RUIDOSO — The All-American Derby and Futurity close out the final weekend of racing at Ruidoso Downs. With $4.5 million at stake in the two races everyone who attends wants to join the lucky horse, jockey, owner and trainer in the winnings.
Tim Keithley, the marketing director for the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack, has been handicapping horse racing for more than 30 years.
“When you’re handicapping a race, you’re trying to be like a weatherman, forecast the future,” Keithley said. “You’re using information from past performances to garner how a horse might do today.”
For anyone interested in making their first few bets, Keithley focuses on three aspects, all of which can be found on that day’s racing form so the plethora of information doesn’t seem too daunting.
From a practical standpoint Keithley said the jockeys with the most accomplishments typically get the best horses. The trainers of those horses want the best rider to give that horse the best chance at winning.
“A jockey can’t make a horse run faster, but he can sure make a horse run slower,” Keithley said. “By having a good rider that is able to be still and can get on the same wavelength as a racehorse that’s helpful. In the program we offer we have the record of each individual jockey.”
Keithley said a great jockey will win 20 percent or more of his races while an average rider will win 15-18 percent.
A good indication is how well the trainer’s horses win, place and show. Very good trainers will have their horses finish in the top-3 more than half of their races.
“It makes sense that good trainers typically have better stock in their barn and are more accomplished than others…Good trainers spent a lot of time on the backside (behind the scene stuff like working with groomers) and they know what they’re doing,” Keithley said.
The horse’s earnings
Keithley said this one is a little trickier because a lot of maiden horses (ones that have never won a race) may not have too many races under their respective straps. This step requires a little more investigation. By looking at the horse’s previous races, especially when seeing who won the races, should give bettors more knowledge.
Keithley said Ruidoso Downs tries to put at least their 15 previous races on the racing form. He suggests looking for a horse that is moving down in competition (like an MLB player going down to Triple-A for a rehab stint) for a better chance to make the correct bet.
“If a horse is placed above his caliber of talent that makes it tougher,” he said. “If you were at a higher level of play it gets easier.”
Keithley said it’s common to see a horse cycling, where every third race or so there’s a small setback, so don’t be worried if they’ve had one bad race recently.
“Sometimes horses will race at night and not like lights,” he said. “There’s always something that can spook them.”
The other note for looking at a horse is seeing what its name is. Keithley said a lot of quarter horses will carry some part of their parent’s name and mentioned that for this weekend’s races there are two horses with “Jess” in their names, a nod to the horse’s bloodline.