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Handicapping on the Road - Shippers: Betting Against Provincialism

Author’s note. Following is an excerpt from my about-to-be-published book, Handicapping on the Road. The book deals with a thousand kilometer bicycle tour, visiting 13 French race tracks, raising funds for Thoroughbred retirement, and above all, trying to pay for the expenses of the trip at the betting windows. The book answers an essential question: can well-crafted American handicapping methods win at the races anywhere in the world? Seven methods are developed and then put into practice during the trip, not only with French races, but in simulcasts of British, Dubai and other foreign racing. For information, visit my website: The book also deals with a few related aspects of American racing, such as the following.

Mark Cramer


Better the devil you know?

This book focuses on profiting from racing abroad. However, it works both ways, and knowledge of racing abroad can provide an enormous edge for players at home. This advantage will remain as long as the majority
of bettors prefer to back the familiar horse rather than the stranger.

Both the Short Form in Chapter Two and the notion of trainer betting in Chapter Three are viable in American racing. In this chapter we look at a remarkable advantage for players who would like to cash in on Euro shippers.

In the introduction I mentioned the longshot victory of Spirit One in the 2008 Arlington Million. This is the prototype of my methodology for foreign shippers. On my website for the now discontinued C&X Report, I touted Spirit One to my readers, on the basis of two interacting factors.

Factor one: You would prefer a horse to have shown early speed in Europe. Racing in Europe is slow in the early going with horses saving energy by racing “behind cover,” much as it is with Tour de France riders within the peloton. The Tour de France winner rarely leads the peloton, preferring protection from the headwind, from his teammates and opponents as well.

In this setting, a front runner or early speed horse often “inherits the wind,” and with it, the pace burden. (The exception is when a lone front runner is pitted against truly long-winded come-from-behinders, rather than pressers, trackers, or mid-pack runners.)

The best shippers to play in the USA are the ones that were underachieving in Europe and more aptly fit the running-style culture of American racing. These are either the jaguars with quick turn of foot whose sudden but short-lived acceleration is prejudiced to a certain extent by the usually long Euro stretch, or especially the honest front runners who are turned into sacrificial rabbits by the anti-early-speed bias of Euro racing. This second group is the foundation of my method.

Therefore, we are looking for horses that showed early speed in Europe, while for the most part, underperforming. Such was the case with Spirit One, as it was less obviously with Shirocco, a seemingly minor European talent who ended up wiring the field in the 2005 BC Turf, paying $19.60.

The fact that a horse is “forced to bear the brunt of a race” in Europe does not mean he will be a front runner in America. As Ioritz Mendizabal, the rider of Sprit One, explained to me in an interview: “The pace is faster in the USA, so a European early-speed horse finds himself well-placed over there [in North America].” Though Spirit One took charge of the Arlington Million early, because of a crawling pace, Mendizabal adds that “a European front runner will often find himself comfortable in America by pressing or tracking the early pace.”

Thus, we should not fear if our early Euro horse is facing a speed brigade in North America.

Factor two synchronizes with factor one: we want a currently hot trainer in Europe, or one in the American receiving stable who is also currently on fire. It’s worth repeating that both the Racing Post (UK) and Geny Courses [France] websites provide us with trainer past performances in reverse chronological order. A quick scan immediately discerns if the trainer is hot or not. (These websites are easy to use.) We want the trainer to have won three of his or her last ten races, or if not, that his horses earned a flat-bet profit in those last ten.

For this hot-trainer parameter I picked John Gosden’s Pounced and Henry Cecil’s Midday to win 2009 Breeders’ Cup races, three weeks in advance of the event, as published in The Horseplayer Magazine (“The Euro Factor,” November-December, 2009). My comment on Pounced was: [Gosden] finished a best-of-the-rest second with POUNCED on Arc day … at a whopping 16-1 …POUNCED showed speed in the 7-furlong event, making him look good for American style racing.”

From the 2010 Arlington Million, we can witness a laboratory case of this Euro shipper methodology. Here is the text of the e-mail message I sent to my handicapper reading list:

“Here's an interesting situation. Remember Spirit One two years ago in the Arlington Million? Well, the same pattern emerges in this year’s Million, with the two Gosden horses, perhaps Tazeez a tad more than Debussy. Both were early speed horses in Europe, like Spirit One, and would be shipping away from an against-the-bias racing scene to one that is kinder to speed horses. Gosden is hot right now and Tazeez had been caught at Ascot by Twice Over and Byword, two very classy horses that just came back to finish second and third to a peaking Rip Van Winkle at York. The Million field looks great and who can fault Gio Ponti, but the Gosden horses could be somewhere in the mix.”

They were. Debussy won, paying $24.00 and Tazeez finished third, behind the obvious favorite, Gio Ponti. Tazeez, the gallant front runner, may have lost the race from the get-go, spotting the field several lengths when jumping in the air at the start, and then being rushed up to the lead. But he stayed on courageously for third in the trifecta.

Debussy, with Buick aboard, followed the pattern prescribed by Ioritz Mendizabal, tracking rather than leading, and luckily getting through after having been blocked on the rail.

It is important to note that abbreviated running line narration in American past performances of foreign horses is usually more than enough to tell the style of the horse, but if not sure, the handicapper may consult the more elaborate Racing Post or Geny Courses descriptions to clarify.

This is a simple method. I have made losing bets when the Euro front runner turned out to be hopelessly high strung. But in the long run, this is a profitable play. Hidden between the lines of the two rules (early speed and hot trainer) is the fact that European horses often enjoy a fundamental class advantage, even if they were underachievers in the old country.

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Do you have a take on the state of the game, a favorite race horse, trainer or jockey? Share your ideas. Show the racing industry and media the folly of their ways. The HRI Readers Blog: "When you lose it, Use it." Submit your blog to HRI Webmaster.

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