Win The War, Not the Battle

Dice & Cash

If you are merely a fan (or just playing for fun), some, if not most, of what I will discuss today won’t really matter to you. There is nothing wrong with being a fan of the Sport of Kings; I have been most of my life. There is nothing wrong with being a casual or recreational player either. It is fun, exciting, better than any fantasy game and you can end your day with a pocketful of money.

For me it is a bit different when it comes to betting, though. I take it very seriously and I play to win. That doesn’t mean I am not both a fan and student of the game, it just means I separate those facets. I may be a huge fan of a horse, but that doesn’t mean I am betting on him today. To me, betting is serious business and I treat it accordingly.

Handicapping is just part of the equation. You have to be a good money manager, a good “ticket-structurer,” and understand the concept of making it count.

So few people get that concept. I’ve written my share of articles on it and I always get the same type of rebuttals. Interestingly, often months later, these same contrarians come back to me and say: “Maybe you are right.”

Ultimately, the sharp ones realize I am.

Making it count means knowing how to bet and structure your wagers — “cash less, but win more,” I always say. By this, I mean: Don’t hedge. And minimize losing bets like boxes. If you are alive with four horses in the last leg of a pick-4 and they are all paying big, most people look to hedge and bet against themselves with the horses they left out.

That instinctive desire to cash more is hard to overcome, but if you want the biggest possible amount of money you can have in that black column at the end of a meet or year, that’s not the way to do it. I’d suggest taking the horse you like best and keying it on top of some other horses.

Note I said “key” not “box.” We don’t want to box, as it creates too many losing wagers. This way, if you hit the pick-4, you score… and, if you hit with the horse you keyed, you hit a home run.

Fear and the reluctance to take a stand will grind you into nothing in this game. If you can’t hold your own as a handicapper, then you’ll be ground out anyway. If you can handle the past performances, however, and you realize that, in a game where you’ll be wrong more often than right, you need to maximize the latter, you can work yourself into that select club of those who beat the game.

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Place betting is also a big no-no in my book. I offer a different alternative. Let’s say you like the number five in a particular race. Your plan is to bet $20 to win and $20 to place on it.

I would not structure the bet that way.

I’d bet $20 win on the five with $5 dollar exactas over two other horses and $5 dollar exactas with those two horses over the five. If one of my other horses beats the five, and the five runs second, the exacta will likely pay more than the $20 place bet would have. That’s my suggestion on structuring that bet and I’m willing to lose if someone I don’t have beats the five. Further, this is a conservative play for me, but I thought it best to introduce my philosophy conservatively. I’d likely bet $25 to win on the five, and a $15-dollar exacta with five on top of one horse. No reverse. Making it count when I’m right.

While this may be an aggressive way of playing, in the long run I think it’s your only chance to come out ahead consistently. It takes discipline — and some guts — but this game is not for the faint of heart.

You have to go for it and maximize your wins.

Jonathan Stettin
Jonathan has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings, as he practically grew up at the racetrack. His mother, affectionately known as “Ginger,” was in the stands at Belmont Park the day before he was born as his father, Joe, worked behind the windows as a pari-mutuel clerk.

As a toddler, Jonathan cheered for and followed horses and jockeys, knowing many of the names and bloodlines by the time he was in first grade. Morning coffee in his household was always accompanied by the Daily Racing Form or Morning Telegraph.

At the age of 16, Jonathan dropped out of school and has pretty much been at the races full-time ever since. Of course, he had some of the usual childhood racetrack jobs growing up — mucking stalls, walking hots and rubbing horses. He even enjoyed brief stints as a jockey agent and a mutuel clerk (like his dad).

His best day at the track came on August 10, 1994 at Saratoga, when he hit the pick-6 paying $540,367.

Jonathan continues to be an active and successful player. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin or visit his Web site at

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