Handicapping Track Configurations

For the novice bettors, horse racing can appear to be overwhelming at the start. There is the unusual jargon, the appearance of hustle bustle, and the energy of the horses themselves, but to get a grip on the game and to make that first step toward making winning bets, one has to figure out the nuts and bolts of the game.

As an introduction, let’s start with the track itself, how most of them are configured and what to look for when watching a race or handicapping.

There are keys right there that can make the difference between winning at the windows or going home early and if you don’t know what you are looking at or what your are supposed to be looking for, then you are at a distinct disadvantage.

Most of the major tracks are one-mile ovals. They include famous venues like Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Churchhill. Belmont Park is a one and a half-mile oval. The most common distance to race is 6 furlongs. A furlong is an 8th of a mile, thus 6 furlongs is three quarters of a mile. When one looks at a particular track as a whole, there will be numerous poles around the track. Poles are so named because of their distance from the finish line. So the 3/4 pole is 6 furlongs from the finish, the 1/4 pole is 2 furlongs from the finish. The 1/8 pole is an 8th of a mile or one furlong from the finish. In reviewing past performances, the stretch call is always an 8th of a mile from the finish.

Poles and knowing where they are key to understanding the game. They are constantly referred to in the past performances and in the reporting of the race in the charts. Poles are color coded to make them easier to recognize in the heat of battle. The 1/8 poles are green and white. The 1/16 poles are black and white and the 1/4 poles are green and white.

Once one can figure out where each pole is, the running of the race can become crystallized be just reading the past performances and the comments in the notes. If a horse was ‘steadied’ at the 1/4 pole, the handicapper knows that the horse ran into a problem with 2 furlongs to go. If a horse was forced to ‘take up’ at the 1/8 pole, the racegoer knows that the horse had to stop his stride at a crucial part of the race.

Different tracks and different distance present the handicapper with new problems. If a horse draws the rail going a mile one a track like Santa Anita, which is one mile in circumference, the horse has a quick run to the 1st turn and a built-in advantage IF he has the speed from the gate to take advantage of the inside post. Conversely, if a horse is in post 8 in a mile race on a mile track, he will need to expend serious energy in order to make or challenge for the lead because of the quick run to the 1st bend.

Aqueduct is a 1 1/8-mile oval. Thus, if a race is carded at 1 1/8 miles, the horse that draws the rail has a distinct advantage if he has speed and is able to break cleanly and reach the 1st turn quickly.

The configuration of tracks and turf courses must be understood and utilized properly when attempting to assess the chances of a particular horse and if you are blind to these nuisances, you will see the bankroll dwindle.