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Book Review

Expert Handicapping: Winning Insights into Betting Thoroughbreds (Revised Edition)
by Dave Litfin
DRF Press, August 2007, 176 pages hardcover

In 1995, DRF handicapper Dave Litfin, famous as the "Handicapper's Corner" columnist on the NYRA circuit, released the first edition of Expert Handicapping, in which he shared his vast repertoire of handicapping insights and competitive angles, techniques which proved successful in the parimutuel arena of the day. Fast forward 12 years to the present, and clearly racing has changed a lot in that short period of time. This year, Litfin has updated and revised his original work in order to address many of those changes in the ever-evolving handicapping landscape, but to also show that much of what worked back then still work today with some adjustments.

Although speed figure analysis had been around since the 1970's, simply betting the "fastest" horse is no longer profitable as this method will likely land you the favorite. In today's world, the objective is to use past figures to predict current form, looking for horses ready to run "the race of their lives" when the horses with the best figures are actually on the downswing. Despite this being a DRF publication, Litfin also draws on competing products The Sheets and Thoro-Graph to further demonstrate form cycles. A long-time angle which has returned to the forefront in recent years is the often underestimated influence of trainers, and a careful study of trainers' angles can lead to a profitable day at the betting windows. Litfin shows us how the new DRF with expanded past performance data reveals many the trainer angles needed for profitable play. Along with the Tomlinson ratings, these innovations were not in the DRF when the first edition of the book was published.

No one change has affected handicapping in recent memory than the advent of synthetic surfaces. Since Turfway Park became the first North American track to host part-mutuel betting on Polytrack racing, old-time handicappers have been forced to re-think long-held beliefs. Historical biases that have stood the test of time, most notably the inside speed bias on the main track at Keeneland, have been effectively killed off when those tracks switched to synthetic. As well, assumptions that the surfaces consistently yield slow times and favor closers were shot down as, on the same card, you'd have slow and fast times, and winners coming from the front end, off the pace, inside, and outside. As more data comes in, track profiles should prove more valuable, as unfortunately, despite claims made by proponents, synthetics can be tweaked just like dirt was and could be made faster or slower at the whims of the track superintendent.

Finally, Litfin takes the time to discuss the real meaning of value, a term widely used and often misunderstood. A statistical evaluation of post-time favorites reveals when the chalk may actually be a profitable play. He also shows the best way to get overlay payoffs, which is to bet exotics, especially the Pick 4, on big race days such as Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup days. On regular race days, if several favorites come in the payoffs are too small, but on these days the payoffs will still be as much as a 20% overlay when compared to a win parlay on the same horses.

With the handicapping environment in constant flux, old methods soon lose their effectiveness and the long-time handicapper must change with the times. In this book, Litfin, a veteran himself, helps the reader adjust his or her personal system to account for this new world of Thoroughbred racing. Horseplayers at all levels of bankroll and skill can learn from this useful work, an "old classic" that has been modernized.

Expert Handicapping has a list price of $24.95 and is available from for $16.47.

Rating:     4.5/5

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