The Nuances of Trip Handicapping

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By Dean Arnold

Summertime means LOTS of turf racing. And turf racing on most tracks means tight turns on courses inside the main track, so losing momentum and encountering traffic problems is bound to occur more frequently under these conditions. While this Spur is not only applicable to turf racing, it will certainly present plenty of these situations on the lawn over the next few months.

The subjective analysis of watching races and noting which horses got particularly good and bad trips is called trip handicapping. When a horse’s chances are compromised due to a poor ride or bad racing luck, it is noted so that the horse can be played next time out, hoping for better circumstances. Unfortunately for the trip handicapper, most obvious bad trips are noted in the past performances, discussed on pre-race seminar shows and touted by professional selection services. Therefore, the most obvious bad trips often lead to heavy betting action the next time out.  

How can wagering value be found through trip handicapping? Focus on certain types of bad trips that often go unnoticed by the racing public. Horses that get smoothly shuffled back through the pack around the far turn often fall into this category.

Saving ground is often critical to winning races. Jockeys that maneuver their horses to the inside early in the race will stay down on the rail trying to save ground until the stretch. This helps a horse preserve energy as well as take a shorter path to the finish line. The end result is a horse that hopefully has a stronger finishing kick and an inside path to the wire. 

Unfortunately, the attempt to get a rail trip will occasionally backfire as leaders tire and back up through the field. When this happens, horses that have a good inside position need to move. They suddenly find themselves trapped and unless there is room to their outside, they are forced to take up -- and back out -- to avoid clipping heels with the tiring traffic in front of them. With no choice but to slow down, they often end up backing all the way out of the pack, and then must swing wide and try to regain this lost ground. These horses seldom win, but the good news for trip handicappers is that their lost ground is often overlooked in the past performances.  

These rough trips are often mistaken for horses merely tiring late in the race. Unless the horse checks sharply before backing out of the pack, or makes a furious late rally, the bad trip usually gets few comments. Suppose a horse enters the far turn running third, just two lengths off the lead, then gets shuffled back to 10th, angles to the outside, then rallies past tiring horses to finish fifth. The horse will often get past performance comments like ‘tired’, ‘wide, mild rally’ or ‘passed tired ones.’ It may also get the comment ‘shuffled’, but even that comment rarely attracts much attention from the betting public. The next time out the horse might get a better trip, and will only look like a horse that was well-beaten last time out, yet the odds are often generous.

This situation occurs most often in route races with large fields, often on the turf. It is very hard for race callers and the result chart callers to catch all the moves of a large field as the frontrunners falter and plummet through the pack while late closers are making their moves through traffic. A horse tracking the pace that gets shuffled back is easily mistaken for a tiring horse that finishes off the board. Make your own notes and play them next time out at a price.

Requirements to Play Shuffled Horses:

- Trip handicapping is most effective when the bad trips are subtle enough to avoid lots of attention.

- Identify horses that were the victims of bad racing luck that saved ground early and got stuck behind tiring horses.

- If the bad trip gets no comments in the past performances, the price next time out will be much better than if the trouble attracts lots of attention.

- These situations occur most often in large fields of route races -- turf or dirt -- since a lot of position changes around the far turn make it difficult for the trouble to be easily detected.

Be sure to check out Dean Arnold's handicapping book, A Bettor Way, on sale now through Amazon.

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