Handicappers ElsewherePublic handicappers can be a valuable tool
By Jessica Chapel, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
I don’t envy public handicappers. In a game of tough gigs, they have one of the toughest. It sounds like a dream: handicap the cards you were going to take a look at anyway, then put your picks out there in a track program, local newspaper, or simulcasting show. And there’s the rub. You’re on the record. Even the best handicappers end up wearing the dunce cap more often than they celebrate winners. It’s the nature of horse racing; there’s a handicapper for every horse.
So, how do you figure out which experts are the ones to whom you should pay attention? It’s not only about the winning longshot you remember one giving out and the loss you can’t forgive from another.
First, know yourself
Do you play one track regularly or is your focus stakes races and big days? Be honest about your gaps when it comes to handicapping, whether of breeding or pace. You’re looking for handicappers to give you information you can’t glean on your own.
Second, know your handicappers
To some extent, your preferred sources for past performances and racing data, as well as whether you’re watching simulcasting feeds or a cable network, or if you’re at the racetrack, will determine the handicappers to which you’re most exposed. If you’re a New York player with a preference for DRF and HRTV, you’re going to see Andy Serling, Mike Watchmaker, and Jeff Siegel. If you follow Churchill and subscribe to TVG, Jill Byrne and Matt Carothers. You’ll notice that handicappers have their quirks and strengths. One analyst might be strongly influenced by speed figures, another by body language in the paddock. There are handicappers who are attuned to track biases, partial to turf horses, or dedicated to trip analysis, handicappers who play the chalk or hunt for value. You want to follow someone who wins, but more importantly, someone who approaches horseplay in a way that augments your own strategies.
Put it all together
Compare how your picks fare against those of handicappers who cover your track or the races you play. Note when a tidbit from a handicapper affected, win or lose, your play. In time, you’ll find that handicappers begin to sort themselves out — there will be the simpatico, whose picks your own eerily match; the challenging, whose picks don’t often overlap yours, but whose analysis pushes you into new ways of thinking about races; and the doomed, whose picks, if you share them, send you running for another look at the past performances, certain you’ve made a terrible mistake.
No names here about which is which. You’ll have to figure that out on your own, and when you do, the handicappers who give you confidence or conniptions almost certainly won’t be the same as for me. It’s a great game, that way; there’s a handicapper for every horseplayer.