With a computer, you can predict the outcome of the Preakness by analyzing key past performance data. Or you could manually decipher the cuneiform-like symbols in the racing program, paying particular attention to speed and track variants, speed ratings and other factors.
And, with a little research, you could calculate the Dosage index, comparing the performance of several generations of sires to determine a horse's likelihood of winning.
But hey, what fun would that be? And, said Dick Mitchell, author of Commonsense Handicapping, to be published next month by Morrow, it's probably not going to help.
The Triple Crown series is notoriously difficult to handicap for a variety of reasons. Three-year-old horses are still developing and somewhat unpredictable, few have ever run the distances required, they may have running styles that are unsuited to these races, and they are often being ridden by jockeys unfamiliar with them, Mitchell said.
That's not to say you should bet at random, however, he said. "Is it possible to just drop into a broker's office once a year, pick a few stocks, and make money?" he asked.
No, but about 90,000 people will be attempting to do just that today, and Mitchell, who correctly picked Sea Hero in the Kentucky Derby, offered a few "no-brainer" tips for novice handicappers:
* Remember the point of the day: making money. "You don't fall in love with a horse, you fall in love with a bet," Mitchell said. And don't be afraid to sit out a race in which you don't have a strong preference.
* Bet the favorite to show. Often the betting public will go big for a favorite but will forget the place and show bets, meaning the horse favored to win may not necessarily be the same horse that is "favored" to show, even though a show bet pays when the horse comes in first, second or third.
The favorite tends to win about one-third of the time, place half the time and show two-thirds of the time.
* If you find a first-time racer -- a "maiden" -- favored by the program odds, bet it to show. Often these are horses who have shown good speed in workouts and are racing against proven losers. Of course, no maidens will be in the Preakness.
* Bet on horses that are using Lasix for the first or second time. Lasix lessens the tendency of some horses to bleed from the lungs during races, and also tends to boost performance the first couple of times it is used.
* Take the horses in each race that are favored by the handicappers in the program and wait for one to go off with odds of 4-1 or longer. Bet this horse to win because both the probability of it winning and the payoff will be good.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF HANDICAPPING
1. Thou shalt know thy track. Some trainers have more wins on certain tracks.
2. Thou shalt understand ability. Measured by class, speed and pace.
3. Thou shalt understand form and condition. Pick an improving horse likely to peak at race time.
4. Thou shalt understand angles and hot stats. Pay attention to first-time Lasix users, horses with increasing speed ratings, good workout times, etc.
5. Thou shalt understand "wager line." Consider the payout, not just which horse is likely to win.
6. Thou shalt make a betting line. Write down the probabilities of the horses you think are likely to win. Bet on the ones with odds longer than the probability you've assigned them.
7. Thou shalt not bet against legitimate favorites. They often win.
8. Thou shalt understand false and vulnerable favorites. Beware of odds driven up by publicity or rumor.
9. Thou shalt keep records. It's the only way to learn.
10. Thou shalt never stop learning.
From: Commonsense Handicapping, by Dick Mitchell.