Sticking With An Overachiever

By Dean Arnold

Handicapping logic dictates that in any given race, you need to analyze the entrants in comparison to one another. But sometimes it is easier to stick with a horse you know than to try and figure out the particulars of a given race.

It is often hard to stick with a single horse through thick and thin and expect to make money at the windows. If the horse strings together a win streak, it will generally offer dwindling odds. And if the horse is inconsistent, it is hard to lose, wait for weeks, and bet the horse again. But if you can catch a predictable over-achiever early on in his or her career, you have a pattern that you can follow for a horse’s entire journey.

Beyond the obvious phenoms like Zenyatta, Cigar, or Personal Ensign, there is another group of rare horses that win frequently enough to beg serious attention. When well placed at competitive levels, a seasoned racehorse can string together a high percentage of wins. Any horse that can manage to win one out of five starts (20%) is a consistent sort. The rare competitor that can win one out of three starts (33%) deserves exceptional status. Plus their two losing efforts (on average) can mask their ability to win and result in higher-than-deserved odds.

No doubt it is very difficult to measure a horse’s will to win. But for wagering purposes, consistent victory is preferable to consistently finishing close to the winner. It is almost irrelevant how poorly a horse runs when losing as long as it can return to the winners circle over a sizable number of outings. A good benchmark is at least eight outings over a one-year period. However, this is not a rule etched in stone. Many horses are able to consistently win over a lengthy career despite racing infrequently.

And the question of value is sure to arise when planning to invest in horses that make a habit of winning. A horse that wins one race in three must average a $6.00 win mutuel just to break even.

The betting public usually prefers to play runners from top connections. Good recent form or not, certain horses are ignored by the betting public simply because today’s contenders look stronger in comparison. Nevertheless, horses that know how to find the winners circle often out-gain seemingly speedier opponents. Remember, price horses can come in many forms. Some win off layoffs over and over again. Others race often and manage to be in contention every time, even when they appear overmatched. Find a horse that can consistently outperform its longshot odds, and you can consistently set up worthwhile exotic opportunities as well as value plays in the win pool.

Just as important as spotting overachievers, it is critical to play against underachievers. This column has previously written at length about avoiding horses that are chronic losers. These horses are among the most tempting yet least profitable plays at the track. Many racehorses tend to ‘hang’, meaning they do not pass rivals in the stretch and run second or third over and over again. So despite having the fitness to finish close to the winner, such horses are a group to bet against with enthusiasm. Another plus is these money-burners are particularly enticing to speed figure handicappers, who are enchanted by their never-ending series of competitive figs.  Such runners are all too often over-bet in relation to their infrequent visits to the winner’s circle. This angle allows the handicapper to back competitors with confidence. Gutsy frequent winners are exactly the kind of athlete that chronic losers just don’t get by.

Requirements For Sticking With An Overachiever:

  • The horse has won 1/3 or more of his or her starts in the last two years.

– The horse has started at least eight times per year, or demonstrated ability to consistently win, even with an abbreviated racing schedule.

– Factor in the odds and actual chance of winning. Some horses that fit this angle are often heavy favorites, which narrows the expected profit margin.

– Give extra credit if the race favorite is a chronic loser that will not outcompete a seasoned winner.

Be sure to check out Dean Arnold’s handicapping book, A Bettor Way, on sale now through Amazon.