By Ray Wallin
Growing up, my favorite superhero was Superman. Portrayed by the late Christopher Reeve I had a hero I could relate to. He was a nerdy newspaper reporter by day but would ditch the glasses and fight the evil Lex Luthor when duty called.
Like every superhero, Superman had an Achilles’ heel. His was kryptonite. It would turn Superman’s powers useless, even immobilizing him which made him vulnerable.
Like Superman, every handicapper has their own version of kryptonite. For some guys it could be Eddie Mush, who incidentally bet on a horse named Kryptonite in A Bronx Tale. (Video is NSFW)
For the rest of us track goers, we all have our own form of kryptonite to contend with. During one of my misspent summers on the grandstand apron at Monmouth Park with my late Uncle Dutch, my kryptonite came from Massachusetts. I was handicapping well and making money but kept getting beat by horses shipping in from Suffolk Downs.
The guys my uncle hung out with would laugh as it sounded like I was on repeat mode day after day. “Another Suffolk shipper?” must have come out of my mouth a couple of times a day.
What was it about Suffolk Downs I couldn’t figure out? Was it the relationship of class levels between the two tracks since not all $5,000 claimers are equal? Was it par times for track-to-track comparisons? Was it the different approaches to rounding a horse into form taken by Suffolk horsemen?
I had no clue.
In the mid-1990’s it wasn’t as easy as today to get your hands on old charts from various tracks. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on a print copy of American Turf Monthly you would be able to get a “track equalization chart” that gave you a basic idea of class tiers of tracks and an adjust factor for sprints, miles, and routes. This was by no means the best information on track pars, nor did it tell you much other than what were top and bottom tier tracks.
Creating par times is time consuming, which is why I buy mine annually instead of trying to make my own. During the off-season when I was back sitting behind a desk in school, I managed to piece together enough old results from my uncle that I was able to start piecing together some useful information. Slowly I had developed a track-to-track comparison for both times and class. It was starting to make sense.
The following summer I was better prepared. While I was still scratching my head from time to time, I wasn’t on repeat mode all meet long. I had made significant strides in how to play and when to beat Suffolk shippers. More importantly I had figured out a road map for other tracks should I ever need to do it again.
Your kryptonite may be turf races. It may be sprints or routes. It could be stakes races or maidens. Maybe it is small fields or full fields of fourteen horses?
But how do you beat it?
The easiest way to not be affected by kryptonite was for Superman to avoid it. But he couldn’t do that forever. If your weakness is turf races and you like to play horizontally, or multi-race wagers, avoiding your weak race will leave you with little action in the summer.
Embrace the fact that you may need to hit the “all” button on that race or dig deeper in the field than you would like. If it is a wide-open race, it may be the one leg of your Pick 4 that brings the horse with the longest odds to the winner’s circle and boosts up the payout. View it as an opportunity to improve some part of your game and boost your profits.
When I kept getting burned by those pesky Suffolk shippers, I had taken the first step in solving the problem. I recognized what was causing me to keep losing. I had identified Suffolk shippers as my biggest problem at that time and knew that I had to do something about that if I wanted to get back to my profitable ways.
Once I came to terms with my Suffolk shipper problem, I had to figure out what I was going to do and what I wanted the result to be. I was determined to figure out what it was about Suffolk shippers, or my analysis of them, that caused me to keep missing them as contenders. I knew I had to work through every aspect of them from class, trainers, and track to track comparisons to figure out if one or all those factors was off in my analysis. My goal was to work through charts and old past performances to figure out what was an important factor or piece of data and figure out how to use it to my advantage.
That off-season I gave those Suffolk shippers I was studying a lot of respect. They had cost me a lot of money and I was worried that they would dip into my wallet again the next summer. I didn’t want to be tentative on my betting moving forward so, I took my analysis of them very seriously.
Any handicapper that I have known to be dismissive of a factor or figure that they think may be a problem has burned through their bankroll and more or is out of the game completely within a few years.
Think of it this way, the longer you wait to face the problem, the longer the problem is going to cost you money. You can rationalize a bad day at the track with troubled trips, the weather, or the track bias being different in the short term. You can’t rationalize consistently losing for the entire meet.
One of my favorite movies quotes is from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Tuco finds himself in a bath confronted by a man he shot previously. The man goes on to talk about how his going to shoot Tuco, yet Tuco is quick on the draw and says “when you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”
Confronted with a bad situation, Tuco took action right away to eliminate the problem. If he had taken longer to act the situation would have gotten worse. The same holds true in horse racing. If you know there is a problem with some part of your handicapping, do something about it now otherwise your bankroll will evaporate before your eyes.
In the movies, Superman made every effort to avoid kryptonite, however in the comics he eventually found ways to defeat it on occasion. In a fight with Batman, he would use his cold breath to freeze the ring of kryptonite worn by the Dark Knight and then give him one heck of a beating. Like Superman, you may still find a particular type of race or surface to be your Achilles’ Heel, but with some careful planning you can find a way to also beat your personal kryptonite and find yourself on your way to making a living playing the races.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.