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Track Tracts

Part 8: Predatory Handicapping/Nuances and Trainers continued
by Joe Takach

I wish I had said this earlier in our discussion about nuance handicapping, but it was not until driving home from the track last Saturday evening that my �hamster got back on his wheel�.

I suddenly realized that every single dedicated handicapper uses �nuance handicapping� every day in their overall methodology. They might not necessarily call these subtle distinctions �nuances�, as they come in many forms, but that�s what they really are. There�s even a distinct possibility that some players employ them subconsciously, benefiting from them without ever being aware of it

So as you read on and until I write my very last word on nuances as a subset of the �Predatory Handicapping� series, understand that you are not reading about something brand new. You are merely looking at new variations of an already ingrained part of your handicapping methodology.

That said, as predatory handicappers or �wannabee� predatory handicappers, we now continue to move deeper into this fascinating area of handicapping.

I suggested in Part 7 of this series that trainer �no shows� in the paddock on any given race day were �big time no-nos�!

If, in fact, you did what I advised you to do in Part 7, your heads were just nodding in total agreement when reading the words �big time no-nos�!

With that basic 101 trainer nuance noted, we move forward with other trainer subtleties that are sometimes evident when trainers do show up to saddle their own horses.


I have to admit that I never paid all that much attention to this saddle-checking nuance until Walt first pointed it out to me. Once noted, it more than made sense. You can�t win a race without a jockey atop your horse when he crosses the finish line.

Have you ever seen or possibly bet a horse and his saddle slipped somewhere during the race or his jockey�s foot came out of a stirrup due to slippage? It�s happened to me and it�s happened more than once. The most vivid in my mind and the one that for years has refused to leave, occurred early in my horseplaying career at Atlantic City in a Classified Allowance affair going around 2 turns over the turf.

I had won with my selection on 3 different occasions in the past. His midpack running profile always kept him within striking distance, but he really didn�t shift gears until 6 furlongs of the race had transpired.

On that warm summer evening, he was asked for run midway on the final turn as he always was while 5 or so lengths behind the leader. He willingly responded, made an awesome move passing all rivals but one from the 4 path in what seemed to be a heartbeat, came to even terms with the �top banana� just before turning for home, blew by that pacesetter like he was standing still, was in total command passing the 3/16th pole and then began drawing off into another area code.

I was jumping around like Snoopy atop his dog house because he went off @ 6-1. My winnings were already being mentally spent. And then it happened! His saddle slipped and his jockey fell off inside the 1/16th pole. (Both horse and jockey were OK).

I felt my legs go out from under me while simultaneously feeling this twinge in my gut.

I had unwillingly discovered yet another way to lose a race.

Walt�s nuance?

Many if not most trainers, tack up a horse and give the saddle a quick �once-over� that is accomplished more with their eyes, than their hands. This is quite normal. Horses tacked up in this manner win every day and there are no nuances evident in the saddling ritual---------at least not yet!

However, you should continue to watch each horse that is already under tack.

What you are looking for is a nervous and/or compulsive type trainer who can�t seem to stop checking things on his horse, or who can�t stop directing his groom(s) to do so. The operative words are �can�t seem to stop�.

As you most likely know, the trainer tacks his horse up with the aid of a track valet who brings out the saddle and numbered saddlecloth. Once the saddle is in place, the valet�s job is done and he leaves.

This is where it all begins if in fact it begins at all.

Our paddock �prey� (nervous or compulsive trainer) then begins touching every single piece of equipment that is on his horse, with the saddle itself being the most rechecked item.

When momentarily satisfied that the saddle is indeed secure, he proceeds to other gear such as blinkers. He might make sure that every single horse hair near the top of the blinkers that was displaced when the blinkers were affixed, flops over the top perfectly. He then might check to see if the cups themselves are perfectly aligned on each side of the horse�s head, or if the horse is comfortable where his ears come thru the top.

But once done with the blinker inspection, instead of moving on a tongue tie, bridle, removing cold water walk-in wraps, or cleaning out the bottom of each hoof with his bale hook, the trainer goes right back to the saddle and vigorously checks it as if he had just put it on.

All must be absolutely perfect.

When again happy that the saddle is indeed secure for the 2nd time, the trainer will move on to another piece of equipment such as a tongue tie, bridle, wraps, sponging the horse�s mouth, or whatever. When completing this next individual task, where does the trainer go? You guessed it, he checks the saddle for a third time. He might even go thru this whole entire process a fourth or fifth time!

Walt explained that if a trainer did this with every one of his horse on every single day, you had nothing more than a trainer who was merely hyper, erratic or perhaps superstitious. They existed, but were very few and very far between and, in most cases, had extremely low win percentages.

These conditioners were positively not my �prey�. For the most part and in his words, they were nothing more than �high-strung kooks in need of a shrink�.

What I wanted to be looking for was the trainer who never acted in this manner, that is, until he was �sending�! Walt knew the saddling habits of all �normal� trainers. Whenever they suddenly exhibited these nervous or compulsive behavioral patterns in the paddock while tacking up their horse, that horse was very �live� in that specific race!

If the trainer was running in another race that day either before or after his �live� race, he acted quite normally knowing that he had no chance of winning. But when it was �Showtime�, Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde right before your very eyes!

I know that you might be skeptical as was I.

But since I was in the paddock taking copious physicality notes anyway, it was no big deal for me to start paying attention to another factor by watching how each and every trainer acted as they saddled their horses.

After a short time doing this, I finally began to see what Mr. Nuance was talking about.

What a show! And what a powerful nuance------it�s downright frightening in its accuracy with no signs of slowing down. It worked on the East coast and it currently works on the West Coast!

What�s more, once I began actually watching the mannerisms of all trainers, I immediately began to see other trainer nuances.

I even taught Walt one, disproving the old axiom that �You can�t teach an old dog a new trick�!

TRAINERS continued

Copyright �2003 by Joe Takach.  All rights reserved.
Joe can be contacted through his website at

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