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Four Ts of Quarter Horse Handicapping

By Ed Burgart
(The following article is reprinted from the September/October 1998 issue of The HorsePlayer magazine.)

For those handicappers whose favorite letter of the alphabet is "T," it's time to learn about Quarter Horse handicapping.

The science of handicapping Quarter Horse races revolves around many T's. Such as T for time. And T for trouble. How about T for taped replays? And T for track variance.

As the announcer at Los Alamitos Race Course, I don't have to know my T's to call a race. But as the morning-line maker and track handicapper, I have to closely scrutinize a horse's final time, while taking a look at how much trouble he may have encountered in his prior races.

I also watch taped replays of races to determine exactly how much trouble a horse faced. Then, I analyze track variance while trying to determine whether his racing surface played faster or slower on different nights and/or days.


When Thoroughbred handicappers look at past performances, they see a horse's fractional and final times listed in fifths of a second. Quarter Horse races are timed in hundredths of a second. The educated Thoroughbred handicapper knows that one length corresponds to one-fifth of a second. Thus, if a horse wins a 1-1/16 mile race by one length in 1:42-4/5, then the handicapper knows that the runner-up was timed in 1:43. And, if a horse leads by two lengths after an opening quarter-mile is clocked in :21-4/5, the rival running in second gets a :22-1/5 mark.

But how does the Thoroughbred handicapper compute a horse's time in Quarter Horse racing? The American Quarter Horse Association, the governing body of Quarter Horse racing, has devised the following formula for time--one length is equal to .16 seconds, three-quarters of a length is equal to .12, a half-length equals .08, a neck is equal to .04, a head is equal to .02 and a nose is .01.

So, if a horse is second by three-quarters of a length behind a winner's final 350-yard clocking of :18.02, the runner-up gets a final time of :18.14. In a Quarter Horse's past performances, both the winning and individual times are listed.


Now we understand how a horse's time is computed down in hundredths of a second in Quarter Horse racing, but how do we adjust for trouble? In Thoroughbred racing, if we give a horse which ran six furlongs in 1:11-1/5 two lengths of trouble, we would then calculate that horse would have had a 1:10-4/5 clocking with a clean trip.

In Quarter Horse racing, if we give a horse one length of trouble, we must adjust his final time by .16. Thus, it is natural to assume that a horse which lost by three-quarters of a length and had one length of trouble could have won his last race.


Determining the margin of trouble in a horse's last race is an important element of Quarter Horse handicapping, and closely watching replays is the key. Determining the amount of trouble a horse suffered is crucial. Because the majority of Quarter Horse races are run at distances ranging from 350 to 440 yards down a straightaway, the start of a race is critical. If a horse breaks one length (.16) slow and loses by a neck (.04), it is reasonable to give the horse three-quarters of a length (.12) worth of trouble.

Watching how a horse breaks isn't the only thing to look for when watching replays. Check if the horse gets bumped off stride away from the gate and at key intervals during a race. Also, watch the jockey after a horse appears to be eliminated away from the gate, and give preference to a horse that is finishing mostly on his own power after getting wiped out at the start versus the horse under steady urging.

If I give two different horses in a race one length of trouble each, I opt for the one which appeared to have the most in reserve. If two horses have identical clockings in their last starts and one had one length of trouble, I give a big edge to the latter.

Track Variance

Because no variant is listed next to a Quarter Horse's speed index or rating, always look for possible wind variables next to a horse's time. "TW" indicates tail wind, "HW" indicates a head wind, and "CW" a cross wind.

With tail winds, final times are faster than normal. Conversely, horses running into a head wind will time slower than usual. A cross wind is generally less significant because the wind is blowing in a direction which has no effect on the race.

Here's an example--a horse aided by a strong tail wind wins a 350-yard race in :17.67. A main rival, which won his last race into a head wind, runs the same distance in :17.80. With equal conditions, the two horses should be nearly identical in time. Yet, the public makes the one which ran a :17.67 a heavy favorite while failing to recognize the track variance. In this case, a sharp handicapper would be the beneficiary of a potential overlay.

Astute handicappers keep their own charts. They look at the final clockings for every straightaway dash on a particular card and devise their own variants. Often, a horse with a :17.87 time for 350 yards gets a higher rating than a rival with a :17.77. If the horse which went :17.87 for 350 yards recorded the fastest clocking on his day and his rival that went :17.77 had one of the slowest 350 yards on another day, give the edge to the animal with the :17.87.

So while it may be wise to know the ABC's of handicapping Thoroughbred races, just stick with the "T's" when handicapping Quarter Horses. A Quarter Horse handicapper who understands the concepts of time, trouble, track variance and track bias is headed toward many profitable trips to the track.