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Under The Spires and Under The Radar

Churchill Downs Handicapping Hints


When it comes to the Churchill Downs Spring Racing, which is about to begin with live racing Saturday, May 16 after a 3 week delay due to COVID-19 precautions and protocol there are a number of overviews I feel will aid you in maximizing your horse wagering during the duration of the meet.

Under The Spires and Under The Radar

Between now and Friday, May 15 I plan on posting a number of Handicapping Hints which I believe will allow you to at least streamline your analysis and allow you to separate the well-meant from the herd.

I begin today by addressing one of the most broadcast maxims concerning two-year old races. A maxim which is far from substantiated by the evidence.

I call this segment PERCEPTION VS REALITY IN JUVENILE RACES. And this maxim, which is heralded almost universally is as follows.

You should follow the tote board, the smart money usually shows up.

If you do the work, as my Jim Hurley Racing Network always does, you discover that over the years during this Spring Meet at Churchill Downs, this maxim does not hold up. In fact, it could not be further from an accurate suggestion, especially when it comes to making money. Because, first and foremost, regardless of the percentages it might produce, it is so over bet that all, and I mean all value is completely eliminated


From Churchill Downs to Saratoga to Santa Anita to Gulfstream and beyond, and for decade after decade it seems as though there is a Commandment that must be followed. One which bettors line up religiously to take on as Sacrament.

The Commandment that declares that only a select number of “in-the-know” people are privy to the information about unraced or lightly raced juveniles (2-year old runners) hitting the racetrack in the spring.

The adage is that those people who have a “special pipeline” to how prepared certain horses are vs the lesser prepared ones are the ones who are betting the “smart money” as it is so often called. This “smart money” is then to be followed as it appears in the pools on the tote boards or in the case of the new normal of spectator-less on track racing, in the online pool and streaming odds on every track’s web portal and each online wagering platform and national television coverage such as TVG and others.

So, if one had “followed the tote” last year during the Churchill Downs Spring Meet, what would the evidence have shown? Or more damaging, if one had followed the maxim with their hard earned dollars, what would their bankroll have looked like? And more importantly, what would it have kept a savvy bettor from playing which might very well have provided them with a handful of major scores.


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Let’s go to the evidence.

Last year during the 40 day Churchill Downs Spring Meet there were 26 juvenile races.

  • 26 overall races
  • 10 Winning Favorites…38.5% Winners
  • Average Payoff For Winning Favorites…$4.76
  • 16 Winning Non-Favorites…61.5% Winners
  • Average Payoff For Winning Non-Favorites…$27.64
  • Overall Average Payoff For All 26 Juvenile Runners…$21.45


The winning percentage of 38.5% is slightly above the overall average of the winners of any class at any race track. While this might indicate there is something to “playing the tote board” the actual payoffs Indicate there is NOTHING advantageous about doing so.

For had you bet the favorite in all 26 races (a $52.00 investment based on a $2 wager) your total return would have been $47.60. That is hardly the stuff of a profitable meet.

As you can see by the resulting payoffs in the 16 juvenile races in which the favorite was beaten, you are much better not concerning yourself at all with the favorite if you are wagering on a horse you have every handicapping reason to support.

To wrap up let’s assume you had hit just 3 of those 16 Non-Winning Favorites. And for argument’s sake let us assume that you bet “against” the favorite in all 26 races.

I am not suggesting that at all, just using this to make my point. And let us assume that your 3 winners averaged what the overall $27.64 average for the non-favorites paid (among the non-favorites were payoffs such as $92.20, $67.00, $56.80, $54.20, $44.80.)

For a $2 Wager you would have invested $52 ($2 x 26) and collected a total of $82.95. That is $3.38 for every $2 Wagered…a return of 69% on your money.

Of course I am drawing potential models here. But they are based on the reality of opportunity. And that is why, with such opportunity available, since 1985 I have spent time and money creating the Jim Hurley Racing Network in order to find the information that goes well beyond “Following The Tote Board.”

On Saturday, in PART II of UNDER THE SPIRES AND UNDER THE RADAR I’ll take a look at where the most well-meant shippers come from. This year the meet is starting fresh and will draw from all parts of the country. Do you know which have been the most historically productive regions from which these shippers hailed?Check back Saturday and find out.

Under The Spires and Under The Radar