Learn to Handicap the Races, 1895

Apr 6th 2010 06:00 am |

About a week ago, the Hello Race Fans site was launched. I have mentioned HRF here before and it has come together beautifully under the steady hand of the site’s captain Dana Byerly.  The philosophy behind the site is to provide a non-intimidating and, hopefully, entertaining space to learn about thoroughbred racing. Dana has put together a talented group of race writers (and one legendary videographer).  I am really glad to be a part of it. You can check it out here.

As I was working on content for Hello Race Fans, our friend Jim McKenna sent me a few articles that he found while researching his great-uncle, the legendary handicapper Pack McKenna. One of the articles he sent, I found interesting in the context of the Hello Race Fans site. It is from the American Gentleman’s Newspaper in 1895 from a section of the paper called “To Correspondents,” which was a place where readers could ask questions of the editors that would be answered in print. G.H.S of New York asked this:

1. Where could I learn the method of handicapping races. I understand there are various ones in vogue; also, that there is one known as the “Old Brooklyn Method.” Kindly enlighten me as to which one you think the best, and to whom I can obtain the same from.  2. Are there no books published on the principles of handicapping or measuring a horse’s capacity. If not, where do all such men as Wheelock, C. Irish, Orlando Jones and others learn to do handicapping from. I noticed a year or two ago quite an article in THE SPIRIT on this subject,

In answer to his question, the unknown correspondent wrote this:

1. Write to J.H. Judson. 1180 Broadway, New York. 2. We know of no book on the subject.

Writing a letter like this was the equivalent of Googling in 1895 (without the instant gratification, of course). I did a little research to see if I could figure out the identity of J.H. Hudson to no avail. Considering the amount of ink spilled on the subject since then, its amazing to think that no one had thought to write a handicapping book by 1895. No wonder guys like Pittsburg Phil, Riley Grannan, Cad Irish, Pack McKenna, and E.C. Botay (too name a few) made a killing playing the races during this period. These were the guys who were creating their own past performances and form charts giving them a huge advantage over all others in the betting ring (including the bookmakers). They were playing against other gamblers who were essentially swinging in the dark.

Today, there are hundreds of handicapping books, a plethora of past performance data, race charts and video replays, and more information than you could ever need. And, if you are like G.H.S. from New York looking for the basics of handicapping, you have (here comes the shameless and awkward plug) Hello Race Fans — be sure to check it out!

I am leaving early this morning for Lexington to spend Wednesday at Keeneland. Then its off to Hot Springs for racing at Oaklawn Park on Friday and Saturday. It’s going to be a crazy amount of driving but well worth it.


Filed in famous gamblers,gambling,handicapping,origins of handicapping,thoroughbred racing history

4 Responses to “Learn to Handicap the Races, 1895”

  1. Colin’s Ghost wrote:

    Today, there are hundreds of handicapping books, a plethora of past performance data, race charts and video replays, and more information than you could ever need.


    True. But ultimate success is achieved by the approach that is most suited to the individual. If one does not do private research; glean insights not shared by the masses, there is no way to overcome the usurious modern takeout rates.

    Also, the legends of the turf, such as Pittsburgh Phil et. al did not have to do battle against the parimutuel system. They could wager on fixed odds without the size of their wager lowering the payouts.

    This is a concept that must be reintroduced at the racetracks as the current parimutuel system has too many flaws and has become counterproductive.

  2. dana says:

    Thanks for the all kind words and shameless plugs! It is crazy to think that it took so long for handicapping books to be published… and I think Teresa’s dad (aka Papa Backstretch) might employ the “Old Brooklyn Method”!

  3. Greasy Tony says:

    I would love to know what the “Brooklyn Method” actually was.

  4. Jim says:

    I highly recommend HRF. As a relative newbie it has been very helpful in taking away alot of the uncertainty and uneasiness that comes with learning to play the races. Thanks.