How to Fire Off a Layoff

Guy Studying PaperIn the past I have written about when horses coming back off of a layoff are a solid play. Well, occasionally handicappers need to take layoffs too. Sometimes it’s because real life gets in the way and there’s simply no time to play the races, or sometimes it’s because one has hit a dreaded slump where nothing goes right.

Recently, I needed to take a break from my normal handicapping for a couple of weeks. As my schedule starts to get back to normal and some free time starts appearing, it is time to start “shaking off the rust.”

What happens to the handicapper that has had to take a break from the game and is now ready to play again?

One of the first things that I notice after any lengthy amount of time away from handicapping is that my confidence is always a little lower. This lower confidence parlays into a more conservative betting strategy.

Just like every racehorse, every horseplayer is a little different.  Some will thrive after a break; others will need to handicap a couple of race cards to get back into form. What works for me may not work best for you, but maybe some of the following suggestions will give you a couple of ideas on how to improve your handicapping off of a layoff:

Play the first card on paper
Seems like a simple enough idea. By taking the pressure of making wagering decisions off of yourself you can focus more on your method. This also gives you a chance to see how the track bias might have changed since you last handicapped the track you’re studying.

Go with what you know
Triage and handicap the races that you are likely to have an advantage in. Nothing is better for your confidence than finding races that you can either easily identify the probable pace scenarios or find a solid spot play.

Develop and follow a checklist
Being an engineer, I like to have defined procedures. After I triage the race card and start looking at my first race, my process is similar for each race. Before I start looking at each horse, I compute my favorite volatility rating and set up the pace profile. From there, I compute my pace-based speed ratings for each horse, look at the probable pace scenarios and, then, try to identify any spot plays.

When I haven’t looked at any races in while, I sometimes need to glance down the list of spot plays and see what some of the final criteria are for the spot plays that don’t occur with great frequency.

Watch replays and review charts
This is a great way to gauge how a track has been running. Has the early speed bias been strong or non-existent lately? Is a particular jockey or trainer starting to have a great meet or have they hit a slump?

There is no magic way to comeback to handicapping after a layoff, but you can help yourself regain your form quicker if you take a systematic approach to returning to the races!

Ray Wallin
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 Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at

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