Mar 20 2015

How Did They Do It? A Visual Handicapping Lesson

Gary Stevens and Beholder

Beholder and Gary Stevens. Photo by Alicia Hamm

Continuing on the theme of a prior article on “Visual Handicapping” we’re going to get into more details on questions raised there.  Click here to review the visual handicapping article, and learn more about the differences between visual handicapping and trip handicapping.

With visual handicapping, it’s always important to look beyond the raw numbers (i.e. Beyer Speed Figures, Pace Figures, Running Lines) in the Daily Racing Form and ask the question, “How did they do it?”

We raised some of these questions before, but we’ll ask them again:

  1. How much running did the horse do on their own?
  2. Was the jockey asking for an all out effort from the horse?
  3. Was the jockey riding the the horse confidently?

Video replays are your best source of information to answer these questions.  Not only can you watch the horse and the jockey for yourself, but you can listen closely to the descriptions used by the track announcer.  In a prior article about track announcer John Lies, he described his approach to announcing details, such as the jockey’s body language, the position of his hands, use of his whip, the position of the horse’s head and ears, how comfortably he’s running, and whether or not he’s fully extended.  All of this information can be used to answer the question, “How did they do it?”

As an example, let’s review two main contenders (Beholder and Royal Delta) in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff race, and watch each of their races that immediately preceded the Breeders’ Cup race.  First let’s watch Beholder in the Zenyatta Stakes on September 28, 2013.

Here are some of the comments Trevor Denman made about Beholder during the race:

  • “Has not been asked to run yet.”
  • “Gary Stevens is super confident, he hasn’t moved on her yet.”
  • “Gary Stevens barely moved on her. Couldn’t have been more impressive.”

Contrast these comments with the official trip note from the Daily Racing Form for Beholder in this race, “Inside, ridden out.”  The latter doesn’t give the handicapper much insight into the question of “How did she do it?”  In addition to this, the running line for her race showed her ahead by 3-lengths during the stretch, but winning by only 11/4 lengths at the finish.  A handicapper just looking at the numbers might wonder if Beholder was running out of gas at the end of the race.  But, after watching the video replay, and listening to Trevor’s comments, you know that was not the case.

Now, let’s contrast that prep race to the race Royal Delta ran leading up to the Breeder’s Cup, the Beldame Stakes on September 28, 2013.

The DRF comment reads “Pressed, led, 2nd best.” But, what kind of “2nd best?” After being headed, did she fight back? Was the jockey asking her for run down the stretch? After watching the video replay, my answer to these questions was “not really” and “yes, Mike Smith was urging her along until the final stages when she was clearly beaten.” If you’ve read my prior article on Royal Delta you know I’m a big fan of hers, but this didn’t look like the same horse I’d seen at Saratoga back in August.

So, based upon the visual handicapping evidence, which horse should you prefer in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff? And, factor in that Royal Delta went off as the 7-5 favorite, and Beholder was more than 5-2 at post time.  Here is the video race replay:

“With authority,” is how Larry Collmus described Beholder’s Breeders’ Cup victory.  And it sure looked similar to “How She Did It” in the Zenyatta Stakes.

Visual Handicapping takes extra time, but when you obtain answers to the “How Did They Do It?” question (especially when that information is not in the printed PPs) … this can be time well spent.


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By Neal Benoit

3 comments on “How Did They Do It? A Visual Handicapping Lesson

  1. Neal,

    Reading this post I guess you can say “The eyes don’t lie. Would you say video is a good way to affirm.or refute a chart call? Not being a horseman, I rely on the trainer to be accurate in his or her statements after a race about the track conditions and their horse’s effort. Sometimes I think the horses look tired coming down the stretch, but the trainer will say the horse was fit and it must be the track. Other times they say the horse came up empty. What do you do with these comments in those situations? Keep ’em? Toss ’em? Do you pay more attention to the next published work after a race? What other clues may help out? Thanks for the good work!

    • Generally I trust what I see more than what I hear or read, especially coming from a trainer. When watching replays, I’m always looking for information that does not appear in the PPs. Not necessarily to “refute” what the PPs says, but to augment it. The example here with Beholder demonstrates this so well. The comment in the PPs was correct, but not very useful. The video replay completed the story. The bottom line is this – it’s hard to gain an edge in this game, but the one place you can is watching replays, because the majority of horseplayers don’t take the time to do this extra step.

  2. Neal…another great Illustration. I’ve been using a lot of your theories and examples, combined with my way of Handicapping, and had one of the best days at Gulfstream Saturday, in quite some time. Thank you….Tony

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