10 Bad Habits of Horseplayers

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Photo by Manan Chhabra on Unsplash

Bad habits. We all have them, even those horseplayers that are making a living playing the races. Some are worse than others. The average time it takes for someone to create or break a habit is 66 days, with a range of 18 to 254 days. Some racing meets start and finish in that time!

The good news is that you can break a habit. I have faith that my readers can do it in the 18-day timeframe and not in 254 days, but you need to identify if any of these bad habits apply to you!

#1 Not Playing Because the Odds Are Too High

Let’s revisit our favorite track regular at Monmouth Park, Rail Guy. When his eyes gaze up from the program to the tote board, I am always confused when he says to me, “I like da five, but da odds are way too high.”

What? Isn’t it usually the other way around? Isn’t the goal here to win more money?

How many times do you handicap a race card, find a horse you love that has morning line odds of 3-1 and you see him bet down to 4-5 by post time?  I am not suggesting that if you think the fair value odds are 2-1 and the horse is 1-5 that you should bet the farm. But don’t you internally do a dance when your “lock” creeps up to 5-1? You may be seeing something that the betting public isn’t.

I am a huge believer in establishing fair odds for your contenders in each race. This helps to set a threshold as to how low the odds can go before the horse isn’t worth playing.

I understand the thinking of Rail Guy, though — which is a scary thought, right? As humans, we are often looking for confirmation of our thoughts or, as horseplayers, our picks. If no one else is jumping on your play, you may start wondering if you are missing something.

Stick with your gut and enjoy cashing on that overlay!

#2 Not Checking Will-Pays

Ever lose money when you won the exacta or daily double?  Are you going too deep on short-priced horses? You aren’t alone. Let’s drive up the Garden State Parkway and the Turnpike to visit our friend at the Meadowlands, The Schnoz.

The Schnoz would go deeper on some of his bets than Jacques Cousteau ever did in the Mariana Trench!

I typically have multiple contenders in each race. I like to string them along to hit rolling daily doubles and pick 3s. I will also check to see if it makes sense to play the pick 4, pick 5 or pick 6. However, if you have more than two contenders per race in a daily double, you had better have some value there. If not, you can win the bet, but lose money. At worst, you should be look to hedge your bets and break even if you think the short-priced horses are that good.

How do you figure will-pays on the pick 3, 4, 5, or 6? You have to extrapolate from the daily double will-pays. If you like low-priced horses in all three legs and the daily double will-pays aren’t looking too profitable, chances are your Pick 3 won’t pay that well either!

Do yourself a favor: do a sanity check before you place those wagers and check the will-pays.

#3 Not Considering Alternate Pace Scenarios

Very rarely do I assign one pace scenario to a race. I always reserve a probability for “chaos,” the notion that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

I make a lot of money playing horses that have a big early-speed advantage in a race. Yet, they don’t win 100 percent of the time. There are a number of reasons that the race doesn’t set up exactly as you have predicted. Younger horses that are still improving or are not yet tested, horses that are trying new distances or surfaces for the first time, or your “Critical Pace Horse” gets bumped, checked, and steadied in the first quarter-mile.

Do yourself a favor: consider what might happen to upset the pace you predicted and which horse may benefit from it.

#4 Ignoring the Paddock & Post Parade

This is one of the hardest things to do when you aren’t at the track you’re betting. You don’t always get to see the horses in the paddock and only get a quick look at them from afar in the post parade.

If you can hone in on key traits relating to a horse’s eyes, ears,tail and excessive sweating, you may be able to catch something that will either reinforce your decision or help to pull you off a horse that doesn’t want to run today.

#5 Being Indecisive at the Windows

You did your homework the night before. You have loved the three-horse for the last 36 hours. He looked amazing in the paddock. Even Rail Guy thinks he looks unbeatable.

So, why are you changing your mind with two minutes to post?

Stick to your plan!

#6 Playing Too Many Tracks

You like the three in the fourth at Monmouth… or was it Saratoga? Wait, maybe it was Delaware Park?

I know I was guilty of this a couple of years back. My wife and I would get to ditch the kids with the grandparents for an overnight and we’d high-tail it down to Atlantic City for 24 hours away. While my wife was playing the one-armed bandits, I would have past performances for every track from noon until midnight. I wouldn’t leave the racebook unless it was time to eat or go to the bathroom. These weren’t my best horseplaying days. They may have been some of my worst — starting off with Gulfstream Park and ending with Cal Expo and Los Alamitos.

Don’t spread yourself too thin; otherwise, you’ll miss something or make a mistake at the windows.

#7 Needing to Play Every Race

So, we got you to stop playing too many tracks, but now you are playing every single race on the card. Are you really that confident on every race?

Chances are that you are not. Remember my sixth Pillar of Handicapping — the 90% rule. If you are not at least 90% confident in playing a race, don’t play it.

Take a break, grab a drink, take in the sight and sounds, or play on paper until you get to your next play. Your bankroll will thank you!

#8 Poor Money Management

Do you burn through your bankroll in the first three races? Do you up your bet amounts after you lose a race? Do you continue to throw good money after bad?

While there is no one-size-fits-all fix, you can start by limiting your bet size to a percentage of your bankroll based on your level of confidence in that race. By being accountable for each dollar you wager, you will be more conscience of each bet you place.

#9 Last-Minute Bets

Do you wait until the last minute to get your bet in? Do you get stuck behind the lady counting out her show bet with change from her purse? Do you get shut out as often as the teams that faced George Hainsworth did (22 shut outs in 44 games played for 1928-1929 Montreal Canadiens)?

I know you want to see where the odds move, but it is all irrelevant if you can’t get the bet placed. Even in the age of online wagering and more self-serve kiosks at the track than tellers, I am still amazed at the number of people that get shut out at the windows.

#10 Not Learning from Mistakes

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein

Every race is a learning experience. Tracking results is important, as is doing a post-mortem to see what went the way you expected and what didn’t. I have also talked about doing a pre-mortem, or assessing what you think might go wrong before an event.

Regardless of how you assess your performance, you need to learn from every race and adjust your handicapping and wagering accordingly.

If you are committed to winning, you need to eliminate your bad habits. With some focus and effort, you can improve your handicapping and become a better bettor!

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 www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at ray.wallin@live.com.

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