Today is the day for the 135th Running of the Kentucky Derby.  The Derby is the Super Bowl of horse racing.  Everyone from Auntie Lucinda to your Grandmama suddenly dons a big, fancy hat and becomes a racing fan.  

You can, of course, pick your horse by one of the tried and true methods such as closing your eyes, pointing your finger at the program, and hoping for the best, asking your 3-year old niece which name she likes, or listening to the TV and radio race touts (See "Why TV Race Touts Don't Win").  You are much more likely to come out of the race with more money than when you went in, however, if you know a few important facts, invest $6.00 in a Daily Racing Form, and dope out the winners the scientific way.  

Buying the racing form won't do you much good if you don't know how to read it.  Here are few pointers for beginners.  Let's use an example the today's Kentucky Derby charts.  The Derby is the 11th race today at Churchill Downs.  

Turning to the 11th Race we see at the very top of the page the Race Number, followed by the name of the track.  Following the track name we see "1 1/4 miles (1:59:2)" That is the distance of the Derby and the track record for that distance.  Next we see the name of the race, "Kentucky Derby" and the Class ranking of the Derby, which is "Grade 1."   

A Grade 1 Race is the top class of race internationally.  The rankings of races going down in order from there are Grade 2, Grade 3, Stakes Races, Allowance Races, and Claiming Races.   You will need to know the rankings of races when comparing the actual record of horses in the Racing From charts.  

Stakes races are any race with a name and an amount of money after the name.  The money shown after the name is the amount of the purse.  The larger the purse the better the quality of the horses that it attracts and therefore, the higher in rank the race is considered to be.  

Allowance races are subdivided in two ways.  First by the purse, just as with Stakes races, and second by whether the Allowance was limited to non-winners of 1 race, or non-winners of two races, or is not limited and any horse can enter.  Obviously horses that have won two or more races present stronger competition than horses that have never won a race.  Thus, Allowances for horses that have won any number of races, without restriction, are considered higher ranked than races that are limited to horses that have never won twice.  Those races, in turn, are considered stronger than races limited to horses that have never won even once, except for a maiden race.  

Races that are limited to horses that have never won at all are called Maiden Races.  . These races can be Allowance Races or Claiming Races, and are internally ranked in the same way as those races.  Maiden races are considered the bottom of the barrel in their category, with claiming races being below Allowance Maiden Races.  The name for Allowance races being run by horses that never won at all is "Maiden Special Weight."  The name for claiming races being run by the same type of horse is "Maiden Claiming" with a number after it representing the claiming price of the horses.

Claiming races are races in which the horses are actually up for sale at a price set before the race.  That price is called the "Claiming Price."  Any registered owner or trainer may "claim" the horse by putting up the claiming price, and when the race is over, the horse has a new owner.  This system keeps the races fairly evenly matched, since an owner with a very good horse is not likely to risk losing that horse for a small price in a lower value claiming race.  An owner with a low value horse is not likely to run his horse with higher valued horses because he will never win a purse at all.  Thus claiming races work automatically to keep the horses matched in a relatively fair manner.  Claiming races are ranked by the claiming price.  A $50,000 claiming race puts horses in the race up for sale at $50,000.  That is considered to be a race with tougher competition than a $10,000 Claiming Race that puts horses up for sale at a price of $10,000.  

Continuing at the top of the form, we have the Class of the Race, and the amount of the purse, which in the case of the Kentucky Derby is $2 Million.  

In the upper right corner, there is a diagram showing the track and where the start and finish line will be for the race in relationship the track.  The finish line is always the side that is closest to the stands.

Next we have the listing of individual horses.  The number next to the name is the program number.  Be careful, the program number is not necessarily the same as the postposition of the horse.  You can check the postposition by looking for the listing of horses for each race at the very start of the Churchill Downs section of the paper.  Those listings will show you the program number and the postposition number if they are different.  If two horses have the same program number but with a letter after each, they are an entry coupled in the wagering.  You must bet by program number and NOT post position number.  Postposition, however, is very important for handicapping, as I discuss in today's forum post that will posted at about 11 AM Eastern called "Facts Important to Winning the Derby."

We will use the #2 horse Musket Man in the Derby charts to illustrate how to read the past performance record.  Below the horses name is the name of the owner, the color of the silks, the morning line odds, and the name of the jockey.  Next to the jockey's name are his record at Churchill Downs and his record for 2009 at all tracks.  The Jockey for Musket Man, Ebar Coa, has no record at Churchill Downs.  He has ridden in 375 races, and won 59.  His win percentage follows at .16 or 16%.  

In the middle above the horse's name is the horses color, sex and age.  The "c.3" means Musket Man is a colt and the age is 3.  After that is breeding information.  The Sire is the father, the Dam is the mother, and the name in parenthesis is the mother of the Sire and the mother of the Dam.  Next we have the name of the Breeder, and the name of the trainer.  Next to the Trainer (Tr.) name is the record of the trainer at Churchill Downs and at all tracks for the year.

The small charts all the way to the left are self-explanatory.  They show the total number of races run for the horses "Life" and for each listed year.  The first number is the total races, the second number is the number of those races won, the third number is the number of those races in which the horse placed second and the fourth number is the number of races in which the horse placed third.  To the right of that the wins and losses are broken down by the type and condition of the track.

Finally, the horse's performance is past races is listed.  Each line is a separate prior race in date order.  Reading across the first line of races for Musket Man, we see the date, "4Apr09."  Then we see "7Haw". which means it was the 7th Race at Hawthorne Race Track in Illinois.  Next we see the track condition of the April 4 race and its distance. To get each track condition abbreviation look for the "Past Performance Explantion" page.  Today, on Kentucky Derby day the Past Performance Explanation is on Page 26 of the Daily Racing Form.  You may also be able to find the explanation at the Daily Racing form website.  The "1 1/8" designates that the distance of the April 4 race was 1 1/8 miles.

Next we have the time of the lead horse at each call of the race, followed by the name and grade of the race.  Then we have something called the "Beyer Number."  The Beyer number is explained on page 26, and I will write about it another time.  After that we have a series of numbers that indicate the starting gate position of Musket Man and then his position in the race at every call post.  The Call Posts are:
(1) The Start
(2) 1/4 mile
(3) 1/2 mile
(4) Top of the Stretch
(5) Finish        

The numbers just over each call position indicates the number of lengths Musket Man was behind the leader, unless he is first in which case the superior number indicates the number of lengths is was ahead of the second place horse.  Looking at Musket Man's positions in the April 4 race he was #7 in the gate.   He broke out 6, and ran most of the race 5th behind the leader by 3 lengths.  He moved to the first position around the turn and was #1 at the top stretch, ahead of the second place horse by 2 lengths.  No one gained on him, and he won the race by 2 lengths.  A length, if you haven't guessed, is an estimated measure that is approximately the length of an average horse.  

Next we have the name of the jockey who rode Musket Man in the Illinois Derby race on April 4.  E. Coa also rode musket Man in that prior race.  The next numbers are fully explained on page 26, so I'll jump to the numbers just before the names of the horses finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  Those numbers for Musket Man in the Illinois Derby are "96-18."  These numbers are calculated by the Daily Racing Form, they are very useful for handicapping and comparing horses, and, in my opinion give a much more accurate picture than the "Beyer" numbers.  The first number of the two tells us how Musket Man's time on April 4 compared to the record for that distance at Hawthorne.  The track record is given a rating of 100.  Then one number is added or subtracted for each 1/5 of a second that the horse in question either beat the track record or was slower than the track record.  In this case, the number "96" indicates that Musket Man missed by the track record by 4/5ths of a second (100 - 96 = 4).  Obviously the higher the first number the faster the horse ran.  

The second number is the "Track Variant."  That number indicates the comparative speed of the track itself on the day of the race being reviewed.  If you have ever been to the beach, you know that you can run faster on wet sand than packed sand, and faster on packed sand than on deep dry sand.  Racetracks are faster or slower on some days based on weather, whether the track has been sealed, and whether it has been recently turned as opposed to the surface merely being raked.  The Racing From takes average time for the Class of Races run on the day in question and compares the average of the races on the particular day and comes up with a comparison number called the "Track Variant."  The higher the number, the slower the track on the day of the race you are looking at.  Thus you can make adjustments to the first number, which is the speed number, to compensate for the actual condition of the track on the day in question.  This allows for more accurate comparisons.  

There are so many numbers, abbreviations and notations that I can't discuss them all here.  I have discussed above those things that are important that the Racing Form Past Performance Explanation page does not explain.  The rest is explained very well on page 26 of today's Form.  Read it thoroughly, cut it out, and save it.  Refer to it until reading the Past Performances becomes second nature.

If the thought of all that and one look at the huge amount of data on page 26 is giving you a headache, you can get every selection today at Churchill Downs from the excellent handicappers of the Wall Street Syndicate, as well as my betting advice input by CLICKING HERE.