Forensic Race Analysis

A huge horse racing fan, Jack Klugman played a forensic pathologist on "Quincy, M.E.," which aired from 1976 to 1983 on NBC.

A huge horse racing fan, Jack Klugman played a forensic pathologist on “Quincy, M.E.,” which aired from 1976 to 1983 on NBC.

They say that history is bound to repeat itself.  If you are not a winning horseplayer, chances are that if you don’t learn from each race you play, you will continue down the path of losing. The famous chemist Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” More often than not, when we do well as horseplayers we are quick to chalk it up to skill, yet when we do poor we are quick to say it is bad luck.

How can you tell if your results at the track are skill or luck?

I think back to one of my favorite series of HBO documentaries that debuted in the mid-1990s.  Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden was featured in a series called Autopsy in which he documented how post-mortem analysis caught killers in difficult cases, many of which he actually took part in.  While doing a post-mortem analysis on the results of horse race is not going to be as difficult as trying to catch the killer of Jon Benet Ramsey, evaluating the race after it has run has merit.

Winning horseplayers learn something from each race.  Each race has a different set of circumstances.  While it is difficult for the average horseplayer to log every runner and outcome into a database, there are many ways to extract useful information.  You can track meet-specific data and data that will provide you feedback on your handicapping.

Meet Specific Information

My Uncle Dutch kept notebooks on every Monmouth Park meet.  He tracked winners by post position, the running style of each race, the call times, and both jockey and trainer information.  While some of this information has become a fixture in most past performances, some of the information has not. Most past performances will list the trainer’s record with conditions such as first off of the claim, first or second start off of a layoff, a horse dropping in class, etc.  Most past performances provide a record of how the jockey and trainer perform together. Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances also provide some post position and running style data, both recent and for the meet.

I have several black and white marble composition pads dating back to 2000 for New Jersey racing meets (Garden State Park, Atlantic City Race Course, Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands).

When I keep a notebook about a meet, what post-race information do I look for?

I find downloading and printing the charts from Daily Racing Form, Brisnet, or Equibase and printing two to a page and then putting in a three ring binder is the best way to compile information.  This will allow you plenty of room to make notes about the trip or pace of the race.  Before all this information was on the web, I would clip the results charts out of the Newark Star Ledger and tape into a black and white marble composition pad.  I would track wins by post position for each distance as well as the running style that won the race.  I would log my winners into a matrix for key races, which is a topic I will discuss in a future article.  Since jockey and trainer data now appear in most past performances, the need to keep a notebook of this information like my Uncle Dutch is redundant.

Handicapping Feedback

I look at the half-mile times in sprints and the half-mile and three-quarter-mile times in routes.  Were these times faster or slower than expected?  Did the winner overcome the anticipated track bias or did he win as a result of it?

If you were figuring multiple pace scenarios, were you correct in your primary or secondary analysis?  If not, what signs did the winning horse show in their past performance that may have tipped off today’s performance?  Was your defeat due to a troubled trip that you could have never accounted?

Why did the winner win?  A great exercise for any horseplayer is to track the winner of each race and some factors that may have contributed to their win.  If you track enough of them, patterns will emerge.  For example, if you are tracking by class, distance, and surface, it is good to look at factors such as days since last race, moves in class, win percentage, ability to win at the distance or within a half of  furlong of today’s distance.  Track any factor of the winner that you can think of, it will give you an edge.

While many of us don’t have time to pour over race replays and come up with our own trip notes, we must rely on the notes assigned in the published charts.  Looking for comments that imply a troubled trip or a horse that excelled despite a trouble trip are positives. Perhaps your handicapping was sound but the trip of your horse wasn’t?  What were the changes to the winners, losers, and surprise runners in the race?  Were any of these as a result of negative or positive jockey changes?

If you are playing any spot or angle plays, you should be tracking the performance of these plays.  Has the winner run back to form that they have not shown in a while showing some sort of back class?

The winning horseplayer will find something positive to take away from reviewing the results of every race that they handicap. This is one of the differences between winning players and losing players.  Performing a post-mortem analysis on a race will only take a few minutes the next day, but will have long-lasting effects on your horse playing!

Ray Wallin
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.

Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.

Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.

Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at

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