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Finding False Favorites
Let's get into the general horse handicapping factors that will point out weakness in an over-bet crowd favorite. I'll group these factors under five headings:
The ability of the trainer
The ability of the jockey
The ability of the horse
The current form of the horse
The obvious first "look" is to see if the trainer has any ability!
Trainers whose horses win at an over-all percentage of 6% or less are prime go-against candidates. Winning across all odds at these low rates (assuming he has sent out runners in at least 20 races) means a bettor would really need about 14 or 15-1 on these guy's horses in order to consider it a fair bet. How poor a wager then if his horse is going favored!
Don't use the horse handicapping factors in this article in isolation - any trainer can send out a horse capable of winning a given race - but let's set these low % trainers' runners aside as potential "false favorites."
Also, a trainer with more average looking over-all win figures - say 10-12% - can still be very weak in certain areas: turf races, 1st after a claim, 1st time starters, 1st after a lay-off, etc.. You should look further into the trainers records - past just his cumulative totals.
I don't put as much emphasis here unless the jock is one of those so-called "no win" types at the circuit. If his or her record is extremely poor - say 4% or less (over 50 races), then yes - I'll demote any horse ridden by that jock.
This handicapping category should, of course, get the most scrutiny. The BIG question you ask yourself is always: Can this horse be expected to compete well enough to deserve favoritism in today's race?
Very often the answer is "no" - from a resounding, "no way in hell" - to a not so sure "probably not."
What should you look for in order to deftly place the horse somewhere in that range?
First - its par times / ability times / power, or pace ratings / etc.
If you use a computer program to crunch raw data into some type of final rating - and you have chosen a good and representative race from which to enter the data (that is, you've avoided the "garbage in - garbage out" problem) then any favorite that rates poorly in those numbers should be considered as a potentially weak favorite.
When a horse has shown that it can't or won't run to the pars, or pace demands of today's race - how could it possibly be considered for favoritism?
A response might be, "But what if they're all a bunch of nags and none of 'em can run?"
Okay - then you have what's been termed a "chaos" race - hard to figure, hard to handicap, and hard to predict. In that kind of race where every runner is weak, the favorite becomes a solid bet-against candidate if:
A horse may have the potential ability, or back class to be able to trounce today's field - IF - it is at the point in its condition cycle that will allow a top performance.
Again, this is often not the case, yet maybe because it is a "high profile" horse with a top jock or trainer, and it has some sparkling performances in past races, it will go favored today regardless of its readiness.
A lot has been written and discussed - and used and abused - when it comes to identifying, and getting a handle on a horses' current form. Formerly, any kind of layoff of over a month for cheap to mid-level claimers was looked at in a negative way.
Racing has changed.
Horses can and are being given longer breaks away from racing - then coming back fresh and in condition to run well. William Scott published a couple of handicapping books in the early 80's that put forth some pretty good guidelines that still hold (more-or-less) today.
Here's a gross simplification of his extensive research . . .
A favorite (or any other horse) can be coming off a layoff - even one as long as 6 months - and still be legitimate if it has worked 5 furlongs within the last 14 days.