I’ve been handicapping and successfully betting the races for quite a few years now. When I was just starting out I cut my handicapping teeth working at a small local track in the States, betting races from both Australia and the States. (That’s right; I’m a US based handicapper. But if you don’t hold it against me, I have some valuable punting advice that you can put to immediate use.)

The Australian races were simulcast at our local track starting at about 9:00 in the evening, local time. There were quite a few nights that we hoisted a few pints of beer and played races “run the wrong way”. It took some getting used to but we enjoyed the full fields and late nights. It was a great time.

The late Friday nights playing Australian horseracing have disappeared for the most part. Once we started raising families Friday night handicapping at the track was a thing of the past, except to attend the local live racing. Now we have access to Australian racing over the Internet. The races are still fun to bet, but the betting pools are so small it’s not worth getting serious about . . . yet.

Having to learn how to handicap both US and Australian races taught me to look for fundamental “truths” and similarities that lead to picking winners and making money in both continents. I’d like to share with you what I learned and how to profit from it.

Although there are some differences in racing over various continents, I find that I can handicap the races from all parts of the world almost exactly as I do locally. The key is to look at the catalysts and positive changes a horse is making by being entered in today’s race.

I’ve proven time and again in the Dubai Cup and handicapping foreign horses in the Breeders Cup that my fundamental approach can work anywhere.

And although using catalysts and change won’t point you to the winner in all of the races, it’s the absolute best way I know of to catch those longshot place horses and occasional winners that light up the board with their big pay-offs and stuff your pockets full of cash.

The idea of using catalysts and change to handicap and win at horseracing occurred to me while I was reading a book about some very successful European stock investors. The key to their success was finding and identifying catalysts that would trigger a stock to rise sharply in price in the coming days or months ahead.

A catalyst was any factor they could identify that led to a higher than average return on their investments. The catalysts ranged from an increase in trading volume to how the CEO looked when the investors went to visit a prospective company. To make their investments, these star investors would first do some fundamental investment analysis and then apply their favourite catalysts to decide which stocks stood the best chance of posting big returns in a short period of time.

The investors I read about weren’t able to achieve superior performance by using fundamental analysis alone. It was only through filtering, looking for change and using catalysts that they were able to succeed. This struck a chord with me. I figured the same principle could be applied to horseracing. I had to go beyond the traditional form and class handicapping.

It took a while for me to get it right, but once I did I never went back to the old ways of playing. I would wait for a horse to show a nice group of catalysts or changes and bet that horse.

When I ignored my catalysts it always cost me money. The winning has never been easy and there are quite a few ups and downs but it’s definitely been rewarding. The key is to know what catalysts or changes to look for and when to use them.

The process of handicapping with catalysts and looking for changes can be quite simple or quite complicated depending on the handicapping approach you use. Catalysts and change work because they pick horses that aren’t overtly obvious to most handicappers.

The horses pay good money because they don’t look as fast as the competition or appear to be out of form. You’ll find that certain combinations of catalysts and change are very potent in spotting long shots. In time you’ll learn to recognise them. 

While the catalysts I use won’t be new to many of you if you’re an experienced punter, the way I use them probably will be. The whole process was refined using the concept of stepwise regression. The process has me landing on horses that I wouldn’t be able to, using traditional handicapping. And the prices have been well worth the effort.

The space I have in this article is too short to get into the background and specifics of each change and catalyst I use, but I’d like to give you a good foundation to get you started. The main factors I concentrate on include form ratings, horses coming back from lay-offs, trainer changes, jockey changes, class drops, consistency and a couple of miscellaneous factors. There are nuances to each of them.

To give you a good idea of how effective this process can be I’d like to use a race from this year’s Dubai Cup as an example.

I look forward each year to the Dubai Cup as one of the great days in racing. With the best competition worldwide flying in, unparalleled race coverage and spectacular shows, it’s truly the showcase event for horseracing fans everywhere. One day I hope to participate in person.

I’ll be using the 6th race, the Dubai Sheema Classic run at Nad Al Sheba on March 29, to demonstrate how to apply catalysts and change to win at horseracing. I use this race as an example because everyone from around the horseracing world had access to it and it’s a recent example.

The horse that I fancied was the two horse, Eastern Anthem. I salivated when I saw his 20/1 morning line odds. Let’s go over the catalysts he qualified for one by one.

  1. Form Rating: According to the form ratings I was using he was the 3rd fastest horse in the race based on the number he earned in his second to last start. 
  2. Rest: Today was his 3rd race off of a lay-off of over five months.
  3. NT: The 3rd race back he had changed trainers to a competent trainer. He had a new trainer today but that may have been a formality. Sometimes trainers will put their horses in another trainer’s name when shipping to a new track they aren’t attending. I was at a disadvantage here because I was not familiar with many of the trainers. In addition, this was a unique race in that most horses had changed care in their last couple of starts due to the racing change to Dubai.
  4. Jockey Change: Today the horse was switching back to Ajtebi Ahmed who had only rode the horse once before. That was his second to last start when the horse ran the best race of his life. The jockey appeared to be a good fit for the horse.
  5. Consistency: Eastern Anthem had run 1½ miles, three times in his career, winning twice and finishing second once. In addition, the horse had placed in eight of nine lifetime starts. This horse was a gamer.
  6. Miscellaneous: It’s hard to tell from the formguide (past performances) if this horse had other changes, but his last two races were the best of his career.

Now let’s look at all the catalysts the horse received; F, R, NT, JC, % and M, a total of six. The next best only had three. The betting decision was an easy one to make for me. At 18/1, I bet Eastern Anthem to win and place. The horse got a tough trip and had to be taken very wide around the turn losing a few lengths in the process, but he still got up to win by a nose.

Spanish Moon finished 2nd at long odds for a nice exacta. Spanish Moon was tied with four other horses for the 4th highest form rating, and had three catalysts himself.

From my own experience I can say that yes it definitely does work.

I was also pleased to discover a couple years back that Ernie Dahlman, who has bet horses professionally the past 40+ years and has won many millions of dollars, relies on changes (*catalysts) to make his living. In his interview with Barry Meadows which was published in the Meadow’s Racing Monthly November 2001 issue, he had the following things to say:

“The biggest thing I learned was the importance of change . . . If I’m looking at a horse whose numbers are four lengths behind those of another horse, I’ve got to figure out a way to make up those four lengths. Maybe it’s a trainer change or a jockey change, maybe the horse got into a speed duel last time but plots for a much easier trip today, maybe he’s getting a shoe change, maybe he’s changing surface or distance . . . You have to remember that every race is unique, so I don’t have any one-size fits-all handicapping or gambling plan.” 

While I’m far from an Ernie Dahlman this article gave me more confidence in the approach I had taken and it should give you the confidence to explore this area of handicapping as well.

Because everyone’s brain works a little differently some of these techniques will work better for you than others.

You’ll have to keep some records and get comfortable incorporating these ideas into your handicapping but it will be well worth it.

Give it a go and let PPM know how you’re doing with it. If you want more detailed information on winning with Catalysts and Change, you can find it in the book Winning Moves.

** Prentice Manetter is the author of Winning Moves; How to Win at Horseracing, Bet Smart-Win Big; The Art of Horse Race Betting and has been featured in Horseplayer magazine.

By Prentice Manetter