Anyone who plays the races for a living has discipline. Even those who make a part-time living from the races know that they need to avoid negative traits that can hurt their bankroll.
#1 Overestimation of Accuracy of Beliefs
I was sitting in the race book at Bally’s Wild West Casino in Atlantic City one day many years ago and overheard an older gentlemen preaching to three guys that were close enough to him to be in his underwear.
“You gotta play the numbers… the numbers work… more than 90 percent of the time. You gotta trust the numbers or you will lose,” he said.
The three guys were nodding and playing every horse this guy pitched. Based on how they were hanging onto each word and putting their money through the windows, you’d have thought they were his disciples.
While placing my own wager, I caught up with one of the guys in the long line at the windows. I asked him what numbers he was using. Looking around somewhat nervously before answering — like the KGB was going to take him out if he spilled the secret out — he whispered to me: “Beyer numbers man, Beyer numbers — they win 90 percent of the time!”
While I have never tracked the performance of the top Beyer Speed Figure, I can say with confidence that they don’t win 90 percent of the time. Heck, even some of my best angles struggle to cash even 30 percent of the time! Blindly playing any figure or angle won’t work out in the long run. Having reasonable expectations or data to support the frequency of a factor or angle hitting will ground your horseplaying in reality!
#2 Overpriced Bets
I love playing horizontal wagers — daily doubles, pick-3s, pick-4s and, occasionally, even pick-5s and pick-6s. There have been times I have gone deep on a wager and played a lot of combinations. The great thing about the daily double wager is that you can see the “will pays” for what your bet will pay given the current odds. You can also use these payouts to extrapolate what a pick-3 might return. However, pick-4s and other multiple race wagers are only speculation.
In my many nights up at the old Meadowlands catching the fall thoroughbred meet, my trusty track buddy Walter and I encountered another horizontal player — the Schnoz.
The Schnoz was our age and had what we thought was some solid handicapping ability, but his betting left something to be desired. He played straight wagers and a couple of exotics, exactas mostly, when he wasn’t chasing the daily double, pick-3, or pick-4. We shared a similar approach to betting, so naturally we shared notes once our bets were in.
I was amazed to see the difference in our approach to wagering. The Schnoz would go three to four horses deep in each daily double or pick-3 without any regard for the will-pays. He would hit the pick-4, but often at a break-even payout or even a loss.
What the difference between me and the Schnoz? He didn’t check the will-pays at all and see that he was losing money by going this deep. You need to know whether or not your contenders in each race are long or short odds. If you need to go deep with a lot of short-odd horses, your wager may not be worth the risk.
#3 Married to Position
Sometimes I think horseplayers are more likely to divorce their spouses than to change the way they think. This could be a bias towards a particular horse or jockey.
Horseplayers need to be polygamists. With the recent legalization of sports betting in New Jersey, I have a cardinal rule: don’t bet when you have a biased interest in the outcome. I won’t play a baseball or football game where I have a rooting interest. Likewise, if you are a huge fan of a particular horse or jockey, you will likely bias your handicapping to select that horse or jockey.
I was guilty of this myself on several occasions. I was a huge fan of Tiznow after his huge win over Giant’s Causeway in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic. In his 2001 campaign, I made him my top choice in the Strub, Woodword, and Goodword only to burn my money on his losses. I learned that when I am a fan of a horse that I should stay a fan of the game for that race and not let my own feelings bias my handicapping.
#4 No Precise Game Plan
How often have you seen someone come to the track or OTB with no plan? You know the type; they grab the entry sheet, stare at the monitors, mumble something to themselves and, then, are off to the windows to place a wager. At the Meadowlands, there was a guy we called “The Marine”.
The Marine would walk up to the second-floor grandstand area, take one look at the monitors for about thirty seconds, and then blurt out his pick. More often than not, he was dead wrong. The factors of the race didn’t matter; he just played anything on a whim. One night he’d follow the track handicapper, another night he’d claim that he was playing a post position based on the distance.
If you have been reading my articles for a while, you know I am a fan of doing your homework before going to the track. Knowing which races are playable or not, and knowing your contenders, is a key to limiting your exposure in betting.
#5 Absence of Critical Thinking
The ability to recognize that your handicapping is not working today is a key to preserving your bankroll. Maybe you did your handicapping when you were distracted either by Junior’s soccer game or those four hours of sleep you got the night before. At some point, you need to “stop the bleeding” and let it register in your mind that you are not in the right mindset to figure how the pace of today’s races will set up, much less pick the winner.
You are losing and not accepting what is happening. Now you are blaming the jockey, the trainer, the guy in the orange hat down by the rail — or maybe the fool who thinks he is riding the horse while watching the simulcast monitors. A single race you can blame on a troubled trip; but, after seven races, it isn’t luck. You are ignoring the message that reality is sending you — whatever it is that you are doing isn’t working.
We are all guilty if the above traits at some time. Yet, if you can recognize when you are falling into any of them you can prevent yourself from losing your hard-earned folding money at the windows!