances often favor inside post positions

Is the horse shipping in to run today?
horses shipping in to run (coming from other tracks) are usually trying harder to win as there is an added expense to ship a horse to a race

Is the horse changing distances today?
many good price winners are changing distances, pay attention to changes in distance. front runners that are shortening up in distance and closers that are stretching out are factors to pay attention to

*mto (main track only) only applies to races coming off the turf and changing to the main track
some horses are entered in the hopes the race will come off the turf, usually in cases of rain. these horses are specifically looking to run only if the race comes off the turf. so naturally many of these horses are off track (wet track) specialists. look for these runners to perform well if the race comes off the turf.

Factor #2 Starts & Layoff Factors

How long has the horse been off (time between races)?
a 30-60 day break for a racehorse is about right between races. horses that have been off for more than 90 days may need a race to tighten up (get to peak fitness). horses that have been off for more than 180 days (6 months) rarely perform well. if a horse has been off for more than 45 days and runs well, he/she may be tightened up perfectly for the next run.

How many starts has the horse had this year? last 2 years?
horses that are over raced rarely win. look for horses with a combined total of less than 13 starts over the last 2 years. most horses can only handle so many starts. again i prefer lightly raced horses that could be peaking, as opposed to ones that have been beaten up in many races.
Factor #3 Odds Factors

what are the morning line odds?
most horses that win are less than 20-1 morning line. horses with high morning line odds rarely win. surprisingly many good priced winners go off as overlays, meaning they go off at higher than posted morning line odds.

was this horse a beaten favorite in last 3 starts?
horses that were in the betting recently and did not win, often times come back and perform well in their next few races. pay attention to horses that were recent beaten favorites.

is this horse constantly over bet?
some horses are constantly favored, look elsewhere for value as you know this one won't be any value

was the horse between 2-1 & 6-1 odds in last start?
horses in this range show that they took money in their last start and possibly should have performed better. many winners go off in this betting range.

is the favorite beatable?
if you can find reasons not to like the favorite then this may be a worthwhile betting race

has the horse won at high odds in the past?
horses that win at high odds, tend to be repeat winners at high odds. so pay attention to horses that have won previously at a price.

Factor #4 Speed & Workouts Factors

has the horse shown early speed in recent races?
horses that show early speed in recent races can be a sign that they are close to winning, horses up close to the pace often win or finish in the money

did the horse show early speed and fail in last, now cuts back in distance?
a horse that shows good early speed and weakens late, could have a better chance next time out. especially if he/she now cuts back in distance

did the horse come out of an extremely fast race?
horse that run well in an extremely fast time, often perform well in their next run

does the horse have fast workouts?
workouts can often times be a sign of fitness, look for a bullet work before a race to show that the horse is ready

did the horse close from very far back to win last time?
horses that close from far back and win are rarely able to duplicate this effort in their next start. it is exceedingly difficult for a horse to keep closing from far back and win again

Factor #5 Jockey / Trainer Factors

does the trainer have a solid win %?
trainers that win, usually continue winning. while losers continue losing, it's really that simple

does the trainer have multiple horses entered?
this is usually a good sign, when a trainer has more than one horse entered in a single race, he/she is often looking to win it

is the horse changing trainers?
horses that change barns after a claim or private sale usually want to win right away with their new horse. pay attention to barn changes/trainer changes.

has the jockey won previously on this same horse?
certain jockeys fit well with certain horses, look for a horse that is ridden by a jockey who has won previously on that horse

did the jockey have a choice of mounts?
if a jockey had several possible mounts in a race and chose a particular runner. then most likely he/she thinks that horse has the best chance of winning, most often back that runner

is the same jockey back on today after not winning in last?
often times it takes a race to get a feel for a horse, look for horses where a jockey made his first start on that runner and lost, now returning to ride a 2nd time. they will most likely try even harder that 2nd start

is the trainer or jockey hot right now?
it's always good to have a hot trainer or jockey involved with your horse

Factor #6 Comment Line Factor

did the horse have trouble in his/her last race?
look for horses that broke slowly, missed the break, were fractious in the gate, bobbled at the break etc. these horses may have underperformed last out because of trouble early. they may do better today.

did the horse have to race wide?
obviously the shortest way around the track is the inside. horses that were hung wide, especially 3 wide or better during the race, lost ground. they may have had to work extra hard and therefore a 3rd or a 4th place finish while hung wide may be better than it looks on paper.

Factor #7 Equipment, Medication, Weight, Age & Sex Factor

is the horse adding medication today, like salix?
horses first time medicated with the anti-bleeding medication salix deserve a second look.

is the horse changing equipment?
adding or removing blinkers, adding or removing front bandages are all things to look at

is the horse picking up or dropping weight today?
if a horse drops 5pds or more from the last start i take that as a positive, if he picks up more than 5pds then i consider that a negative. look for horses that are getting in extremely light, 114pds or under is ideal.

how old is the horse?
younger is usually better than older. look for horses that are 6yo (years old) and younger. 7yo and up are more likely at the end of their career than the peak.

is a filly/mare running against the boys?
if a trainer thinks that a filly/mare is good enough to run against the boys than you better take a look at her. you might even get a decent price.
Factor #8 Class Factors

is the horse moving up in class after a good finish or a win?
look for horses moving up in class after winning efforts or strong placings

is the horse dropping in class?
horses dropping in class are now facing easier runners. horses dropping in class have to be considered seriously.

is the horse making his/her first start in claiming?
horses moving from allowance or stakes to claiming need to be considered.

Factor #9 Form Factors

did the horse run in a large field of 12 or more horses and perform well recently?
look for horses that can run well in big fields, even a 3rd or 4th place finish in a big field can be a sign of strength. he/she could be soon rounding into form

is the horse coming off of a high beyer in its last start?
this can be a negative sign, horses that run an exceptionally high beyer for them can be a potential "bounce" horse next time out. this means that they will be unlikely to repeat another high beyer in their next start. horses peak and then decline usually, this may represent a top in his/her recent form

does he/she have a win in 1 of their last 3 starts?
horses that have won recently usually tend to win again. they only stay in form for so long, look for horses that have won recently to keep winning.

does the horse have a lifetime win % of 20% or higher?
i like to bet horses that show they can win. avoid betting runners that seldom win or have very low win %.

Factor #10 Late factors, at the gate.

horse thrashing about wildly in the gate. horse breaking through the gate before start, having to be reloaded.

These are all negative situations for your horse to be involved in. If possible, considering cancelling your bet in these situations, or at least reducing your wager.

Another negative sight for me, is a horse being vetted at the gate. This means the vet is taking a look at the horse for some reason. The vet usually quickly looks over the horse and many times it is passed fit to run. However, in my experience this is a very negative sign before a race.

Of course there are other factors we have not touched on that can be used for selecting winning horses, try creating your own factors or ideas for picking winners, that is the fun of this game!! Run Horse Run! by Kerry Zangara
Looking for more great horse racing content like this, try our 2 Minute Tips series. Where we focus on a short 2 minute video about handicapping.