In 2023 Jennifer Morrison will be writing regular articles for Ontario Racing focused on educating bettors about different angles and techniques to use when handicapping on a race. This is the first installment in that series.
With the 2023 Woodbine meet underway and Fort Erie Race Track set to open on Tuesday, the first notable handicapping puzzle for bettors to consider when handicapping spring races in Ontario involves horses coming off a winter vacation and others with winter racing starts under their belt.
There are plenty of clues available to help fans narrow down the contenders in a race from a horse's history, trainer information and current horse fitness.
Below are some handicapping tips for picking a winner early in the season plus a couple of horses to watch at Woodbine on Sunday and Fort Erie on Tuesday.
Has the horse run well off a layoff before?
Some horses run their best races when they are fresh, in particular after a winter vacation or a lengthy layoff (of 180 days or more).
You can often find a horse's first start of a season in the past performance information in the Equibase track program or in Daily Racing Form. You can also access results of any horse on the Equibase website for free.
Downy Boy, who was in the first race at Woodbine on May 6, was making his first start since December 2022 for trainer Martin Drexler.
The 8-year-old gelding has shown a penchant for doing well off the layoff as evidenced by his second-place finish on May 15, 2022, in a five-furlong dash for $40,000 claiming.
In fact, over Downy Boy's career he has run well in his season debut on several occasions. Sent off a 4 to 1 in his 2023 opener, Downy Boy sped away to a 2 1/2 length victory, paying $10.60 to win for a $2.00 bet.
Trainer Statistics and Horse Trajectory
You may find a horse that you like when handicapping a race in the spring and it is a good idea to look at the trainer's record with layoff horses. These statistics are available at the bottom of a horse's race record in the program and Daily Racing Form
In addition, the horse's trajectory should be considered; in other words, is the horse in a particular race after a layoff working towards another race?
Often a trainer might use a sprint race or two to get a horse ready for a longer event or a Tapeta surface race for a grass horse while they wait for the turf racing to begin.
During the first few days of the Woodbine 2023 season, shippers from Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs have been doing very well. These horses have a distinct fitness edge on many of their rivals at Woodbine.
Horses that have been racing recently at Turfway Park in Kentucky, also a Tapeta surface, have also done well at Woodbine this spring.
Third Race off the Layoff
This is one of my favourite approaches to betting in the spring as the third race for a horse returning from a vacation can often be a peak effort.
The form cycle of a racehorse may begin with a strong effort off the layoff, followed by an effort not quite as effective, leading to a rebound effort.
Similarly, a horse might need its first race off the layoff for fitness purposes, improve a bit in its second race and then peak third time out.
The 4-year-old Napa Spirit (Ire) made two starts in Florida before he came to Woodbine and won on April 23 for trainer Mike Dunslow.
The hot barn rule applies any time during a race meeting but in the spring, some trainers have made a point to have their starters primed and ready for the early races.
Trainer Ravendra Raghunath is 4 for 17 at Woodbine through May 18 with an average win payoff of more than $9.00 for a $2.00 bet.
Also, Catherine Day Phillips and Steven Chircop have collected four wins after only a few weekends of the Woodbine season.
These tips should be used in addition to any other handicapping information you will use when handicapping a race early in the season. Be sure to confirm that the horse fits well in the race as far as class, speed figures, and ratings are concerned.
Two Picks - Woodbine and Fort Erie
WOODBINE, SUNDAY MAY 21: In race 8, #5 HUNT MASTER returns from a six-month vacation for trainer Angus Buntain, who has had success with winning with long layoff returnees.
Hunt Master won his 2022 return race at seven furlongs on Tapeta and he returns this year in a race at the same distance. T
he 4-year-old improved a lot during the course of last season and was second in two stakes races to end the campaign. While Hunt Master has only won two races in his career and meets several multiple winners, his late running style should be helped by the amount of early speed in the field.
FORT ERIE, TUESDAY MAY 23: Opening day at Fort Erie has eight races (first race post time 4:30 p.m.) and in race 3 I am interested in #5 EASY ACCESS, for trainer George Newland.
This speedy mare won her 2022 season debut at 6 to 1 and she could be similar odds this year. Trainer Newland also has a 40 per cent win rate with horses coming off a layoff of over 180 days or more in the last two years.
Use these tips to Watch and Wager on HPIBet.com
Editor's Note: OR does not endorse any of these selections and Morrison's views are here own.
More Top Racing Headlines