week I waxed poetic about the horsy experience of standing at the finish
line at Ruidoso Downs at the end of a Quarter Horse futurity or derby
trial, and how it’s one of those nostalgia-makers—like strolling through
the old shed rows at Saratoga on a misty morn’.
was one little factoid that I left out of that scene that has a lot
to do with my nostalgia: Quarter Horse futurity trials are
like having a key to the stinking bank. In addition to the equine
racing sounds I described, there is another one: the loud Ka-ching!
of money hitting the till.
to imagine handicapping a Thoroughbred route at Santa Anita in which:
jockey is rating
- Nobody’s “saving ground”
- A horse can be twelve-wide
and still have a clear shot
horse is running flat-out
is the primary determining factor
published Beyers to dilute the odds
Only a horse club-generated speed format that the public sees that
makes the old DRF figs look like high science.
not one hoser’s got decent speed figures or parallel speed (for comparing
speeds at different distances)—except you!
you live with that? Could you profit with that? I am actually giving
myself a public pep talk with this right now. My betting on Quarter
Horse racing has declined to almost nothing in the past decade, but
I’m up for it again now for one simple reason: I no longer have to
manually type in what I need to handicap them.
spent a lot of time at Quarter Horse tracks just about that long ago,
when I was writing Handicapping Speed. The reason was that Quarter
Horses are timed from a flat-footed, standing start; from the instant
the gates fly open, while Thoroughbreds are timed from a starting post
at varying distances down the track from the gate. This is a really
interesting fact if you are curious about finding out what happens in
the beginning of a Thoroughbred race, in the time you can’t know about—from
when the gates fly open until the first horse passes the starting post.
So with the permission of the stewards at Ruidoso, Sunland, Albuquerque,
and a few other places, I was down at the gates with a tape measure
and a roll of electrician’s tape, marking different distances from the
gates on the rail, where I stood with a digital stop watch, trying to
catch “incremental start-up times.” It made for a lot of cool graphs.
It also made for getting to know Quarter Horse racing pretty well.
But, since I was working on a book, doing backside interviews before
dawn, photographing and timing works, and trying to be a paparazzi during
the races to catch action shots, I had almost no time to handicap.
funny thing is that I distinctly remember being highly bummed that it
was on a futurity trial day when I found time to actually do a little
speed-figuring. There was absolutely nothing on the card that day at
Ruidoso Downs but cream-of-the crop Quarter Horse babies running 350
yards for $1,500 hay money. (Futurity trials are notoriously cheap.)
It looked boring on paper. Every race was 350 yards. Every
race fit on one small page of the western Form. Every past performance
was 350 yards. Every horse had one or two past performances (relatively
few had no PPs, since these 1200-pound babies run on a tight schedule
and have to get their prep races in quickly to remain qualified—and
learn how to stay on the track, another notorious thing about hyper
QH 2-year-olds). I was determined to do a little betting anyway, and
I quit interviewing and picture taking about noon. Back then I had
an incredibly expensive laptop with a 286 processor running DOS, and
a handwritten, BASIC language version of Speed Handicapper® (which also
ended up in the Speed book as a do-it-yourself project). So, I started
punching in times and finish positions with one hand, while I ate one
of R.D. Hubbard’s hamburgers with the other—which was so outrageously
expensive, you would have thought he cooked it himself.
days later, after no sleep from handicapping the pure excitement of
the most incredible run of my life at the windows, the trials ended
and I was in a black funk that it would not happen again for another
whole year. I had found the grunion run of handicapping! These little
$1,500 races just jumped up on the beach and all I needed was a bushel
basket. The irony was that you have no idea how expensive it is to
write a book. (One of the really laughable myths of horse racing is
that guys like me make more money from books than from handicapping—on
the contrary, I have to handicap to keep up my writing habit.) I was
virtually broke from buying the laptop and traveling to do research,
so my bets were small and my actual return was, pathetically, just about
enough to zero out expenses—but I will never forget the thrill of 34
of 36. These were not all Win bets, either—after a while I was like
the drunken mime who starts juggling blazing chain saws—I made some
stupid bets, but they made money anyway—variance was smiling
was too busy to make it the next year, and I have never really pounded
the Futurity Trials since—for one big fat reason. Quarter Horse
handicapping was incredibly inconvenient. I automated my Thoroughbred
handicapping shortly after that, and it simply wasn’t cost effective
for me to sit around for hours manually typing in final times for Quarter
Horses from the paper Form, when I could download Thoroughbred
past performances, click a few buttons and use the data however I wanted
in my own program. Quarter Horse data has been available for some time
through AXCIS TrackMaster (I swear, Ellis, I am working on it),
but it popped up by accident recently, just as I finished a Thoroughbred
“data module” for Thoroughbred Sports Network (TSN) data, so I finally
had the chance to quickly add Quarter Horse speed figures to an automated
program. The technicians at TSN were as surprised as I was to suddenly
find Quarter Horse information appearing in their data fields—the last
time I looked, they had not ironed out a few little things in their
own software for displaying the data, like 350 yards showing up as “1.59
furlongs,” but maybe they have by now. It didn’t matter for me because
I was using the raw data—and as an added bonus, we now have wind
velocity as well as direction—major factors in Quarter Horse speed
calculations. This is really something I’m itching to work during the
season, because the average effect of a headwind in a 400 or 440
yard race is over a length and, until now, there was no way to know
if “HW” meant a little 5 mph zephyr—or a 40 mph blast of dust and sticks
off a Ruidoso mountain thunderstorm. I can already see a lot of slop
in the recorded wind data, but it ought to be fun—and it almost surely
has to be profitable.
if you can’t actually get to one of the tracks, as I recommended last
week, you can check out Quarter Horse racing through simulcast feeds
from Los Alamitos, Ruidoso, or one of the other mixed-breed meets.
Then look into the on-line data sources, right now apparently limited
to TSN and AXCIS. Then—hone a few Quarter Horse handicapping
skills and stand by, with a large whicker basket, for the Quarter Horse
Futurity and Derby Trials—coming soon to a big screen near you.