By Ray Wallin
Do you bet on every race that you can? Do you lower your standards on what types of horses or races warrant a play in the hopes of increasing your chance of winning? Are you playing tracks or breeds that you wouldn’t normally play trying to find more action?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions you are a “Shotgun Horseplayer.” You are betting widely and hoping to hit something, like when firing a shotgun. You are mismanaging your bankroll and are not showing a profit.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that by taking a few simple steps, you can find your way to profitability by being using a sniper strategy at the track.
Our friend Rail Guy likes to play exotic wagers. Sometimes he plays too many horses in some of his exotics and loses money when he wins. If you have ever had the pleasure of spending the day with him at the Monmouth Park paddock, you have heard him make a case for almost every horse in the race, “while I like da four, da five also looks like he can upset dis race… but da two is sharp lately and da one got Jersey Joe in the irons, I’m gonna box them all in the trifecta.”
How many contenders is too many contenders?
While there is no perfect answer to this question, there are several factors to consider when making that decision.
First, you need to look at the will-pays and the odds on your contenders. If you are torn between the even money favorite and the next two betting interests that are under 7-2, chances are that the exacta isn’t going to return a profit across every combination that you want to play. At this point you need to weigh the risk/reward. This is either a pass the race or right size each bet so that you will show a profit no matter which combination comes out on top. This could be doubling one combination or series of combinations. This is time consuming and the numbers will change up until the race goes off.
Second, you need to consider how confident you are with all your contenders. If you have five contenders in a race and no horse has more than a 30% likelihood of winning, chances are you are not confident in the race. If you have one horse that has a 60% likelihood of winning and another that is 20%, you can wheel or develop combinations that make sense when comparing the will pays, with a greater emphasis on the more likely play.
Last, you need to look at the field size compared to the number of contenders you have selected for the race. If it is a short six horse field and you like four of the horses as contenders, you will most likely find the race to be not worth the risk. If you like four horses in a fourteen horse field of first time starters in a maiden special weight race, the risk may be worth the rewards since you aren’t likely to find heavy favorites in those cases.
How do you perform playing turf races? Are you better with claiming races than stakes races? Do you nail predicting the pace in sprints but are left scratching your head when it comes to races around two turns?
By keeping records of both your handicapping and your horseplaying you can identify the races where you feel the most confident and perform the best. While claiming sprints over the dirt dominate race cards around the country, you may find your niche is some type of race that is run less frequently. When you focus on what your strengths are, prioritize on those races first before looking at the rest of the card.
A simple way to track your performance is to log the races you handicap. Note the class level, racing surface, track, the number of contenders you have selected, are you confident in the race, and the outcome. I also like to track the same metrics for consecutive races to see how my horizontal wagers would perform based on number of contenders per race and level of confidence.
I have used this strategy to help to build my Pick 4 tickets. I know how many combinations make sense when constructing a Pick 4 ticket based on how confident I am in each race. I have stats as to how well I perform in races that I am either confident or not confident in by the number of contenders in each race. When I am not confident in three of the four legs, I can weigh the risk of how deep I need to go in those fields to feel confident with the overall ticket cost before making my decision to play or pass.
One key factor that every professional horseplayer I have ever talked to has attributed to their success is discipline. They factor in the two points about finding the right horses and the right races to play along with strict money management. They don’t take unnecessary risks.
Back in the early 2000’s I did a deep dive into my own handicapping and wagering. I saw what type of bets were hitting consistently and that I was hemorrhaging money on trifectas. When I started wagering again the following year, I focused more on win bets and horizontal wagers such as Pick 4s and limited my trifecta and superfecta wagers.
This approach allowed me to apply my bankroll to the more profitable wager types. When I compared my performance at the end of the year to the previous year, I found that I placed less wagers, wagered a little less of my bankroll, but showed a much higher return on investment. By being more disciplined, I lessened my risk in my daily wagering.
By taking a sniper, rather than a shotgun, approach to your horseplaying you will change the playing field to your advantage and pursue your dream of making your 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.