Book Review: ‘The Skeptical Handicapper’ is a Must-Read for Serious Horseplayers

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Barry Meadow (photo via TR Publishing).

Barry Meadow (photo via TR Publishing).

If you consider yourself a thoroughbred handicapper and a reader, there is a new title available that would be a valuable addition to your bookshelf.

Author and long-time professional horseplayer, Barry Meadow, has written, in my opinion, the best and most comprehensive book on thoroughbred handicapping in recent memory — maybe ever — with his new release, The Skeptical Handicapper: Using Data and Brains to Win at the Racetrack.

As Meadow says, “It is crucial to differentiate between truth and opinions.” This book is Meadow’s way of seeking truth through the analysis of real statistics from real race results.

If there was ever a “right man for the job” to write this book, it is Barry Meadow. He has been a respected handicapper for decades and is the author of multiple books on money management at the track, such as Money Secrets at the Racetrack; Secrets of the Pick 6, Players Guide to Nevada Racebooks; and, Blackjack Autumn. You also might know him through his near decade of work on award-winning newsletter, Meadow’s Racing Monthly, or his 14-year column in American Turf Monthly magazine.

The Skeptical Handicapper is 430 pages of pure statistics and information that any horseplayer and handicapper would find valuable. Meadow guides the reader through meaningful statistics gathered from four full years of actual race results—168,000 races in all—and arrives at fact-based conclusions, not hasty opinions, that help horseplayers win.

The book is broken down into five sections: Class, or finding the level at which a horse can compete with success; Condition, otherwise known as form, including speed figures; Circumstances, such as track, surface, distance, pace, etc.; Connections, the jockeys and trainers; and, Mentality, otherwise known as the psychology of winning. It is this final area that Meadow says is drastically underwritten about in handicapping books—addressing the areas of goals, attitude, planning, stress management, and luck.

Meadow states that his book is not only dedicated to the facts, but also to the interpretation of the facts. It is in this arena that The Skeptical Handicapper is unrivaled. The book also does a tremendous job of examining the variables.

There is more than one way to go about playing the races, Meadow acknowledges. Handicapping is often oversimplified. Meadow does not oversimplify. Instead, he delves into the endless number of variables involves with every nugget of information he presents.

The main premise of Meadow’s advice is this: Winning at the races is not just about handicapping, it is about handicapping and betting correctly. You are not just asking yourself which horse is the most likely to win the race, you are really looking for the horse(s) that are going to be under-bet.

You need to be a contrarian to beat the races. You need to figure out when the public is wrong (the odds), and bet when you have the edge. You need to “allocate your time and money to races where your opinion differs from the crowd’s.”

It’s not all about beating favorites. A favorite can be a bargain at 6-5, if his real chances of winning are closer to 3-5.

Meadow advocates that “you’re going to succeed by predicting change – improvement for longshots, declines for favorites – not by going to the obvious.” Again, it’s about being a contrarian. Your challenges as a player are exploiting discrepancies in the odds, identifying over-bet and under-bet horses, and then using what you know and learn to bet successfully.  If you are not doing those things correctly now, perhaps you will be doing them better after reading this book.

Meadow is not a fan of angles, stating that “Even though angles may be useful, more useful is knowing when an angle can help you. Racing is a complex game. Angles can help, [but] blindly following angles won’t make you money in the long run.”

Nevertheless, the information in the book leads you onto so many good angles through statistics.

For example, did you know first-time starters (and second starters) win much more often without blinkers than with them?

Did you know that you can hit the winner of 20-21% of all maiden races just by finding the horse who has run the fastest first quarter-mile so far in its career, with no other handicapping needed at all?

Meadow is also fan of the QWSR designation – a quality work since last raced – and references it throughout many sections of the book.

You can invest in a system or new software program designed to pick winners, but you probably are not going to attain steady profits betting the races without good statistical data and the ability to analyze it correctly.

Ultimately, The Skeptical Handicapper will give you hours of entertainment, and leave you armed with strategies and mindset you can use to become a better handicapper and more successful bettor. This is a highly-recommended, must-read book for anyone who calls themselves a horse race handicapper.

To order, you can go to www.trpublishing.com for information, or email the author directly at barry@trpublishing.com, or call 805-712-5060.  Copies direct from the publisher are autographed and cost $37.99 including shipping.

Noel Michaels
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.

He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.

In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.

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