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Handicapping 101

Next new article to be posted will be on 4/9/13!
How to evaluate 2 year olds!

How to evaluate foreign horses racing in the US for the first time.


Evaluating the form of horses shipping into the US can be imposing to the novice and pro alike. The varied approaches put forth in various publications can make it even more confusing. We will try to clear up some of that confusion in the paragraphs below.

The first thing I should bring up is the vast differences in circuits. The English & French circuits are very comparable for the most part to our best circuits. There are exceptions of course but for now we’ll set those aside for now though and deal with them in a future edition of this topic. The other European circuits are a bit below that for the most part with the exceptions being their very best events. The rest of the circuits in the world are somewhat below these. This however does not mean these horses cannot win on our biggest circuits and we will cover that later on as well.

When I see an import form Europe I look for the following things. What conditions are today’s race being run under and what kind of company was this horse keeping in Europe. Quite often you will see horses that are very competitive in Group events (the equivalent of our graded stakes) show up in allowance races here and if the race is being run on the grass these horses can almost be bet blindly if it is a typical allowance field. The chances are further increased of the course happens to be an “off course” condition. However, some other factors also come into play before jumping on board, most of these are straight out of basic handicapping. Does this barn have a history of winning with imports? Do they win with horses coming off a layoff? Most imports have not raced in the last 45 days so this can be a huge factor. Is the horse adding lasix or other equipment? Is the distance roughly the same as what they were running abroad? If not, have they run and had success ever at this distance?

The next thing I look where they were running in different seasons abroad. As a general rule racing in England is best in the spring and summer. Racing in France is generally better in the late summer and fall. The rest of world to my knowledge and based on my experience has no such idiosyncrasies.

If the horse has timeform ratings I will look at them but I do not quite use them like figures at this point. My method in this area is still very much a work in progress but I have found the following useful. If the timeform rating AND the times are good then the horse generally will be competitive at the levels he was competing at abroad. I have seen timeform ratings that are high while the times of races were dreadful and with very few exceptions will that timeform rating hold up. The lone exceptiosn so far have been horses exiting major races in Europe like the Arc d’Triomphe where the very best over there is involved thus making the quality of the race extremely high. When timeform ratings & times are lower and send mixed messages I generally fall back on the basic handicapping principles in paragraph 3 above and toss in the very important final factor, odds. Is the price good on this horse? Does he justify the risk?

Imports from other jurisdictions are a bit trickier. Generally South American imports should be coming from either Argentina or Brazil. African imports should be from South Africa for the most part. The imports from other areas will struggle mightily on most of our circuits unless they are facing mid to low level claimers. If they are from the aforementioned areas though most of the same rules apply. In general horses from Argentina, Brazil or South Africa should be very competitive, read lots of wins, at the very best levels or in lieu of that have absolutely killer race times ala Candy Ride who ran a mile in Argentina in 134 and change. That is fast no matter where it is run.

Finally one of the things you may need to consider is how to evaluate a horse switching surfaces when shipping in. I generally apply the pedigree rules in reverse for horses moving to dirt when they come here. By that I mean I look for horses bred for dirt rather than turf. However this is a bit trickier of a move and the field must be weak for that level or they must be dropping in class and fit on all the criteria listed in paragraph 3 as well.

The final things I look for are the physical appearance of the animal in the paddock and the price on the board. Both of these are crucial all the time and especially so when dealing with so many unknowns. Hope this helps!


Dave Gonzalez
Owner & senior handicapper

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