Where Good Horse Racing Systems Come From

StorkI modified the title of Steve Johnson’s book, “Where Good Ideas Come From” by replacing “Ideas” with “Racing Systems”. Many horseplayers still wonder how to develop their own system or method of handicapping or selecting horses. While there is no magic method, one point that Steve Johnson discusses will help both the novice and seasoned horseplayer.


That’s right, collaboration. Even in this “dog eat dog” world of handicapping and horse-playing, some of the best methods and angles that I have developed have come as a result of collaborating with other horseplayers. Johnson even points out that collaboration is as important as competition when it comes to finding new ways of looking at the same thing.

If you assembled a group of handicappers and asked them to take part in a competition to see who is the best handicapper, they would all likely have different ways of approaching the races. No one way is right and no one way is wrong. Yet, if these handicappers were to be randomly assigned to teams and attempted to understand the approaches of their teammates, I believe they would improve.

A few years ago I participated in a team-based handicapping competition (Inter-Board Hanidcapping League) at the great horse racing forum Paceadvantage.com.  I didn’t know too many of the posters at the time and was randomly assigned to a team of three for the weekly competition. While confident of my own abilities at the time, I knew nothing of my two teammates. Yet after a few weeks of doing dry runs at the contest it became evident that we needed to talk more than trying to use a consensus-based approach.

That was when we started to click together. Instead of working as three individuals, we worked together. We pointed out both the positives and negatives that we saw in a race. Sometimes we disagreed and it forced us to go back a view those races from the other player’s perspective. By being more thick-skinned than thick-headed, we could arrive at a similar opinion on a race. Many of these nuggets of information that one of us had either overlooked or deemed not important was viewed in a new light.

One of the biggest lessons I took away from this experience was going further down the running lines of a past performance to find the paceline I would use for my analysis and Pace-Based Speed Ratings (PBRs). The Sartin Methodology and writers such as Michael Pizzolla in his book “Handicapping Magic” often stress the horse’s last or next-to-last start, which is not always indicative of the horse’s true ability.

Another great avenue for collaboration in the past was when I was working as an online handicapper for Equineinvestor.com. At the time, there were about ten handicappers that contributed selections. Several of us would email, talk, and chat regularly. We’d bounce ideas off of each other and offer possible solutions or improvements to angles or systems that we were tracking. Not only did the “group effort” approach help to compile data quicker, it provided a great baseline of factors to track for future angles and systems.

One handicapper named Jake worked with me to help me be able to import Brisnet data files so I could start letting the computer crunch all the numbers for my figures. I have even named one of my “bread and butter” maiden angles, which I will discuss at USRacing.com in the future, after him. Yet without our collaborative effort, neither one of us would have ever found this profitable maiden angle.

I have been able to bounce a lot of ideas off of both Derek Simon and the great Dave Schwartz from Pacemakestherace.com during my tenure with USRacing.com. Both Dave and Derek have been an amazing resource to discuss angles, methods, factors, and pace. Even before my time here, I had been e-mail contact with Derek, as he was developing some of his facts and figures, offering my opinion when he was looking for some insight or criticism.

The bottom line is that by finding welcoming places to discuss racing you will only improve your abilities as handicapper and horseplayer. Even the most novice handicapper can offer up a gem and make the more experienced handicapper stop and think about what they are pursuing. In this world dominated by social media, many of the best handicappers and horseplayers are accessible. While we are always going to be following our own pursuits, it never hurts to collaborate and let someone else in to see what it is you are doing.

You will both ultimately benefit!

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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