Book Review: Picking WinnersA Horseplayers Guide
By Adam Wiener, Hello Race Fans Co-founder
For any topic, reading a book is often step one in the learning process, and choosing the right book can make all the difference.
In my opinion there is no better first book for handicapping than Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide by Andrew Beyer.
Picking Winners combines two powerful elements to start you on the road to becoming a horseplayer. The first is what turns any book into a great one: Storytelling. The second is the ability to explain basic concepts in the most rudimentary and easy-to-understand terms. These are the reasons Picking Winners has been a top-selling handicapping book since its first printing in 1975.
At times, the book is an autobiography of Beyer’s early days as a handicapper. What he divulges are not just good stories filled with colorful characters, but also lessons. That ability to place things in personal context, rather than trying to explain abstract ideas, turns this book into a powerful learning tool.
The book may flow like a textbook, covering basic topics (track bias, trainers, reading past performances, speed, betting strategy, money management, class and more), but each chapter reads like a novel. Eventually, Beyer ties all the information together, helping readers understand how all the pieces fit in the handicapping puzzle.
Most newcomers see handicapping as a big math problem, mired in charts and forms. And just when the book appears in danger of conveying that that’s what it’s all about, Beyer includes a chapter called “The Horse’s Appearance.” It’s a great example of what makes this book valuable.
Beyer profiles a turf writer, Clem Florio, whose specialty is visual handicapping, or the ability to evaluate horses just by looking at them. The outspoken Florio is a unique personality. He’s simply fun to read about, and Beyer infuses that fun with Florio’s techniques. Readers’ horizons will suddenly grow as they begin to understand that there’s more to handicapping than just numbers in a form.
You can’t forget about numbers, of course, and Beyer is famous for developing a popular system for speed figures, one of many handicapping tools. He devotes several chapters to speed figures, and they are the only part of the book where the pace slows.
I have given Picking Winners as a gift to many people through the years. For those who expressed an interest in learning, it’s a no-brainer. For others, my hope is that the good storytelling will catch their interest, even if the handicapping doesn’t. (For this latter group, I often warn them not to get bogged down in the speed section.) Just like a textbook — unlike a novel — you can always come back to a chapter and learn it later.
Picking Winners is not the definitive handicapping book. Its target audience is not the seasoned handicapper. But if you are a beginner or want to introduce basic concepts to someone who could become a horseplayer–after, of course, you’ve spent time some time here on Hello Race Fans!–the book Picking Winners is a great place to start.