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Book Review

Handicapping 101
Finding the Right Horses and Making the Right Bets
by Brad Free
DRF Press, 2004, 256 pages hardcover

It has been a long time since a handicapping book was written specifically for newcomers to the sport but included the thorough coverage you find in more advanced works. Following in the footsteps of Tom Ainslie in the 1970's and 80's, Southern California handicapper and Daily Racing Form writer Brad Free makes his book-writing debut in Handicapping 101.

In the first five chapters, Free does an admirable job explaining the theory behind the various handicapping techniques such as form, class, speed, pace, and pedigree, with liberal use of examples of how the technique can be applied successfully. Daily Racing Form past performance lines and result charts are frequently used to point the novice handicapper at what to look for to make a winning selection. This is perfect for beginners, since he shows that every technique can work given the situation, but that not every technique is for everybody. Armed with the basics of each technique, the novice can go on to further study, specializing on which one he or she prefers. Given that the book was written in 2003, most of the examples include races and horses fresh in the minds of the reader, including last year's Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup.

Now that the handicapper knows how to make his or her selections, the next logical step is how to convert those selections into a profit. The last two chapters of the book do exactly this. Profiting at the track goes beyond simply "picking winners", it is betting on horses that are going off at odds higher than their expected chance of winning. This is where successful horse selectors can become failures on the balance sheet. Free spends an entire chapter on betting theory, the concept of risk vs. reward and underlays vs. overlays. Free writes that the bettor "must choose between the most likely winner and the most sensible wager. The contradiction is a major sticking point and one reason most horseplayers do not sustain long-term profit."

In the last chapter, he applies the betting theories into the current wagering menu, from the basic win wager through all the multi-horse and multi-race exotic bets. Novices often see the exotics as analogous to lotteries, impossible to hit except through luck alone. Free demonstrates his systems by which, through a modest investment and smart positioning of overlays on the ticket, such bets can be profitable in the long run.

Brad Free has done many newcomers to the sport a great service in writing Handicapping 101. A constant string of losses early on is an easy way to turn a potential new fan off the sport completely. Free does his best to ensure that a new fan has a chance to be informed enough to survive the pari-mutuel battles. As the author said, "This game can be intimidating for a newcomer and my goal was to lay out in understandable and entertaining terms the fundamentals of handicapping. Once you figure out that you can use common sense and logic you can win money at the racetrack. Racing is a game that can be won through logic, examination, and discipline."

This is an excellent book for the novice handicapper in particular, but is also valuable for long-time racegoers intending to significantly increase their level of play or wanting to brush up on their handicapping and betting techniques.

Handicapping 101 has a list price of $24.95 but can be purchased from, for $17.46.

Rating:     5/5

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