Using These 3 R’s To Improve Your Handicapping

By Ray Wallin

Horse Racing - USR Photo

Horse Racing – USR Photo

If you do a web search for “3 R’s” you get a lot of interesting results.

For the environmental minded, there is “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” which helps to cut down on the waste we throw away, but doesn’t make us a buck at the track. In the world of animal testing, there is “Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement,” which helps to find more humane ways to treat animals, but again isn’t going to help you hit that big winner.

Instead, there are three other R-words that when followed will help you generate more consistent winners that you can be confident about. If you ask anyone who makes their living playing the races what makes them confident in their selections, you will get the same answers.

1) Rigor

How well do you keep records of your handicapping? Do you track the performance of every figure or angle that you use when selecting your contenders? Do you break down the results by conditions within the race?

An old crusty horseplayer I knew from the misspent days of my youth hanging out with my Uncle Dutch on the apron of the Monmouth Park grandstand summed up the difference between a winning horseplayer and a losing one. “A losing horseplayer can tell you what horse he had when he hit the big payout, the winning horseplayer can tell you what types of races he wins on.”

Folks who win consistently don’t remember that Pick 4 they hit at Saratoga last summer or the big trifecta that nailed at Belmont Park three summers ago. They will tell you that they look for early speed horses with an advantage or that they like to play the double of Pick 4.

The winning handicapper focuses on the process, not the one-off outcomes. The winning handicapper keeps meticulous notes and details on how each type of wager they place performs under different conditions. They know where their figures work and where they don’t. They know when to play a specific spot play or play against a strong favorite.

By definition, rigor means the quality of being extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate. It is an added bonus if you are all three. Most handicappers don’t keep good records. Even fewer keep great records. If you want to feel strongly about your picks and know what is profitable, have rigor in your approach to your record keeping, it will give you confidence in what you know works versus what you think will work to make a profit.

2) Responsibility

Are you in control of your bankroll or do you make stupid bets from time to time? Have you ever said after a losing bet, “I don’t usually play this type of race,” before tearing up your tickets?

I think back to my days of gracing the second floor of the old Meadowlands grandstand. I would watch our friend The Schnoz play night after night and lose most nights. It wasn’t because his handicapping was flawed, in fact he was a good handicapper. Rather he was not responsible with his bankroll. He would play races that he didn’t feel overly confident about because he had a “hunch.” Mix in a couple of drinks later in the night and the bets got larger and more carefree. All this detracted from how well he could handicap a race.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to money management. What works for me might not work for you. If you ask ten different professional horseplayers how they manage their bankroll, you will get eleven different answers. Some folks use a percentage of bankroll system, while others use a set amount by wager type or by confidence level. Regardless, they watch their bankroll like a hawk and are accountable for each penny they have.

You could be the greatest handicapper in the world with the best kept records of anyone who ever sat down in an OTB, but if you aren’t responsible with your bankroll, you will never turn a consistent profit.

3) Reproducibility

Our friend Rail Guy is notorious for not being consistent in his approach to handicapping the races. He is a little scatter-brained at times and is the first one to point out after the race is over that the first-time starter that won “was a sure thing out of da Native Dancer bred sire” or that there was “no way dat anyone could run with dat five on the da front end.”

How many times after a race, while doing a post-mortem, have you said to yourself, “how could I have missed that lone early speed horse?” How many times did you forget to look at the comments section to see if the horse had an excuse for that lousy last race or two?

What could we do to make sure he doesn’t miss those easy winners in the next race?

One of the most important aspects of anyone’s ability as a handicapper is to be able to handicap the races consistent time after time. Some newer handicappers that I have worked with in the past have benefited from having a checklist approach to each race. This is a prompt for them to analyze the pace, class, speed, pedigree, form, any figures, and look for any spot play angles in each race. Over time they need the checklist less and less since they have developed good handicapping habits, though many still find it comforting to have it with them in case they want to refer to it.

While not every factor, figure, or angle will be considered as strongly in each type of race, having a step-by-step approach to handicapping means that you won’t miss the obvious early speed horse or stellar pedigree when you are reviewing the past performances of each entrant.

The goal of every handicapper is to be profitable at the races. By being rigorous in your approach to handicapping, being responsible with your bankroll, and making your handicapping process reproducible, you will be able to enjoy these three R’s – Rest, Relaxation, and Riches.

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