Horse racing handicapping factors for grass or dirt races are not always the same

Horse racing handicapping factors for grass or dirt races are not always the same

When we handicap horse racing, we use factors or attributes to rate the horses and estimate each runner’s chance of winning. Races held on dirt are often shaped differently than races held on grass. The first place to start evaluating the value of each handicap factor is to research your local course or the places you play. For example, the indoor turf course at Belmont plays differently than the Widener Turf course.

Playing horses with early speed on the inner turf course at Belmont makes sense because the front runners are doing well. Therefore, pace is one of the two main factors in the dynamics of the race. Speaking of race dynamics, race dynamics is what actually happens while the horses are in motion and the race is taking place. Pace is a way of assessing position and energy during the race.

Pace is important in all races, but those horses who can set good early fractions and have a little in the tank to finish the race are likely candidates to win on tracks like the infield and most dirt tracks. On other grass courts, the pace scenario, while important, is often much different. Slow early fractions and a relaxed pace lead to a furious charge late in the race. In these races, class and speed are more important.

Class horses win on turf when they appear to be beaten by a speedball. Cheap early speed takes up far more races on dirt than on grass, where heavier movement leads to fatigue late in the race. Some jockeys try to steal grass routes by overtaking so much that they can’t be caught, but this racing strategy rarely works. Once again, if you know how your turf course plays, you’ll have a better chance of spotting horses that fit the racing pattern.

Another sometimes overlooked angle is to have a list of manufacturers that produce winners at a particular track. The progeny of some sires seem to do well at certain courses and knowing which horses need special attention because of their sire is useful. In a dirt race handicap this may still be the case.

Dirt racing and speed go well together. Using only speed figures won’t keep you in the plus as a handicapper, but they do matter. Combining speed and pace is the best way to overcome the challenge of mastering the dynamics of the race on land. Class still matters, but if I could only use two of the three factors, class, speed and pace in a ground handicap, I would choose speed and pace.

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