all heard the handicapping terminology “unplayable race”,
but what makes a race unplayable and how can you identify them?
unplayable race is one where there are so many unknown
or unmeasureable variables, that predicting the outcome becomes nothing
more than guesswork. This is obviously in stark contrast to playable
races where arriving at a concrete conclusion is a result of properly
mixing known handicapping variables.
examples of unplayable races follow in no particular order, but by no
means is this brief writing intended to include every single unplayable
scenario known to man in the handicapping world---just some of the more
MANY 1st TIME STARTERS
see these maiden races every day! You’re presented up
to 12 horses in any given race, half of which have never started before.
Granted there are indicators such as morning drills, trainer ability,
named jockey, running surface preferences, distance preferences etc.
But face facts, we really know VERY LITTLE until we see
any horse in the “heat of battle”. Putting even 1 of these unraced
horses in any race can change everything!
Maybe a trainer just wants to see if his first-timer can get out of
the gate and “rocket” for 2 furlongs as a “prep” for an all-out effort
next time. If there are other speed horses in the field and this 2
furlong horse does in fact either set or press the pace, the whole race
shape changes and the outcome becomes more clouded. Put 2,3, 4 or
more “firsters” in this field and you add even more confusion with outcomes
expanded exponentially----an unplayable race if there ever was one!
like 1st time starters, we see shippers from other circuits
invade our tracks nearly every day. While they might be literal “monsters”
over their home court, when they go out of town, they
are often nothing more than also-rans. The problem for a handicapper
is that the shipper has never raced over today’s specific course (dirt
or turf) against those he’s facing this afternoon, so how could you
possibly predict the outcome unless the horse had a unique twist to
him such as he’s the “lone frontrunner”. Will the shipper win or alter
the outcome? Who really knows? The race could easily be viewed as
unplayable and most likely is, unless
you can toss out the shipper with utmost confidence.
faced with this on a daily basis. Horses switch distances with regularity.
Minimal changes from 6 to 6 ½ furlongs or from a mile to 1 1/16 miles
may or may not be meaningful and are usually “handicappable”. Most
unplayable races occur when the horse in question is asked to run past
his pedigree. If he’s only a miler, he’ll most likely “get” and possibly
win a 1 1/16 mile event if he’s a strong frontrunner and today’s surface
strongly favors speed. But to expect him to “get”
1 1/4 miles (regardless of running bias) is stretching your imagination.
MANY GOOD HORSES IN SAME RACE
should be our problem the rest of our lives, because sooner or later
we’d be able to separate talented runners once they had competed against
each other a few times. But when first confronted with this situation,
the race suddenly becomes unplayable even though we “feel”
we should be playing the race because how many times do we get the chance
to actually wager on good horses. As an example,
there might be a Grade 1 race at your track today containing 8 runners,
all of whom had won a Grade 1 race within the past 90 days-----way
too tough for me no matter what the past performances
look like. I’ll wait for softer spots.
almost seems hypocritical to complain about too many good or very evenly-matched
horses in any race given today’s skimpy fields. But when you gamble
and your long term goal is to turn a healthy profit, you should
only wager when YOU CAN SEE a distinct, positive, and profitable
edge with your selection!
MANY BAD HORSES IN ANY RACE
this is the reason that we pass most races! The bottom-feeding 8, 10,
12.5 and sometimes even 16K claiming fields in Southern California are
often indecipherable and unseparable in the past performances. It’s
hard enough trying to find the fastest horse in any field, sifting thru
the walking-wounded seeking the “least slow” is yet again
you find yourself spending too much time trying to unravel something
that most likely is unravelable, move that effort to a race where you
have an edge of some kind. This is not to say that once
in a while you can’t find a “nugget” when panning in the bottom-feeding
claiming ranks, but don’t hold your breath!
TAKEN OFF THE TURF
situation can prove frustrating to the most seasoned professional as
well as to the serious weekend warrior! Most of the time when races
are taken off the turf, the main oval is in some stage of wetness and
thus labeled as an off-track of some kind such as sloppy, muddy etc.
you handicapped a turf race for both the turf and
for a wet dirt track (usually coming up with 2 distinct choices and
scenarios), playing your turf selection if the
race is transferred to the wet dirt is one of the quickest
routes to financial ruination.
most cases, off-track breeding has very little
to do with turf breeding, though some people think they are different
sides of the same coin. Stay out of these races unless some strong
handicapping angle or a specific horse overwhelms you in the paddock
and pre-race warm-up. You’ll save MANY a bad bet!
recall as a young player that I usually lost the most money
on an off-track. The problem with living on the East coast or anywhere
else that gets rain every 3 or 4th day, is that you always
seem to be playing a dirt surface in some stage of
either getting wet or drying out.
doing so for over 30 years, I moved to sunny Southern California in
1993 to escape wetness and play a normal dry track for more than a day
or 2 a week. With the exception of the month of January and half of
February, rain is very scarce in the “Southland” for the remaining 10
and ½ months of the year. I can’t begin to tell you what that can do
for your overall handicapping and profitability when you’re playing
the same exact surface every single day!
brings us back to off-tracks.
is tough enough to pick winners on a dry and fast surface
where traction is at its maximum. The instant you add
water and a new factor to the handicapping equation, everything changes---sometimes
drastically and sometimes imperceptibly. But the bottom line here is
that change will occur that would not have occurred
had the surface been fast and dry. And there’s the problem. While
you might be an expert in off-track breeding, NOBODY
is an expert on slipping, sliding, bumping, taking mud in the face and
you must bet an off-track, at least cut your wagers in half!
PRICE TOO LOW
all been here and most likely will be here again in the very near future.
We love a horse, but he’s 3-5 or lower! What do we do?
first cry of most is to use the horse in the exotics.
One can only guess that they feel more comfortable with a 3-5 shot in
the exactas, trifectas etc., rationalizing that they’ll get more back
for their money.
3-5 is a 3-5 is a 3-5 whether you use him as a single in a pick 3, or
your lead off horse in a daily double, or your “key” horse in a trifecta.
These odds-on horses severely hamper healthy exotic payoffs!
get me wrong, there is a time and place for everything
in horse racing to include 3-5 shots. But if you’re taking 3-5, 4-5
and even money as a steady diet, you better be
picking 50% or more winners if planning on coming out ahead in the long
hardly exhausted the reasons why some races become or are unplayable----I
wasn’t trying to! The purpose of this writing was to get you thinking
about that race in front of you at this very moment.
there too many unknowns? Do you have too many questions still unanswered?
What was your initial “gut” feeling about this race when you first looked
at it? Does anything change with a paddock and pre-race warm-up inspection?
it time to PASS this race and save a bad bet?
this an UNPLAYABLE race?