How the handicapping
establishment has branded class analysis as deviant
definitions of “kinky” include abnormal, deviant,
perverted, sick and warped. Not a nice bunch of
characteristics to be associated with. Anonyms include
“straight” and “wholesome.” All of these things are in the
eye of the beholder.
example, during a period which saw the rise of the cult of
symmetry, architects and engineers did some “inspired”
state-of-the-art work in getting rid of the “deviant”
designs of old-fashioned baseball stadiums. Why should one
foul line be 320 feet while the other is 360? Why should
the wall in left field be higher than the wall in right
In a number
of these stadiums, the “warped” idea of grass, which was by
nature uneven, was replaced by a purer form of surface,
artificial turf. The result of this search for purity was a
construction binge of symmetrical bowls, bleak replicas
which dulled the senses of spectators and reduced the game
to a routine that had never been intended. One might use
the term “monocultural” to describe this search for a form
that made no room for differences.
consequences of this frenzy for symmetry are still felt.
Human knees and ankles do not adjust well to artificial
surfaces. God gave us grass as a natural cushion. With
artificial surfaces of man-made purity, the probability for
injuries is greatly increased.
state-of-the-art steam-roller ideologues looked upon older
stadiums as something akin to kinky. Ebbetts Field in
Brooklyn was one of the first casualties of this
monocultural domination. When the “Bums” moved to
L.A., they lost their nickname and were known only as the
It took two and a half decades for
this tide to turn, although the trend may never become
totally reversed. The first visible sign of backlash is the
Orioles Stadium at Camden Yards, purposely built
asymmetrically, with rich, sensorial grass, odd angular
patterns and a more intimate use of space. The
Baltimore-Washington public shows its appreciation for this
reversal of monculturalism by making every game a sellout.
is that for 25 years, a false utilitarian ideology,
pragmatic in appearance only, was considered to be state of
the art. Straight, wholesome and lifeless stadiums now
stand as monuments to this binge of utilitarianism.
totally analogous, in the realm of horse race handicapping,
a similar attempt at reducing everything to one dimension
culminated in the oft-repeated phrase “class is speed.”
Whenever you hear the same phrase repeated with cult-like
regularity, beware. One does not often associate a cult
with sophisticated experts, but the “class is speed” slogan
has been passed on from one expert to another.
competent handicappers knew that the class designations by
claiming and allowance levels were frequently flawed,
something that lent itself more to numerical analysis was
needed, especially during a period in our history when
“objectivity” was considered equivalent to “numerical.”
Class analysis was too vague, too interpretive to maintain
its standing during such a period.
blame Andrew Beyer and his Picking Winners for
setting off this trend, since it would have been
inevitable. The attitude came from a source much larger
than the subculture of horse race handicapping. For
example, there were the “objective” tests of academia, which
required a numerical tally in the interest of “fairness,”
without taking into account that it took the subjective
decision making of professors to include or exclude material
from these tests, to decide which were the tricky and which
were the right ones. Like the symmetrical baseball ovals,
objective multiple choice tests are becoming discredited to
a greater degree every year now. Essay tests, like class
handicapping, while more subjective in appearance, allow for
interpretations of greater depth.
One of the
catalysts of this frenzy for numerical and linear
determinants was the computer. Information management had
to be adapted to the format of the machine. The “garbage
in” phenomenon was hardly an issue at the outset of this
quarter-of-a-century frenzy. But technology is neutral and
it was not the fault of the computer, but rather of
visionless computer users, who got bogged down with data
bases that did meaningless correlations in split seconds.
mid-eighties, class handicapping was largely thought of as
deviant and warped. In reality, class handicapping was a
deviant as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. It was part of a
tradition that is based on research and biology. The
initial research came from Frederick Davis, in his
monograph. “Percentages and Probabilities,” in which, of
all basic handicapping factors, the class drop had the
greatest impact value, meaning that the class-drop factor
won much more than its fair share of races.
statistics are merely averages, and, like most factors,
class drop had dialectic considerations. In other words,
opposite logics were engaged in a dynamic relationship.
There were both positive and negative depended largely on
the interpretive skills of the handicapper. Since this are
could not be reduced to a numerical procedure, the experts,
enslaved by the icons of the day, conveniently pushed aside
the very notion of class.
arguments were often convincing, except for the fact
that they ignored biological reality. Horses are
creatures of instinct, with leader and follower
tendencies. In a group, horses are just as good as
any other animal in organizing according to a pecking
order. Such pecking orders are class structures.
training of a race horse is an attempt to minimize the
effect of a horse’s class identity, allowing it to
express its natural speed, even in the company of
animals it “senses” are its superiors. In some
elitely-bred cases, there is the attempt to draw out
an expected class identity that has failed to manifest
well-meant class droppers prove statistically that
they are bound to improve upon their speed figure, the
class-is-speed ideology is now so firmly entrenched in
the horseplayer conscience that class handicapping is
still considered deviant and warped. What should have
been part of the mainstream is now rated X by the
How can I make such
an extreme assertion? One need merely check the
list of seminars and forums at the Handicapping Expo
'93, the Fourth National Conference on Thoroughbred
Handicapping. I took a tally of the themes of
the Expo presentations, marking 1/2 if a particular
handicapping subject was part of double bill.
Here are the results of my tally:
Money Management ..................
other themes .......................
am sure that guys like Ainslie and Davidowitz referred
to the class factor in their presentations.
However, the point is that class handicapping as a
theme or methodology did not rate being the main topic
of any single presentation. And I assure you
that for every presenter who referred to the class
factor in positive terms, there were three others who
engaged in class bashing.
class factor should never have been a theme for a work
on kinky handicapping, but the experts look upon it as
a perversion, so it must be included here.
Late show distinct pace styles and that in their past
three races, they have run against distinct page
configurations. Since each one of these horses
show a triple advantage over September Star, (last 3
speed figures are all better than September Star's
last three), on the basis of speed, September Star
must be eliminated, especially when we all know that
"speed is class."
public did a good job here internalizing the slogans
of its handicapping gurus and let September Star off
at 9-1, huge odds considering this is a 6-horse field.
this point, I intervene from the present: April
2011, simply to say that there is little of the
above that as changed since Kinky
Handicapping was written. I can comfortably
continue with the exact wording from “Kinky”
with no need for updating. The class factor
is still underbet by the public.]
In this particular
case, class factors diametrically opposed speed
data. Here was a field of six horses in which
five of them had recently lost at today’s
level, while the sole dropper, September
Star, had not even raced as low as today’s level
in his last 10 tries, with his only recent win
coming at one class level above today’s!
With a class drop,
the classic question usually follows: is this a
positive or a negative drop? Three pieces of
evidence pointed to the positive:
This gelding was switching to Rocco, the
rider aboard him for his last victory;
That last victory also came with a class
September Star’s last-race trouble was
worse than the vague “wide” listed in the pps.
He had been fanned five-wide on the last turn,
effectively aborting what looked, on the replay,
to be a bold move that had begun at the end of
The race now
materialized the wrong way for September Star.
He had not been able to get the lone-presser
trip that had been a distinct possibility, since
a rabbit had taken the lead, leaving Gold Proof
in the enviable position of lone presser, with
September Star weaving in and out of traffic on
the backstretch, trying to find his best stride.
Gold Proof was by
no means a need-to-lead horse. While his recent
wins had been aided by lone-front-running trips,
he had won before as a presser (3Nov92) and the
rider’s strategy seemed planned rather than
In the stretch,
the favorite, Gold Proof, took the lead. Coming
on three wide on the turn, September Star made
up ground in the stretch and gradually wore down
Gold Proof. September Star paid $19.60 to win.
speed-is-class ideology swept through
handicapping circles, you never would have
gotten $19.60 for a lone dropper vs. a field
that had all lost at today’s level. But today,
class handicapping is considered deviant, call
it “kinky”, by the handicapping establishment
and their number-crunching troops.
figure handicapping can still pick a decent
percentage of winners. But Figure Fundamentalism
flies in the face of the Davis study and so much
subsequent research. Assuming that both speed
and class have their place in handicapping,
after you finish factoring in the average mutuel
for speed-figure selection compared to the
average mutuel for class-based choices, the
bottom line now favors the class handicapper.
disavow “vulgar” class handicapping that deals
with class drops in a monolithic,
non-interpretive way. Eventually, class
handicapping may resurface as a respectable
pursuit, but for the time being, should you
choose this methodology, be ready to be labeled
as deviant and warped.
What follows is a
list of some positive class handicapping
scenarios [with the text abridged for this
on-line version]. Some of these situations may
contradict others, allowing for the splendid
asymmetry in keeping with the old baseball
stadium aesthetics. (Careful of droppers whose
only win is a maiden claimer, unproven against
winners and whose legitimate class level is yet
to be determined.)
Only dropper vs. a field of proven
Horse drops and is switching to the rider
of its last victory, or to a higher percentage
rider, indicating a positive trainer intention;
Dropping after a race that was “needed”,
to the level of its last victory;
At lower level tracks, in the
“non-winners-of” conditions, a horse that comes
from open company or that has not been a
frequent non-winner-of whichever condition is
noted. For example, “non-winners of 3 lifetime”,
a lightly-raced horse that has won twice, that
faces others that have won only once or that
have accumulated losses under this condition;
A recent maiden special weight winner
that faces winners of maiden claiming races;
A horse inexplicably dropping in odds
compared to its last race, even though that last
race looks terrible in the past performances;
A horse coming from a key race, a race
that has produced next-time-out winners;
A horse coming from a more dominant
A one-level drop to the
bottom-of-the-barrel class level at this track,
when such a field is comprised of horses that
have already lost at this bottom level and
simply have nowhere else to get entered;
(10) A class drop plus track
switch, implying a positive trainer intention in
shipping the horse.
None of these
angles would have been considered “kinky” had
the dominant figures culture not attempted to
brand class handicapping as a deviant way of
life. In pre-Beyer days, September Star never
would have paid $19.60 to win. Today, class
handicapping is no better at picking winners
than it was decades ago, but thanks to its being
trashed it produces a higher average mutuel.
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