By Ray Wallin
It feels good to win. It feels bad to lose. Your ego will either make you feel like a success or an utter failure. Spending time thinking either way is a surefire way to lose money at the track.
When we lose and see others win, we are often resentful that someone else figured the race correctly and we didn’t. When we win, we think we are smarter than the next handicapper. In our minds it is a criticism of our handicapping. Where there is criticism, there is a reaction. Regardless of winning or losing, the reaction is often negative and puts both our bankroll and dream of making a living playing the races at risk of further damage.
If you can identify when your ego has taken over, you can take some simple steps to acknowledge it and keep yourself on a path of rational thinking.
You’ve been in this situation before. You play the first couple of races you like and get beat. One was a photo finish, another race you have no idea what the stewards saw in the stretch drive, and in the last your pick’s jockey got bumped off his mount right out of the gate. You don’t like the next couple of races but figure you can make a few bucks back.
But you don’t make a dime back. You end up further in the hole after playing races you weren’t confident about. You get to the last race you like on the race card and double up your normal bet size, only to have one more race not go your way. Instead of being down the amount you set out to wager, you are down three times that value.
When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Have the courage and wits to stop when things are going your way and stick to what you know. Don’t make it worse by chasing action that isn’t there. Don’t go further down the rabbit hole and burn through your bankroll. Stick to your plan.
Always be the student
In my days of sitting in the racebook at Borgata in Atlantic City there would always be that one guy who had to show off after every big win. He would walk around and flash the cash and talk trash about how great he was. He’d talk smack about the old-timers sitting in the front row with their lunch in a brown bag and the degenerates picking up discarded tickets in the back. He’d say he had a hot tip from a wise guy or someone in the stable of the winner and wonder why no one else played it as he bragged about how it “couldn’t lose.”
This same guy would end up being quiet the rest of the day. Perhaps his hot tips didn’t pan out. Maybe it was a streak of bad luck, but I saw this show replay every Saturday or Sunday I would spend in a racebook in Atlantic City. The folks sitting quietly at their monitors and the old-timers who brought their lunch in brown bags would quietly be down in the front winning a few bucks consistently. The difference being we all did our homework and had a system we were playing. We were constantly challenging the source of information or refusing to take his “lock” at face value. We knew better.
You will hear people talk about that the journey isn’t about the destination, but the path you took to get there. Handicapping is no different.
In our quest to beat the game, you need to be humble and accept that you have a lot to learn. As handicappers we can observe and learn with every race we watch, handicap, and bet. We can see what went right for us or what went wrong for us. Some races will be chalked up to chance while others may highlight a flaw in our logic. We need to deliberately poke holes in our own handicapping to get stronger and more confident in what is working.
Forever be the student of the game and pursue mastery, there is no cheap and easy way.
Let go of control
So, you got beat when the stewards say a phantom bump in the stretch and your jockey got knocked off his mount right out of the gate. Could you have predicted that? Could your handicapping have accounted for the probability of that other horse rearing up in the starting gate before the gate opened?
You can’t manage or predict everything that happens in a race. Some things are out of your power. While you can look at positive and negative jockey changes or a horse that hasn’t had the right conditions in their last eight starts, you can’t predict chaos from occurring.
Let it go. Don’t harp on it for the rest of the card and let it cloud your judgement. Accept that there are factors you have no control over and move on.
Know what matters
Some people handicap for the shear enjoyment of beating the game. Others handicap to make a few bucks while they are at the track. Others handicap to make a living playing the races.
What is your goal for your handicapping? What are your priorities? Don’t be distracted by what others are doing.
Play to your strengths and for the reason you came to handicap and wager. Have the honest conversation with yourself about what is important and be content with that reason. Reject the rest and learn to say “no” when others pressure you to scale up your efforts. If you aren’t having fun doing it, you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
When we have a bad day at the track our ego doesn’t tell us that we lost a race, it tells us that we are a loser. Conversely, when we win, our ego makes us think we are the smartest person at the track. As handicappers we need to treat both emotions the same way. Acknowledge that you won or lost and then move on to the next race.
Keep things in perspective and remember that you can’t control every aspect of what happens at the track, other than how you act and react.
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.