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Monday, September 10, 2007

Handicapping From the Bottom Up

- We learned over the weekend that Tom Ainslie recently died at the age of 89. His Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing is the first handicapping book I remember reading, and I'm sure the same is true for many of you. Andy Beyer told the Form:

"He was the first person to really write literately and intelligently about handicapping, and he showed the publishing world that there was a market for thoughtful books on the subject."
I had already learned the basics when I first read the book, so I'm not going to say I learned everything I know from it. Some of his principles I've incorporated into my handicapping to this day; probably many more than I now realize after all this time. A couple I specifically recall are looking for a workout of at least five furlongs in the last seven days for horses coming off a layoff; and the last race easy, previous race good factor.

It was Ainslie who introduced to me the idea of watching the win pool in relation to the place and show pools (I only watch the latter); over the years, that has proven to be certainly the most consistent way in which I've successfully identified live horses on the tote. And it was also he that prompted what was the most significant change in my approach to handicapping in my not-so-illustrious horseplaying career.

And that was to handicap from the bottom up. I used to look at the most recent race first and then go down towards the oldest ones. I don't believe he wrote about this in the Complete Guide, but I distinctly remember that it was Ainslie who convinced me to start with the most long-ago race and move forward. That way, he said, you get a sense of the history and progression of the horse and obtain a better perspective with which to attempt to project what it will do today. It was such a simple and logical suggestion, but a totally radical change from what I was used to. It took some getting used to, but since reading that I have never handicapped a horse any other way. Now it's only right and natural; when I'm really focused I try to put myself in the owner/trainer's head, follow the logic of the horse's placement in each successive race, and try and figure out what they have in mind for the current one. Do you guys all handicap this way?

- EZ Warrior and Tiz Wonderful turn up in the More Than Ready stakes for three-year olds at Belmont on Wednesday. Baffert's colt has had a tough return to the races this year. Yes, he's had trouble at the start both times, but it seems as if he's been placed extremely ambitiously (but was nonetheless made the 7-2 favorite against older horses in the G1 Crosby). Though he finds a softer spot, he stretches out to a mile. Not sure what they've had in mind with him this year to be honest. Tiz Wonderful also returned in an impossible spot, and was actually 9-2 against Street Sense in the Jim Dandy. (Well, he did show a win against Any Given Saturday in his last race at two.) He checked out after being wide both turns, and should acquit himself better on Wednesday. Not much of a betting race, but an interesting matchup between two horses trying to recapture their juvenile form.

2 Comments:

Pete from Gowanus said...

That's a great point about bottom up capping. Made me realize something interesting: when I'm in a hurry I tend to look at the last race and go back and when I have time, I try and do exactly what you said -- look back in time and try and think like a horseman. It's amazing the patterns that emerge and how much better you learn and pay attention when you do it that way. . .

Anonymous said...

Dittos on Tom Ainslie, his was also my first serious tome on handicapping thoroughbred races, being first published in 1967 or '68, as I recall, very shortly after I began my racetrack "career". I think it is fair to say that Ainslie was the inspiration of the baby boom generation of horseplayers. For me, it was Ainslie who first identified most of the key factors needed to be addressed in order to predict the winner of a race, including the arcane world of pace handicapping. Then he showed the reader how to approach all of these key determinants in an orderly, analytical way. He was a very skilled writer, easy to read and digest, and inspired many a budding horseplayer and racing fan of that pre-exotic betting era. Thanks for the help, Tom, R.I.P. /S/Green Mtn Punter