Handicapping is predicated on a principle that the future will repeat the past. For the newcomers to racing, as well as veteran players, this can be confusing - trying to get a handle on an inexact science.

In order to succeed in any kind of game involving a certain degree of chance, your approach must be mathematically sound.

People going to the races for the first few times would do well to avail themselves of selections of a good public newspaper handicapper to use as a guide.

Oaklawn Park is covered by some excellent ones.

On the in-house television, Nancy Holthus takes a look at selected races throughout the day while the horses are in the paddock. Her race analysis is both logical and useful, and their ability to identify key contenders is a particularly valuable handicapping tool.

In Russ Ramstad, Oaklawn has an excellent line maker. His three favorites at the bottom of each page of the official track program should be factored in with one's next wager.

It is difficult for the novice race goer to do any serious in-depth handicapping on his own, because the reading and evaluating of past performances won't be mastered until later.

Marion Van Berg, the late Oaklawn regular, a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest horsemen in history of the sport, was once asked about picking winners. He was quick to reply, "Never back a sprinter against a router and vice versa. Don't buck class. Don't back a horse that is being asked to do something he's never done before. Don't back a horse with early foot if there's a lot of speed in the race. On the other hand, if there are a lot of late runners, then take the early speed. If the race seems tough, then skip it. Don't be a plunger. At the (pari-mutuel) windows, a piker will live to bury a plunger."

Running Styles

Similar to other athletes, racehorses have their own styles. While a basketball player may be known as a rebounder or a jumpshooter, horses are also categorized by their best qualities. Horses with an exceptional turn of foot from the starting gate are known by a number of terms, including front runner, pacesetter and speedster. These horses try to lead from the starting gate to the wire and are sometimes susceptible to speed duels, where two or more front runners "hook up" and battle in the early stages of a race. Other runners prefer to lie just off the early leaders and are said to possess tactical speed. Such performers are often referred to as stalkers. In a race devoid of a quality pacesetter, a stalker may find itself providing the early pace. Perhaps the most exciting style of running comes from performers who unleash a furious rally from the back of the pack. Closers, later runners, and stretch runner are just a few of the names for such horses. If a horse lies far behind in the early going, it sometimes is referred to as a Silky Sullivan, in honor of a legendary horse that once rallied from 41 lengths behind to win a race.

Playing Your Pick

Betting the Chalk

When the public wagers more money on one horse than any other in a given race, that horse is deemed the wagering favorite. The popularity of favorites stems from the general premise that more fans in attendance have wagered on that horse than any other. Oftentimes, the favorite will be referred to as the chalk. In the early days of racetrack wagering, before the era of computerized tote boards, English bookmakers would tally odds on slate chalkboards. As handicappers touted their race favorites, the slate would become clouded in chalk with the constant changing of the odds. Hence the term "chalk" was born. Buyer beware, however. While favorites will win roughly 30% of the races, they offer the lowest payoffs and it is extremely difficult to declare a profit with such low return on investment. You may cash more tickets, but the amount of the payoffs won't allow much room for error.

Show Parlays

The show parlay, especially with the introduction of the Show Bet Bonus for on-track patrons, is a great way for the novice horseplayer to have a fun day at the races without risking a large amount of money. The show parlay can begin with a $2 show wager. In order to collect on a show wager, the selected horse must finish in either first, second, or third place. The show parlay continues if the original show bet is hit. The money collected is parlayed back in the next race on another horse to show. The show parlay continues as long as show bets are hit. The parlay bankroll can grow quickly and the bettor's original $2 investment can be withdrawn while the parlay continues on "won" money. The show parlay is a strategy and not a formal wagering format. A handicapper cannot go to the window and request a "$2 show parlay." Rather, the patron makes individual show bets at his or her own discretion.