Handicapping Tips for Betting in January

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

January 6th, 2018

Many bettors look forward to and appreciate racing in January. For most it’s an opportunity to recharge and reset, to start the year fresh and leave any lack of success in the previous 12 months behind to fade in the rear view mirror.

Though weather can sometimes wreak havoc on major signals in the north such as Aqueduct, Laurel, and Turfway Park, the concentration of quality horseflesh at southern tracks like Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita, Tampa Bay Downs, Fair Grounds, and Oaklawn Park is in part what makes the action so appealing and a cure for the winter blues and any associated cabin fever.

The road to the Kentucky Derby gets into full swing with preps in all the major southern locales, but there are also plenty of late-developing three-year-olds to keep an eye out for in maiden races and the occasional allowance held throughout the country, particularly on the Florida and Southern California circuits. This applies to turf as well as dirt.

With grass racing at a premium in the dead of winter, field size is rarely a problem at tracks like Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Tampa, and Fair Grounds, but don’t ignore smaller tracks like Sam Houston and Turf Paradise if turf is your forte. Sam Houston especially has found a niche with its short winter meet and its ability to attract horses from various circuits.

Oaklawn is the most significant track that annually opens its doors in January. Though limited to just dirt racing, purses have skyrocketed thanks to alternative gaming, which has ensured an increasingly higher quality product throughout its three-month stand. The influence their Kentucky Derby preps have had in recent years speaks for itself.

Oaklawn's programs are generally well-balanced with a favorable mix of starter allowances, maiden special weights, open claiming, allowances, and stakes. There is a state-bred program in place, of course, but it is far less intrusive than in other places.

With the Oaklawn meet drawing horses from Kentucky, Louisiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, and often points farther west and east, handicapping can be challenging. One issue that crops up during the opening weeks of the meet is many participants returning from layoffs. Finding the horses that are fit and win-ready now is one of the keys to getting off on the right foot at Oaklawn wagering-wise.

Based on personal experience, such clues are often found in the wokout tabs. Horsemen that ship in when the track opens for training in December are generally looking to get their horses acclimated and adjusted to the surface as quickly as possible. A series of works, culminating with a quick final breeze or two, can be a major tip-off and may offset any relative class deficiencies.

Find our FREE Oaklawn Betting Guide for the full meet here.