• Username

Winning Without Handicapping





AtHome HorsePlayer

Winning at Horse Racing, Without Handicapping.


As we are well into the 21st century, it seems that horse racing is in deep decline as both a spectator sport, and as a gambling game that people enjoy playing. While there is a lot of speculation within the horse racing industry as to which happened first, I believe that the popularity of horse racing with average people lies in it's attractiveness as a gambling game.

As a participant and observer since the 1970's, my own analysis of how America's #1 Spectator sport has declined to today's low point is wrapped around the degree of difficulty in playing the game. For average people looking in, it must appear very difficult to play the game of horse racing, since the entire industry insists that the new player must first become a handicapper in order to understand and play the game.

By advertising this notion widely, and charging a high price for any information used in playing the game, a large number from 2 generations have abandoned horse racing for casinos and lottery games. Not because those games are better, or that most people can do better at those games, but, simply because those games are seen as being easier to play then horse racing.

From an entertainment perspective, the atmosphere of the casino, and the quick scratch of the gambling itch offered by lotteries may equal the appeal of horse racing for many people that consider only that face value. The horse racing industry has also painted itself into a corner by advertising widely the notion that you have to do a lot of hard work, in order to win at the game of horse racing.

At the casino, people can win by pulling a lever, at the lottery counter, one can win by handing over a dollar bill. This isn't very likely, but it is possible. If that is what people seek, they will look everywhere except the horse track when all that they know about horse racing, is that it is difficult to play.

As the developer of Ability-X Ratings, the 21st century past performance standard for horse racing. And, as the author of the AtHome HorsePlayer series, it is my hope and intention to dispel all of this miss-information for you, so that you can compare horse racing in equal light to all other games available. Because I believe that you will find, as I have, that horse racing is the most entertaining, and most rewarding game of them all.

And, that while you can apply any amount of work to it, it can be quite simple to play while you can enjoy an advantage over other players, and the race track, which becomes "the house" in horse racing.

I say that because, even while the wagering model in horse racing is Pari-Mutuel (pronounced paree – mutuel, and originating in paris, meaning – amongst ourselves), race tracks gain an advantage over other players by organizing the races around a betting menu that they install. Race tracks must put together exciting and competitive races to support the full and varied menu, in doing that successfully, they gain what amounts to a house advantage.

The pari-mutuel model is designed to be fair by having all players place their bets in one mutuel pool that the race track holds, and disperses at the end of each race, removing an agreed upon fee (takeout) for this service. In this model, it is proposed that the players bet "amongst themselves" or against each other to determine the odds for the eventual winners. Since the race track does not set the odds, as would a bookmaker, it is seen as an impartial agent that simply facilitates the game for the players.

As often happens, with concepts of fairness, the concept of pari-mutuel wagering is also turned upside down by those that put it into day to day operation. In order to have what amounts to a "house advantage" in knowledge and information for purposes of wagering with the public, and having an edge in doing so.

Although I make this statement with confidence, I do not present it as a negative thing. As compared to the house advantage in all other gambling games, the race track taking advantage of the pari-mutuel model leads right into an advantage for any player that understands it. Whether you are a beginner, casual player, or veteran horseplayer.

Understanding the true nature of the competition in any game can be all of the advantage you need to win.

At the beginning, I don't ask that you join me in that conclusion just now. But, I do ask that you will consider carefully all of the horse racing wagering strategies I will lay out here. In consideration of the fact that none of the following strategies require you to engage in past performance handicapping, it is my hope that you can join me in that conclusion very soon.

Because horse racing is now the easiest wagering game to engage in, right from home, or anywhere else, through the internet.

While that is good news all by itself, it gets even better when you realize that horse racing is also the most consistent game that you can bet on. You will never hear it from the race track, but, horse racing today is the same consistent game going back to the 1880's.

Race tracks know it, and that is the advantage when betting. It will be your advantage every time you apply it, and you can apply it as often, as opportunity presents itself.

In horse racing, that is pretty much daily.

The Game of the Horse Racing Game


With the heavy suggestion that you should really learn to handicap, or become a handicapper, the horse racing industry really tips it's hand in hiding the real game of horse racing.

As a student of handicapping you are brought along with the idea that you can figure out which horse is likely to win, and that you are playing this game against the other handicappers involved. The winner is the handicapper that can figure out the most races on any given day. That sounds more like a job, and a lot less like a leisure-time activity, that can be rewarding.

The other problem in swallowing this idea that handicapping is the way to win in horse racing is the fact that very few do win, while most do not. While race tracks have been selling the information for handicapping, paying professional handicappers to do it for you, and teaching you how to do it.

The reason being that the purpose of the handicapping game is to distract you from the horse racing game.

While most of the players that are still playing horses are actually playing the handicapping game today, this is the game that has been widely rejected by the public at large, because it is not the real game that the public at large would really like to play. The real game that the general public would like to play so much more, is the game that race tracks are playing against handicappers. That game holds the most reward for players, and race tracks hold it for themselves.

To put it plainly, the race tracks are the largest group that is playing the real game of horse racing today, while handicappers (the main customer group) are still trying to figure the races out, and the public at large intuitively knows that they would be playing against the race track, at great dis-advantage, if they indulged in the game of horse racing, as handicappers.

So, for the average person, it is off to the casino or lottery counter.

This has brought on the general decline of horse racing, and at the same time, is what makes horse racing the greatest of gambling games for anyone that is willing to play it according to how it is, instead of how it is supposed to be.

The starting point, is in understanding how the game was before there was a past performance newspaper to buy, and that the handicapping has always been done already. The only thing that re-doing it will accomplish, is confusion.

I know this sounds confusing, but, what it amounts to is that the race tracks are the true experts on which horses are likely to run well today. But, instead of fully supplying that information to the customer in order to have the seats filled with satisfied customers (players), race tracks keep some information to themselves.

What the race tracks sell to the public, as information for playing the game, is a century old format, and not very revealing for making good betting decisions. Which is actually what any player needs to do, in order to be a winner at horse racing. Just making good betting decisions will take any player to winning.

Where race tracks do not want to reveal this, it is plainly revealed by the format of Ability-X Ratings, and in using that format to make intelligent bets, anyone can learn everything about how horse racing is. Overall, horse racing is much more winnable than any other gambling game.

While this Ebook is intended to show you how you can successfully play the game without using any past performance information at all, I mention my experience in developing Ability-X Ratings only to show how much research I have put into these methods in recent years. My first exposure to the notion of playing horse races without doing any handicapping, is rooted in the methods I learned from Chuck Berndt in 1981.

Chuck Berndt was a legendary horse player that made a fine living at the windows for over 60 years, and still the only man in America to attract over 1000 people a day to live seminars at a thoroughbred track. Although the horse tracks have spent their energy in not recognizing the betting genius of Chuck Berndt publicly, I suspect they took in the lessons, perhaps better than anyone did.

Chuck Berndt died in May, 2010, at the age of 85. He never missed an opening day at Gulfstream Park, and is a member of the Hall of Fame there. He played and taught the consistencies of horse racing, the long established percentages that were well established even before his time. They exist even today after his passing. This longevity is testament to the real truth of horse racing.

In the past 40 years, it has been the race tracks that have discovered that you can't go wrong betting on horse racing. While they circulate the concept that you can't beat the races and sell the player an obsolete format for past performance handicapping.

At best, past performance handicapping is a distraction to be overcome by the player desiring to play and win at the real game of horse racing. Much of that game, for the race track, is wrapped around steering the public toward betting the same over-bet favorites, all of the time, instead of simply informing the public as to how they could make intelligent betting decisions in all races.

Mostly because at times, no bet, is the most intelligent decision the player can make.

Informing and enabling the public can easily be done, because the truth has always been that the handicapping is already done. It has always been that the betting is what makes the difference, no matter the handicapping. In the days of old, 40 years ago, horse racing needed to support a betting menu that was quite limited by modern standards. There was Win/Place/Show, a Perfecta, Trifecta and a Daily Double.

The Perfecta (today's Exacta) is the first two finishers W/P, and usually was not available in all races. The Trifecta, the first three finishers W/P/S was typically available in the 4th,6th,8th, and 10th races of the day.

Three contenders and another horse that could win, would provide all the excitement that horseplayers craved in those days. Players had a chance to win whether they chose to be handicappers or, even if they just played the percentages. Future lottery players could play the 3-5-7 perfecta in the 3rd, 5th, and 7th races, and the 4-6-8 trifecta in the 4th, 6th, and 8th races.

For regular people, the daily double (original serial win wager, 1st and 2nd races) was wide open.

Playing the game of horse racing has always been about making a good bet. As an example of this, and an example of why I say that the handicapping has always been done, I can cite the long standing win percentages for the Morning Line top 3. The Morning Line odds is probably the oldest form of handicapping in horse racing. It has always been astonishingly accurate, even going back to the oldest records found, from 1880-1885.

The Morning Line is not intended to reflect the horses actual chances of winning in the line makers opinion, it is intended to reflect how the public at large will bet the race. With the Morning Line odds, knowledge of the winning percentages for the top 3 or 4 Morning Line choices, and what a player can observe on race day before post time, intelligent bets can be made. This was true in 1885, and it is still true in 2012.

In 1885, the favorite could be counted on to win 40% of the races, the second ML choice 22%, and the 3rd ML choice 18%. One of these three would win 8 out of 10 races. The game of horse racing revolved around the player's ability to discern which of these 3 would be a good bet for any given race, or if one from the rest of the field might be a good bet. If it were the 6th race of the day and the favorite had already won 4, and second choice 1, the good bet might be the 3rd ML choice, if the odds were increasing from 4-1 to 6-1. Or perhaps, the 3rd ML choice had already been started out at 5-1 by the line maker, before knowing what the player knows at this point.

The player is able to take advantage of what the line maker knew before the 1st race went off. The player can also take advantage of the information in hand from races 1 through 5. If the player knows the percentages, along with today's past performances being known (races run today). On the threshold of the 6th race, the player realizes that he/she is getting an increased price on a horse with increasing chance of winning. In the 3rd ML choice.

This condition might hold all the way through the 9th race of the day. If the player simply bet the 3rd ML choice at 4-1 or better odds in the last 4 races, chances are good that 1 race could be won, putting the player at least 1 betting unit ahead for the day. This is the game of horse racing, making good betting decisions. Making good betting decisions is not difficult or complex. And, the best way to learn the game, is to play the game. This is another aspect of the horse racing game that is still intact today.

Of course, a player could play the sound percentages of horse racing in many ways, and in the 1880's, practically everyone was familiar with the horse, how they looked when in good condition, and how they behaved when feeling good. All of this could be added in for a fun and entertaining afternoon of playing the game of horse racing.

For casual, and leisure time players, these methods of making a good bet at the horse track remained workable and enjoyable for 100 years, and they could still be employed today. Perhaps, even more effectively than in years past. But, today most casual and leisure time players spend their time and money with casino games and lottery tickets because they have been led to believe that betting horse racing is complex, difficult, and requires a great deal of past performance handicapping knowledge.

They also realize that even though the betting standard for horse racing is the pari-mutuel model, race tracks have an advantage in the wagering that is at least equal to the house advantage in other gambling games. The information for all of horse racing comes from the race tracks themselves through their own conglomeration known as Equibase. Since the formation of Equibase in 1990, all information that the player has to work with comes from the race tracks themselves.

This situation is similar to the Green Bay Packers supplying everything necessary (except an equal chance), to the local high school team for a series of games. I doubt that the high schoolers would come back frequently.

With this in mind, the modern seeker of leisure time diversion does not have horse racing on the list of gambling games to play. The sad point for everyone involved is that what the modern leisure time player believes about horse racing being complex today has never really been true. That message has just been steadily pumped out to the public for decades in the interest of marketing past performance handicapping and all of the informational products that go with it.

The only thing that separates the modern game of horse racing from the past game, is the betting menu. With W/P/S, Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta (first 4 finishers) – on every race, and Daily Double, Pick3, Pick4, Pick5 & 6 on most of them, 3 sound contenders and 1 that could win, would make for a very boring afternoon at the track. Results would be very bland, unless there were 6 sound contenders in each race, and 1 that could win. That is the kind of competition a race track needs to line up for every race of the day, for the modern game. And, they do.

In putting together solidly competitive races, it became necessary for the race tracks to become experts in ability. The race track can not organize the kind of competitive racing that is exciting and challenging to all players and supports the full betting menu without knowing ability well.

The betting menu of modern horse racing requires that each race has more sound contenders running today than what the past performance handicapping format can well rank, for the player.

This reality puts the casual player in a position where he or she may as well pick numbers, or bet relatives birthdays. But, the race track won't inform the potential customer to that extent.

No wonder so many have walked away, the race track is selling expensive, antiquated, and complex information for a leisure-time pursuit of betting on horses. Where they….. the true professionals demonstrate superiority in betting, on a daily basis.

While that superiority does not come from more difficult or complex information, it simply comes from a better understanding of it.

Play it simple, keep it simple… it's just a game, play it. You will win!

That headline is not just for the beginner, but for all players of the horse racing game. You will get much more out of it, by keeping in mind that the handicapping has always been done for you. The fun, entertainment, satisfaction and enjoyment of winning comes from you putting your unique final touches on that work.

Horse racing is the one game where you can bring your unique perspective, learn as much as you want, and as you do that, make it your own game. This truth has been demonstrated by many over the past 140 years. George E. Smith (AKA Pittsburg Phil) did it, Chuck Berndt did it, I did it, you can do it too. There are several ways that you can do it, without handicapping at all.

If you do not want to engage in past performance handicapping, or any other method of rating horses yourself for betting purposes, the best way to move ahead, and compete well with the crowd, is to use the Morning Line as your handicapping or method of rating. Going back to the 1880's, the Morning Line is the most consistent part of organized horse racing, and it is unlikely to ever change.

In the ML, you have all that past performance handicapping can provide, without the distraction of doing any past performance handicapping. If you can accept the ML as an accurate product of professional handicapping, there is little reason to do any past performance handicapping yourself.

Especially when you realize that getting stuck on the positive handicapping aspects of a horse's record may be the largest obstacle to an intelligent bet today.

The accuracy of the ML, over 130 years may be the best argument for horseplay, without handicapping. The fact that the favorite will win 30% of the races today is huge. When you add to that the fact that the 1st and 2nd ML choices will win 50% of the races today, it is monumental evidence of both the accuracy of past performance handicapping, and its limitations.

When you consider that in the 1880's, before there were printed past performances, the ML 1st and 2nd choice won 60% of the races, you can see how getting stuck on a record can be a detriment to winning a wager. According to this evidence, handicapping past performances as we know it today, may be more to confuse than to enlighten.

I'll add to this, my own opinion, as I tossed past performances as a guide for betting decisions in 1981. I believe that any player is much better off to base betting decisions on the ML, and the betting activity today, than on any past performance record, or any factor of that record. Except for Ability-X Ratings, which are, like the ML itself, a very accurate reflection of past performances.

With this understanding in mind, consider the concept of you simply filling the role of player. With the handicapping already done, and the ML in hand, you have the awesome job of predicting the outcome of a horse race down to a simple analysis of the known factors.

From that analysis, it is well within your capabilities to add the information that you can plainly see in the minutes before the race, to confidently make a good betting decision…. every-time.

You might want to re-read that a few times to make sure that you understand it, there is nothing more powerful then putting an understanding of this to simple use. In your analysis, you will be simply examining the known factors, in order to make a reasonable judgment and/or prediction of the unknown. A good understanding of the concept will work to prevent giving in to the temptation of complicating things beyond reason.

In basing your play on the ML, you are basically putting the field of horses for the race today into two groups that are relatively equal, within each group. To use the modern percentages, we can say that the first four in the ML are likely winners today (75%), and the rest are likely losers (25%), at least where the win is concerned. Horses in each group are seen as being relatively equal for chances today, one has to show a serious edge of some kind in order to earn a bet to win.

Picking winners at the racetrack will always be simple as long as you keep it simple, all that you don't know about horse racing will become clear to you as you gain experience. Never short-circuit that natural process by seeking to learn more about handicapping, there simply is nothing more there.

The proof of that, is history. For over one hundred years, intelligent men and women have applied themselves to figuring out the winner of the horse race. For all of that effort, over all of that time, involving thousands upon thousands of smart, well-educated people from every walk of life, the Morning Line top 3 still wins 67% of the races, and the average win mutuel paid in North America is still 4-1.

I offer these stone cold, and hard facts, once again in 2013, after first offering them in 1982. Still the same, after several more decades, and where many may have thought it insignificant 30 years ago, at this point, I offer that this is the key to understanding how betting on horse racing works, and how it doesn't work.

The strategy of figuring out the winner of a horse race is one that will leave you a minute late and $2 short, almost every-time. The 33% percent of the time where you bet the horse that “figures”, and it wins, will leave you well short of a goal to understand and win at horse racing.

The likely winner, that is also a good bet, will almost always “figure” in a completely different way, and within a completely different view.

At this point in time, I truly believe that this situation is that which has been the desire of race tracks, from the time that Pittsburg Phil broke 16 bookmakers, and succeeded as a bettor in legendary fashion. George E. Smith is credited with inventing the result chart that supposedly launched the format of “form” that we know today.

The cork-cutter from Pennsylvania, decided to learn everything he could about horse racing in the late 1870's. In doing that, he launched a 25 year betting career, amassing a fortune of 3.5 million dollars at his death in 1905. A modern equivalent of 84 million dollars, from betting on horses.

He is credited with being the father of “form” handicapping since he kept records, as many large bettors of his day also did. It was only Pittsburg Phil though, that enjoyed such incredible success over the entire span of his career. It is obvious that he was truly unique in his methods, and that if anyone knows what he did, and how he did it, they certainly would be no more inspired to lay it out for us, then he was himself.

The race tracks and book makers of the day hired Pinkerton detectives to follow him around and try to figure out what he was doing and which horses he was betting. Although he is remembered as being some ultimate wizard of handicapping, I believe that he was simply an excellent bettor. He had developed his visual skills to the point that he could measure thoroughbred ability by watching the races.

I believe that he connected that acquired skill to the natural gift of a photographic memory, and made good betting decisions by applying all of that with a good degree of common sense. Simple, and very effective. The key is to have a reasonably accurate measure of the horses ability for the race today.

After over one hundred years of past performance “form” handicapping, the horses ability to run today is the most difficult thing to pry from the antiquated format of “form”. The reason for that is because, if you had a reasonably accurate measure of the horses ability to run today, that single item of information would unlock every mystery that horse racing holds for betting purposes.

Even without it, you can become a formidable bettor by understanding that past performances are past, yet they are the basis of the Morning Line Odds, and with that in hand the handicapping is already done, to the highest degree that anyone can do it.

The only thing you can accomplish in becoming a handicapper, is to get stuck on a performance from weeks ago, that, at best, might be repeated today, one third of the time. Yet every time that you bet on that information, you will be following the crowd, betting an over-bet horse for minimum reward on maximum risk.

Because all handicappers are trying to “figure out” the winner, in the same basic way, there is no advantage in being one of that crowd. There is only an advantage in betting against that crowd.

That is the exact reason that the race track publishes past performances, in a format that is useless for your purposes in winning at this game. As long as you will spend time and money trying to figure out the winner, it is good for anyone that knows the percentages of horse racing, and can simply play them according to the Morning Line Odds.

That may as well be you, because if you can resist the temptation of figuring, the odds are always on your side.

There are several strategies that you can use well, without doing any handicapping yourself, and still make intelligent bets. They are as time-honored and proven as the basic percentages are also. The first strategy is very simple, and it is as powerful as it is simple. It requires patience and discipline, but, all of that is rewarded well.

It is betting the 1st or 2nd ML choice, or favorite's when one or the other is bet down to 50% of its ML at 1 minute to post, or even inside of 1 minute to post. This operates on the fact that these two will win 50% of the races with daily consistency. The handicapper's problem has always been which one, and at which time?

Where the past performances have always been of little use in making this decision, the betting has always been of great use. The favorite will win consistently when it is bet down to 50% of its ML. When it is not, it loses with the same uncanny consistency. When the favorite is not bet down to 50% of its ML, and the 2nd ML choice is, that is the horse to shift to. You are following what Chuck Berndt called the professional money. But, really today, I call it the insider money.

In 1980 you could best find it on the board at the NY circuit, which has always included whichever S.Florida track had the winter racing dates. Today, as I research Ability-X Ratings, I see it all across N. American tracks. I am amazed at how it goes un-noticed, but then again, most bettors have there eyes glued to PP's, and have been told for decades that the ML is meaningless. But, if you called 50% of the ML a legitimate bet-down by the insiders (whoever they are), you will often go 3 for 3 betting it, anywhere in the country.

I'll use Tampa Bay Downs as an example, because it is an average track, and I don't need any special permission to use Ability-X Ratings as PP's for these purposes. I'll also cut to the video for illustration. http://youtu.be/Wsp96r5Z_TI



Of course the favorites strategy does call for conservatism, and some players like some more excitement to keep them going from wager to wager. If this describes you, you may really enjoy the 3rd ML choice method, which can also be applied as the 3rd Post Time choice also. This allows you to couple it with the bet-down strategy, and take advantage of everyone else for opinions and guidance.

Especially the guidance of the insider money. The 3rd ML choice is my all-time favorite for producing a profit from horse racing. If you think about it, it is almost like being in a can't lose situation. In the 3rd ML or 3rd Post time choice, you have a horse that will win 20% (rounded), of the time at average odds around 5-1. It seems to remain horse racing's greatest betting secret because it is just too simple.

And, that is exactly the kind of wagering opportunity I want to include in this Ebook.

We will again visit Tampa Bay downs using the same day as an example:



Those are some of the reasons that I have always been partial to the 3rd choice. It is an amazing study of consistency. This brings me to the third strategy for winning without handicapping. Betting longshots, it may be the most difficult because there is little to work with when you don't have the edge of knowing what the abilities are. The 50% bet-down is the most reliable indicator in this case.

It is reliable, and you do have some latitude if you want it, the high odds offer maximum protection. But, it takes experience to be able to keep your cool and keep the emotional demons away.

Let's go to Tampa Bay Downs again for a Sunday card: http://youtu.be/WadmDr8PO88



A few examples of the bet-down longshot, if you are a patient and conservative player, this might be the best strategy for you. With little to work with, other than the betting activity on a longshot, say bet from 20-1 ML to 10-1 at post time, you can usually be sure that the betting is coming from a knowledgeable source. And, the public usually doesn't notice at all. If you are patient and wait for these opportunities, you can take serious advantage. It is also usually another consistent situation in modern racing, since many tracks have the races loaded with contenders.

Even without the betting action, if you see signs of stable intention like a great warm-up with no lead pony, and a great physical presence, longshots can present great value plays in today's game.

Judging the horses physically is another method that can be applied along with any other method for making an intelligent bet. When horses are in great physical condition and feel good, they show it. This is the best signal of stable intentions that any player can get. Some players like to go down to the paddock to get a good up close look at the horses minutes before the race, to make sure that they are in good condition, or to spot signs of poor condition.

Over the years that I have played away from the track, I have found that a player can do just as well by watching the post parade and warmup on the track video feed. Most tracks do a poor job of displaying this aspect through the camera, but, you can do a pretty good job in observing the post parade.

Even if the race track does a poor job of following warmups, you can usually see which horses are without lead ponies, with the intention of warming up briskly. As the camera shows the favorite walking to the post, you might notice the live horse fly by a couple of times during a serious warmup.

Observing the horses pre-race on the track is a skill that anyone can develop with practice. It also provides the kind of engagement with the game that other gambling games just do not have. An appreciation of this aspect of horse racing can take you a long way as a skilled bettor.

Casino and Lottery games will turn on the luck of the draw, all that you can do is to roll the dice with them. But, in horse racing, you have the opportunity to partner with an animal that has a boundless competitive spirit, and all of the people behind it that are working to win.

When you set past performance handicapping aside, your eyes can be filled with many great signals of a solid performance today. When you can couple that with high odds, profit can still be high even if accuracy is low.

The game is wide open today, a sharp and open mind can take advantage and learn a great deal about the great game of horse racing. Play the consistencies, and the game is yours.


This guide is intended to help you in keeping your wagering basic and uncomplicated to best compliment the use of the Morning Line for wagering. Let the professionals do most of the work, and if you go south onto some complexities, just come right back to the basics, and the world will right itself again.

Feel free to email me with any questions that you may have about horse racing, Ability-X Ratings, or anything related that you are having problems with. Also, check the Ability-X Ratings YouTube channel for the latest on Ability-X Ratings.

Thanks, Jon


Copyright 2012-2015 Jon D. Luman


Leave a Reply