5 Ways to Overcome Your Fatally Flawed Handicapping

SaratogaCrowd070617How many gamblers do you know that make a profit year after year? Are you one of them?

Probably not.

While no reliable survey exists, it is generally accepted that less than five percent of all horseplayers are profitable. Many winning gamblers wouldn’t come right out and admit that fact and with no way to audit the survey takers, it is impossible to validate their claims of winning. Winning gamblers want to keep a low profile and generally don’t seek attention.

Take it one step further: it is estimated that less than half a percent of all horseplayers play the races for a living. Of that 0.5 percent, many will not have a long career playing professionally. Some will lose it all. Others will burn out from the daily grind of handicapping and hustling to get the best lines or odds.

Ask any winning horseplayer how much time and effort they put into the game and they will tell you that they are living the game. There is no magic pill or secret software where you press a button and get the winners. Even with any sophisticated handicapping software or system, there is still a certain level of manual handicapping that needs to occur.

Anyone can have one good day at the track. We all know that guy who comes in and seems to have the Midas touch one afternoon. He is betting longshots by the name, boxing his high school locker number and hitting exacta after exacta. He walks out several hundred or thousand bucks ahead. He can’t lose!

That will never hold up in the long-term.

Is your handicapping fatally flawed?


Winning horseplayers only take calculated risks. Winning horseplayers never go over the line. Winning horseplayers need to have an edge. Winning horseplayers evolve with the game.

Before you think I am all doom and gloom and that you’ll never be in the black, there is some good news.

You can be a winner! Here’s how:


Frustrated BettorYou need to have a plan and do your homework. Once you have a plan, adjust for the scratches and changes but stick to what you know works. I like to figure out my strategy before the races start and then allow myself to enjoy the day. If you find that distractions cause you to bet outside of your plan, avoid them (wait until you get home to enjoy that cold, refreshing beverage).

Don’t overextend yourself. Play only races you are confident about. If you are playing something you second guess yourself on, chances are that you won’t do well. You may feel good about one race on the card or every race on the card. There is no magic number of races to play per day. You need to play only those you feel good about.

You will need to take the good with the bad. You may win one month and lose the next. You will need to trust your handicapping during the bad times. Stick with what you know will work and win you money — it won’t be easy to stomach watching your bankroll go up and down, but focus on the long-term, not the short-term.

As with anything, you can’t overreact to recent trends. Many tracks have a bias. Sometimes the bias doesn’t hold in the short-term, but generally the early speed bias of sprints at Monmouth Park holds up over the course of a season.

It is not unusual to see a day of pressers or stalkers dominate, but realize that is not the norm. Has the weather affected the track conditions? Are there a lot of weak early speed horses running today? Did the speed horses have troubled trips that changed the way the pace set up? Some horses are so talented and outclass the field that they outrun the bias. Learn to recognize these factors and add them to your handicapping.

Meticulous Record-Keeping

notepadAs I have written in the past, I am a huge fan of doing a post-mortem and keeping records. I keep stats on every wager I place as well as how any angles I like perform. I am constantly reassessing my performance and looking for ways to further optimize my bankroll.

A few years ago, I realized that chasing trifectas and superfectas was a losing proposition for me. So, I diverted those wagering dollars back into win bets, exactas and daily doubles. The result was that I was wagering a little less, but making a higher profit margin since I was playing higher-percentage plays.

If you track what you play over the long-term, you will see what works the best given your style of handicapping and betting.

Evolve With the Game

While contrarian to “sticking with what you know”, you must adapt to the changing face of handicapping. What worked a few years ago might not work today.

Track biases and par times can change over time. This can be due to a change to the racing surface or in management’s approach to maintenance of the surface. Remember when Santa Anita switched from dirt to a synthetic track in 2007 and then back to dirt at the end of 2010? We all had to reestablish our pars and see what biases the new surfaces had!

Jockeys fall in and out of favor with trainers and owners faster than you can blink over the course of a meet. That hot apprentice may have cooled off once she lost her bug. Jockey colonies at specific tracks change from year to year.

While trainers are creatures of habit, the good ones eventually adopt what works. This could be running horses on shorter rest or a longer layoff, stretching out to a route only to drop back to a sprint next out, or changing surfaces to add bottom to a horse.

As successful handicappers, it is our job to stay one step ahead of the public that is reading the published jockey and trainer stats in the past performances and understand the intent of the horsemen.

Know Your Bankroll

MoneyMoney management is the Achilles’ heel of many horseplayers. Most horseplayers don’t have a set bankroll. You need to know what that bankroll is so you can size your wagers. If your bankroll is $100 for a day at the races, you don’t want to be out of cash by the third race!

As I have said before, there is no “one size fits all” method of money management. There have been countless books and articles written on the subject and you need to see what fits your handicapping style best. Some of the popular methods are highlighted in one of my previous articles.

I know many great handicappers that don’t profit as much as they should and a couple of mediocre handicappers that are highly profitable. The difference is effective money management.

Know When to Walk Away

I have known too many great handicappers that have put horse racing ahead of their other priorities in life. It has hurt them at work and at home. Some have been faced with ultimatums to either save their family or find themselves out on their own. I am a huge fan of putting your family first and am happy to be coaching soccer and rugby all weekend, with an occasional glance at my betting account when I like a race of two.

If you don’t make what is important to you in life a priority, you will lose it all. There will be another race; there won’t be another kindergarten graduation or three-goal soccer game for Junior. Don’t burn yourself out or you will resent the sport you love. Resolve that you are not going to make a living playing the races, but maybe you can make a little beer money.

You don’t have to lose for entertainment. You can win for entertainment. You just need to start following a couple of good fundamental principles and you can get your bankroll into the black!

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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