Three Secrets To Winning Handicapping Contests

This guest post is by Lenny Moon of Equinometry.

Pattern recognition is an important ability to have if you want to be successful as a horseplayer. Just as history has a way of repeating itself so to do results in horse races. That is why it is extremely important to review your handicapping at the end of each day. Keeping detailed records of which races you excel in and which you struggle with will not only increase profits but make you a better horseplayer.

The same principle applies to handicapping contests. At the conclusion of each contest it is important to look back at the results of the contest races and your selections, especially when you perform poorly. Did you miss a key piece of information on that long shot winner? Did you incorrectly throw out a winning favorite that you thought was vulnerable? Were most of the winners among your contenders or did you eliminate them?

I perform this exercise after each handicapping contest and recently it really paid off. After reviewing the race results of several mediocre handicapping contest performances I had an epiphany. I saw a pattern that had been there all along but for some reason eluded me.

Now I could keep this to myself but I want to help you improve as a horseplayer and a handicapping contest player. So here are the three secrets that improved my handicapping contest results in the last few weeks.

Favorites Can Be Your Friend

Favorites win one in three races. That has been a long standing rule for as long as I remember and it still holds true today. In a ten race handicapping contest on average three post time favorites will win. If you are like me you are always trying to beat the favorite and if you are like me you often get frustrated when the favorite ruins a bet or wins a contest race.

Here’s the first secret: it is okay to pick favorites in handicapping contests. This is contrary to the advice that most of you have probably been given but think about it for a minute. If you pick against the favorite in every race you are going to lose roughly one in three. Are you a good enough handicapper to give your competition a three or four race advantage in a handicapping contest? I know I am not.

I am not saying you should pick the favorite in every race because that is a recipe for failure. What I am saying is if the favorite looks like the most likely winner and you cannot find a suitable alternative then pick the favorite. It is better to collect $5.00 (win plus place) on an odds-on favorite then to get nothing.

Class Moves Are Key

Horses move up and down in Class all the time. In almost every race there will be one or more horses that are dropping from a higher Class race or moving up from a lower Class race. Knowing when to back these horses is necessary in order to consistently pick winners.

The second secret I discovered is: many of the long shot winners in a contest are horses moving up or down in Class. I think most of you know the biggest drop in Class is from Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming. You might be surprised, like I was, to find that many of these horses pay extremely well.

Additionally some of the biggest prices that come in are on horses that are moving up in Class and on paper appear to be able to handle the tougher competition. Horses going from Claiming to Allowance or from Allowance to Stakes are often overlooked in favor of horses that have been competitive at the higher level, but those horses are usually among the favorites.

Separate Yourself From The Field

If you watch TVG on a regular basis you might hear some of the analysts say that to cash on a big Pick 4 or Pick 6 you have to find a horse that most others do not. This horse separates you from most of your competition and in the process eliminates their tickets.

The third and final secret is: find a horse that no one else likes and separate yourself from the field. It may sound difficult but depending on the number of participants in the contest it may be very easy. In general the fewer the number of players the more likely it is that only one or maybe a handful of people will find the diamond in the rough. Those players will separate themselves from the others and will be hard to catch unless another hard to find long shot comes in.

Putting It All Together

It is easy to say these secrets work but without proof is there any reason for you to trust me? Hopefully some of you still would but for those of you that have some doubts I do have two examples of putting these secrets to work.

BC Qualify

On June 3rd I participated in a BC Qualify contest. These contests award seats to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge which is held at the Breeders’ Cup host site each year on Breeders’ Cup weekend. The June 3rd contest was a round one contest in which the top ten percent qualified for round two on June 24th which awards the qualifying spots.

The contest did not start well as I missed the first four races completely. The fifth race was the Plate Trial at Woodbine, the major prep for the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Queens Plate. The race was at one mile and one eighth and several of the main contenders looked questionable at the distance. Also most of the field had earned average Beyer Speed Figures. For those reasons I looked for a price.

I landed on River Rush who was lightly raced but only had a maiden win to his name. His maiden breaking Beyer Speed Figure fit with the others and with a little improvement, which seemed very likely, he fit. The only question was if he could handle the Class hike. River Rush won like a 1/5 shot, my separator horse paid $44.50. I got maximum win odds of $42.00 and a place payoff of $18.80. I went from last to top 20.

With two races to go I slipped to 23rd (the top 21 qualified for round two). In the penultimate race I went with the logical third choice Praetorian Pefect, who was dropping from Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming. Praetorian Pefect won at 9/2 giving me $18.00 and moving me from 23rd to 6th. In the final race I took the favorite who looked pretty tough. No Three Words won giving me another $7.50 and maintaining my 6th place position and in the process moving me on to round two.

All three of the secrets mentioned above contributed to my 6th place finish. River Rush was the horse that very few people had, thus moving me way up the leaderboard. He was also moving up in Class. Praetorian Perfect and No Three Words were logical horses that many bypassed for bigger prices. I moved up 17 positions by hitting a 9/2 winner.

Derby Wars Woodbine Contest

On June 6th I participated in the Derby Wars Woodbine handicapping contest which awarded three entries into the June 9th $30,000 Belmont Shootout. The contest played out nearly exactly as the BC Qualify contest. I missed the first three races, with two tough beat thirds at 8/1.

The fourth race was a Maiden Claimer with nine horses running. Dolce Lemone was dropping down from Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming and had run competitively in those Maiden Special Weight races. She was also reuniting with jockey Jesse Campbell who had guided her to two third place finishes in two prior races together. On paper Dolce Lemone looked like a 5/1 shot, on the board she was 30/1.

Dolce Lemone split horses and got up in the final strides before the wire. She paid $64.40 to win and gave me the maximum payoff for the race ($50.00). There were 50 people in the contest and I was the only one that had Dolce Lemone. That is the definition of a separator horse.

I missed the winner in the fifth race but had the winning favorite in the sixth race (who was dropping from Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming) and winning second choice in the seventh race adding $20.60 to my total and leaving me well clear of second heading into the nightcap.

In the final race an 8/1 shot won but none of the people in the top few positions had selected her so I finished in first and earned a paid entry into the $30,000 Belmont Shootout.

Again all three of the secrets mentioned earlier contributed to my win. Dolce Lemone was a Class dropper and separator horse that put me well ahead of everyone else. The other two winners I had were logical horses, one of which was also a Class dropper.

Final Thoughts

Reviewing the results of your handicapping and betting will payoff whether it be at the betting windows or in a handicapping contest. Finding patterns that lead to winning long shots and winning performances in handicapping contests is vital if you want to improve your results. Implementing the three secrets revealed above will hopefully lead you to better finishes and winning performances.

Good luck and remember to say hello if you see me in the Derby Wars chat.

Lenny Moon is an avid horseplayer and handicapping contest player who has spent the past 13 years trying to master the art of handicapping and betting on horses. He is also the founder of, a website designed to help horseplayers of all levels learn about horse racing handicapping, betting and handicapping contests.

5 Responses to Three Secrets To Winning Handicapping Contests

  1. It’s correct that you need to do a analysis overview for each contest that you participate to see what you are doing right or wrong and then make those adjustments.
    Now, I personally wouldn’t call these secrets, but more like basic fundamentals that you need to know about tournament play.
    The truth to the matter is that there really are many additional points you as a tournament player need to know & be aware of that will raise your tournament game to a higher level and you heard it hear from the
    …Good article Lenny!

  2. Jasen says:

    Hey Lenny~
    I know every situation is different, but do you avoid favorites early on in order to find your separating horse first &
    then focus on more popular contenders?

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