You start of the day with the best intentions. You are going to handicap the entire race card for Gulfstream Park tomorrow. You figure you can knock out a few races before work, a couple more during your lunch hour and, then, wrap up your handicapping before going to bed.
Unfortunately, your commute takes a little longer than usual; then, a conference call goes too long and eats up most of your lunch time; and, now, you are exhausted. Trying to get through that 11-race card for tomorrow has become a daunting task at 10 p.m. You start looking at the first couple of races and you don’t see anything worth playing. With your eyes getting heavy, you finally call it quits while nodding off three races into the card.
You download the charts the next day after the races are over and see how a few of the later races turned out and think to yourself: “If I had only had the time to look at the eighth race…”
Well, what you should have done was quickly triage the race card and focus on the races that are most likely to be in your wheelhouse.
Many years ago I was a firefighter. Among the endless hours of training that I received while rising from the rank of firefighter to captain was a class called “Rapid Triage Assessment.” The purpose of the class was to provide the skills required to rapidly assess the conditions of multiple victims at a mass casualty event so that treatment could be given to those who needed it most. Thankfully, I never needed to use this information while in the line of duty, but I have applied the same logic to how I approach my daily handicapping.
Many of us are part-time handicappers. We have day jobs that pay the mortgage and allow us the luxury of being able to bet on sports and the races. We have spouses, children or other family commitments that are of paramount importance in our lives. So, how do we maximize our betting opportunities without neglecting our personal obligations? Triage the race cards that we are planning to play that day!
How can we apply this to handicapping? Our initial size-up of a race can give us enough information to decide whether a race is potentially playable. Sparing you the full-day lecture, the Rapid Triage Assessment breaks down victims into four categories:
Some factors that play into the triage of the race:
- Does this race fall into your handicapping niche? For example, are you better with stakes races than maiden claiming races? Do you do better with turf sprints or dirt sprints? You know your own handicapping and, through record keeping (a topic for an upcoming article), you know where your strengths lie. The type of races you feel more confident handicapping will require more immediate action than those races you many not feel as positive about that can wait for later.
- Are there too many variables in the race that prevent you from making an informed decision or deciphering the probable pace scenario? Common negative variables may include too many horses trying something new today such as first time on the turf or first time stretching out to a new distance; too many horses coming back off of extended layoffs of 180 days or more; too many horses shipping in from other tracks, unless you have good par data to analyze these horses (another topic for a future article); or too many first-time starters. In a case such as too many first-time starters, consulting sire data may be time consuming and push this race to the “2-Medium Priority” or “3-Low Priority” categories.
- The inability to identify the “critical pace horse” (another future article topic) and clearly identify the pace scenario. Some races have horses that are difficult to quantify and will result in several potential pace scenarios. Whereas some races will present an obvious early speed horse or lone early speed horse, other races will leave you scratching your head as to how the race is likely to set up.
- The ability to identify a clear class advantage similar to the method described in one of my previous articles (The Devil is in the Details: Finding an Edge in Conditioned Claiming Races).
- Did you find a spot or angle play that may cause you to further analyze the race to see if it is playable, similar to the angle play I detailed in another previous article (Back Too Soon)?
An example of putting this theory into practice is shown in my assessment of the Gulfstream Park card from March 23, 2016. I was pressed for time between a long day of work and a night that included several family commitments.
Race 1: 5f Turf – MClm35000
Assessment: There are three first-time starters out of eight starters, but I traditionally do well with maiden claiming turf sprints. Given the time consuming pedigree analysis that is required on this one, I will come back to it if I have the time. 2-Medium Priority
Race 2: 6f Main Track – Clm30000n2L
Assessment: While I typically do well with claiming sprint races, this is a short field and I immediately see two weak early speed horses. I am willing to pass on this one for better opportunities, but may come back to it if I have the time. 3 –Low Priority
Race 3: 7.5f Turf – Clm16000n3L
Assessment: Turf claiming routes tend to be fairly confident plays for me, however seeing several horses trying a turf route for the first time will result in a lot of speculation and an unclear pace scenario which leads me to pass on this one. 4-Pass
Race 4: 5f Turf – MSW40k
Assessment: Another weakness for me is maiden special weight races over the turf. There are four first time starters and two starters that have never run on the grass out of seven turf entries which means there is a lot of volatility in this race. I am willing to pass on this one given the number of variables and time required to review pedigree data. 4-Pass
Race 5: 7f Main Track – MSW50k
Assessment: I do fairly well with dirt sprint maiden special weight races. This race has two first-time starters in eight entrants. This race will require some pedigree analysis and conjecture on the entrants with one or two running lines. 3-Low Priority
Race 6: 1mi Turf – Clm16000
Assessment: I do well with claiming routes over the turf and a quick scan of the nine entrants shows a few that can be immediately tossed based on current form This race warrants my attention since I should be able to come up with a pace scenario. 1 – High Priority
Race 7: 6f Main Track – MClm35000
Assessment: While I tend to do well with maiden claiming sprint races, this race has two of six entrants making their first start. This race is fairly volatile with the two first-time starters, plus two early speed horses dropping in class that show signs of being weak early speed without a solid stalker or closer. I am not confident that a solid pace scenario can be established here. 3-Low Priority
Race 8: 1mi Turf – Alw46000n3L
Assessment: I do well with turf allowance route races and all eight entrants show applicable running lines. This race will be appears to be easy to analyze for pace. 1-High Priority
Race 9: 5.5f Main Track – Clm6250
Assessment: Dirt claiming sprints have always been one my strengths. I immediately see a number of horses that are lacking form and can be tossed. The morning line favorite looks to be a weak early speed horse and there are horses here that look like they can either press the pace or stalk. This race falls right into my comfort zone. 1-High Priority
Race 10: 1mi Turf – Optional Claiming 75k (N1x / N2L / Clm75k)
Assessment: Another turf allowance route, however too many horses in this field are trying this distance and surface for the first time. There are several also eligible entries that could potentially impact the pace here if they draw into the field which will require pace reevaluation regardless of the initial handicapping. We’ll save this one for later. 3-Low Priority
Race 11: 7.5f Turf – Clm30000n2L
Assessment: A turf claiming route with most entrants showing usable running lines at the distance and over the same surface. A few horses can be immediately tossed based on recent form and the rest appear to be comparable so the pace scenario should be easy to figure. 2-Medium Priority
In summary, I dedicated my time to the “1-High Priority” races first. As time permitted, I worked through the “2-Medium Priority” races before then considering the “3-Low Priority” races. I passed on the “4-Pass” races since I was short on time, but under normal conditions would have gone back and looked at those races last if they were part of a pick-4 or other multi-race wager that I had been targeting.
Most of us are already short on time, especially when juggling the demands of a day job and family obligations. By being able to rapidly assess and triage the race card, you will hone in on the races that offer you the best betting opportunities based on your handicapping strengths. You will save time by tossing the races you know are not as likely to produce a play and you won’t miss races later since you ran out of time looking only at the first few races on the card.