By Ray Wallin
What do school students and horseplayers have in common?
No, this is not going to be a bad joke about what happens when a jockey, a horse, and a horseplayer walk into a bar. Instead horseplayers, like students, handicap and learn what they need to select their contenders in different ways.
Think of it along these lines. You remember kids in your math class who would hear the teacher read the problem and could spit out an answer off the top of their head. Those were the kids that would look at a long division problem, write down the answer, and lose half the credit for not showing their work. Those kids kid would see the numbers in their head and that worked for them.
Then there were the kids who could follow long division but had to see it and write it. They worked logically through the problem exactly as they were shown on the chalkboard by the teacher, until they got to the answer. Other kids excelled hearing a verbal description of how to get to the answer and didn’t need to see it on the chalkboard to understand what the teacher was explaining.
There is also the common core approach with rolls, boxes, and loose change that show graphical representations of the numbers by trying to use graphical items. This method has been frustrating us parents of grade school kids for years, but it is what some kids need to understand the same concept as half-credit kid.
Point is that students have their own way of learning and processing information. There is no right or wrong way to get the point across. Each student will find what works and move forward in learning.
Horseplayers are no different. There are many ways a horseplayer uses information to try to pick their winners.
Back in the early 2000’s I had made friends with a gentleman from Boston through a handicapping message board. Boston John hated digging through past performances and trying to find the right contenders. I had shared with him that I had started working on a spreadsheet that would project the pace of the race based on a few different factors besides running style. This immediately piqued his interest, and he offered the services of a friend of his that was a programmer.
After months of begging and pleading, I finally agreed to allow his friend to automate my spreadsheet. The result was impressive for the graphical displays of the early 2000’s, but it showed my most likely pace scenario by using colored blocks that represented the saddle cloth colors for each horse at each call. This approach gave Boston John and I a clearer picture of how a race would set up and who should be in what position based on the likely fractions of the race.
Some horseplayers cannot stand to stare at the past performances. To them it is nothing more than a bunch of numbers and words that do not tell you anything. They need to see a graphical representation of what the numbers and words mean.
When I go to Monmouth Park with my friend Paddock Pete, he waits for two things before deciding what to bet on the next race. The first is my opinion and the second is what Brad Free has to say between races. Giving only the pick is not enough, Paddock Pete wants to know why this horse is a good or bad play before making his decision on what to play. It is not that Paddock Pete didn’t make his picks, he is looking for someone to either poke holes in what he thinks or provide a unique insight that he didn’t consider.
Some horseplayers need to hear what the people they consider experts have to say about a particular race before making their decision. Sometimes hearing the reasoning is enough to reinforce or change one’s mind.
I talk to myself. I talk to myself a lot. Sometimes it is the only intelligent conversation I have in a day. When I handicap I talk myself through the pace of the race or why a particular horse fits well. Not only has this cured my wife’s insomnia, it gives me confidence in how I approached the race and horses I have considered as either contenders or pretenders.
My late Uncle Dutch would only play the horses seriously if he was at the track watching the races live. He had a routine that would start off at his cooler and bench after the previous race was over. He would then head to the paddock to see the horses get saddled. He was then off to the track to see them warm up for a short time and would get his bets in with a few minutes to spare.
No matter how Dutch felt about a horse on paper, seeing the horse in person determined if and how he would play the race. He would look at the horse’s body language and how well the jockey, trainer, and groom were interacting with the horse.
Some horseplayers need to see the horses and horsemen. Some horseplayers need to get a feel for the horse by how they are acting and interacting with the other horses and the horsemen.
Weeknights at the Meadowlands meant seeing Bruce the Mathematician. As you would guess from his profession, Bruce was a very logical guy. He relied heavily on his own figures and systems, even when his gut told him they were wrong. He turned a decent profit playing the percentages, much like baseball managers do when they head to the mound to bring in the lefty relief specialist or call for a bunt in with a runner on first with no outs late in the game.
Does any system or figure work all the time? No.
Can a figure or system work under the right conditions to churn out a profit? Yes.
Some horseplayers have mastered the art of playing the percentages, even if they are unbending when they think the selection is suspect. They trust the data.
One project executive at work was intrigued when he heard that I enjoyed playing the races. He wasn’t so intrigued when I started to explain how I come up with my plays. “That’s a lot of work,” he quipped. He went on to explain that he and his wife love to go to the track with a group of friends. They pool their money and based on what everyone picks for that race, they come up with a play on a consensus basis.
This is similar to the approach of many horseplayers that you see at the track with a ripped out page from the local newspaper, the track program, and a printout of Tony the Tout’s picks for the day. They look through and come up with a consensus of who everyone likes and base their wagers off of that information.
This type of horseplayer is there to have fun for the day.
Neil Diamond wrote and recorded “Solitary Man” in 1966. He didn’t care for those who played games behind him. Many horseplayers feel the same way. They prefer to do their handicapping in a vacuum, not influenced by what anyone else has to say about the race.
Some horseplayers I know prefer to look at the past performances before the morning line is assessed. They feel that they may be biased to the lower odds horses when handicapping the race. They don’t care who Tony the Tout or Track Announcer Timmy like. They could care less what our friend Rail Guy says when they are walking by the paddock, by themselves. Don’t expect to engage with him in idle conversation while waiting in the concession line either; he doesn’t want to talk about it.
No two horseplayers approach the races the same way. You can be more than one type of horseplayer like many of those who make their living playing the races. So, what type or types of horseplayer are you?
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.