Speaking at a conference recently, marketing executive Allen Gutterman made an interesting pitch for a modest additional fee on tickets for big racing days to help fund Thoroughbred aftercare.

Gutterman proposed, correctly I believe, that a fan would not balk at paying, say $210 for a seat rather than $200.
“Here’s what I’ve concluded from a life in horse racing,” Gutterman said. “Fans may curse jockeys. They may question the tactics chosen by trainers. But they love the horses they bet and willingly make excuses for why they didn’t run better.”
That love of the horse Gutterman speaks of is what draws many to the sport. Even those considered hardcore bettors must surely have some love of the animal.

For that, yes, they are willing to help, in a modest way, provide for the life these athletes deserve when their racing days are concluded.

But the part of the quote that particularly stuck with me is “…willingly make excuses for why they didn’t run better.”

That, my friends, is the pure essence of handicapping.

Even those enjoying an afternoon of racing with friends, betting $2 a race, make excuses for why their chosen horse didn’t run better.

But those of us who handicap on a frequent basis don’t simply make excuses — we seek to answer questions.

Handicapping is about opinions. When you examine the runners in a 12-horse field, you are forming an opinion about each.

Your style of handicapping doesn’t matter.

If you are a speed figuress handicapper, a trip handicapper, a class handicapper … it doesn’t matter. Whatever method you use forces you to judge each horse and form an opinion about his or her chances at winning, or at running second, third, fourth, etc.

A person having fun, betting $2, doesn’t go back later and watch replays and try to figure out why the race played out the way it did. But an experienced handicapper does … or should.

Did a jockey do something that affected your pick (think Joel Rosario in the Derby or Jorge Carreno in the Preakness)?

Where the fractions different than you expected? Was there a track bias you didn’t count on? Did a horse adding blinkers not show speed as you expected? Did a horse stretching out not make the lead as you thought?

The list goes on … and on … and on.

You can call it making excuses but it is handicapping.

Those bits of information are stored away, and then called upon every time a person handicaps. Handicappers keep trip notes, whether mentally or in any other form.

Recalling information on a runner doesn’t mean he wins next time out. It simply means you have additional information to draw upon.

Jockeys are full of excuses. Trainers, too. And, yes, handicappers.

But handicappers seek to look at those excuses and explain them, then figure out how they impact future races.

Handicapping is an exciting challenge. It is not supposed to be easy.

That is no excuse.