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Ellis Starr

Syndicated Thoroughbred Handicapper

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Wagering and Investment Strategy in the Modern Age of Racing


There are two parts to making a profit at the races.

1.      The selection process; Handicapping down to the contenders ū form and ability.

2.      The decision process; Wagering / Investing for a long term profit ū value.


Handicapping is the first of the two, but wagering is more important towards the goal of making money at the races. The key to successful wagering in the long term is WHEN to bet more than WHO to bet, įbecause you can make up for bad handicapping with good wagering, but you canĘt make up for poor wagering with good handicapping.


Wagering on racing is not much different then any other kind of investment, most specifically the stock market. Before investing in stocks, you analyze the company/stock to determine what it is worth (expected value) then you decide if the price offered is worth the risk based on tote board odds.


1. The selection process has two main parts, phrased as questions as we look at each horse.

A.     Can this horse run a race good enough to win in this situation?

a.       Looking at races in its past that if repeated, or improved upon, make it a contender today.į

                                                                                       i.      Look at its ability, not necessarily current.

                                                                                     ii.      Horses are athletes, running in cycles, with likes and dislikes, ups and downs

B.     Can this horse run that race here?

a.       Project what it will do today.

                                                                                       i.      Judge current form and condition.

                                                                                     ii.      Judge angles and factors that contribute to a turnaround in performance, or a decline in performance

1.      Some examples are medication, equipment, trainer, jockey and post position


The overall goal of this process is to add to, or eliminate from, our list of win contenders, until we have 1 to 5 contenders then to move on to the decision process.


2. The Decision Process has two main parts

A.     Assessing the chances (probability) of your contenders

a.       Ask yourself the question ū If this race were run 100 times, how many times would this horse win.

B.     Structuring a bet or bets to give you an edge

a.       Using probability, decide on the lowest fair odds you would take before making a win wager.


You make a profit by being better then the public at large just often enough. You become better then the public by ferreting out overlooked contenders. The key mistake many handicappers make is trying to play too many races, either ones that arenĘt easy to understand, or ones in which the value for making a long term profit just isnĘt there. Having an edge before wagering is the prime factor in when to bet.

Remember: no edge = no bet.


The Favorite


The favorite (or favorites) in a race are the key to when to pass and when to play. įFavorites win about 35% of the time. Therefore, they lose nearly two-thirds of the time. Playing favorites only is a guaranteed loser, getting you back 82 cents on every dollar, or an 18 cent loss. Just picking any horse at random to bet is only slightly less profitable, returning 78 cents on every dollar.


There are 3 types of favorites:

1.      Legitimate

a.       The class of the field.

b.      The speed of the field.

c.       A horse in form.

d.      Is the only horse that fits the conditions of a, b and c.

2.      Vulnerable

a.       A horse that has some but not all of the 3 qualities above, or a horse that is not the only one that has those qualities.

3.      False

a.       A horse that truly does not deserve to be a favorite. This is not the same as a legitimate or vulnerable favorite going off at too low a price to make a win wager on.

b.      Examples of False Favorites

                                                                                       i.      A horse that is dropping suspiciously in class, especially 3 levels or more.

                                                                                     ii.      A favorite that doesnĘt fit the pace of the race. Closers in a field without early speed, or a speed horse in a race with 2 or more other speed horses.

                                                                                    iii.      A favorite trying something it has not done before, a new distance, surface, or track condition.

                                                                                   iv.      A favorite that just ran a huge race in its first start after a layoff.

                                                                                     v.      A Grade 1 winner coming back from a layoff in an allowance or stakes that is not at least grade 3.


What to look for and what to avoid in specific types of races.


Straight Maiden / Maiden Allowance (maiden races with no claiming price):

Avoid: maiden claiming runners.

Avoid: multiple losers (10 or more races)

What to look for: Recent / Decent form, or sign of a turnaround

What to look for:į Trainer ability

What to look for: Early pace

What to look for: first time starters with consistent works



Maiden Claiming (maiden races with a claiming price):

Avoid: Horses that have lost at lower claiming levels.

Avoid: Horses that have proven they just canĘt run

What to look for: Horses dropping from Straight maiden / maiden allowance

What to look for: Recent / Decent form, or sign of a turnaround

What to look for: Trainer ability

What to look for: Early Pace

What to look for: first time starters with consistent works


Restricted Claiming (open only to non-winners of so many races or in some period of time):

Avoid: Multiple losers at todayĘs level

What to look for: Recent winners at a lower level

What to look for: Horses on an improving pattern

What to look for: Horses dropping from open claiming



Avoid: Multiple losers at todayĘs allowance condition, or the last allowance condition.

What to look for: Multiple winning claimers moving into allowance company, especially in a weak field

What to look for: Last out winners, maiden winners in the non-winners of 1 x condition, and last out allowance winners at one level lower allowance conditions

What to look for: Legitimate allowance level runners, horses that have never raced for a claiming price


Dirt Routes:

What to look for: Previous ability going two turns

What to look for: Whether todayĘs race is a one turn (Belmont, Aqueduct, Arlington Park and Churchill Downs) or two turn mile, and whether the horse has had success at the one turn mile.

What to look for: Two sprints into a route



Remember: Turf races are run slow early and fast late. Class is more important than pace.

What to look for: Try to determine if the temporary rails are in or out. In favors closers, out favors speed.

What to look for: Previous ability under similar conditions.




Wagering and Investing Strategy in the Modern Age of Racing c 2003 Ellis Starr


Ellis' detailed selections and analysis for various racetracks throughout the country can be found at The Winners' Circle (a service of TrackMaster - An Equibase Company)