Skip to main content

How to Handicap and Bet Woodbine’s New Season (Ellis Starr – @Ubercapper)

April 20, 2023

TORONTO, April 20, 2023– Spring at Woodbine means racing begins anew for what should be a tremendous 2023 season of racing. Handicapping the races the first couple of weeks of the meeting can be quite intimidating considering some of the horses have been rested since the end of the 2022 race season in November, while others have been racing on the similar Tapeta surface at Gulfstream Park in Florida or at Turfway Park in Kentucky in the past few months. With those factors in mind, here are a few handicapping angles and tips I use to help find profitable bets as the 2023 Woodbine racing season begins.

Many of the races the first couple of weeks will be run at short distances ranging from four and one-half furlongs to five and one-half furlongs, and one of the things we should do in the handicapping process is to find horses which have done well at those distances in the past.

An easy way to find horses which run well at these shorter distances is to look at the “Distance” summary statistic contained in most racing programs. This statistic shows us the number of starts at the distance of today’s race, or in some cases within a half-furlong of that distance, and displays starts-wins-seconds-thirds. For example, if we see a record like the one below where the horse has finished first or second in four of six races we know the horse usually runs competitively at these shorter distances.

Distance 6130

Looking at the past performance lines we can look specifically for races at a similar distance and see how representative they are to today’s race. For horses which have been away since last November or December and with most racing programs showing the most recent 10 to 12 races, we are likely to find the race from last April or May where the horse returned from a layoff over the winter. We can then see if it was a good effort. Here’s an example of a horse which returned from six months off in April of 2022 and won.

Taking the opposite approach, horses with a few starts and no wins at today’s distance, and particularly with no first, second or third place finishes, can be discounted as contenders. Here’s an example of a horse with just one third place finish from four previous races at the distance of today’s race. Looking at the race off a layoff in 2022 we note although the horse won it was at six furlongs, suggesting today’s shorter distance of five or five and one-half is not the horse’s optimal distance for success.


By eliminating horses which haven’t finished in the top three at similar distances or did not run well last year when returning from a layoff, we might quickly get down to a few contenders.

Workouts are important when considering whether horses are fit enough to run well when coming back from layoffs. I look for workouts an average of seven days apart, with no gaps of more than 10 days because that may signify a horse that isn’t ready to run back to its previous best effort just yet. Workout rankings are very important as well, as they signify fitness. Workout rankings tell us how fast a workout was in relation to all the workouts that day at a particular distance. For example a workout like this one below tells us the workout was the best of 48 on the day at the distance of five furlongs, which is a good indicator the horse is ready to run even after many months not racing.

Personally, workouts which are lower ranked don’t influence my handicapping negatively, but workouts in the top 10% of the workouts on a day are nearly always a positive sign.

Now we’ll turn our attention to horses which haven’t been away from the races since the fall and which have been wintering at other tracks, particularly at Gulfstream Park and Turfway Park where they have had the opportunity to run on the Tapeta all-weather surface the same as the one at Woodbine. Since there’s often no substitute for racing over training, these horses’ recent efforts should get significant weight when considering whether they are contenders for races the first few weeks of the Woodbine meeting. The all-weather surface in past performance is signified by the letter “A” in a diamond and below is an example of a horse which just raced on all-weather at Gulfstream and which finished second. Seeing that we can assume the horse can run competitively today.


One more factor which comes into play when assessing contenders the first few weeks of any new Woodbine meeting is the ability of trainers to have horses ready to run well off a layoff. Some trainers win at a higher percentage than others with horses who have taken a few months off. Some racing programs and handicapping products have statistics which tell us the win percentage for trainer’s off a layoff. For example here is trainer Kevin Attard’s statistics for the past year with horses having raced two to six months from today’s race. The record indicates he has won with 23% of 43 starters coming back from similar layoffs. The $1.93 signifies if you bet $2 on every one of those horses you would have received $1.93 back, which tells us many of those winners were identified by the betting public as favourites.



Anything above 15% can be considered above average, and over 20% as in the case here is significantly above average. This is another factor we can use to help us determine whether a horse might run well in the first few weeks of the Woodbine meeting if it hasn’t raced since last year. In addition to Kevin Attard, two other trainers I note have good records with horses returning from layoffs are Martin Drexler and Wesley Ward.

To summarize, my handicapping arsenal during the first couple of weeks at Woodbine this year will consist of the following steps:

  1. Making note of horses with good races at similar short distances, and eliminating horses with poor records at similar distances.
  2. For horses not having raced since 2022, looking at their first race off a layoff from 2021 to 2022 to see if they ran well.
  3. Looking at workouts for horses which haven’t raced in a few months, specifically those workouts which are about seven days apart on average and are in the top 10% of workouts at that distance on the day.
  4. Looking for horses which have run on the similar all-weather surface at Gulfstream Park or Turfway Park (for example)
  5. Looking at the trainer’s statistics with horses returning from similar layoffs.

Now let’s put that to good use with some horses on Saturday April 22, opening day of the 2023 Woodbine racing season.

Race 3: Canadiansweetheart just raced on March 11, on the all-weather surface at Gulfstream Park, and came up a neck short. She had been away from the races since December and that recent effort might give her an edge over horses which haven’t had the benefit of a race recently.

Race 8: Magniloquent returned from seven months off in January on the all-weather surface at Gulfstream Park and led from the start until beaten right on the finish line by a neck, at the same five furlong distance of today’s race. She has been morning workouts averaging seven days apart for the last month and is trained by Wesley Ward, who has won with 20 of 52 starters (an extremely high 38% win rate) coming back from similar layoffs over the past three years.

Race 9: Sneaky Rebel returns from five months off, having last run on November 24. In her first race of 2022, on April 23, she won at Woodbine following six months off which demonstrates she can fire a big shot in her 2023 debut.

Ellis Starr / @Ubercapper

Share This: