One of the great things about playing the horses is the seemingly endless handicapping methods one can apply in order to try and come up with a winner. And for every one of the countless ways there are to play the races, there is probably a book extolling the virtues a particular methodology.
I've read a ton of handicapping books over the years - some great, some not so great - and there are a few that I go back to time and again in order to re-fresh concepts or ideas, or to simply try and re-focus my skills. Or perhaps I simply want to read a book by a handicapper that takes a different perspective on playing the races than I do. I might not make my picks in the same manner but it's always good to be open to a different perspective on this tough, tough game.
Specifically, I look for a couple of different things when I'm think about good handicapping books that I've read in the past. The first and most important factor in a handicapping book from my perspective is the book needs to be not about a system, but about an approach or an analysis of a race or races.
I suppose it's a battle between tools and a system. I'm looking to learn about the different tools or methods of analysis used to unlock a race but I prefer the conclusions to always come from my decisions and not due to a rigid set of guidelines. I don't want to read 150 to 200 pages of someone telling me a rigid system that points me to a specified horse in each and every race. I like books that present some ideas but also cause me to think about the game differently and lead me to developing my own successful strategies.
The second thing I'm looking for in a handicapping book is simply a book that's fun to read and well-written. Handicapping books can become a bit stale or repetitious because many follow a pretty basic formula of explaining a concept or idea and then running through some historical races that illustrate in more concrete terms. Of course, one of the pitfalls of this kind of analysis is that you can pretty much find a race to fit any kind of handicapping concept, regardless of the rarity or absurdity of the premise. So, at a minimum, I'm looking for a book that can engage me from start to finish and not just run through a host of old races where anyone can pick one to make their picks or concepts look good.
Okay, so here are my top 3 personal favorite handicapping books:
I think Andrew Beyer's books are probably the most fun to read given his writing style and ability to relate his personal experiences, but I think Davidowitz's classic Betting Thoroughbreds is simply the best I've read. This is probably not a book you want to pick up if you're just starting out betting the ponies because most of the concepts require a pretty good handicapping foundation (especially the section on betting strategies). Well, I should re-phrase that: you should definitely pick it up but if you're just starting out it's probably most beneficial after you've developed your own handicapping ideas and style.
Regardless of what your take is on speed figures, or Beyer Speed Figures, Andrew Beyer can write an engaging and fun book. Of his books - Picking Winners, The Winning Horseplayer, and Beyer On Speed - I put this one at the top with The Winning Horseplayer a good second. Beyer On Speed wasn't one of my favorites and was a book I read more so because I was just wanting to read another handicapping book.
Given that it's a book by Beyer, a lot of the text is devoted to speed figures but the early parts of the book covers things like track bias and trainers, as well as some handicapping basics.
I'll also say this: even if you think speed figures are a pile of nothingness, I think it's important to know the mechanics of the numbers because a large part of the handicapping public places a lot of emphasis on those figures. Being able to understand why the public may or may not be backing a particular horse, and determining whether we think those reasons are good or bad is really important to coming up with good priced horses.
Exploitation of market inefficiencies is the overly-wordy name of the game. My goal is to beat the crowd and to do that I need to know why the crowd is betting a particular way and whether or not there are gaps in their opinion in a specific race.
While Betting Thoroughbreds is probably my favorite, I would recommend Picking Winners as a first read if you're looking to dive into handicapping books.
I'll just state this up front so there is no confusion: this book is pretty dry and the complete opposite of the flowing, fun prose you'll get from Beyer's books, but, for me, this is one of my all-time go-to books and probably the single biggest reason why I consider myself a class handicapper more than anything else.
When I was first trying to take my game from its most basic level to a more advanced state, class was an area that proved difficult to master. Looking strictly at the claiming ranks, there are so many different conditions out there that class levels are exceptionally muddy at many, many tracks. Knowing whether or not at Emerald Downs a $16,000 N2L is a better race than a $5,000 open company race can be key to unlocking the relative chances of the contenders.
More so than anything else, The Handicapper's Condition Book caused me to think about class in a much different way than before. It also helped to reinforce how important it is to actually read and understand what the specific conditions are for whatever race I'm handicapping. Yeah, if it's a graded stakes race, the requirements are straight forward and easy to understand. if it's a conditioned claiming event, well, it can take a bit more careful reading to really whittle down what kinds of horses are eligible to complete at that level.
The Handicapper's Condition Book is an excellent treatment on solving the class puzzle presented at many tracks around the country.
Those are just a few of my favorite books. What are some of your favorite resources for enhancing your handicapping brain?