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Stephen Covey (photo via thinkers50.com).

Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” has sold over 25 million copies since it was first published in 1989. Covey’s book has helped a lot of people achieve their goals and become better people in the process — including yours truly.

So, it got me to thinking: What are the seven habits of highly effective handicappers?

#1 Be a Sponge

Absorb as much information as possible. I was fortunate to spend the summers of my formative teenage years with my Uncle Dutch at Monmouth Park, where I learned everything he had to offer about handicapping. A lot of what he taught me is the still the basis for how I approach handicapping today.

Read every book you can get your hands on. The first book I read cover to cover and took copious notes on was “Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing”. There are some books that you will find more informative than others, but you will at least see a different approach and you will likely take away and idea or two from everything you read. No matter how big or small, it could positively impact your handicapping.

Join online forums like paceadvantage.com or Facebook groups like “Talking Handicapping with Dave Schwartz.” Interact with other handicappers through social media. You’ll find a wealth of information in these forums, groups and amongst other handicappers.

#2 Keep Records

Want to know what is working or not? Check your records! Keep track of angles or how figures perform under different conditions. See why your predictions were correct or not by doing a postmortem analysis on your selections. By keeping good records of your handicapping and wagering, this will allow you to triage a race card and focus on race conditions that are your strengths.

Microsoft Excel is a quick and efficient tool to track and analyze data. Best of all, there are a lot of tutorials and online help sites that will guide you to how to set up formulas that will work for you.

#3 Stop Reinventing the Wheel

I used to maintain my own track to track equalization figures. One day I realized how much time I was spending on maintaining those values for the NJ racing circuit and a handful of local tracks that routinely shipped in at the time. That was time I could have better spent focusing on my actual handicapping.

Whether it is statistics about sires, trainers, and jockeys, or track to track time equalizations, there are several reasonable products on the market that do all the dirty work so you don’t have to.

#4 Develop a Procedure

I do well with structure. I have handicapped enough races that I approach them all in the same methodical fashion each time. I go through a mental checklist to make sure I look for all the information I need from the past performances to handicap a race.

I approach each race by looking for strong or false favorites and computing my Favorite Likelihood Factor. I scan the entrants for a list of angles before selecting pacelines to figure my pace-based speed figures and develop the probable pace scenarios for each race. On an as-needed basis, I will assess sire data for younger horses and new turf runners.

By methodically working through a handicapping checklist, I ensure that I don’t miss anything I need to select my contenders.

#5 Keep it Simple

As Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” If you are handicapping by hand and trying to compute your own speed figures, you need to find a way to keep the time spent performing this calculation to a minimum. This can either be through automating the process in a spreadsheet or reviewing the process you are using for computation and eliminating factors that may not have an appreciable impact on the outcome.

My own pace-based speed figures can be cumbersome to perform by hand, yet importing the data into an Excel spreadsheet to do the calculations for me saves a lot of time. My spreadsheet also alerts me to potential angle plays which I can then quickly validate.

#6 Innovate

Try new things. Refine how you compute your own speed figures or the conditions of an angle. Horse racing is an ever-changing game. What worked well ten years ago may not work today. You will likely find a lot of things that don’t work, but turn them around to help eliminate horses instead of selecting contenders.

Just remember what Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

#7 Be Positive

Don’t have a defeatist attitude before you start. Be positive when approaching your handicapping. Don’t let a condition or factor of the race make you feel you can’t figure it out. Break the big problem down into smaller problems and solve them. You will be more confident in your handicapping. If you say “there is no way I am going to get this pace right,” you probably won’t.

These are seven habits that I use and have been successful and profitable with my approach to handicapping.

What other habits do you have that make you a highly effective handicapper?

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