The great Bard himself, William Shakespeare, once wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” Nowhere is that more true than in the world of sports, where teams and individuals tend to perform with great consistency over time. Winners race along the path to success after success while losers fall by the wayside, and their results become part of the great database of knowledge known as sporting statistics or “sport stats.”
Especially when it comes to football and horse racing, the two most popular sports for betting, a thorough understanding of sport stats can spell the difference between an ever-increasing bankroll and bankruptcy. It all comes down to making an informed decision prior to wagering, which requires locating pertinent historical data, understanding how to interpret it and then applying it with precision—the activities that define “handicapping.”
Among the most valuable stats used in handicapping any sporting event is an indicator known as “form.” In horseracing, in particular, the term refers not only to an entry’s condition of health and training (i.e., being in “top form”), but more importantly to the significant details of previous performances.
Such information is readily available on the web site of bookmakers or in published records circulated at race courses, which are called “racing forms.” Along with columns listing the names of entries, riders and trainers will be those indicating the horses’ ages, weights and colours, plus a column called “Form” that contains what look like six-digit codes.
These codes are actually just a chronology of the entry’s positions in the last six races, from oldest to most recent, left to right. For example, “63-U21” would show the horse had finished sixth (6) and then third (3), took time off (-), unseated the rider (U), and then came in second (2) and first (1). This horse appears to be on the rise from a historical perspective.
Other symbols used for form are “0” for out of the top nine, “F” for fell, “R” for refused, “P” for pulled up and “B” for brought down. A slash mark (/) is used to show that the races extend over two seasons. For example, “3F7-/2” would show a third place horse had fallen and then finished seventh before taking a break in advance of the next season and coming in second.
For football, the most relevant sports stats also relate to recent history. League tables will show for each team the number of games played, won, drawn and lost, cumulative goals for and against, and points in the League standings. It can be useful to dig a bit deeper before a specific match-up and see the head to head record between, say Manchester United and Arsenal, or perhaps how Chelsea have been playing away from home.
Look for streaks or trends as aids to betting in other sports, too. In tennis, for instance, six-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal of Spain has always played well on clay surfaces, while Britain’s Andy Murray has never done well on clay at all. In American football, the Philadelphia Eagles under Coach Andy Reid invariably wins the next game following a bye week.
Sport stats even apply well to the Olympics, even though the participants may change every four years. Judging from the past, the host country can be expected to drastically improve its medal total from the results of the preceding Games—at least partly due to the ever-important “home court advantage,” but also because of increased emphasis on training as part of the hosting preparations.
The secret to successful handicapping is to identify what sport stats and trends are relevant. The more one becomes familiar with data available, the easier it becomes to determine what is truly “prologue” and what’s simply part of a past better forgotten.