Is Form Cycle Handicapping Still Relevant and Useful As a Tool to Find Good Bets?

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Trying to find a good bet in the modern world of horse racing can be difficult even if you’re a good handicapper. While you may be able to evaluate the horses in a race estimating value in the pools and then getting that value after the bell rings and the final totals are posted is often difficult. Finding a horse that is rounding into form is one way to find a value bet if there are other horses in the race that appeal to the bettors due to recent efforts.

Understanding the form cycle and using it with other factors is a tool every handicapper should have in the bag of tricks. The form cycle is the amount of time that it takes a horse to reach a certain physical condition. At one time almost all trainers would start to condition a horse and then run it in several races in order to condition it to the peak of athletic ability. Only then would he or she tell the jockey to go for the win. As evidenced by the many horses that win off the layoff, those days are gone.

Trainers still use races to condition horses and many horses do need a race or two as a “tightener,” as they are called, however, some trainers are known for winning with a horse on its first try after a layoff. Just remember that though the conditioner that can win with a horse after it has been rested may win 30% of those races, he or she still loses twice as many races with such horses. The tricky part, of course, is to know when the horse will be sent and when it will be in the race for exercise.

The toteboard can offer some clues, but because there are many people betting into the pools and some are trying to manipulate those pools I advise caution when looking at the numbers and that should only be one source of information. Here are three other factors that may help you to understand if a horse that is coming back from a rest is a good bet.

First, look at the horse. Is it fat? Does it have a belly? Or is it sleek, with a well defined racing dimple and dappling under its coat? Is it on its toes, so to speak, in the post parade and paddock? Does it have its ears cocked and seem like it is anticipating the race. In other words, does it have its mind on the business at hand?

Secondly, has the horse ever won off a layoff? Has it shown it can win without a tightener? Finally, is the trainer’s go- to rider up? If the answer is yes to these questions the horse is a contender, if not, this may well be a race for conditioning.

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