Top 5 Handicapping Books
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

In our first HRF Index we’ve asked voters to rank their top five favorite handicapping books. Not everyone here at HRF headquarters has even read handicapping books so you shouldn’t feel bad if you haven’t either. But, if you’re looking to dive in to some reading material, there’s plenty of great stuff out there!

We assigned points for each vote 1-5 and calculated a total to arrive at the final list.

And the winners are (including their score):

1. Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century – Steve Davidowitz (6.2)
Both the MVP and Best All Around according to our panelists, this classic covers all the bases and will grow with you.
(Our full book review)

2. Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide – Andrew Beyer (5.4)
As fun to read as it is educational, this seminal work seamlessly combines storytelling with demystification of complex handicapping issues.
(Our full book review)

3. Exotic Betting: How to Make the Multihorse, Multirace Bets that Win Racing’s Biggest Payoffs – Steven Crist (5.2)
The go to source for exotic wagering that also lays out how to maximize your bank roll. Take what you learn from #1 & #2 and put it into practice with this book!
(Our full book review)

4. Beyer on Speed: New Strategies for Racetrack Betting – Andrew Beyer (3.4)
What Crist is to Exotics, Beyer is to speed… if you have a need for speed, this is your book.
(Our full book review)

5. Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing – Tom Ainslie (2.8)
Another excellent all around-er.
(Our full book review)

Other books receiving votes include:

The Winning Horseplayer – Andrew Beyer (1.2)

The Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping: Leading Ideas & Methods – James Quinn (1)

Betting on Horse Racing For Dummies – Richard Eng (1)

The Handicapper’s Condition Book: Advanced Treatment of Thoroughbred Class – James Quinn (.08)

Bet With the Best: Expert Strategies from America’s Leading Handicappers – DRF Press (.08)

Betting Maidens and 2-Year-Olds – Dan Illman (.08)

Expert Handicapping, Revised Edition: Winning Insights into Betting Thoroughbreds – Dave Liftin (.08)

Betting the Kentucky Derby: How to Wager & Win on America’s Biggest Horse Race – Dean Keppler (.06)

Betting Synthetic Surfaces: Conquering Racing’s Newest Frontier – Bill Finley (.06)

The Female Fan Guide to Thoroughbred Racing – Betsy Burns (.06)

Race Is Pace – Huey Mahl (.06)

Inside Horse Racing – Jay Hovdey (.04)

The Odds Must Be Crazy: Beating the Races with the Man Who Revolutionized Handicapping – Len Ragozin (.04)

Please Hold All Tickets – Mark Cramer (.04)

Blinkers off: New frontiers in form cycle analysis – Cary Fotias (.02)

Racing Maxims and Methods of Pittsburgh Phil – Pittsburgh Phil (.02)

Some of these books might be a little hard to find, you can always try eBay for a better price on some of the out of print books.

And last but not least, here’s what our panelists had to say about their selections…

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  • 1. Handicapping 101 (Brad Free): With Tom Ainslie’s books aging so badly, this is the best introduction to how to handicap available. The anecdotes are great for dealing with a lot of the quick-fix traps that new players fall into.

    2. Expert Handicapping (Dave Litfin): Most players end up looking at the same horses in the end using the usual methods. Litfin’s angles (many taken from Ragozin, but in a more approachable format) help you find horses with a chance to win at a price. I’ve saved more P4 tickets through these methods than I care to count.

    3. Betting Thoroughbreds in the 21st Century (Steve Davidowitz): One of the best things about Steve is that he doesn’t just add a new chapter or two, he rewrites the whole book, making it the most modern book available. Worth having for his discussion of the class structure of cheaper tracks alone. Decidedly an intermediate to expert level book, however, I would not start here.

    4. Exotic Betting (Steven Crist): While Litfin and Davidowitz do approach wagering theory in their books, the best book available on the subject is Exotic Betting. The longer I’m in this game, the more I realize the difference between someone who can pick horses and someone who leaves with more money than he came in with is money management. (Barry Meadow’s out of print Money Secrets at the Racetrack is also excellent.)

    5. Bet With the Best 2: Longshots (Various): No one makes money on a steady diet of 5/2 plays. If you’re going to survive long term in this game, you’ll have to have a host of methods to find a winner that leaves most of the other railbirds’ heads shaking. The chapter on cutbacks alone paid for my copy.

  • Thanks Ian! I bolded your selections…

  • My List

    #1 AINSLIE’S COMPLETE-yes it’s old–so is the Bible. A bit dated-but still the book you will find in my lap on the flight to Saratoga every year-sort of an annual refresher course before the feast of daily good dirt/turf racing.

    #2 DAVIDOWITZ-21st Century–well written and lively-maybe a bit TOO personal and anectdotal at times-still very relevant.

    -an introduction to many different angles-may or may not work for you but it’s enlightening to say the least.

    #4 QUINN-HANDICAPPERS CONDITION BOOK-yes I believe in trip handicapping, speed, RAGS etc. but when push comes to shove it’s always about CLASS in my book. Speed/figs guys need to read this!

    -probably best think I have read on money management. Now if I could just follow the rules…….not easy to find but a good thing to have on the shelf

    I have maybe 25 handicapping books on the shelf-certainly many by Beyer-but these 5 along w/ Beyer’s PICKING WINNERS are the most beat up and dog eared-must be a reason!


  • Steve Davidowitz

    Thanks for the honorable and detailed evaluation of Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21ST Century. . .Put a lot of work into it, glad it is helping to illuminate subtle and important aspects of the greatest game man has ever invested.
    All the Best/Steve Davidowitz

  • Steve Davidowitz

    invented. invested. lol:)

  • At the risk of “fanning out”, thank YOU! We’ll definitely be having a more detailed review of it in the coming weeks but I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that your approach helped me recognize right off the bat that every race has to be taken as it’s own problem to solve, and that it’s the subtle aspects, as you put it, that really can make difference.

    I also love the constant evaluation of various approaches you do at DRF+… we’re rolling out a new section this coming week called “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” aimed at helping newbies (and maybe not so newbies) realize that one has to constantly evaluate by way of first-hand accounts of bone-head mistakes and oversights (mostly mine).

    And I spent a decent amount of time in that cab stand in New Brunswick and never met a bookie, but I managed to make my way to the game any way… :)

  • Mitchell’s Winning Strategies and Fiero’s Four Quarters of Horse Investing are what you need to learn before you ever try handicapping


  • Why have you not listed Value Betting at the Race Track by David Johnson? It provides
    the best fair odds line available anywhere – to find the actual overlays!

  • Hi Jerry – We created this list by asking a variety of players for their top five picks. I have no doubt that we missed some useful books so thanks for letting us and our readers know to check out Value Betting!

  • I have a boxful of horse handicapping books numbering around 40 dating from 60’s-80’s!
    Hard and soft covers all of which were bought new and lightly used!
    I’m getting ready to sell!
    Are you interested in whole boxful?

  • Hi my name is Marco I’m from Cape Town in South Africa. I’m a novice handicapping horse racing for many years.I only know South African horse racing. I’m looking for people who can educate me more about handicapping horse racing.thank you

  • These lists boggled my mind to some degree; I can’t believe names like Quinn, Mitchell, Cramer, Meadow, Brohamer, and Quirin were barely mentioned or mostly omitted entirely. Neither Meadow not Mitchell named to represent the best ever written on money management and teach the crucial concept of wager value; just one brief mention of Huey Mahl but missing Brohamer’s definitive book on pace handicapping, omission of Quinn’s ultimate book on class handicapping… or any of his others other than one person mentioning his great compendium of different handicapper’s works, no mention of the seminal Winning At the Races by William Quirin… so many true classics just ignored.

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