The Best Horse Racing Books

General Interest Horse Racing Books

Commonsense Betting by Dick Mitchell

Winning at the track takes more than good handicapping. In addition to an excellent chapter on money management, Mitchell teaches you how to calculate the cost of any exotic wager, make an odds line, as well as how to know when a bet is offering value on the tote board.

Modern Pace Handicapping By Tom Brohammer

If you only read one book about pace handicapping, this should be the one. Nack gives us a ring side seat for all the twists and turns leading up to his incredible Triple Crown Campaign. In this book, recently republished by DRF Press, he brings together a comprehensive overview of most aspects of modern handicapping theory. If you’ve ever wanted to know about feet-per-second calculations, early, late and sustained pace, decision models, track profiles and all the other tools of high-tech pace handicapping, this is the place to start.

Champions by Daily Racing Form Staff

An awesome collection of lifetime past performance for every eclipse award winner since the 1890’s. He also provides a figure method for the turf based on late speed as a deciding factor.

Thoroughbred Handicapping State of the Art by William Quirin

Quirin was among the first to do a major computer study of American horse racing. I can’t imagine a horse racing fan who won’t enjoy paging through this book.

The Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping by James Quirin

Quinn was the most prolific of handicapping writers in the 80’s and 90’s. I particularly enjoyed Ragozin’s war stories about his experiences as a horse owner and bettor (he and his partner Len Friedman have poured millions into the parimutuel pools over the years). My favorite part of the book details Beyer’s expedition into the virgin territory of Australian racing, where he attempted to use his figures to conquer the fat betting pools down under.

The Race for the Triple Crown by Joe Drape

New York Times writer Joe Drape gives an excellent history of a year on the Derby Trail among the high class stables of New York, a world far removed from the scrape-along lifestyle at most race tracks.

My $50,000 Year at the Races by Andrew Beyer

Andy Beyer always delivers a good read, and this account of his home run year of 1977 when he beat the races for 50 large while splitting his time between Gulfstream Park and the Maryland tracks is one of my favorite racing books ever. A great portrait of the greatest horse of all time.

Money Secrets at the Racetrack by Barry Meadow

Many consider this the best book ever written on money management and the mathematical aspect of value betting and exotic betting. Ragozin doesn’t give away the store here, but there’s still plenty of good information as well as an enjoyable read for horse racing fans.

The Winning Horseplayer by Andrew Beyer

Written in 1983 it’s still an excellent introduction to trip handicapping and how to relate trips to speed figures. The book is more notable for its exiting narrative than its handicapping secrets, but speed figures and track bias played a large part in his success.

Handicapping Magic by Michael Pizzolla

There haven’t been a lot of additions to the body of handicapping knowledge since the glory days of the 70’s and 80’s, but former Sartin disciple Pizzolla at least contributes something new with his Balanced Speed Ratings and Fulcrum Pace. I’ve divided this article into two sections, one focusing on handicapping books, and the other on more general interest books. Sadly, several of the books mentioned here are out of print, but they can often be found on ebay or at abebooks. There’s something about the beauty of the thoroughbred and the color of the backstretch that brings out the lyrical side of many writers. I’ve spent countless happy hours with this book revisiting some old friends as well as learning about the greats before my time. This book covers speed and pace figures, Quirin Speed Points, pedigree handicapping on the grass, even trip handicapping. Beyer on Speed gives a solid overview of how speed figures are made as well as how they might be employed for betting success. Beyer always interleavens his handicapping books with lots of good stories that bring out the magic of the track from the bettor’s point of view.

What are the best horse racing books?  Horse Racing has an excellent body of literature that surpasses most sports in its quality and variety. Crist, an executive and columnist with the Daily Racing Form, has ably filled that hole with this book, which offers some solid strategies for tackling both single and multi-race exotics. A great book to dip into when a losing streak has you looking for new ideas.

Figure Handicapping By James Quinn

As the title suggests, speed and pace figures are the focus here. Here are my choices for the best horse racing books.

Handicapping Books

Kinky Handicapping by Mark Cramer

Cramer is one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking handicapping writers there is, and Kinky Handicapping is his magnum opus. MPH contains a complete overview of the classic Sartin Methodology by its best-known (and perhaps most successful) practitioner. A meticulously researched account of Seabiscuit’s rags to riches story, as well as that of his owner, trainer, and jockey.

Exotic Betting by Steven Crist

Most of the best handicapping books were written before exotic betting came to dominate the mutual pools, and this has left a big hole in the literature for horseplayers seeking the big score. Not a great place to start for the novice, but well worth reading for more experienced players.

. A must for every horseplayer’s bookshelf.

Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack

Nack is a long time Sports Illustrated writer who had unprecedented access to the great Secretariat and his connections during “Big Red’s” amazing career. The focus here is on non-fiction books, although there’s no shortage of fictional horse racing books. Crist is a pick six specialist, and his treatment of how to use multiple tickets to tackle that difficult bet is well worth the price of the book.

Betting Thoroughbreds by Steve Davidowitz

For my money this is the best general handicapping book ever written, and a great place to start for novices looking to expand their knowledge as well as more seasoned players looking to move up. Meadow is a serious player and the information here is rock solid.

Stud: Adventures in Breeding by Kevin Conley

A behind-the-scenes look at the world of high-class breeding, where millions of dollars are at stake, and wealthy breeders roll the dice as they “breed the best to the best and hope for the best.” Conley gives as a look into the breeding life of the great sire Storm Cat, as well as the Godolphin breeding operation, where Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum spends tens of millions trying for that elusive Derby winner

Speed Handicapping by Andrew Beyer

By the time this was written in 1993, speed figures had lost most of their value in the parimutuel pools, but Beyer is nothing if not a die hard figure player. Quinn gives an introduction into how figures are made, as well as their application as part of the general handicapping process. Davidowitz gives a solid treatment of virtually all aspects of handicapping from speed and pace handicapping to workouts, conditioning, trainers, pedigree, and betting strategy. Cramer virtually invented the idea of unconventional handicapping as a way of uncovering hidden value, and here he offers ways to use pedigree handicapping, company lines, and other contrarian methods to beat the speed handicappers at their own game.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

A book that hardly needs an introduction, given the sensation it made when published. It also requires solid money management, and that’s where Commonsense Betting comes in. The information is certainly a bit dated, but there’s still lots of good food for thought considering the book was published 25 years ago.

Horse of a Different Color by Jim Squires

A great account of what it’s like to be a small time breeder by Jim Squires, the former Chicago Tribune editor turned thoroughbred breeder who hit the big time when he bred the Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.

Laughing in the Hills by Bill Barich

Barich is a terrific writer, and here he gives a wonderful account of bumming around the Northern California racing circuit in the late 1970s, marking time and getting to know the colorful denizens of the Golden Gate Fields backside.

The Odds Must Be Crazy by Len Ragozin

Ragozin is the creator of the famous “Sheets” performance figures (which some consider a bargain at $25 a pop), and this autobiography cum handicapping tome gives a broad overview of how the numbers are created as well as how their users employ pattern matching to find live horses that may offer solid value in the mutual pools

The Most Accurate Election Forecast? Hardcore Gamblers

The papers’ sources were betting firms, which had men present at speeches made by the candidates in order to make “unbiased reports of the psychological reactions of the audiences.”

Maloney is a youthful fifty-two, with alert, light blue eyes and a cheerful demeanor. Several newer off-shore sites are more lenient, however.

Responding to such discomfort, state laws increasingly limited organized election betting. Betting persisted, but in the shadows. I have reason to believe he’s a sort of mathematical genius.

“In presidential races such as 1896, 1900, 1904, 1916, and 1924, the New York Times, Sun, and World provided nearly daily [betting] quotes from early October until Election Day,” write Rhode and Strumpf.

The advent of polls marked the end of an era. “They take voter fraud into their metrics. A “whale” (bettor of thousands of dollars per day) I interviewed, Mike Maloney, successfully traded securities, options and futures, but chose to go to the track every day instead because it offered him a greater challenge. “Gamblers have more experience with cheaters,” he said. Now he’s editor of the thoroughbred industry insiders’ must-read Paulick Report. A John McCain win would pay $6.80 for every dollar bet.

Relative to the polls, the betting markets have to think hard about what they’re saying since they are putting their money at stake. . People may say what is politically correct, the questions may be leading, the pollsters may be biased. Among the reasons he gave me:

I asked him: “Do you think handicappers can forecast the outcome of the presidential election better than polls?”

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“On Election Night I’ll look at the movement on the betting sites to see what’s going on,” Strumpf says. Nor do polls take into account how each state’s secretary of state factors in, or systems within a state designed to eliminate voters; Jimmy the Greek called these ‘the intangibles.'”

Of course that’s just one election. Accordingly little data exists from 1940 through 1984, though it’s enough that Strumpf concludes gamblers were more accurate than the pollsters in that period too. Bookmakers must make an accurate line or they lose — period.”

As did rival site Intrade. “I watch CNN too, out of the corner of an eye, but it’s not necessary.”

Currently, Betfair lists Barack Obama as an overwhelming 1-7 favorite (paying $8 for a $7 winning bet). “Prior to Gallup’s introduction in 1936, newspapers had little else to report about the election horserace other than the betting markets,” Strumpf said. Betting on political outcomes often drew huge crowds to Wall Street and exceeded trading in stocks and bonds. He doesn’t chomp on a cigar. He’s in no way a Damon Runyon character. And the gamblers might have had a perfect record had the Curb Market stayed open long enough to take into account late-breaking news from the West.

Betfair also had all 50 states right in 2004.

It’s still illegal for United States citizens to wager on the presidential election; Betfair and Intrade try to bar American bettors.

Koleman Strumpf, a University of Kansas economics professor who tracks betting trends, believes wagering is an incomparable barometer of an election. “There are many, many, many more factors to consider in betting horseraces,” he said.

They begin with America’s long history of wagering on political outcomes, which boomed in the 1880s when betting moved from poolrooms to the Curb Exchange, the predecessor to the American Stock Exchange.

For a second opinion I went to Ray Paulick, who was a protégé of notorious oddsmaker “Jimmy The Greek” before becoming a handicapper for the Daily Racing Form. Also polls tend to reflect what people are thinking at a given moment, versus a forecast of what will happen on election day — post-convention bounces, for instance.

The multi-billion dollar online gaming industry offers evidence that Maloney and Paulick are, as usual, on the money.

With University of Arizona economist Paul Rhode, Strumpf authored a study — “Historical Presidential Betting Markets,” published in Journal of Economic Perspectives — that demonstrates that the betting market’s forecasting superiority is nothing new. Polls don’t. Probably hundreds of fifth-grade social studies students correctly predicted Bush’s margin of victory to a decimal place, right?

Recently I was in Kentucky, reporting on horseracing for Garden & Gun.

The advent of internet wagering offers a clearer picture: “Since 1988, the betting markets have definitely been more accurate,” Strumpf said.

Michael Robb, political expert for the British bookmaking site Betfair.com, lets the record speak for itself: Halfway through Election Day in 2004, when a CNN poll showed Kerry taking the lead, Betfair had Bush with a 91% chance to win.

In the fifteen elections between 1884 and 1940, the betting firms were wrong just once, in 1916, when Wilson upset Hughes. “When scientific polls came along, newspapers had something to report other than markets they were oftentimes uncomfortable with.”

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He didn’t hesitate. A pollster can still bill for an inaccurate poll. “Polls can be inaccurate

Horse Racing Systems: 5 That Work

None of these systems will make you rich, or even guarantee that you will make a profit. None of them work.

Horse Racing System #4 – Bet low-priced favorites to place. In most case the public seems to take a horse’s last running line at face value. The horse with the best combination of the two is the play.

Instead of blindly betting all horses breaking from the inside, you might use this to supplement your handicapping, paying particular attention to the inside horse, and betting it when you like the horse on other handicapping grounds. My own studies have shown a similar advantage for the inside post in routes.

In that spirit. This is somewhat counter-intuitive since you’d expect that horses with good pedigrees that end up in the maiden claiming ranks probably can’t run at all. One of the few anomalies turned up by Michael Nunamaker in his pioneering computer study “Modern Impact Values”, published in 1994, was that horses breaking from the inside post position in route races won more than their fair share of races, and were under-bet by the public. It must follow, therefore, that if we bet the best horse that has started at least twice, we stand an excellent chance of beating the takeout, particularly in races that have several first and second time starters.

Horse Racing System #1 – In maiden races, bet the horse with the best last race speed figure that has had at least two career starts. I’ve identified some of the most useful handicapping factors that have a proven history of doing much better than the track takeout and put them together with some simple rules that should make your trips to the racetrack more fun and profitable. It should go without saying that you should actually like the favorite’s chances after evaluating the race with your own handicapping.

First time starters return only about 60 cents on the dollar, and second time starters are only a little better, returning less than 70 cents on the dollar. Let me let you in on a little secret about these “magic formulas”. Because speed figures have gained in popularity over the years, anyone following that system now would have trouble coming up with gas money for the ride home from the track.

How do we identify the best pedigree, then? If you’re using the DRF past performances, use the stud fee as a proxy for quality, and the Tomlinson figure to judge suitability for the distance and surface. To the extent that most handicappers use pedigree at all, it’s usually to identify horses that may improve when switched to the turf, or those who may be expected to win as first time starters. Thanks for reading, and see you in the winner’s circle.

Horse Racing System #5 – Bet Horses breaking from the inside post in route races. If the tote board suggests that the public is overlooking these mitigating circumstances, make your play.

This causes the favorite to be under bet in the place pool, leading to a profit opportunity for us to take advantage of by betting the favorite to place. Most people who love horse racing would be thrilled just to win a little more and lose a little less on their trips to the track.

Look for comment lines like “bled”, “lost rider”, “clipped heels”, “stumbled”, “steadied”, “between horses”, “rank”, and “jumped shadows” that suggest that a horse’s last race was not indicative of its true ability. My study suggests that’s not the case.

. This system takes advantage of one of the few glaring inefficiencies in the parimutuel pools, namely that first and second time starters are badly over-bet.

In the first place, the parimutuel takeout in horse racing is large (over 15%) and the mutuel pools are relatively efficient, so that even systems with a strong basis in reality can’t overcome the size of the takeout.

Nunamaker reported that the inside post in dirt route races won at a 20% greater than expected rate, and lost only 10 cents on the dollar, much better than the track take. Few bother to even look at the comment line for the race, let alone take the trouble to seek out and watch the replay of the race. This offers opportunity to more diligent players.

For as long as humans have bet on horse racing there have been system sellers trying to con the gullible into parting with their hard earned money with the lure of easy profits to be made on the sport of kings. The inside post in turf routes actually showed a small profit, but this was based on a small sample size and cannot be relied upon. Just don’t expect to quit your day job.

In fact, pedigree does not generally offer wager value with one curious exception: well bred horses do surprisingly well in maiden claiming races. The inside post combined with early speed is a particularly potent combination, since the horse will not have to exert himself as much to gain his preferred position at the front of the pack.

However, just because systems won’t make you rich doesn’t mean there’s no place for them at all in a horseplayer’s arsenal. I was able to replicate this result in my own study of nearly 100,000 races conducted a decade later.

Horse Racing System #2 – Bet horses that have an excuse for a poor performance in their last race. They will, however increase the chances of a profitable day at the races by ensuring that your wager dollars go where they have the best chance of success. With the BRIS pp’s you can use the Sire Production Factor in concert with the pedigree rating. This is another mistake that bettors make: in a race with a clear standout, many people give up on the win pool and bet their choice to place, thinking that they’ll get paid even if the favorite wins.

Looking for a dead simple horse racing system that will allow you to quit your job and make a living betting the horses in just 10 minutes a day? Good luck with that!

The horse with the best last race speed figure (whether Beyer, BRIS, or Equibase) may not be the best horse in the race, but he’s probably not far off, so we can use that as a proxy for selection purposes.

Second, the very nature of the parimutuel system itself means that any profits to be made from following a particular set of rules will quickly be arbitraged away as the followers of that system drive down the odds of horses chosen by the system.

Horse Racing System #3 – In maiden claiming races, bet the horse with the best pedigree. My computer studies of pedigree, based on nearly 100,000 races, suggest that using pedigree in that manner offers no advantage to the player.

For instance, many speed figure handicappers reported making horse racing profits in the 60’s and 70’s simply by betting horses with the best last race speed figure