By Ray Wallin
Our brains are highly developed. The three main parts work together to make us the people that we are. They keep us alive, provide us with motor skills, and allow us to have judgment, intellect, and memories.
What happens, though, when the oldest and most dominant part of our brain decides to take over?
If you are caught in a burning building or being chased by a pack of feral cockapoos in your neighborhood, your lizard brain is helping you to survive. It is that “fight-or-flight” response your ancestors needed to stay alive when the saber-toothed tiger wandered into the group or the volcano erupted behind you.
Yet as humans and civilization evolved, other rational parts of our brains developed. But when pitted against each other, your lizard brain will take over all your thoughts. This may keep you alive in a carjacking but won’t keep you alive in the Pick 4.
What behaviors indicate that the lizard brain has taken over?
Your lizard brain is averse to risk. It likes the status quo. It doesn’t want you to rock the boat. It will find an excuse for you to not do something. It makes you obsess over details and makes you think the results are not good enough.
You can’t always beat your lizard brain, but you can seduce it and make it snooze. How can you do that?
#1 Don’t judge yourself
We have all seen Loudmouth Larry at the track. He’ll swing past you and say, “how much do you have on this race?” before proceeding to pull out a hundred dollars of tickets. You feel self-conscious as you are playing a couple of bucks to win, a dollar exacta, and a fifty cent trifecta. You think to yourself that Loudmouth Larry must have a hefty bankroll and a solid handicapping system to be throwing that kind of cash around when you are still testing out your own speed figure.
Who cares what Loudmouth Larry thinks? Better yet, stop beating yourself up for betting small and trying out a system you are 100% sure about yet. Test those figures or that new angle out, even if it isn’t perfect. No one at the track has a perfect system or wins every bet.
#2 Accept all ideas
Pace makes the race. Early speed wins. Speed horses on the rail win more than other horses at Monmouth Park.
I am sure you have heard these “rules” and more hanging around the track or OTB. But you want to know a secret? There are no standards or rules. For example, there is no hard and fast rule that early speed always wins. Haven’t you ever seen that habitual quitter get loose by seven lengths at the second call only to lose by a dozen lengths?
To find the angles or plays that give you an edge you must move away from the standard way of thinking and create something new and different. Just because you heard some old-timer profess about the inside post in the slop doesn’t mean it has to be true or work in every type of race.
#3 Stop making excuses
After losing a race, our good friend Rail Guy always has a million reasons why his horse didn’t win. It was the jockey in one race, the steward in the third race, and the sun was in the horse’s eyes in the fifth. Instead of owning up to the fact that he didn’t handicap the right contenders, it is everyone’s fault but his.
Own your victories and your defeats. There is always the chance of a troubled trip, but more times than not you overlooked something or made a judgment in error. Don’t let your lizard brain tell you otherwise.
#4 Have lots of ideas
The Schnoz would figure the pace of the race one way. He would tell anyone who would listen, and anyone who didn’t want to listen why he was going to be right. There is no way that the race could be run any other way, it was impossible in his eyes.
Night after night he would get frustrated when the races would not go as he had planned. A horse that looked like nothing on paper would fire early and lead the field to the half mile call at a blazing pace before retreating to the back of the field. This unexpected burst of speed wasn’t going to get him a win, but it was going to upset the fragile pace scenario that he had constructed.
The best way to test out your pace theory is to try poking a hole in your own logic using a premortem before the race is run. What if a horse contests the pace of that early speed horse that appears to have an edge? Will the horse be able to duel, or will he fold under the pressure? If he folds, what horse or horses will be able to come from off the pace to win?
This kind of thinking will give you multiple pace scenarios with varying degrees of confidence. Look closely at the most likely couple of scenarios and structure your wagers accordingly.
#5 Don’t be afraid to fail
What percentage of their wagers do you think professional horseplayers cash in on? I can tell you that based on the guys I know that bet full time, it is less than you probably think. Even the pros have bad days occasionally where they lose their shirt.
Point is that you are going to lose. You are going to lose more than you win.
Take it in stride and chalk it up to a learning experience. Perhaps you had to pick between two off the pace horses or it was a first-time starter on the turf out of a freshman sire. I am sure you can walk away from a loss with something positive and not feeling bad about the loss like your lizard brain wants.
The lizard brain is trying to keep you safe, but as they say, straight roads don’t make good drivers. Ask anyone who makes their living playing the races and they’ll tell you to stop listening to your lizard brain.
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.