Taking Advantage of Race Track Conditions: How I Turned $50 into $2,912.50

Race Track Conditions

A muddy race track at Saratoga Race Course caused by a heavy thunderstorm.

The condition of a race track can have a dramatic impact on the running of a race.  This is especially true when a race track takes on a lot of moisture.  

Some horses will relish the wet track while others will hate it.  Knowing how each horse in the race will handle the wet track can lead to generous returns at the betting windows.

Track Conditions

Race track conditions can be broken down into two groups: dry and wet.

A dry race track will be labeled fast or frozen for dirt surfaces and firm or hard for turf courses.

A wet race track will be labeled good, heavy, muddy, sloppy, slow or wet fast for dirt surfaces and good, heavy, soft or yielding for turf courses.

Synthetic courses are always labeled fast. 

Dry Tracks vs. Wet Tracks

More often than not the race tracks in North America will be dry.  For this reason nearly every horse will have experience over a dry track if it has run a few times.  The horses’ ability on a dry track will therefore be fairly easy to gauge.

Wet tracks are less common.  This can make the handicapping process tougher, especially if one or more of the horses in a race have never run on a wet track.  In those cases the only way to determine if the horse is likely to handle a wet track is to look at its breeding.

In the old days a horse that was bred to handle a wet track would have an asterisk next to their name.  A horse that showed an affinity for wet tracks was called a “mudder.”  Fortunately past performances have evolved over the past few decades and now include a wet track rating.

The Daily Racing Form past performances use the Tomlinson ratings, which rate each horse for wet tracks, turf and distance based on their breeding.  The Tomlinson ratings can be found in the upper right hand corner of each horses’ past performances.  

Below is a sample with the Tomlinson Wet Track Rating circled.

Tomlinson Wet Track Rating

 A Tomlinson Wet Track Rating of 320 or higher indicates a horse that based on breeding should handle a wet track.  The horse above has a Tomlinson Wet Track Rating of 411, which means the horse should handle a wet track and might very well improve on it.

The Tomlinson Wet Track Ratings are useful if a horse has never run on a wet track.  Once a horse has run over a wet track two or more times their ability to handle it should be based on those efforts and the Tomlinson Wet Track Rating can be ignored.

Handicapping the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap

The Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga Race Course was contested over a muddy track.  As you will see this one factor in the handicapping process was the key to evaluating the contenders chances in the race.

The favorite for the race was Shackleford.


Shackleford was 0/2 in wet track races before the Vanderbilt.

Shackleford was one of the top sprinters in the country before the Vanderbilt with wins in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap and Grade 1 Met Mile.  He was a multiple Grade 1 winner (having also won the Preakness the year before), held a large advantage on speed figures and was in razor sharp form.

A closer look at his past performances revealed one chink in his armor.  He was 0/2 in wet track races.  The optimist might say those two races were the 1 1/2 miles Belmont, which was likely beyond his best distance and the Donn, which was his first race after a three month layoff.

The pessimist might say that at odds of 6/5 he was not worth the risk on a wet track and at a distance that may be short of his best.  Furthermore he was breaking from post position one, which meant he would likely stay close the rail during the race and would likely be running in deeper footing than horses breaking from the outside.

The second choice in the race was Emcee.


Emcee was 2/3 on wet tracks but his ability at the Grade 1 level was questionable.

Emcee had earned speed figures that would put him in the mix in most Graded Stakes sprint races.  He was also 2/3 on wet tracks and had earned his three best Beyer Speed Figures on wet tracks.

The chink in his armor was his questionable Class.  In his two tries in Graded Stakes he run third and fourth.  His worse race was in the Grade 1 Carter where he finished five lengths behind Shackleford.

The question was would he run back to his wet track races or would he succumb to the classier horses in the race?

Justin Phillip was the third choice in the betting.

Justin Phillip

Justin Phillip was 3/6 on wet tracks.

Justin Phillip is a mudder.  He had won 3/6 tries on wet tracks but only 1/13 on dry tracks.  He won the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on a muddy track as a three year old and two races back finished second in the Grade 2 True North.

The pessimist would point to his dreadful performances in the Grade 1 Vosburgh and Grade 3 Tom Fool on wet tracks.

The optimist would point out he picked up leading jockey Ramon Dominguez and had shown signs of improvement in two of his last three races.

The final contender was long shot Poseidon’s Warrior.

Poseidon's Warrior

Poseidon’s Warrior was 1/1 on a wet track and 5/11 at the distance.

Poseidon’s Warrior was dismissed by the betting public due to his two most recent races.  He was however, 1/1 on a wet track and 5/11 at six furlongs.

The pessimist would point to his poor performance in his only effort versus Graded Stakes horses, a sixth place finish in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop.

The optimist would point to his record at the distance, his semi-competitive speed figures and the fact that he was making his third start off a layoff, which usually results in a peak performance.

Betting the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap

The biggest question that had to be answered was what to do with Shackleford.  If he handled the track he would likely win the race but his two dull efforts on wet tracks were cause for concern.

Emcee could also win but was questionable versus Graded Stakes company and he figured to be the inside speed likely pinned against the rail.

Justin Phillip was interesting because he moved up on a wet track, was ridden by Dominguez and had run well in his last four races.

Poseidon’s Warrior was worth a look because he was being ignored in the betting, was a distance specialist and had handled a wet track in the past.

I ultimately decided to take a shot with Poseidon’s Warrior.  At odds of 36/1 he was a major overlay considering the circumstances.  The tougher decision was which of the other three horses to use with him in the Exacta.

Shackleford was questionable on a wet track and I thought the six furlong distance might be too short for him.  Emcee liked wet tracks but he figured to take the worst of it being on the inside of the other speed horses.

After giving it ample thought I decided to go with Justin Phillip because he loved wet tracks and had Dominguez in the saddle.

I bet $30 to Win on Poseidon’s Warrior and made a $10 Exacta Box with him and Justin Phillip.

The Results

The race played out exactly as I thought it would.  

Emcee went to the lead on the inside setting a quick pace and tired in the final furlong.  Shackleford was outrun early and faded badly to finish last.

Poseidon’s Warrior got a perfect trip, stayed in the middle of the track and ran by Emcee in the final furlong.  Justin Phillip was further out on the track, also ran by Emcee but fell a neck short of catching Poseidon’s Warrior.

Alfred G Vanderbilt Handicap

Bet a Little, Win a lot
A snapshot of my Twinspires account displaying the winning bets.

Final Thoughts

The condition of the race track was the primary factor in determining the outcome of the Vanderbilt at Saratoga.  The two horses that relished the muddy track ran one-two while the favorite that did not handle it finished last.

The resulting payoffs were fantastic and were a perfect example of “betting a little to win a lot.”  

Taking advantage of the race track conditions resulted in me turning $50 into $2,912.50 for a profit of $2,862.50.  Not bad for half an hours work.

 Hopefully sharing this example with you will result in you cashing a big ticket of your own on a rainy day.

If you have any questions about how to handicap races on wet tracks or if you have had a similar experience you want to share please do so in the comment section below.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of bobistraveling


  1. Lenny, thanks for this informative article.

    Where the DRF uses Tomlinson Wet Track Rating numbers, and you use 320 as an indicator that breeding suggests the horse can handle a wet track, do you know what the equivalent guideline number would be for the BRIS Pedigree Rating for wet tracks?


    • Pete,

      According to the Brisnet website the higher the number the better and it said to look for horses with a wet track rating that is higher than their fast track rating. I asked a few of the Brisnet people for a better answer and will post it here if when they respond to me.

  2. Glad that you made money, and wet tracks obviously do often play important roles in the outcomes of races. Having said that, the fact that the track that day was favoring come from behind runners, coupled with a predictably fast pace, also played a significant role in the outcome of the Vanderbilt. It was also significant that Shackleford acted badly before the race, and was a serious question mark on paper cutting back in trip.

    • Tinky,

      I expected Poseidon’s Warrior to be very close to the pace and would not have been surprised if Justin Phillip was also close. Therefore based on your logic I should have bet against those two since they figured on paper to have the wrong running style. It should also be noted that Emcee set the pace and finished third not far behind the top two.

  3. No off tracks now. Especially at the larger tracks. WO is synthetic, and that is where I hang my hat.
    I always like reading about muddy-sloppy tracks as that is the only time I went to the races. Then watched the #2 shoes. They were usually on the green changes on the odds board, and the announcer would give them 15 minutes to post.
    One day I tried a test on the other players. With 5 minutes to go, I would ask about 10 people who was wearing #2 shoes. The answers were:Oh, I missed that.or What do you mean. What is a #2 shoe.or I already bet the favorite. He won by 10 lengths last race on a fast track.(most of the time these faves ran dead last.)
    Also, remember, the trainer usually had the mud caulks put on about 11AM the morning of the race.

  4. By the way, cost of changing the shoes was $100.00 in the old days.Remember, the blacksmith did the work about 2 hours to Post Time . The trainer looked at the skies and called for the smithy. Result— a mutual of $57.60 ( win price.)

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