Blinkers Off: New Frontier in Form Cycle Analysis for Horseracing . April 2002

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Blinkers Off: New Frontier in Form Cycle Analysis for Horseracing

by Howard Schwartz (Manager of the Gambler's Book Shop in Las Vegas)

Thoroughbred handicappers are highly opinionated people who are often prone to disagreement when it comes to what method or technique works best in predicting winners. It's been that way for more than a century and will probably continue as long as pari-mutuel wagering on anything continues.

One thing most agree on, however, is that there are no shortcuts to picking winners. Those who survive the long "wars" of continuous handicapping are few—a select, dedicated group who have found an edge and continue to hone their weapons of survival, with hard work and innovation of course.

The arrival of Cary Fotias' BLINKERS OFF (194 pages, paperbound, 5x8 format, $29.95), should allow serious, advanced-ability handicappers who thirst for new ways to isolate true contenders and eliminating non-contending horses to rejoice.

Backed by two respected names in thoroughbred handicapping, Dr. William Ziemba (Beat the Racetrack) and successful big-time handicapper Richie Schwartz (no relation to this reviewer), both of whom had input into the book's content, Fotias rightfully joins innovators like Huey Mahl, Tom Brohamer, William Scott, Tom Ainslie, Ray Taulbot, Howard Sartin and James Quinn among others as an author and theorist to be reckoned with and watched for the future.

Ziemba, who wrote the foreword for the book, clearly views racetrack betting as a "financial market," requiring the ability to establish the probability of a horse winning as  key to successful handicapping. He sees Fotias' Xtras (key handicapping factors covered in detail) offering comprehensive  information, allowing the handicapper to clearly preview the possible outcome of any given race.

Ziemba thinks of this work as  "an entertaining, well-written book" and predicts it to have a major impact on the way races are analyzed and wagered on from now on. This reviewer agrees.

How DOES one learn how to identify a well-condition horse? That's the key. Fotias is the teacher; the subject is form cycle analysis. That factor AND money management are the one-two punch separating winners from losers in the long run.

Fotias sees the book as a vital launching pad of sorts for his Equiform company, based in New York. His technique involves producing premium final time numbers and velocity based pace numbers, which he considers a superior way of analyzing a horse's form and condition cycle.

In the past, Fortias admits fascination with the still-respected Ragozin "sheets" but says he has "stepped beyond them," because they failed to capture the true "dynamics of the race."

For those who believe pace, deceleration, velocity, feet per second and ground loss are vital factors in handicapping a race, there's a gold mine of information awaiting you. Fotias believes it is crucial to examine each horse's last three years of performances when the opportunity exists. He adjusts his numbers for factors like wind, weight, track configuration and track variants, what most intelligent, dedicated players have sought for years.

The book explores the dozen important variables handicappers should consider for every starter in a race since each has " a certain amount of energy available to distribute" in the event. Those factors are: a horse's particular running style; the pace demand of the race; distance; surface; bias; the jockey; trainer; weight; post position; final time ability; racing luck and the horse's current condition.

Fotias clearly considers condition most important. "If a horse is not physically in shape to run a competitive race, all the sophisticated angles in the world isn't going to lead him into the winner's circle."

Later Fotias underscores the need to recognize and analyze situations like lightly-raced horses; animals going from dirt to turf and vice versa and track bias.

The author does an excellent job of taking each factor or piece of the handicapping puzzle, while assisting the player to view the entire picture by the final chapter. For those who wish to know more or avail themselves to his services—he tells you where to call for further information.

(Books reviewed here are available from Gambler's Book Club (Gambler's Book Shop) by calling 1-800-522-1777 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time, Monday through Saturday. Use MasterCard, VISA or Discover (no American Express accepted), or order via the store's web site at, using your credit card. The store's 1,000 books, plus software and videos are listed on the web site or if you'd like a copy of the 80-page catalog mailed to you, ask via the web site or by toll-free number or mail. The store is located at 630 South 11th St., Las Vegas NV 89101, and is now in its 37th year of operation. It is located two miles from Downtown Las Vegas and about the same distance from where The Strip begins. It is a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)