By Ray Wallin
You don’t leave the house on the weekend without knowing where you are going. You don’t jump over the fence into the lion exhibit at the zoo without a plan (and live to tell about it). You don’t go up to the window to place a bet without knowing what horse you are going to bet on, unless you are “Last Minute Decision Maker.”
As a handicapper, you aren’t going to turn a profit and be successful playing the races if you don’t set goals that have a defined and disciplined approach toward achieving them. Ask any successful part-time horseplayer or person who makes their living playing the races and you will find that they always have definable goals that help them to succeed.
“Failure isn’t in not reaching your goal but in having no goal to reach.” – Benjamin E. Mays
Most horseplayers lose money. Most don’t know how to improve their handicapping. They are stuck in the same rut and leave the track with a lighter wallet muttering the same things over and over, “If I had only seen that the three horse had some back class,” or “How could I miss that the four was a weak front runner.”
There is a better way. Be SMART about setting your goals. As in:
A lot of people set goals that aren’t actually achievable. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to eat more vegetables?” If you lose one pound or eat one leaf of romaine lettuce have you achieved your goal?
Be specific when you set your goals. Goals such as “I want to make at least 15 percent return on investment,” or “I want to accurately predict pace in 75 percent of the races I handicap.” Setting a benchmark gives you an actual target or goal to work toward.
You need to have a metric to measure your success against. So, whatever your goal is, you need to be able to track the results. If you are looking to improve your accuracy at predicting the pace scenario in a race, how are you going to measure that? Is it tracking whether a race is going to be won by a front runner, a presser, or a stalker/closer? Is it how the individual horses will perform given their different running styles of the competition? Is it how close your projected fractions are to the actual race and how that affects the winning running style?
Regardless of your goal, you need to know what you are going to track to understand your progress to your goal.
Our friend Rail Guy is single. One day down in the Monmouth Park paddock he was a little down about his relationship status. “Dose girls don’t realize whatta good catch I am … after all, look at me, I should be datin’ models.” I am sure that they would find his stained white sleeveless shirt and lack of personal hygiene to be irresistible but for some reason he still goes home by himself every night.
Likewise, in handicapping, stating that you are going to return 300 percent on investment when you are a win bettor or hit 80 percent of your win bets is not an attainable goal. I don’t know any professional gambler that achieves anywhere near those pie in the sky numbers. A goal of hitting 40 percent of your win bets or making a 20 percent return on those win bets is much more realistic, unlike our friend Rail Guy.
Is your goal relevant? Is what you are looking to improve about your game going to make an impact on your results?
Take Newbie Nick. He wants to learn how to read a horse down in the paddock and win more bets. This is a great skill to learn and can set you above others that are betting on the races, yet if he is still going to bet the horses based on the top speed figures in the past performances this skill will have no impact on his goal. Merely understanding the physicality of a horse will not be relevant to the goal of winning more bets if he doesn’t use it as a tool to include or exclude horses that don’t meet his other criteria for betting a race.
If you have the goal of improving how you handicap claiming races, how long are you going to plan on working on it before you think you will achieve success? My old track friend Bruce the Mathematician was always collecting data to build and rebuild his pace model. For the 10 or so years I saw him weekly, he was still in development mode. While I haven’t seen him in the last 12 years, I often wonder if he has ever gotten to the point where he is comfortable using that pace model.
It is OK to set a goal and then need to reset it. Even small data samples can be statistically relevant. With how quickly the racing game changes, you can’t always look back at data from 20 years ago to help predict what will happen today. The way trainers view layoffs has changed. Race conditions have changed. Select a window of time to achieve your goal so the process or data doesn’t become obsolete before you are close to achieving your goal!
No one wants to fail at the track, but many do, and they will continue to do so if they don’t have a clear and attainable goal in place. So get SMART and grow your bankroll.
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 email@example.com.