By Ray Wallin
Have you ever considered what the difference is between someone who is a good handicapper and someone who is one of the best handicappers? What took them over that hump of churning a small profit to making their living playing the races?
You are not alone.
I know a lot of good handicappers. I only know a few tremendous ones, too. While they all approach handicapping differently, they have a lot of similar traits.
So what traits are consistent among some of the best handicappers I know?
On my many weeknights of gracing the second floor of the old grandstand at the Meadowlands, there was a good handicapper, Bruce the Mathematician. Bruce was a smart guy and put a lot of effort into his handicapping. One night he came to the track and would tell any of us regulars that would listen that he had a monster play that night. It was the type of play that would not only make his week, but it would also make his month. He had started handicapping it to find it was the “perfect storm” of handicapping. He bragged that it was about an hour of tweaking and modeling the race to be sure. It was a lock by his standards and was worth a sizable piece of his bankroll to be dropped on it.
Any guesses how this one worked out?
Bruce won. He won big on every type of wager he played. He had it across the board and hit the exacta, trifecta, and daily double. We were all happy for him since this score probably made his year.
But could he replicate the results on any other race?
Not in the years that we crossed paths. I don’t think he ever found another race he felt this good about and ran every angle and model he had on it. He was never able to replicate this success on another race. The best handicappers have a method or system that can be replicated repeatedly which allows them to stay profitable.
In the early 1970’s there was a handicapper that created something that gave him an edge. While he did base it on readily available information, it was his ability to take the numbers that everyone else was looking at a step further to something that became profitable and later syndicated into the past performances.
Andy Beyer is said to have revolutionized handicapping with his speed figures. Before they appeared in the Daily Racing Form and available to the masses, he made a lot of money of them. Yet once they became common place, they lost the edge they once provided.
To be one of the best handicappers you have to do something that no one else is doing or use information in a way that no one else is. Like the way that Uber disrupted how we all viewed car services and taxis, you need to find something that disrupts how races are handicapped and played.
Have you ever seen that guy at the track whose past performances look like a rainbow? Highlighter Hal has a color for everything. Troubled trips are highlighted in red. Quality starts are highlighted in green. Atypically fast paces are colored in yellow. You wonder to yourself how long did it take him to mark up every horse on this card and then actually pick his contenders?
Certainly, there is a quicker way than doing it all manually. Even in Excel you can conditionally format cells or use lookup tables to do the same thing consistently. The data files may cost you a buck or two but think of the amount of time you will save.
Good handicappers have innovative ideas. The best handicappers have some level of automation or system that can free up their time to do more than solely handicap. They also have time to explore, test out new ideas, or challenge existing methods.
If you are on Facebook, I guarantee you have taken at least one quiz, other than what type of potato you are, that yields an answer to the question of “how big a fan of some random thing are you?” It’s OK to admit it Spud, but I am sure you took that quiz with the expectation of a perfect score based on your obsession with the subject, such as being crowned “Paul Sheldon’s Biggest Fan” and not failing miserably.
The best handicappers are no different. They eat live and breathe handicapping facts and figures. My late Uncle Dutch would have his beat up marble composition pad with him at all times, but would know the important jockey –trainer combinations off the top of his head. He tracked every single horse that ran on the New Jersey circuit, even when he could watch them live at Monmouth Park. He kept trip notes and stats on the jockeys, trainers, and even owners. This is the level of obsession that great handicappers achieve – whether it is the horses, horsemen, or numbers and figures; to be profitable.
How many times have you seen a person at the track put in a bet and they pray like they told a priest a multitude of sins in the confessional and will be making amends for a while? By the stretch drive he has promised to never drink again and help old ladies cross major highways while carrying their groceries.
Hopefully, that isn’t you.
The best handicappers have faith in their handicapping. They know what they are capable of and have confidence in their abilities, even when they hit a rough patch.
In handicapping as is in life, very few people will end up being the best at anything they do. Yet if you aspire to emulate the attributes of the best ones you know you too will find success and profits at the track.
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 email@example.com.