It Pays to Handicap for Off the Turf

18It is a classic dilemma faced by every horseplayer.

The weather forecast is questionable at best and you don’t have the time to devote to handicapping that turf race on tomorrow’s race card if it is, in fact, going to be switched tothe main track. If it does run over the main track, that will mean many scratches and having to start the handicapping process over again.

When I triage a race card, I flag this type of scenario as a low-priority race unless there was some factor that pointed towards a potential play.  This, then, begs the question: How do you handicap this race?

You have four options:

  • Handicap for the turf only.
  • Handicap for the dirt only.
  • Handicap for both turf and dirt.
  • Skip the race.

Besides skipping the race, the easiest option is to handicap the race for the turf.  You will know all the entrants, as well as the main-track-only (MTO) entrants and the also-eligible (AE) entrants.

Handicapping the race for the dirt is a little harder.

On Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, the fifth race at Monmouth Park (MTH) provided a great example of a race that I had figured for both turf and dirt.  Rain was forecast for Thursday, but, at first, didn’t seem to be significant enough to warrant the races switching to the main track.  However, the final rainfall totaled 0.8 inches, which exceeded initial forecasts.

In my initial assessment of this race, I felt it was going to be playable on the turf with a weak early pace scenario and a couple of decent off-the-pace runners.  I decided to also figure the race for the dirt and note which horses I felt would likely scratch if the race did come off the turf.


The first table shows my initial assessment for the race as it would run on the turf.  I have included my adjusted call times and my own Pace Based Rating (PBR).  The last column reflects my opinion of whether the horse would scratch if the race was run over the main track.

Before any additional handicapping, this analysis would point towards Teufles and Roses, Alex’s Party, and Scarfire based on the times and running styles.


The second table shows my assessment of the field if the race was run over the dirt, as wound up being the case.  I was close with my initial opinions of what horses would scratch, with the exceptions of Jazzy Ginger Belle, Afrikana, Scarfire, and Kellyesque.  None of these four horses figured to be much of a factor in my initial analysis, but it always pays to reevaluate your probable pace scenarios after the scratches and changes.

Pace Analysis of the Remaining Entrants


The strong presser horse of the field looks to improve upon a flat effort at Delaware two races back over a fast track after bobbling at the start.


She did show some early speed back in May at Gulfstream in a sprint race.  She figures to try for the lead here rather than come from off the pace, yet if she does elect to try to make a late run she will be short.


This six-year-old is still looking for her first win.  Two years ago, she showed every sign of being a habitual quitter.  That is unlikely to change.


She has shown nothing in her three starts.  That is unlikely to change here.


Over both the dirt and turf she has proven to be a one-dimensional front runner.  She holds no pace advantage over any other horse in this field will likely succumb to any pressure she faces.


I have eliminated the scratched horses to simplify the table.  This leaves me with a clear picture from this five horse field.   The trio of Alex’s Party, Double Portion, and Northern Eclipse all figure to duel on figures to be a non-factor in this race.


The resulting probable pace scenario had a high likelihood of occurring, given the remaining entrants’ running styles.  Just passing on a race knowing that you might need to refigure the entire race after the race came off of the turf can cost you a profitable play.  It pays to do a quick analysis of what horses may scratch if the race comes off the turf to see if there is a potential play.

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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