In the past few months, I have gotten several e-mails from readers. And I have tried my best to answer every one of them, as well as incorporate some of the responses into articles. One recent e-mail asked what book I would recommend to a novice horseplayer.
After reading this e-mail in my home office, I turned to my bookcase and perused the titles on my shelf, which was populated by the works by Andy Beyer, William Quirin and James Quinn, along with lesser-known authors like Dave Vaccaro and Randy Giles.
I liken my take on most handicapping books to the corporate motto from BASF: “…we don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” I view every book in my bookcase as being valuable. I think that having an open mind regarding any book on handicapping will help you to take something away from that text that you can apply to your everyday handicapping. I also have found that by taking a published angle or method and either further refining or modifying it, has proven profitable.
Just like the scene in the movie “Office Space” where Michael Bolton responds to “the Bobs” about which Michael Bolton song is his favorite (“I guess I sort of like them all”), it is hard to pick just one book to recommend to someone getting into horse racing.
The first book I ever read after my misspent summer at Monmouth Park with my Uncle Dutch was the third edition of Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing by Tom Ainslie. Even after over 25 years, I still pull this classic off the shelf and flip through it from time to time. Many of the yellowing pages are still tabbed with Post-It notes from one of the many times I have read and re-read this classic book.
So what makes this a great book for novices? Mostly, it provides a solid foundation on many of the factors affecting the outcome a race. Much of the money management, sire, trainer and jockey information are no longer relevant given the age of the book. Despite that, there is still a lot of great, timeless information.
One area that is still relevant to today’s racing is the chapter on conformation. Many novices have no idea what to look for in a horse when they see one in the paddock or post parade. While nothing can replace seeing actual horses, Ainslie does provide the basics that you can go out to the track and try to identify for yourself, as well as defining some of the terms that the novice may not understand.
Other relevant chapters touch on topics such as form, class, pace and speed. Ainslie wrote this book before the introduction of Beyer Speed Figures to the Daily Racing Form and the other figures utilized by Brisnet and other providers, but the underlying principles on speed remain the same. His overview on pace is rather low-level compared to other books, yet it provides a good starting point for understanding different running types and how a race may set up. While race class conditions have evolved over the years, the basic discussion on consistency and horses being in the “right place” still has merit.
Novice horseplayers can also gain a lot of insights from the later chapters, where Ainslie lists “58 Plus Factors” and “60 Principles that Work.” In the past, I have flipped to these two chapters when I am stumped about why an angle I am tracking is not working and am looking for a reason or factor that may improve the results. As standalone principles or factors, they are not going to be profitable, but they do offer some solid ideas with an explanation on why these are positive factors.
In future articles I will discuss and review other handicapping publications that I have found useful, both for novices and veteran horseplayers.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of US Racing.