By Ray Wallin
As handicappers there is no worse feeling than walking into the track prepared with some great betting opportunities only to second guess yourself when you get to the betting windows. You did your homework the night before. You know your contenders have a solid chance of winning today. Once it is time to spend some of your hard-earned bankroll on those plays you don’t feel so strong about them.
Like most handicappers, you struggle with your confidence. You are not the first handicapper to feel this way and nor will you be the last. Even the greatest players that make their living playing the races have had to overcome this lack of confidence to become successful year after year.
What is confidence? Simply stated, it is belief in your abilities. It isn’t a skill. It is an emotion. Skills are things you learn once and have forever, such as your ability to handicapping. Your confidence will ebb and flow over time as a reaction to your performance.
If you are like me, you know that you’re capable of picking winners and making a profit. Yet, you often find that you doubt yourself. You know that you aren’t going to win every race, but there are many factors that are outside of your control that will impact your confidence. Even if you perfectly handicapped the day’s races you can’t control your horse having a troubled trip or facing a horse that has decided that today is the day he wants to run like Secretariat in a low-level maiden claiming race at Finger Lakes.
So how do you build your confidence, even after a day of bad luck?
You have the most amazing early speed angle. You have been tracking this angle for years. You know when it is a good play and when it is worth passing. It is your bread-and-butter play hitting at an insane 50% clip with a solid return on investment. It is always a consistent winner, until today.
No matter what you do your best angle isn’t producing any results. You feel like nothing you do today is going right. You have one race left on the card and your handicapping tells you that you have another early speed angle play in the finale.
You head up to the windows to place your last planned wager. What do you do? Do you play the race as you had planned? Do you cut your losses and go home? Do you play half of what you normally would?
There is no easy answer is there? Your confidence is wavering despite your handicapping being solid. Regardless, what you do in this race you leave the track down a few bucks and this day will stick with you for a while.
This is when you need to recall the days that went well. Remember how sound your handicapping has been in the past? Remember how you have consistently been raking in the cash with this angle?
Be conscious of what has made you successful in the past. You aren’t going to win every race and occasionally the probability is that you’ll have a disastrous day occasionally. Recognize that even if you do everything right, you still may not have the outcome you desire.
We’ve all seen that guy at the track who is fine until a race doesn’t go his way, like our good friend Rail Guy. He is his usual chatty self until he starts losing. Then his comments turn from fun and good natured to self-deprecating. As he places losing wager after losing wager, he starts saying things like “another donation to da track dis race,’’ or “another losing ticket to add to da collection.” This is all before the race is even run.
Once your mind starts thinking negatively, your wagering will follow. Instead of beating yourself up over a couple of bad breaks, you need to remind yourself that while your handicapping is sound, not every race is going to go your way. Think of how you are doing in the long term and how this is a bump in your road to profit.
As a teenager I was lucky. I had my Uncle Dutch as one of the many positive influences in my life and the added bonus was that he was a good handicapper. As a teenager I wanted to be like him, he was that all-around cool Uncle.
As I got older, I read every book he gave me and that I could get my hands on. I wanted to be the next Andy Beyer, Tom Brohamer, William Scott, Tom Ainslie, or William Quirin. Every time I watched the track handicapper between races, I wanted to be them. When I would open the Newark Star Ledger to see the horse racing analysis, I wanted to be the next Ron Rippey or Ray Brienza.
Every handicapper needs to find that positive role model or person they aspire to be like. It helps to give you purpose and direction when you handicap and play the races. Find someone you admire or respect and reach out to them. Engage with the in person or online. Be open to their input and being challenged by how they think.
Who knows you better than you know yourself? No one.
Only you can control your emotions. You must be able to identify when your emotions are starting to get the best of you. It could be fear, anxiety, or anger. When you let yourself succumb to these emotions, they will destroy your handicapping and ability to make a profit
When left to run wild, your imagination will have you worry or be fearful of something that may not be logical or rational. You need to tame and quiet your inner critic. Rather than beat yourself down, recall your successes and use that to reinforce that you have the skills to turn a profit at the track.
Your bankroll is related to your level of confidence. When your confidence wanes so will your bankroll. Remember to take steps to keep your confidence level high, your bankroll will thank you later.
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.