How Can We Pick Winners?

'Dear Geno,' a member writes. 'My two buddies and I formed a small software company and recently moved to a house we share in Arcadia, CA. Our home is about 15 minutes from Hollywood Park Race Track. I know you enjoy gambling and hope you can provide us with some good strategy for winning at the horse races. If we come up with some winners, I'll even offer to upgrade your computer at no charge. Smiles, Don G., Arcadia, CA.'

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Don, bribery will get you everywhere.

When I first got married in 1968, my wife and I rented an apartment in Arcadia. We were about the same distance from the track and I spent many Saturdays there during my four-year stint as a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. I worked for City Editor Tom Caton, a crusty ex-bronco rider from Kansas City who could terrify a fledging young journalist with his criticism and threats. Caton was the best editor I ever worked for and I hated leaving the Her-Ex, as we called it, to go elsewhere.

Don asked me for some strategy to help him and his partners win at the race track. Here goes my best advice;

The horse that is going to win a race is in good condition and is running against other horses in his class. When you handicap a race, there are at least 10 things you should consider before deciding which horse to bet on. The number one factor is class, followed by the way the horse performed in its most recent races, followed by the record of the trainer.

The Daily Racing Form provides all the information you need to determine a horse's class. Go back through the horse's past races. If the animal has been winning at $15,000 claiming races and today is entered in a $25,000 claiming race, that could mean the horse is running out of his class. Unless a miracle happened or the horse is being fed some drug like Lasix (hopefully the drug is legal), it could be a good wager. But I would steer clear of such a horse and look to the others for my choice.

Most recent races. Look at the horse's last five or six races. If the thoroughbred finished seventh, sixth, seventh, first and fifth, lose interest in the animal fast. If the horse's record shows it finished second, third, fourth, second and first, your eyes should light up. This is a live horse worthy of your attention. It looks as though the horse is primed for a victory.

Don't ever overlook the record of the trainer. Any trainer who wins 15 percent of his starts or higher is going to be in that race from start to finish. Good trainers don't enter horses in races that are tougher than they are. They are very careful when they select a competition for their horses and they must not be ignored if you want to be a successful handicapper.

I know some horse handicappers who make their selections based on a horse's workouts. I can tell you from my past experiences at the track that most workouts are overrated.

If a horse works out at three furlongs in 34.2, that will cause some players' eyes to light up. My advice is to forget it. But if that same horse ran five furlongs in .59 seconds, that is a tip-off that the horse is in condition and ready to run.

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A six-furlong workout at 1:13 or better is also a good sign. A good workout at seven furlongs or a mile is a much better indicator of a horse's condition than short workouts.

If a horse has been running in $25,000 claiming races and the trainer suddenly drops the animal into a $15,000 race, that's a bad sign. It means the horse is hurting and the trainer is trying to get rid of it through a claim. While the horse may win the race because of its back class, it will run out of the money much more often and leave you holding losing pari-mutuel tickets.

Getting back to workouts, trainers are experts at hiding their horses' true workouts from the public. They will often show up at the track in the early morning hours when it is still dark and work out their horses. Sometimes they will disguise the identity of the horse in order to throw off other trainers as well as the betting public. They don't want a good horse claimed by a rival trainer and that .59 second workout for five furlongs just might be tempting enough to have that occur.

If you have handicapped a race and cannot decide between three horses. Consider early speed and weight. A horse that has blazing early speed against slower opposition is always a powerful choice.

As for weight, it doesn't mean much in a five or six-furlong race, but it can mean a lot when a horse carries six or eight pounds more than the others in a race over a mile. When you consider that a fifth of a second adds up to a length, it means even more.

Here are a few other meaningful tips. If a horse has been running on the turf and the trainer switches it to the dirt, that could be a good tipoff that the horse will run better. Turf to dirt means more early speed, while dirt to turf means nothing.

Also remember the jockeys when it comes to picking winners. The jockeys with the best records get the best horses, whether it's a maiden, claiming, allowance or stakes race. If your horse has a winning trainer as well as a winning jockey, you really are in the driver's seat and the results of the race should make you smile.

My final piece of advice for Don and his partners is to take a girl who likes horses to the track with you. Linda was my ex-wife's sister and she loved horses. While I was fussing over my Daily Racing Form, she would simply look at the horses, observe their body language, and choose one that usually ran better than my selection.

Good luck, Don. Enjoy your Southern California experience.

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