As a handicapper you should have a basic familiarity with horse racing styles. Styles refer to the ways in which various horses compete. You will soon learn that some horses are at a disadvantage when competing against various styles, and vice versa. That is the kind of information which can make you a big winner at the race track.
Here is a brief guide to some of the most common styles in horse racing. As you progress as a bettor you will begin to recognize styles of your own and apply it to horse betting.
How Race Horses Run
Some handicappers make the mistake of thinking all horses run the same way. They just break from the gate and go as fast as they can until the end, with the fastest horse winning the prize. If that were true, horse races would be much easier to handicap.
We know that horse racing involves human elements in the form or trainers and jockeys. These individuals are able to often use racing tactics to develop horse racing styles that are beneficial to horses. Just like a human runner, horses can be taught to conserve energy at strategic points in a race in order to maximize their chances of winning.
The way that horses are taught how to run in a certain manner is through vigorous training. They are conditioned in the morning training hours to perform as desired. Over time, the racing styles will begin to emerge. Sometimes they emerge naturally, and other times a horse is able to learn better than others.
A Good Race Horse Knows All Racing Styles
It has often been said that a good race horse knows all horse racing styles. The versatility of a horse cannot be dismissed. Every trainer desires a horse that can run at different distances and conditions and succeed. Such a horse is a very rare animal.
The smart trainer is content to have a horse which knows a few racing styles and excels in one or two. It is then the job of the trainer to put the horse in races which will flatter its own style of running. It is also up to the jockey to make the best use of a horse’s tactical speed.
What is tactical speed? That is the horse’s proficiency to run fast under its desired conditions. When a horse is in a race that sets up perfectly for its horse racing style, the result is often great success.
Let’s now discuss some styles that are found in horse racing today.
Distance Horse Racing Styles
There are two types of races which are contested at most thoroughbred tracks today. These are sprints and routes. A sprint is any race that is 7 furlongs or less. A route is a race longer than 7 furlongs. The furlong is the common unit of measurement in horse racing. It is equal to 1/8 of a mile.
In sprints the horses tend to run fast early and slow down as the race progresses. In shorter sprints of 6 furlongs or less, a horse may be asked for its maximum effort throughout the entire race. In a race that covers a route, horses will be asked to run slower in the early stages and faster late. This is done to conserve energy and make a late run at the leaders of the race.
Surface Horse Racing Styles
You will also encounter horses in racing that have specific surface styles. There are three primary surfaces that you will encounter in horse racing. These are dirt, turf, and synthetic. The synthetic track has proven itself to be somewhat less than ideal since it was introduced. Many horse racing tracks today have begun to phase this surface out.
Dirt is the surface that most bettors will call to mind. The other is turf, or grass. It is somewhat ironic that dirt racing is far more popular when you consider that the natural habitat for a horse is grass. Grass races account for about 30% or less of the events at a major race track on any given day.
Like routes and sprints, surfaces have their own dynamics when it comes to racing. In dirt racing the norm is usually to go fast early and slower late. In turf racing the opposite is true. Horses run slow in the opening stages and reserve their greatest display of speed for the home stretch.
Why Horse Racing Styles Matter to the Handicapper
When you bet on horses to win races, understanding styles matters. You need to know when a horse is at an advantage or a disadvantage because of how it is being asked to run.
Horses that specialize in running fast early can be compromised if there are other front-runners in the race. They may me forced to go out too fast too soon and have little energy left for the finish. In this case, the stalker or pace presser may have an elevated chance to win the race. Handicappers usually group discussions of this type under the general umbrella of pace.
When you are able to see race scenarios that your fellow bettors cannot see, you can gain a powerful advantage as a handicapper. Horse racing is a game that rewards the bettors who have the best information. We would suggest that you immediately begin to keep some notes about horse racing styles.
These notes are very useful if you regularly bet the same circuit. You can begin to evaluate the racing styles of horses, and even trainers and jockeys. You can group them in the appropriate categories. A single glance at your horse racing betting notebook can often be enough to give you a slight edge. That small edge can mean winning big.
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