Play the Ponies Like a Pro

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

If you've ever headed to the track, you've probably taken a look at the racing program—with its mountains of numbers and statistics on each horse—and decided to place your bets by choosing the horses with the funniest (or coolest … or toughest) names.

 

That's all well and good—and it’s fun—but you can use some of those numbers to pick real winners and not walk away from the races empty-handed. Here, Dick Jerardi, horse racing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and a handicapper for musclemorphosis.com , explains which parts of the Daily Racing Form are worth reading, and how to decipher the 114-year-old racing paper of record.

 

Coaches matter. In racing, the horse's trainer is like his coach, "and good trainers beat bad trainers all the time," Jerardi says. Fortunately, the DRF lists each trainer's winning percentage right next to his name.

 

What you're looking for:  "Anything over 20 is a good bet," Jerardi says.

 

Learn horse sabermetrics. Baseball has Billy Beane, and horse racing has Andrew Beyer, a racing writer for the Washington Post in the 1970s who made all those numbers in the program—the times of horses' previous performances—into sense: His Beyer Speed Figures, known simply as Beyer numbers, adjust horse's performances for the tracks and conditions they ran on. "It's like the difference between having the Wall Street Journal and just staring at stock tables," Jerardi says.

 

"When you're simply looking at the time figures, it could be like looking at the difference between a person running on concrete against a person running in sand," Jerardi says. "The Beyer number takes that into consideration. The higher the number, the faster the racer." Picking by the Beyer works, too: In the 2008 Preakness Stakes, race winner Big Brown had the highest Beyer, followed by Macho Again, who ran second. A $2 exacta bet on those horses paid $36.

 

What you're looking for: You'll have to buy the Daily Racing Form to see the Beyer, as it's not listed in most programs. They're listed in bold under the horse's past performances. Look at the most recent Beyer figures for the horses in the race, and use that to place your bet: The higher the number, the faster the horse.