July 22, 2024

Sports Enthusiast

Professional Sports Purveyors

Horse Racing Handicapping Factors for Turf or Dirt Races Are Not Always the Same

Horse Racing Handicapping Factors for Turf or Dirt Races Are Not Always the Same

When we handicap horse races we use factors or attributes to evaluate the horses and estimate each runner’s chance of winning. Races run on dirt often shape up differently than races that are run on turf. The first place to start estimating the value of each handicapping factor is to study your local track or the venues that you play. For instance, the inner turf course at Belmont plays differently than the Widener Turf Course.

Playing horses with early speed on the inner turf course at Belmont makes sense because the front runners fare well. Therefore, pace is one of the two top factors in the dynamics of the race. Speaking of racing dynamics, the dynamics of a race are what actually happens while the horses are in motion and the race is being run. Pace is a way of estimating position and energy during the contest.

Pace is important in all races, but those horses that can set good early fractions and have a little in the tank to finish the race are likely candidates to win on tracks such as the inner turf course and most dirt tracks. On other turf courses the pace scenario, while important, is often much different. Slow early fractions and a leisurely pace lead to a furious charge at the end of the race. In those races class and speed are more important.

Class horses win on turf when it appears they are overmatched by a speed ball. Cheap early speed steals many more races on the dirt than on turf where heavier going leads to fatigue late in the race. Some jockeys do try to steal turf routes by getting so far ahead they can’t be caught, but that racing strategy rarely works. Once again, if you know how your turf course plays you’ll have a better chance of spotting horses that fit the race model.

Another sometimes overlooked angle is to have a list of sires who produce winners on a particular track. The progeny of some sires seem to do well on certain courses and knowing which horses should get special consideration due to their sire is helpful. When handicapping dirt races that may still be the case.

Dirt races and speed go together well. Using speed figures alone won’t keep you in the black as a handicapper, but they do matter. Combining speed and pace is the best way to overcome the challenge of mastering race dynamics on dirt. Class still matters, but if I could only use two of the three factors, class, speed, and pace when handicapping on dirt, I’d choose speed and pace.