How Nick Picks

I have been asked by several clients at a very difficult question to answer: “how do I go about making my picks”? And as every handicapper knows this simple, basic question could take days to answer. I find this a very hard question to answer because it takes me quite a while to analyze a race to where I am comfortable in the end and satisfied with the research I did in bringing me to make a selection.

1. Pace Rate

To start, the first thing I do in my own personal handicapping process is to pace rate the race. I pace rate each horse in a given field using a pace formula I created, scrutinized, tinkered with and honed for decades.

In Pace Rating a given field I only use each horse’s last 2 races. I achieve a numerical value for each horse’s state of current condition. This pace ratings numerical value equates to how sharp a state of conditioning this horse is presently in and it gives me a good idea of which horses are currently in the sharpest form among today’s field.

I only use each horse’s last 2 races because the most important aspect of a horse’s talents and abilities are measured by how sharp a state of current conditioning this horse will be at for today’s race.

For instance let’s say that a given horse broke a track record say 3 races back in his past performances. It doesn’t necessarily mean he is currently in shape to do it once again today which will now be 4 races removed from that track record effort. Horses cycle up and cycle down regarding their state of current condition and we don’t want to be betting a horse that is on its way down cycle.

Therefore pace rating a field helps me to assess just how sharp a state of conditioning a horse is coming into today’s race and helps me evaluate if this horse will get better off his last efforts or he will regress off his last efforts.

I don’t generally use my pace ratings to tell me which horse is faster or better. To find that out I would have to use a horse’s entire body of past performances. But that becomes useless information. The most relevant reasoning behind my pace ratings are to find out exactly how sharp a horse is right now as compared to the rest of today’s field. This also tells me how a horse fits today’s race.

Once this is known we then get a better idea of what to expect of this horse for today’s race as well as which horses should be considered the field’s top contenders.

Ultimately we have to know which horses are going to improve off their last efforts and which will regress.

2. Back Class Search

My next step is to go through each horse’s body of past performances and highlight big performances that were done at a higher class level than the level being run today.

In doing this I am looking for a class or a back-class edge which can become a huge factor in today’s race. Knowing a horse in today’s field has beaten better in its past is a huge edge to have. However if a horse does have a class edge this horse still has to be cycling back to his better form for today’s race to be considered a top contender. Bottom line is If this horse is not in shape to run back to that top number or top performance than he most likely will get beat. We want to have our money on the horse that will beat him today!

3. How Will The Race Be Run

I now try to project just how this race will be run. I try and figure out the pace scenario. Which horses want the lead, which horses will stalk and which horses will be positioned near the rear in the early going is a key element to successful handicapping.

In doing this I start to get a clearer picture of who the top contenders will be and this also gives me a better idea of how fast the race will be run especially in the early going.

This evaluation will lead me to feel the possibilities of perhaps a front runner lasting on the lead or perhaps I’ll start to feel that the early pace will be too hot making it very hard to last on the lead possibly setting it up for an off the pace type or finisher. Therefore reading the pace scenario and getting a feel of how the race will unfold is a key part to my handicapping. I try and feel the numbers. It gives me a better grasp of their weight and helps me see just how intense the pace pressure will be.

4. Search For A Pace Edge

Now that I know what the pace scenario figures to be like I start to assess which horses should have an edge within this projected pace scenario. I also need to realize which horses are sharp enough condition-wise to take advantage as to how the race will be run.

For instance, let’s say I have 2 early speed types, one is in a very sharp state and the other looks dull, although still possesses some good early speed. I know that both of these early speed types figure to push each other early, possibly softening each other up for the stretch run. Or will one of them be strong enough to pull away from the field?

The horses that figure to be stalking this early lead could now have an advantage. Is there one that can stalk close enough to the early speed types and finish strongly? Does he figure to get better off his last start? Has he faced the heat before meaning has he faced a similar pace scenario before? Is this stalker in a sharp enough state of conditioning to be able to take advantage of this possible pace scenario? Such questions have to be brought to the forefront and answered or reasoned with as best as possible for me to come to a conclusion and make a selection.

5. Adding Up The Angles

After all the math is done and I get a general picture of how the race is going to be run I can now knock a race down to a couple of top contenders. I have a good idea of who my top selection will be.

And at this point a lot of my handicapping process concerns racing angles such as Performance Angles, Training Angles and Surface Angles. Here I can discover a horse that might be very well meant for today’s race with hidden form and perhaps will be going off at double digit odds.

Knowledge of these types of racing angles helps me read into how a trainer is maneuvering his horse to get him to the winners circle. It aides me in mapping out the steps of how trainers think and maneuver their horses with for the most part very subtle training tactics or hidden moves that go undetected to most bettor’s.

I have been a student of handicapping and racing principles since I was 14. I am now 46 and I have always studied the moves, studied the results and always try to figure out what a horse was showing in his past performances prior to his win.

Once discovered, I try and record this information combining that particular trainer with that particular move so that I might be able to recognize this maneuver or angle the next time I see it in a horses past performances . Hopefully I will be able to take advantage of it at the betting windows.

It was no accident that I was the Angle of the Month Columnists for American Turf Monthly for more than 10 years. And during this time I received a ton of letters and emails and the most asked question was: “How do you recognize all these angles”?

My answer has always been that I have to pay my dues. I have to study the past performances. I have to reason why a horse wins a race. I have to not only see what he was showing headed into the race but I have to be able to interpret how he fit the race from a pace and class point of view. I have to add some imagination to see what’s there and make sense of it.

For instance take an angle such as the ever popular Turf to Dirt Angle. Many a handicapper can identify the angle (which is common sense) but many handicappers couldn’t tell you why the angle works and for that matter when it works best. Of course once you realize this for yourself you will surely cash more tickets.

6. Today’s Surface

One of the last steps in my handicapping procedures before I make a bet is to study how the track has been playing yesterday and today.

I try and handicap a race ideally thinking it’s a level playing field. However, a freshly rained on wet racing surface changes the entire picture of a race. All the details, all the pace ratings, all the early speed and all the angling gets tossed out if a horse can’t run up to his best ability on today’s wet racing surface.

I now have to figure out which horses move up in the wet going and which horses won’t be able to run up to their prior recorded top fractions and final times in the wet goo.

Now, in my mind, if a horse was on the fringe, perhaps not coming into today’s race at his best prior to the rains but he has a past history of running well on a wet surface than obviously he moves up within today’s field. Such study and judgment now has to be added to the rest of today’s field because of the wet going.

Additionally, I have to consider how the surface was playing yesterday. Consider if the track was wet yesterday. If so, is it drying out for today? Is it raining today to add to yesterday’s wet going and if so will the surface be deemed a heavy racing surface? Will this aid horses coming from off the pace in today’s races?

7. Equipment Changes

One of the biggest factors that can instantly change a race are equipment changes. Blinkers on and Blinkers off gets reported and updated pretty accurately on a daily basis and is of great importance. Such a maneuver can improve a horse dramatically and can further develop a horse into a totally different runner as compared to his prior races. The best – most recent example of such an equipment change is present in the past performances of Summer Bird.

For his first 4 career races Summer Bird was very slow in the early stages of his races. He had to come from well off the pace and just didn’t seem to be anything special. Of course he had great distance breeding and had shown signs of some late kick but just couldn’t put it all together.

Note that his trainer, Tim Ice elected to add Blinkers to his horse for the first time entering the Belmont Stakes. All of a sudden Summer Bird is racing within striking distance in the early going, positioned in 4th at the ¾’s point before getting in full stride and pulling away in the stretch. Summer Bird looked like a completely different horse with the Blinks added. Three races later with the natural improvement expected of a well-bred 3-year-old, Summer Bird looks unstoppable!

8. Workouts

One of the final steps in my process is to check the works of every horse in the field. Quite often the works can tip me off to a horse that is sharper than it appears as judged through his last couple of races.

I mean sometimes a horse encounters trouble and it goes undetected. Then boom all of a sudden this horse pops up and pays off at 50-1. So I always read the works and look for not only faster than average works but works done over slower-heavier surfaces. I also like to see a horse improve its work times. If a horse works 5 furlongs in 1:00 handily and then two weeks later he works 5 furlongs again in :59 2/5 Breezing, He improved his work time and seemed to do it much easier so I am impressed.

A lot of trainers create their own methods to working their horses and if you follow a particular racing circuit you can pick up a trainer’s work patterns. Sometimes knowing these work patterns puts me on some high priced horses that not always win but just as well hit the board making me very happy!

9. So, How Do I make My Selections?

Basically I try and find a likeable edge within the body of a race and try to take advantage of this edge as best I can. In reality what it comes down to is cashing tickets. I mean all handicappers pick more losers than winners. That’s a fact. However not all handicappers bet all their selections. I have to be able to identify when I have a good bet. I have to be able to identify when it feels right. I have to develop a feel for the numbers I create and a feel for the numbers I use.

In Closing

I think I covered my handicapping process pretty well so I am going to conclude this explanation right here. In reality I am not sure that I covered everything that entails my handicapping procedures but this will give you a good idea of what I put into a race card. Of course there are many more aspects to cashing tickets and being a successful handicapper that haven’t been discussed. Unfortunately most of the important factors in Thoroughbred handicapping are judgment calls. And the only way to improve one’s judgment is through time and experience.

If you have any questions or just want to talk handicapping either email me or drop me a line on the Blog. For those of you that know me will realize that I will welcome it.