On opening day at Saratoga Race Course, we kicked off a little video feature on dailygazette.com in which we’re picking a horse to win every day for the duration of the 146th meet.
Like a newborn foal thrashing around in the straw to gets its legs under it and stand for the first time, this quick-hitter video tip doesn’t have a name yet and needs to grow into something we hope can be a winner for our readers and online visitors.
In the meantime, following is a little background for the sake of transparency on how the picks are being made. The pedigree, if you will.
Although I’m not a professional handicapper, I’ve been covering Saratoga racing for 27 years and walk onto the grounds each day with the belief that I at least have a fighting chance against these difficult, mind-bending puzzles we call thoroughbred races.
Don’t be surprised if the Gazette’s excellent Bill Heller, one of the most experienced handicappers in the Saratoga press box, makes an appearance instead of me every once in a while, especially if he sees something that he really likes.
But for the most part, you’re stuck with me.
There are many great handicapping tools out there, including Brisnet and the relatively new TimeformUS, but I usually lean on the detailed Daily Racing Form past performances or rattle around Equibase.com for rudimentary info or to call up race charts.
It’s just a matter of habit from my first days in the Saratoga press box.
The DRF PP’s can be a daunting wall of gray noise for the beginner, an orderly but dense amalgam of tiny agate type, numbers and words that are there for the plucking at your discretion.
The DRF actually provides a graphic page on how to read the DRF (James Joyce could’ve done us a solid and supplied something like this at the beginning of “Ulysses”).
As a matter of personal preference, I try to dip into each aspect to varying degrees, including pedigree, trainer/jockey, speed figures, etc., but the workouts are the tool on these pages that I use the least.
The running lines have proven the most valuable over the years because they give you an indication of how the shape of the race will unfold — who tends to like to be at the front early, who stalks or closes, what class of race a horse has been running in, etc. I like dropdown horses, those who have been running against sterner competition but are testing shallower waters on this day.
The ever-evolving process of finding out what works is part of the fun; I certainly do things differently now than I did in 1987.