Joe Takach

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This week I received a very thought-provoking email from a client of my weekly SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSES TO WATCH in which he asked me “exactly how” I handicapped each race----and I do mean “exactly”!

Great question, because even though I do it day-in and day-out, I’ve never put it down in print before, so here goes.

I take note of days since the last race for each entrant and go back in my track programs to that specific day and look up all my paddock notes, trip notes and post-race notes and transfer them to my past performances.

If any of the entrants are on our MASTER NO-NO LIST in our SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSES TO WATCH weekly due to negative equipment such as barshoes, blowouts, stops, martingales, run-out-extension bits or are on our private SCHTW “vetlist”, they are tossed out with utter confidence from a “win” standpoint.  

Next I put up my speed and pace figures for all my remaining contenders who are capable of winning and have survived the “physicality” question.   These “prospects” are believed to be “racing sound” (at least they were when we last saw them in their most recent post-race exits).  In any given race I could end up with anywhere from 0 to 6 contenders depending on field size.

Stage 1 is completed for Race 1.

This repeats itself until I finish the entire card.  And yes, it is very laborious and time-consuming work.  I wish I had Santa’s helpers to do the gruntwork every day!  Unfortunately, I know that Santa has more time.

Stage 2 gets a little more up front and personal.

It is here where I try to separate my remaining contenders if I still have any for a specific race.  Quite often in the lowly 8 to 16K claiming races, I never even get to Stage 2, as every entrant in these bottom-feeding affairs is eliminated in my Stage 1 handicapping.

Assuming survivals, I look for “lone F” horses (lone frontrunners) who can control the pace from gate-to-wire. 

Simply put, there isn’t a better wager in our game-----at least in Southern California where running surfaces are sun-baked and rock-hard.   We all know by now or at least should know by now, that speed UNCHALLENED wins over any surface at any distance and wins with uncanny regularity depending on the speed-friendliness of your specific oval. 

If sunny Southern California is your circuit as it is mine, you are already aware that we wager on the same dry track every day or at least 95% of the time. This daily consistency is very conducive to a healthy and happy bankroll.  That’s why I moved here nearly 10 years ago.  Back East, I simply got tired of playing a different track everyday that was in some stage of drying out, or getting wet, or frozen, or more sand added, or less sand-----or whatever!  It is really a no-brainer!  Same is easy, constantly changing isn’t!

In Southern California, “the lone F” rules supreme, as we’ve been keeping running profiles in the SCHTW for Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood for over 10 years.  There simply isn’t a better wager in the “Southland” assuming that the lone frontrunner passes muster in the paddock and is warmed up properly!

If there is no “lone F”, the tough mind-work begins and I start looking for a “class” edge among the remaining possibilities.  Once in a while I’ll find a “pushbutton” class horse who might not necessarily be able to control the early fractions nor want to, but can easily close down on a hot contested pace.

If I have neither a “lone F” nor a “class standout”, the only remaining factor among equally-paced contenders would be the race-day physicality of each survivor.  Merely having excellent pace figures and implied pace match-ups simply isn’t enough.  If one of the anticipated pace match-ups comes into the paddock with ZERO energy and head low and bobbing, you can safely assume that he won’t carry his speed all the way to the wire.  His energy level and pre-race warm-up are the best barometers of his upcoming performance.

It almost goes without saying that any “paper” contenders who show up in the paddock with a new physical problem such as blowouts, stops, barshoes etc., are instant toss outs from a win standpoint. 

This completes my 2nd stage of handicapping. But even before I get to the track to check race day “physicality”, I do a 3rd pass over both my earlier handicapping and my race selections (if any).  I call it my “reality” check, because I’ve found that when I go over something 3 times, I rarely make “paper” mistakes. 

Maybe it is aging and/or my eyesight is beginning to fail me at 55 (I’m running out of  “powers” on my reading glasses!).   I somehow see things a bit differently on my 3rd pass.  Maybe I’m more relaxed because all the info is before me to include our true “insider” information collected by “yours truly” in our SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSES TO WATCH.

I ask myself a few questions about each remaining contender in each race under consideration for betting that day.  Some questions can’t be answered until a few races are run.

Am I asking a horse to do something he’s never done before against horses who have done it quite successfully in the recent past at today’s level?  If I am, I might be stretching my imagination and my selection had better look “absolutely flawless” in the paddock and pre-race.

Has the running bias changed in any way from the day before and the way I handicapped this race to be run today?  In other words, should I be fortunate enough to find a “lone F” in today’s 7th race, if nothing but off-the-pace runners have won races 1 thru 6, his goose is already cooked before the 7th race goes off----I’d have to be “brain dead” to bet him!

Along with that thinking by race 7, is my jockey “awake” today and aware of any running biases?  Is he (she) riding normally and not hindered from a mishap yesterday or today such as a spill or a banging around in the starting gate?  Is there any other reason I won’t get a “ride”, such as prohibitive odds on a betting stable horse, a bad pre-race warm-up, or severe body wetness at the starting gate?  Many questions, but they all must be answered!

That’s how I do it everyday-----lots of hard work, but the rewards make it all worth while!


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