What’s in Your Handicapping Blind Spot?

487535I spend a lot of time in my car for work. After all, not everyone can make a living playing the races.

Not only for my regular commute, but my schedule often includes two or three meetings or site visits each week. As a result, I get to see a lot of “near misses” on the road. From my casual observations, it appears that a lot of people don’t make an effort to see what might be in their blind spot.

It’s simple. When you learned to drive you learned how to make a lane change. It was in my New Jersey Driver’s Manual and reinforced by a crusty, over-caffeinated driving instructor. You’d need to check your mirrors and then swivel your head to glance back to see what was in your blind spot.

Sadly I see too many people make a face that screams “where did that car come from?” when they hear the horn of the car that they are inadvertently merging into.

This is no different than your handicapping, albeit nothing is getting hurt other than your bankroll.

We are all guilty of this at some point. How many times have you handicapped a race, felt good about it, but were left scratching your head at the results?

Where did that horse come from?

You should know the answer. I’m guessing certain kinds of horses or races have burned you repeatedly, but you don’t think to change your handicapping.


Truth is, even if you identify what is in your blind spot, something will likely replace it. I don’t know of any handicapper that doesn’t miss something from time to time. Horse racing is an ever-evolving sport. As it evolves, it creates new situations that will baffle us.

I spent my formative years on the grandstand apron at Monmouth Park with my Uncle Dutch in the early 1990’s. Young and headstrong, I was having success, but I must have muttered the same thing a few times a week.

“Another Suffolk shipper?”

For some reason, I couldn’t seem to figure out horses shipping in from Suffolk Downs. I had a good understanding of the horsemen and meets at Philadelphia Park (now Parx) and Delaware Park, yet, for some reason, those Suffolk shippers were my Achilles’ heel.

Did it stop me from handicapping the way I was handicapping? No.

After two summers of assessing those Suffolk shippers incorrectly, I finally realized what was making me sound like a broken record over the last few summers. I had missed a lot of opportunities by misevaluating those horses shipping in from Suffolk. I started to pay attention to the trainers, jockeys, class levels, and established a track-to-track adjustment factor.

Once I finally addressed the consistent monkey wrench of Suffolk shippers, a new problem was quick to develop — synthetic racing surfaces. Turfway Park was the first US track to make the switch in 2005, which immediately hurt my profits.

I went through the five stages of grief.

I denied that there was going to be any change to my handicapping. I was angry that this change was eating into my simulcasting profits. I started bargaining, mostly with myself, that I would play smaller until this drought was over. Then, the depression kicked in of not being able to pick contenders like I did before at that venue.

Finally, there was acceptance. I had to accept that I had to change my approach to the new surface at Turfway. It took a while and, while they tweaked the racing surface over the next few years, I finally decided to play other tracks until the data normalized.

Other tracks soon followed the trend and switched to synthetic surfaces. My track-to-track adjustments were becoming more difficult to make. Again, after a couple meets of getting beat, it finally dawned on me what was wrong — I hadn’t made the adjustments to my own handicapping and figures based on the new surface! Once again, I had to recognize that I had to make changes or else I would keep burning money at the windows.

Does this mean I have been in the clear since?

Of course not. As I said earlier, horse racing is an evolving sport. What works today may not work in a few months. You can’t let a long-standing assumption stand in the way of your progression as a handicapper! Make sure you glance after checking your mirrors before you change lanes — write down when you are beat despite your best efforts. If you aren’t as stubborn as I am, you’ll see a pattern emerge and you can adapt your handicapping.

So, what’s in your blind spot?

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