Reading The Saratoga Post Parade
Do you remember the first time Neo saw the Matrix - that dizzying display of scrolling code? He saw no rhyme nor reason nor pattern - just a furious loop of unexplainable binary. With time, though, with experience, and tutelage, he began to see the woman-in-the-red-dress for the trees. In other words, he figured it out.
This is as close as I can come to explaining what it's like to, for the first time, survey the past performance program at Saratoga. Like Neo, you won't have a clue what you're looking at. But, also like Neo, you'll get the hang of it. To help, we've detailed what information can be found where and explained what it means in relation to an actual horse race.
A - At letter A you can find the type of race, the purse for said race, and its number on the day's card. The type of race is the only of those that really needs discussing - except to say "the larger the purse, the better the race." There are several different race types, or classifications, each with its own spot on an important hierarchy. The lowest rung of the ladder is Maiden races - races for horses whom have yet to win. Claiming races come next, followed by Allowances, and topped by Stakes races. Finishes in each can be a key tool for separating horses. A place (2nd) in a Stakes Race is worth far more than a win in a Maiden. This particular race is the tenth on the card, and is a Claiming race run for $30,000.
B - This brilliant bit of arts and crafts work lets you know on what surface - dirt or grass - and at what distance, the race will be run. Needed information. This race will be run at one mile on the inner turf.
C - For those of you who have mastered the intricacies of more advanced gambling, C will tell you which exotic bets will be available for betting in that race. The most common of these are Exactas - picking two horses to finish first and second - Trifectas - same with first second and third - Superfectas - same with 1-4 - and Daily Doubles - picking the winners of consecutive races. The exacta, trifecta, and superfecta are available above.
D - Here, the book will provide you with the horse's saddle cloth number and Morning-Line odds. The Morning-Line odds are a starting point. Set by a track expert, they're a good idea of where the horse's value should lie. This horse will be the number one, and is listed at 8-1 - decent odds.
E - C'mon folks. It's the horse's name. In this case, Frontaine.
F - The Jockey can be found here. Much like NASCAR, that which is being ridden is doing a lot of the work, but a great driver is second to none. Look for names like J R Velazquez, Castellano, and Rosario as ones to stoke your gambling fire. Frederic Leclund will be aboard Frontaine.
G - At letter G we find the Trainer - the (wo)man behind it all. Pletcher, Mott, Romans, Asmussen are all names to watch out for. Frontaine's trainer is William Phillips.
H - Letters H-K are where the handicapping magics happens. These spell out the details of the horse's past performances - the single most important handicapping detail. Letter H details the date, track, track condition, and distance of said performances. Moving left to right, Frontaine's last race (the highest) was run on July 12, 2011, at Colonial Downs, on a firm turf course, at one and one sixteenth miles.
I - Past race's interval times, classifications, and purses are detailed at I. Each is critical. As was said, the quality of a horse can be inferred by their previous races' classifications and purses. Furthermore, paired with finishes, interval times can tell you how a horse has faired in races similar to the one figured to be run today. Moving left to right, Frontaine's last race posted an opening half mile in :48 seconds, three quarters of a mile in 1:12, and finished in 1:44. This race was an Allowance race (represented by the capital "A" to the right of the final time. Claiming races will lead with a C, Maidens with an M.) with a purse of $22,500.
J - The finishes mentioned above can be found at J. In fact, a closer look will give you where the horse sat in relation to its competition throughout the race. The larger digit represents the position he was in (first, second, fifth, etc), with the smaller representing the number of lengths he sat either behind the leader or in front of second place. In his last race, Frontaine broke from the eight post (the first of these numbers) and immediately found himself in first, one length ahead of the field. In the end, however (the last number), he finished fifth, three and a half lengths behind the winner.
K - K provides you with the last bit of pertinent information on past performances. Here you'll find a brief comment on the horse's performance. "Came on strong" is a good comment. "Bested by strong-willed donkey," not so much. Frontaine drifted out and weakened during the race.
L - The final bit of book wisdom I'll leave you with is workout times. Found at L, they're the least reliable source of information, but good to have none the less. Each furlong (1/8 of a mile) should be run as close to 12 seconds as possible, so a five furlong work should be completed in roughly 60 seconds. Faster than 12 seconds per furlong is a great workout, slower than that is mediocre. Furthermore, the fraction to the right of the posted time tells you how this horse's workout measures up to times run by other horses that morning. Frontaine's last workout (on the far left), was a mediocre five furlongs in 1:02, and registered him as the third fastest horse of the five who took to the track that morning.
Tomorrow, be sure to check back for 10 handicapping tips. Follow me on Twitter @Joe_1045 and follow along for tips all meet long!