Well-Handicapped Horses Book Review

July 2012:
The publishers Raceform have kindly provided a review copy of a new book written by Jon Gibby called Well-Handicapped Horses. After a quick scan through it looks as if the methods described may hold some merit and we plan to publish a review of its contents and our initial findings in next month’s report.

August 2012:

As we mentioned in last month’s report the publishers Raceform had kindly provided a review copy of a new book written by Jon Gibby and having had a further opportunity to read and consider the methods he describes the initial impression is one of considerable merit.

Long standing members will be well aware of our stance on seeking new angles based on sound research as the only confident way that you can try to stay ahead in what is a constantly emerging and competitive punting environment. In the opening chapter of the book Jon himself agrees wholeheartedly with that approach and that the methods described in his first book, Betting on Flat Handicaps written some ten years ago, had gradually and irrevocably become less profitable.

His new methodology concentrates on trying to uncover unexposed horses that may be open to improvement and also most importantly could well be under the radar of those stalwart form book followers who are enchanted by numbers and purport to turn the art of handicapping into an exact science. In essence if there are valid reasons to suggest that a horse may be unexposed then it is by definition potentially well handicapped – hence the title of the book.

In the following chapter Jon makes out the case for basing his methods on Speed Ratings and thankfully for likely adopters of his suggestions he uses the readily accessible Topspeed ratings that are published in the Racing Post and Weekender newspaper. The ratings are based on the same scale as used by the official handicapper and subject to the going allowance and standard times used can provide an accurate way of comparing and therefore highlighting horses that may have been under rated by the BHA team.

Jon makes the case that form ratings are more likely to overrate horses than speed figures such as in slowly run contests when the tactics used and running positions of the horses decide the outcome rather than overall ability or class. Slowly run races will result in speed figures that are worthless as a measure of ability but at least they will never overrate the contestants.

Although the Topspeed ratings are used they are not just taken on face value but rather have to pass a number of sense checks. The way the author carries these out is to study the results section of the weekly published Weekender newspaper as it allows all the races at a meeting to be reviewed as a whole.
There are weather reports at the head of each meeting and in the case of rain the going may have deteriorated as the meeting progressed and may not have been allowed for in the going allowances used. There could also be cases of the majority of the races showing unusually high ratings possibly way above what the horses involved have achieved previously.

Some simple rules are used to try and avoid being taken in by over-inflated speed figures which are applied to handicap races as the official ratings are generally a decent yard stick. For example if a race was genuinely run in a fast time the field should be more strung out rather than finishing close up in a heap. If too many of the runners have been allotted a Topspeed figure above their official rating that should be suspicious as in his opinion only a handful usually reproduce their best form in a race. The book goes on to show a number of example races and the conclusions drawn by applying the sense checks and the chapter concludes with more areas of suggested consideration such as the effect on distances beaten across different going conditions and the impact of weight on ratings.

The next couple of chapters consider pace and the effect of the draw, some of which is going over some of the ground covered in his previous book. He offers up an adapted version of an idea originally developed by the American, William Quirin, which involved awarding horses speed points based on their early position in previous runs. By arranging the horses by stall number and noting the speed points to each runner you can get a feel for where the likely pace will be in the race. He argues that on straight courses it is common to see a field of runners take on an arrow head shape and that the winner will likely follow a similar path to the early leader assuming that one doesn’t make all.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to two-year-olds which are not so much considered for wagering purposes but more with a view to identifying horses to follow as three-year-olds. From July onwards the better 2yo’s tend to run and can offer ante-post opportunities for the next season Classics.

The case is made that Speed figures can be an excellent tool for identifying the best two-year-olds particularly on their debuts. Any two-year-old that is allotted a Topspeed rating of 80+ first time out is likely to prove to be at least Listed class and possibly even Group class.

A six point method is detailed and used as a basis for an ante-post punt on the Derby or Oaks and Workforce was amongst those uncovered. He was given a Topspeed rating of 90 on his debut run and went on to land the 2010 Derby and Arc.

The book was published a few months ago roughly around the time of the new flat turf season and in it the author detailed his ante-post picks for this year’s Derby and Oaks which were run a few weeks back. In the Fillies Classic, The Oaks, he gave two selections Kissed who did not run and The Fugue (ante-post 33/1) who came home in 3rd place at 11/4, whilst the Derby pick Perennial also did not make it to the Epsom Downs.

The remaining chapters cover some examples of the methods and how they were applied in recent times to highlight horses and how they subsequently performed, and concludes with details of 100 three-year-old horses that are potentially well-handicapped.

To date 85 of these have run and 35 (41%) have won a total of 44 races out of about 270 outings (16%). At the last count, betting blind on all runners will have returned a profit of +37pts at the early prices available, compared to an 18pt loss at SP. A high proportion have been heavily backed – more so than in previous years. That is pretty good considering that there have often been two or three runners competing in the same race, which necessarily lowers the strike rate. There have also been a good number of tricasts/forecasts landed including one tricast at 1502/1 when three qualifiers led by Counsel came home well clear of the rest at Kempton in June. A lot of the horses haven’t had their ground yet due to the unusually soft going so there should be plenty more winners when it finally becomes firmer.

In all the book flows well and makes for an interesting read but the acid test has to be could you take the methods on board and utilize them in a potentially profitable manner. With this in mind we went back over the form book from the start of the current turf flat season and made a list of horses that seemed to fit the criteria described indicating that they could be well-handicapped. The emphasis was on very unexposed horses so in the main these turned out to be mostly three-year-olds with a few late developing four-year-olds. For reasons of fair play we discounted those that had already subsequently won for fear of after-timing and concentrated on the remainder.

For the period 30th May to the end of June our list of well-handicapped horses offered up 22 qualifying runs of which 7 of the selections won their races and generated a profit to SP of +12.13 points. In terms of Return on Investment this represents a very healthy +55%. The individual winners were Sabhan, Highland Colori, Barwick, Fireship, Willie Wag Tail, Lady Kashaan and Fast Or Free.

The profits were even better when taking into account the early prices with the best odds guaranteed bookmakers and the highlight amongst the winners was undoubtedly the victory at Royal Ascot of the William Haggas trained Fast or Free. It seems appropriate to use this particular horse as an example of highlighting our interpretation of the suggested method in action. Fast Or Free was noted after winning on his handicap debut in what appeared to be a competitive race for 3yo’s at Newmarket, the result of which is shown below.

Running off an official mark of 80 he was allotted a Topspeed rating of 90 in what was noted by the Racing Post as a race run at a good pace and the horse had stayed on well to win in good style. The handicapper reacted to this performance by raising him to a mark of 87 which if the Speed Rating was accurate showed he had at least 3lb in hand and possibly more given he had only run 3 times at this stage.

His next race as mentioned earlier was the ultra competitive Britannia Handicap at the Royal Ascot meeting and he was available to back at 8/1 in the morning markets. After solid support in the pre-race betting he went off the 6/1 favourite and having chased the leader early on he took the lead 2f out and kept on well to win by 1 ¼ lengths.

He has subsequently been raised by the official handicapper to a mark of 96 which in effect means he was indeed well-handicapped although time will tell whether he has the ability to raise his game to cope with the next step up in class.

The method has elements that are potentially subjective and individual followers may well reach different conclusions to that of the author but based on our interpretation it has certainly lead to a number of relatively unexposed horses that have gone on to record improved performances.

In summary based on our experiences the methodology described in Well-Handicapped Horses is certainly worth closer inspection and if you have the time and discipline to follow may offer you an alternative way to enjoy your horse race punting.

Steve Carter

P.S. We are in contact with the author, Jon Gibby, with a view to compiling a questions and answers session to find out more about his methods, experiences and punting background.

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