By Ray Wallin
As handicappers, we are tasked with a tough problem about 10 times a day. We are trying to figure out which horse or horses we should play and how we should play them to make a profit at the track. Think of the race as the problem and my handicapping as the solution. Yet sometimes as Captain Jack Sparrow said, “The problem is not the problem.”
What do you mean the problem isn’t the problem? I mean just that. The race isn’t the problem, it is your handicapping that is the problem. But before you start tossing the past performances in the trash realize that there are solutions to your problems.
I love to play with numbers. I do it all day at my job and come home to crunch more numbers for sports and horses. I have a lot of handicapping friends that crunch numbers and data, too. One old friend from my days of hanging out on the second floor of the old Meadowlands grandstand, Bruce the Mathematician, was a great number-cruncher but had a problem.
Bruce was a smart guy. He could rattle off stats about anybody and anything. He was on top of the track bias based on the weather and jockey-trainer combinations before that was mass published. His Achilles heel was he over-complicated everything.
Bruce had an endless list of angles, but there were too many restrictions. He’d pipe up before a race “I really love the five here, he is back within 15 and 18 days, second off the layoff, with two works from the gate, on the drop in class, and turning back in distance with a new jockey.” How often did that happen? I am guessing that was a once a year angle. If you asked him about his pace figures it was equally as convoluted.
Any angles you play or figures you create and use need to be reproducible. You shouldn’t need to check down a long list of qualifiers or need to use calculus to get to your answer.
If you can remember one thing it is KISS, not the band, but rather to “Keep It Simple Stupid!”
Twenty years ago I got a subscription to American Turf Monthly. I used to take each issue and create a list of the angles that were provided in the articles. While they were mostly Dan Geer or Roy Taulbot, I wrote them all down religiously each month. I even tested a few of them out and tried to see how I could improve them.
In the winter 2000 I copied down an angle that I tagged as A25. I immediately checked for it on the Aqueduct card I was handicapping and found a horse qualified in four of the races on the card. In the first race of the day A25 hit and returned a healthy $24 to win. I had been only been watching this race, but since that angle hit on its first try I figured it was going to be a good one.
I was wrong. The next three A25 horses did abysmally, even at decent odds of 4-1, 7-2, and 5-1.
What did I learn?
I learned to avoid the lure of an angle that seems too good to be true without testing it first.
You may be wondering how many examples of an angle or figure do you need to have confidence in it. I attribute about 10 percent of all race results to chaos, or that some factor that the horses have no control over impacted the outcome of the race. This could be a troubled trip, an off track, or even the jockey being thrown off the horse. I like to see about 20 samples before I start considering the angle or figure viable and continue to track it until I have a larger set of data. The right amount of data is going to be based on the diversity of track conditions, race conditions, surface types, and distances of the samples I have collected.
Another Meadowlands regular loved to track angles as well. The Schnoz wasn’t as spreadsheet savvy as Bruce the Mathematician, but he kept meticulous records. He’d brag that he had a couple of killer angles that had a huge return on investment running that night. More nights than not he would lose bet after bet.
Handicapping is a marathon, not a sprint and we know we have to endure good and bad nights, but if your data is skewed you will have more bad nights than good. The Schnoz had one major flaw in his records, he didn’t account for the monster long shots that played into his results.
The Schnoz had about 50 races in his records for some of his angles. Yet he failed to account for a horse in the sample that won at 65-1. When you take a $132 horse plus a couple other winners in a sample of horses that would have had $100 bet on them it is going to show a profit. It is going to show a nice profit, and artificially nice profit.
Have you ever watched the Olympics? In some events they drop the low and high scores from the judges to arrive at the final score for an athlete. Consider doing the same thing with your record keeping. To establish your confidence in how well the angle will perform, you need to see what the median odds are of the horses that qualify for the angle and drop the outliers from the analysis to see how the angle performs with what is the more likely odd range of qualifiers.
You know about the childhood tale of Goldilocks. When she tried the bear’s porridge one bowl was too hot, one bowl was too cold, and one was just right. Your betting is no different.
While there is no one size fits all approach to money management, you need to make sure you are betting an appropriate amount based on both your confidence in your selections and the size of your bankroll. Nothing is worse than leaving the track after the second race because you have no cash left to play with.
Don’t let your handicapping be the problem. There are solutions that can help you pad your bankroll and follow your dream of making your living playing the races. What problems do you have with your own handicapping?
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.
Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.
Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.
Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.