Paddock observation has become an important part of handicapping for me. As I have watched more races and seen more horses, I have started to get a feel for things that bode well for a horse about to race, and things that do not bode quite so well. Still, I have never done the paddock handicapping without my views being informed by the handicapping I have already done.
When observing, I try to set that out of my brain, but the fact remains that I know something about these horses going in. I know one of them may be a dead closer in a race full of speed, or another may be one going three rungs up the class ladder despite struggling to clear the condition at the lower level. It is good to come armed with as much information as possible when making a choice, but today I am doing an experiment that focuses entirely on paddock selection.
I am going to Arlington today, and I have not handicapped the card going in. I have not looked at the past performances. I have not looked at the horses’ names. I am going to the paddock with a notepad, one page with each race, with just the distance and conditions for each race listed on each page. That way, I will know to look for sprint or route features, turf or polytrack features…but will not come in with knowledge of their past performances, or even the preconceived notions that would come with knowing their names, as I have surely seen many of these horses race at Arlington and Hawthorne before, often multiple times.
Physically speaking, not knowing their names may be going a step too far. Knowing the horses on the scene cuts both ways, and I am familiar enough with some of the horses in this circuit to know a few who can run well after acting in ways that appear anomalously anxious. Still, at least for this first stab at purely physical handicapping, I have opted for a pure tabula rasa approach. In most cases the name would tell me more about their racing style and typical class than it would about them physically, so it serves my purposes here better.
Is this going to be a regular occurrence? No. I like being armed with as much information as possible when I handicap, and I love writing handicapping analysis. I am not giving up past performances for good. But, am I looking forward to see what this experiment can teach me about my physical handicapping, and free my mind to notice things I may have missed when my brain has (voluntarily or involuntarily) started trying to cross-reference observations in the paddock with my analysis while handicapping the race? Most certainly.