The first major sport in Canada to return during the COVID-19 pandemic is horse racing, but for the time being fans will have to watch from the sidelines as the races will be run only with essential personnel.

As there will be no customers betting at tracks or teletheatres, Woodbine’s HorsePlayer Interactive (HPI) is the only way to bet in Canada if you are a resident of Canada. HPI was developed by Woodbine 23 years ago and offers live streaming, wagering and replays of some 450 of tracks around the world.

Trends to watch for

Picking a potential winner when a new season of racing gets underway offers its challenges since many of the horses have been idle since the meeting ended the year before. This season is a bit different as all Canadian tracks are starting much later than usual (Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, BC and Century Mile in Nisku, AB have to still yet to reveal the opening dates). Local horses are coming back from much longer layoffs, but many with more pre-training, while winter-raced horses can get overbet.

1. Get on the bandwagon early

Trying to land on the right side of trends early in a racing season is key. Since you are wagering against every other racing fan, picking up on early patterns can give you a leg up on the public. If a trainer sends out a winner or more on opening day, look at the horse’s preparation and compare it to other starters from the same stable. There can be success in betting the hot or cold barn angle.

The hot barn will have its horses sharp and ready and perhaps have employed one jockey to ride all of its starters. On opening day at Fort Erie racetrack, June 2, local trainer Joe Humber won two races early on the card and sharp onlookers would have considered his third starter on the day, 9 to 1 About a Girl, who won for the well-prepared stable.

Similarly, if well-bet runners from a stable come out a bit ‘short’, not quite ready to win, tab those starters for their second outings of the season.

2. What to do about the layoff

There are plenty of statistics available in track programs and past performances that will tell you how well a trainer does off a layoff, whether it is a 60-day break or 180 days or more. That does not tell the entire story, however, as the horse may have shown in the past to run well when ‘fresh’. How did the horse do in his first race of the previous years? (You can use the free service, Equibase, to view a horse’s entire career.) Horses that have a history of winning off a layoff of 60 days or more are wonderful wagers.

3. Winter trained vs. winter raced?

The winter-raced horses that appear at your local track in the opening days of the meeting may not have the same advantage as they may have had in previous years. That is because horses at most Canadian tracks have been preparing for the original start of the season and thus have an extra month or two of foundation training.

Remember, some winter-raced horses are trying your local track’s surface for the first time and sometimes they may not take to it in their initial outing. And since winter-raced horses often get overbet (offering lower odds than actually warranted) it makes sense to give the locals a look, especially if they offer betting value.

4. Taking an edge in return

A nifty angle to consider in the early weeks of a racing season is watching for trainers dropping horses several class levels if the horse has not won in a while.

Perhaps the horse was in races a bit too tough for him in the previous year, but was competitive enough to pick up purse shares while not winning. The trainer likely would not have dropped the horse in class during the season, but will try to take an edge in the return race as not a lot of claiming is done early in the season.

Look for horses who have done some winning two years ago but missed the mark the previous season. They have a good record of breaking through early in the meeting.

5. Don’t forget your exotic wagers

If you have decided that the favourite in a race looks like the most likely winner, don’t forget to use some of these angles to select a horse for exactas, trifectas or superfectas. You would be surprised how profitable these plays can be if you loop the favourite in for first or second with a horse offering better odds.

6. Watch and take notes

If you plan on following racing at your local track for the season, or play the races on a regular basis, don’t be afraid to watch the opening cards of the meeting and note what types of horses are winning, and which trainers or riders are holding the hot hand.

Get a feel for your track surface: did the winners all come from the outside part of the track or was the inside path more successful?

While spring racing at your track has historically had races predominantly at abbreviated distances, such as five furlongs, with the later start to the race meetings, distances offered are going to be a mixed bag. Speed horses will win most of the short dashes, so don’t tab a track speed favouring based on all short races. Take a look at an entire day of racing and look for patterns.

Online Inside Intel

There are a lot of means to download and view data and past races for any horse racing on any given day, not just through HPI, but most have subscription costs. Daily Racing Form‘s past performances can be purchased online or at a retailer and its valuable Formulator program are musts for regular players. Track programs usually provide Equibase past performances.

Another good source for handicapping insights are on-line handicappers or the simulcast shows who do their homework.

Jeff Bratt, simulcast handicapper for Woodbine, takes detailed notes of each race that is run, investigates pedigree information and trainer statistics. Bratt discusses races before the card begins with co-host Jason Portuondo. He knows that more fans will be tuning in these days because the tracks are closed to the public.

“For sure, I’ve always felt we are the eyes and ears for people who can’t make it to the track and I feel that’s even more important during these challenging times,” said Bratt. “I feel it’s our responsibility to give out information that fans would want to hear that will help them make informed decisions when playing the races at Woodbine this season. “

Bratt also emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the track surface and horses’ pre-race appearance.

“What we can do is examine race replays and continue to build track profiles as the season goes on. If the rail is good one day or closers on the inside turf won every race that day. That is information you can’t get out of the program or from past performance lines. How horses are handling the paddock is crucial information as well, especially once we start with two-year-old races.”

Bratt provides top-four selections per race, but wants bettors and fans to know that while he’s trying to pick the winner, they are also offering options for wagers. Remember, these selections are done two to three days before the races run and weather, scratches etc. can affect the picks.

Some of the most valuable information needed to figure out the puzzle that is each horse race is a horse’s trip in one of its most recent races and trainer information from a historical perspective.
For Thoroughbred racing, the Woodbine daily analysis at Bettors’ Corner will have all of these notes plus workout information. The Daily Racing Form analysis page will have trip notes.