By Ray Wallin
It takes a lot of courage to break out of your comfort zone. We enjoy the predictability of our routines. We fear failure, rejection, and judgment. We avoid risk. We are creatures of habit.
When we were kids we never held ourselves back. We’d try to learn the bicycle, fall off, get a couple of scrapes, rub some dirt on it, and give it another try. As adults, we are no longer wired that way. I bet you can think of some ways that you are currently limiting your potential.
There are plenty of benefits from breaking out of your comfort zone. You will feel more in control of your handicapping and have more confidence in your betting. You will become more productive and find new ways to look at problems, coping better with the unexpected. You’ll find it easier to push yourself to try something new in the future.
As handicappers in 2020, we were forced out of our comfort zones to continue playing the races as the pandemic unfolded. Like many of you, I struggled with the same things that you did. Many of our favorite meets were disrupted or canceled. We found ourselves rushing to figure out tracks like Fonner Park and Will Rogers Downs. We couldn’t attend the track in person and do a physical inspection of the horses in the paddock. These made us uncomfortable betting the races solely online and not the way we were used to.
We had a choice to make. Do we step outside of our comfort zone and change the way we play the races?
I did. I am glad that I did, too. I had one of my best years in handicapping and collecting data. How did I do that? Here are six simple steps that can help you break out of your comfort zone.
1) Believe that things can change
We all know Loser Lenny. He’s the guy at the track that thinks the game is rigged against him. Every bad beat leaves him muttering “I knew I was going to lose that race, I never hit maidens,” as he tears up his tickets and tosses them like confetti all over the apron of the grandstand.
If you start the day like this you are never going to win. Thinking that you are tossing good money away on a race you think is beyond your skill to handicap is not a winning formula. Maybe if you took the time to think about why you keep missing these races and did something about it, the result would be different?
Your thoughts have power. Realize that the limitations you think you have are self-imposed.
2) Accept the challenge
Going back to our friend Loser Lenny that keeps the track janitors in business, what if instead of accepting that the game was “rigged against him,” the thought “I will find a way to beat these maiden races?”
Start by rising to the occasion and setting goals. In our friend’s case, it could be figure out what horsemen do well with first time starters and what sires produce a lot of first time winners over this course. From there it could be what makes a maiden claiming horse worth betting.
A little anxiety is healthy. Step out of your comfort zone and tackle what appears to be your Achilles Heel at the track.
3) Change your mindset
Have you ever noticed how different your wagering day is when you show up to the track in a good mood? You are more confident in your plays and you stay more disciplined knowing that you aren’t going to win every wager, but you will win enough to go home with money in both pockets. If maiden races are getting our friend Loser Lenny down, rather than view them as a punishment on the card, what if he viewed them as another opportunity to find a way to make money at the track?
Challenges are not always negative. Realize what is holding you back and work to correct it. It isn’t always going to be easy or comfortable when you are learning how to handicap outside of your comfort zone.
4) Change your daily routine
I am a huge fan of having a handicapping routine or checklist. Yet, if you want to tackle maiden races or turf races, you may need to change your routine to pick up the nuances of those types of races. Perhaps you need to invest in some good sire data to see what sires produce the right horses in the right situations or to see which progeny handle turf the best.
Start with something small and work that into your routine. We are all creatures of habit and those habits are hard to change. Don’t be afraid to stretch your boundaries and strive for more.
5) Start something that matters
When Loser Lenny finally decides that he is going to beat the maiden races, where should he start? What factors or figures should be track? Where can he get good sire data? Should he keep this information on paper or in a spreadsheet?
If it seems too overwhelming, he won’t get too far before he quits. Like most New Year’s resolutions to lose some weight, people are out for a run, eating salads, doing grapefruit juice cleanses, and quit after a couple of weeks (if they make it that far).
Large goals seem unattainable. Start small. Work up to the bigger picture slowly and you will change your perspective during the process and see that things are possible. Keep the end result in mind and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
6) Lose the lethargy of fear
After tracking a couple of races, Loser Lenny doesn’t see anything that jumps out at him that is working. He is tracking workouts, trainers, jockeys, and sires. Nothing seems to be winning and worst of all he is still losing on these races. Instead of giving up and resorting back to the mindset of “these races are too hard to beat,” he needs to be patient and remember that not every factor, figure, or angle is going to be a winner.
In my 30 plus years of handicapping I have tracked many more losing angles, figures, and spot plays than I have successful ones. Even some of my “go-to” angles from years ago stopped working. I am constantly trying out new figures and angles to find a couple that are reliable under certain conditions. It isn’t easy giving up on something that you have spent years developing, but you can always take away some positive nugget of information from them.
One great example of this process was that I found how first time geldings actually underperform. While it is not a profitable angle to play, it does raise the red flag when I am considering a horse that recently had the ultimate equipment change as a contender.
Most of what we try will fail. Don’t fear it. Rather, notice the small percentage of angles or figures that do work and help you profit at the track.
It is easy to be comfortable. That makes you lazy and kills your productivity. You need to motivate yourself so you are doing more than getting by and missing opportunities and living with regret. It is time for you to break out of your comfort zone. Remember to focus on the process, not the outcome. Don’t let your comfort zone stop you from chasing your dream of making a living playing the races.
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.