Why Is Horse Racing Handicapping So Difficult?

Santo Ae

If you’ve ever seriously tried to make a profit betting on horses, you’ve probably discovered that handicapping horse races is hard to do if you really want to make money. You may have asked yourself why it’s so hard when it seems that it is so easy when you first start. It appears that all you have to do is gather your information, and there’s plenty of it out there, then just find the best horse or horses and bet on them, right?

Horse racing handicapping depends on good information. Using past performances, speed graphs, sire statistics, jockey statistics, trainer statistics, track models is how you determine which horse is the best. But even with all that information, or perhaps because there’s so much information, it is extremely difficult to make a profit. Of course, there’s the problem of over coming the vig, but we’ll save that rant for another horse racing article.

Statistics can tell us a lot of things and it seems that just putting them together should lead to winners. For instance, the winner of 70% of the races is one of the top three horses with the fastest speed rating in its last race. About 70% of the winners of horse races is one of the top 3 horses in the morning line. Approximately 70% of winners are horses who are carrying the same weight or less. The statistics go on and on.

Then why not just combined those statistics and apply them as filters to find the logical contenders? For instance, if you use the three stats I just pointed out and looked for horses that qualified for all three conditions, wouldn’t that lead to some high probability bets? Sorry to disappoint you, but even though it seems so logical, the answer is, “no.”

How can that be? The problem is that there is more to finding good bets than putting together a few statistics. For instance, there is the margin to be considered. While the winner may be among the top three in the morning line about 70% of the time, what if the margin between the top horse is 1-1 to 3-1? What if the margin between the top two horses is 2-1 to 5-2? There is a big difference there and we wouldn’t expect the horse at 1-1 in the morning line to have the same chance of winning as the 2-1 horse in another race.

Therefore, we have to start weighting factors based on ratios and it gets complicated. If the margin is too great, then that may skew our stats. What if a horse has the fastest speed figure in its last race but isn’t in the top three in the morning line? It can happen. It would not qualify to be contender if our selections were based on all three stats. Would you want to leave such a horse out of your considerations?

Our next problem in horse racing handicapping is that not all races, distances, genders, ages are subject to the same filters. Track models for different ages and distances point to much different running styles for winners so it becomes important to adjust our filters according to all of those considerations. Is it any wonder that computer programs with their ability to handle many factors still can’t show us a profit?

Those are just some of the reasons that picking winners at the horse races is so difficult and why people who love an intellectual challenge enjoy it so much. Can anyone make a profit at the track? Yes, but as I’ve just pointed out, it isn’t easy.

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