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An inquiry by a racing fan has prompted me to review a nearly forgotten segment of my
handicapping portfolio - warmup assessment. Some longtime race goers rely on
warmups as an indicator of performance while others hold warmup assessment in much
lower regard.

Although I am in general agreement with the latter group, I am willing to admit that some
handicappers are able to develop a certain "knack" for clocking the warmups. Overall,
warmup assessment must be viewed as a double edged sword, benefiting some but
hindering the prospects of others.

One of the biggest drawbacks of warmup assessment is the definition of what
constitutes a "good warmup". Even those who rely on warmups for guidance have
trouble agreeing on a definitive procedure for rating them. Although it is normally
focused on speed, a favorable assessment in always the product of a subjective
process, so, a good warmup is in the eye of the beholder.

A major problem arises from this. The problem is that warmup assessment is difficult to
learn because there are as many different ways to rate warmups as there are people
rating them. Virtually the only way to develop the ability to successfully utilize warmups is
by a trial and error approach, finding out what works for you. Although for some this will
pay dividends, for most it will not. After many years at the racetrack, I know of only a few
handicappers who have been able to develop the "knack" I described earlier, and all of
them have varying approaches to rating warmups.

In light of this information, it is easy to understand why reliance on warmups for
selections is a risky proposition. However, some handicappers my be able to benefit by
using warmups as part of their overall handicapping process. With this in mind, I can
offer the following recommendations for rating the warmups.

1. Get to the track at least one hour before first post. The final and most important
warmup occurs about an hour before race time, so if you intend to clock warmups, you
must be at the track early.

2. Get acquainted with the warmup colors of the saddlecloths so you will be able to
identify each horse. There will be many horses warming up at the same time, so proper
identification can be difficult if you are not careful.

3. Have a program and a pen ready to take notes. It's hard to remember which horses
deserved added consideration for an impressive warmup, so mark your program

4. Get to know the warmup habits of as many horses as possible. This means becoming
familiar with horses that normally have fast warmups and those that do not. Horses are
creatures of habit and many will go through fast warmups then disappoint at race time,
especially speed horses with a tendency to weaken. Knowledge of these inclinations will
help you separate the pretenders from the contenders.

5. Put the most importance on the final warmup about one hour before post time. This is
the time that any advantage from observation will be gained.

6. Be wary of horses that blaze the final warmup. Unless they are classy types that will
be racing extremely fast, horses can leave their race on the track with an overly fast
warmup. This judgment between a sharp warmup and one that is overly fast can only
come with much experience.

7. Don't try to be a veterinarian. Too many fans are quick to eliminate horses that
appear "gimpy" or "have a hitch in their gait". A good number of horses will exhibit
symptoms of unsoundness at jogging or warmup speed but will race just fine when they
leave the gate. Besides, there is a track vet whose job it is to prevent unsound horses
from racing so it is best to leave that determination to her.

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