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Handicapping 301: Know Yourself

Handicapping 301: Know Yourself

I was a losing player for years.

Sure, I’d have streaks where I would get hot and win for a month, but it would always eventually spiral downhill. Every time I’d hit, I’d end up giving it back – and then some – because I’d start betting a little more than I did before my big score. Additionally, I’d play more types of wagers then I normally did because I had the money in my account.

That all changed 12 months ago, right at the start of the 2017 Saratoga meet, which is when I decided to take betting horses more seriously. Simply put, I loved it and wanted to afford to continue to do it. I had no idea that I could be profitable; I just wanted to break even, and I enjoyed trying to solve the puzzle better than the guy next to me.

I’m a math guy, so I created a spreadsheet and tracked every bet that I made at every track over a four-month period. The results where astonishing. I was profitable in three bet types – Pick 4s, Pick 5s, and $0.20 Pick 6s – but I was a losing player in every other type. My problem was that close to 75% of my bets were on trifectas and superfectas because those were offered every race, so I was losing around 10% of my bankroll each month. Fast forward to present day, and Pick 4s, Pick 5s, and $0.20 Pick 6s now make up close to 70% of my wagers, and I’m up around 20% over my bankroll each month.

What changed? Simple: I figured out what I was good at.

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My strength is picking winners.  Who’s coming in second, third, and fourth … not so much. Handicapping for multi-race wagers takes a completely different mindset than it does for single-race, multi-horse wagers. A speed horse that quits every time but can hold second or third should never be used in a multi-race wager, yet it’s very important when playing superfectas and trifectas. I’m better at picking longshots that can win, not run third.

Think of your best days at the track. Did you cash a couple of Pick 3s? Were you betting to win? Did you nail three tris? When you look back, try to find a common thread.

If you’re honest with yourself, you probably already know the areas where you are a winning or a losing player. If you aren’t sure, then track your bets over the next seven days that you play. You’ll quickly see where you’re making money and where you’re giving it back.

Once you identify where you’re profitable, then you will know your skill set. This is when the discipline to only bet that type of wager must kick in and you lock in on a style.

Mine sucked for years! I would hinge all of my bets on specific combinations and have them multiple times. I would often have an exacta or trifecta three or more times, which would make for a big score if it hit, but if one thing went wrong, then I’d lose it all. Often, I’d key on the favorite and bet every race. Betting the favorite can be profitable if you’re very selective, but I wasn’t, and favorites only win about 30 percent of the time in U.S. races. Also, favorites are the most heavily-singled selections in in multi-race wagers, thus returning the lowest value. To be profitable, you need to key on horses race after race after race after race. That being said, you’ll never hit a $1,000 Pick 4 playing four favorites. Generally, your max payout is going to be $100, and with favorites losing 70% of the time, that is not a long-term winning strategy.

One of the keys to my profitability is picking the right Pick 4 pools to play.

I’ve since adjusted to playing just a single ticket and put all of my budget for a sequence into one ticket. Short-term, it’s the largest risk. If you’re betting $100 into a Pick 4, hit it for $0.50, and only return $40, then it’s no fun at all, but it also gives you the opportunity to return more than $10,000, which is near impossible when using the “hammer” strategy documented above.

I don’t have the patience to continually pass on Pick 4-6 sequences until I have the perfect setup. That means that I need pools of at least $1,000 in Pick 4s and $5,000 in Pick 5s so that I can bet $50-100 P­­ick 4s and $100-200 Pick 5s.

The important thing to note is that my race/bet selection represents 90% of regular horse players. If you go to the track, then you’re betting. If you love Saratoga, then you’re playing every Saratoga Pick 4. This makes it even more important to have the discipline to only focus on bets that you are good at!

So once again, look inward. Are you able to pass on race after race, or do you want to have a horse every time the gate springs? If you’re selective, then you can be profitable hammering chalk since you’re passing on bad favorites. If you’re like me and play every chance that you get, then you must look past the obvious picks and find prices that will keep you even or make you profitable.

The core of what I am getting at is that there isn’t one profitable style for everyone, but everyone has one style that will allow them to be profitable. The key is finding your own style and having the discipline to stick to it.

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