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Book Review

Handicapping for Bettor or Worse
A Fresh Perspective for Betting the Races
by John Lindley
Eclipse Press, 2004, 192 pages hardcover

Eclipse Press, the book-publishing arm of BloodHorse magazine, is a well-respected, long-time producer of books discussing breeding, history, ownership, horse health, and the human side of the sport. For the first time, Eclipse finally steps into the "other" realm of horse racing, handicapping and gambling. Pacific Northwest-based professional horseplayer/handicapper and racehorse owner John Lindley makes his book-authoring debut in Handicapping for Bettor or Worse, an entertaining yet very educational book for beginner to intermediate-level bettors.

He said in an interview prior to release of the book, "A majority of this book discusses those areas of handicapping/betting and some of the drawbacks associated with each area. This book is not really written for the novice, but it easily explains the more important areas of betting, which beginners could use to help in their start of understanding handicapping. It brings some new thoughts regarding horse racing that haven't been discussed in other books and offers a different view of some older concepts in handicapping." Lindley's unique position as both professional player and horse owner means he is experienced at both ends of the racetrack, the backstretch and the grandstand.

Drawing from his years of experience in both gambling and horse ownership, Lindley instructs the budding horseplayer on the nuances of the game, the little things to look for to give you an edge at the windows. He explains in easy-to-understand terms the claiming game, one in which trainers are constantly playing poker and calling each others' bluffs, and where the bettor is in effect also calling the bluffs. Trainer and owner intent is always lurking in the background and must always be considered, with "backstretch decisions" often playing a huge role in the outcome of races. Drugs and equipment are explained concisely. Their use can be either a negative or a positive angle, depending once again on trainer intent. Lindley used an example of a horse whose trainer was trying to avoid it being claimed by use of wraps, blinkers, tongue ties, and Lasix. Lindley and partners saw through the disguise and claimed the horse, who went on to success for their operation. The horse was in good form and his former trainer wanted to hide that fact to avoid the claim but was unsuccessful. He said in the interview that understanding the physical impact of racing on the horse, through his trainers' point of view, has helped him to become more successful as a bettor.

Speed figure handicapping, the most popular method used in today's game, is given an entire chapter. Using both the Beyer figures that appear in the Daily Racing Form, and the "Sheet" figures used by followers of Ragozin and Thoro-Graph, Lindley demonstrates how best to utilize these tools, taking into account the inaccuracies inherent to the figures as a whole. He also preaches the use of pace figures, which quantify how hot the pace was through the early part of the race. Beyer and Sheets figures only consider the final race time but do not take into account early pace, which is why calculating your own pace figures or finding a source elsewhere can only give you an added edge over the competition.

Trip handicapping, which some may consider lost art, is revived in his chapter titled "Watching a Race to Maximum Advantage." Using personal examples involving horses he owned, he demonstrates the importance of recognizing trouble before the race starts, troubled trips, and biased racetracks due to wind or track condition. One danger he looks for is a horse that ran well against the bias as such a horse has "run his eyeballs out" and is liable to bounce next time out.

Now armed with the information in the earlier chapters, Lindley takes the next logical step in the learning process, that is, how to convert your handicapping efforts into profitable wagering. It is not just a simple matter of picking the winners, finding value so that only overlays are bet is crucial. Lindley explains how to make best use of both straight and exotic pools, from the basic win bet all the way to the lucrative pick six, while avoiding the most common mistake made which is spreading too much money around to cash a ticket thus lowering your overall profit if not turning a potential profit into a loss. He also stresses the importance of accurate record-keeping, so that the horseplayer knows how profitable his handicapping and betting strategy is.

Lindley closes out the book with the two most important chapters. The final chapter is aptly named "Can Statistics Lie?" and demonstrates that many of the popular stats drawn upon by handicappers must be questioned, mostly because of small sample sizes. He is especially critical of the "key race" and "negative key race" methods of handicapping, where multiple horses from one particular race either win next out or run poorly. The penultimate chapter discusses his favorite betting angle, the sprint-to-route distance change, with a few examples to back him up. Horses which pressed the pace in a sprint are contenders next time out in a route, often at long odds.

In his conclusion, Lindley lists his ten favorite "knocks", or, angles which are bad bets and should be avoided. This is a convenient summary of much of the work discussed throughout the book, and is a nice reference to use when looking for throwouts. An important fact that some race fans forget, Lindley writes, is that "Horses are horses. It doesn't matter if they are Breeders' Cup starters or $2500 claiming horses. Many players are afraid to bet cheap claimers. You can be just as successful. The same handicapping principles apply."

This is an excellent publication written in easy to understand terms, and allows those who may have become too accustomed to one method of handicapping to see what other methods are used and how incorporating them may lead to more profitable bets in the future. It is strongly recommended for novice to intermediate players who already have some exposure to the handicapping game but want to fine-tune their strategies or want to look into different ones in order to successfully increase their level of play.

Handicapping for Bettor or Worse has a list price of $24.95 but can be purchased from Amazon.com, for $16.97.

Rating:     4.5/5

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