Using herd dynamics in handicapping

Profile Picture: Ed DeRosa

Ed DeRosa

September 27th, 2012

Two decades ago, when I was studying wild Mustangs in the Bighorn Mountains, I had no idea I’d someday use what I learned about equine communication and herd dynamics to write a handicapping blog.

But here I am after my theories on herd dynamics and emotional conformation, which are actually just nature’s way, helped pick the longshot winners of the most recent two Kentucky Derbys: Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another.

I'll be the first to admit I am not a handicapper, but I can look at a group of horses in motion on a racetrack or in a pasture and tell you which one is the leader, dominating the others and literally controlling their motion with its presence.

My company, Thomas Herding Technique, is not strictly a handicapping company by any means, but the handicapping information has turned out to be a valuable byproduct of my research. Herd dynamics are real, and they can provide a wealth of information for people looking to predict how a race will turn out or understand why horses run in certain ways. asked me to write this blog to coincide with the launch of the 2012 THT Two-year-olds Patterns-in-Motion Report. That page includes a detailed sample from the report, previous comments on the aforementionedKentucky Derby winners, and this year's report itself.
The report was produced by carefully watching (and re-watching from multiple angles!) almost two months of two-year-old races at the top summer tracks in America. I analyzed more than 120 races, mostly at Del Mar and Saratoga. The report runs from mid-July through mid-September and was designed as a scouting report for the fall two-year-old races and beyond.

Think of it as a talent evaluation of the racehorse’s mind. A horse’s psychology--its mental aptitude--is an extremely important part of a racehorse. It’s also one of the least appreciated and understood. One of my favorite sayings is, “The mental capacity of the equine controls the physical output of the athlete.”

When physical ability is even remotely equal, the mental makeup of an athlete usually makes the difference between winners and losers.

The reads on distance aptitude in the report are among the most practical nuggets of information for owners, horsemen, and handicappers. A horse’s mental makeup is the single largest contributing factor to its distance profile.

From a betting standpoint, I recommend looking for opportunities to bet the horses I identify as having high group herd dynamics and those with good time-in-motion skills when they are going a mile or more around two turns, especially in big, competitive fields. Likewise, look to bet against the horses I identify as being overloaded in individual dynamic or those with sprinter profiles when they try to run in longer races and in bigger fields.

Horses that profile out leaning toward the individual dynamic tend to burn their energy up quicker in big fields, in herd chaos traffic, and in positional/pace battles with other individual dynamic horses.

Big group dynamic horses are always higher on the herd structure than the big individual dynamics. That is the way it is in nature, and that is the way it plays out on the racetrack, especially as the distances increase.

One of the great thing about using herd dynamics as part of your handicapping equation is that no one else is looking at horses in this way, and the odds sometimes will be very generous.

Ultimately, the pilot of the ship is the horse’s mind, and by betting on horses with strong minds and understanding why horses run the way they do, you’ll be putting yourself at an advantage.