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Spring Training

The 60th Woodbine Thoroughbred season will begin with a 133-day meeting on April 11, 2015, bringing Ontario’s racehorses back to action after a four-month break.

Trying to pick out a winner in a race where most of the horses are coming off winter vacations and others having been racing at other tracks can be tricky. Below are some handicapping approaches you can use to find a winning bet.

The Meaning of Layoffs

A layoff is usually considered at least 30 days away from the races and many of Woodbine’s home-track horses will be coming off layoffs of over 160 days when the 2015 season begins. Some trainers are very good at preparing their horses for a return from a long vacation and statistics pertaining to a trainer and layoffs can be found in Daily Racing Form past performance information (the DRF is the most important tool you can have at the racetrack in order to sort out the contenders in each race from longshots).

You can also become familiar with what trainers win a lot of races in the early days and weeks of the Woodbine season by reviewing historical results charts at Equibase (www.equibase.com) or DRF (www.drf.com).

Some horses thrive with vacation time and often win first time back after a layoff. Take a look at the horse’s past performance chart to see if the horse has shown an ability to run well after time away from the races. For example, on opening day of Woodbine in 2014, Café au Lait was a winner at 8 to 1 in her first race of the year. The mare had also won her first start of 2013 and was third in her first race of 2012: obviously she is a horse who runs well after a break!

Café au Lait's racing form

Hurry, hurry!

The races during the first couple of weeks of the Woodbine season are mostly run at abbreviated distances of five and five-and-a-half furlongs.

In these dashes you are going to want to narrow your contenders list down to the quickest horses in the field and those horses who have a good record at short distances.

There is a big difference, however, between horses who show the ability to go to the lead early in six furlong races compared to five furlong races. The latter distance requires a very quick horse, a five-furlong specialist. Use your track program or the DRF to take note of the starters who thrive at the short distances.

Workouts and Jockeys

A black dot beside a horse’s recent workout (found at the bottom of his race record in both the track program and in DRF) means the horse posted a bullet for that distance on that morning. Bullet workouts at short distances mean the horse is sharp and ready to roll.

At Woodbine there is a very competitive jockeys colony and most riders win plenty of races during the season. There are, however, a handful of leading riders who partner more winners than a group of lesser-used riders. Have a copy of the trainer and jockey standings from the previous year to help you sort through the horses in each race.

Where has your horse been?

Horses who spent the winter in southern climates and have trained or raced at tracks such as Gulfstream, Fair Grounds or Oaklawn Park usually have an edge over horses who wintered in Ontario.

These horses have a fitness edge, especially if the Ontario winter was particularly snowy, icy and/or cold and it affected how much farm-training they received. Of course, since the distances are only short, it does not take a ton of workouts to be ready to go.

Also, horses coming from dirt tracks (such as Gulfstream, Fair Grounds and Oaklawn) to the Polytrack may have a disadvantage if they have not had any experience on the synthetic surface that Woodbine offers.

Back to class

There are numerous class levels of races that allow horses of various ability to do well against their own kind. While the class level of the race does not matter as much when the races are at abbreviated distances (such as five furlongs) it is a good idea to determine what was the horse’s best level of the previous year? Remember that two-year-olds turning into three-year-olds can grow and mature quite a bit during the winter and that could lead to a better runner a year later.

Is this a stepping stone?

One of the most important aspects of trying to pick a winner in the spring is assessing why the horse is in a particular race. Is the horse a short distance specialist? Or is the trainer of the horse using the race as a means to get the horse fitter and ready for a longer event?

Go through a horse’s previous races and find out when the horse has run his best races and see if any of the factors are similar to what he presented with today.

The parade to the post

Finally take a look at your horse as he leaves the saddling enclosure and heads out onto the racetrack. Is the horse on his toes without being overly anxious? How heavy is the horse’s coat and is it making him sweat despite the cool temperatures on a spring day?

The ready racehorses are those with controlled energy: sharp but not too fractious. A horse’s ears are usually up and alert, their tail held a bit high and proud.

Before horses begin to put several races together and some “current” form can be established, there are plenty of approaches to seek out a potential winner in the early months of a brand-new race meeting. Good luck!

(c) 2015 Ontario Horse Racing

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