HANDICAPPING AT THE START OF A NEW
By Don Bielak
Now that Freehold has opened for it's Summer/Fall
meeting, it's time to consider some
of the problems that confront handicappers
at the beginning of a new meet. For a
couple of weeks from the opening, a few
adjustments to usual handicapping principles
can improve one's chances of success.
Here, then, are a few suggestions that may
prove useful in the opening weeks of the
new Freehold meet.
The central problem at the start of a new
meeting is that the most useful of handicapping
tools, namely form and class comparisons,
are extremely difficult to accurately achieve.
Horses that have remained in competition
during the summer months have been racing
at a number of tracks and these ovals
vary in size, surface and quality of competition.
Therefore, in any given race at the start
of a new meet, the entrants will often show lines
that make comparisons especially tough.
A little educated guesswork can make the
task a bit easier, however.
First, horses that have been competing
for the biggest purses will have a class
advantage over those that have raced for
less money, even if the class conditions are
the same. A NW2 race at Woodbine or the
Meadowlands will invariably attract stronger
horses than the same class will draw at
Yonkers or Pocono. By the same token, The
NW2 event at Yonkers or Pocono should
prove somewhat tougher than the same type
of race at Rosecroft or Monticello. Although
these comparisons hold true at any time of
the year, they can be especially useful
at the start of a new meet when there is little to
compare on a head-to-head basis.
In keeping with this purse-value theory,
form assessments should be adjusted, also. A
horse that has demonstrated mediocre form
when competing for higher purses can be
expected to show vast improvement against
competition that has shown relatively good
form in lower purse-value events. There
is normally a relationship between class
competition and form and this, too, can
prove useful in handicapping a new meet.
Also, a bit added consideration should
be given to speed horses. Freehold is a
speed-favoring track, so any horses that
have demonstrated good speed elsewhere
could have an advantage here.
Another approach that can help in identifying
winners is the "horse for a course" angle.
A good many horses with exceptional local
records may spring to life, regardless of their
form elsewhere, when they return to the
Freehold oval. Regular readers of this column
know that I recommend keeping notes and
those who have followed this advice stand to
benefit greatly in identifying these prospective
Finally, some thought should be given to
those horses that have been rested during the
summer break. While it may seem that fresher
horses would have and advantage,
caution should be exercised. Each individual
should be treated separately. A few horses
may be able to reach top condition through
training and, hopefully, will demonstrate this
in a qualifier. Still others will need
at least one race to reach top condition. At this point
a freshened horse may have an advantage
over those that have been racing for months
without a rest.
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