Avoid the Deus Ex Machina

(Photo via Hazel Park Raceway.)

(Photo via Hazel Park Raceway.)

Deus ex machina.

I know what you are thinking. And, no, this is not the latest Southern California three-year-old to hit the Derby Trail for Bob Baffert.

Simply put, deus ex machina is Latin for “god from the machine.” Aristotle is said to have used the Greek equivalent of this term first. It is a plot device in theater where a problem that appears to have no solution is suddenly resolved through the intervention of a new character, event, or object — as if the gods had intervened to rectify the situation.

Many horseplayers I know fall victim to trying to find their own “deus ex machina” at the end of a lackluster day at the track.

How many times have you seen someone at the end of a losing day go “all-in” on the final race of the day? After a full card of disappointment and bad choices, they make one more. They load up on exotic wagers and longshots that have no business stepping on the track in the hopes that one big score will save the day.

One gentleman in my past sticks out in my mind. Many years ago, when I graced the old Meadowlands grandstand a few nights each week, my friend Walter and I often got to spend time with Fernando.

Fernando had the look of a disheveled professor. He was late-50ish, balding with a poor attempt at a comb-over. By the time we arrived at the track to simulcast the end of Golden Gate or Santa Anita, Fernando had often already had a lousy day.

We were brought up to speed on how much money he lost. Fernando had a different definition of the money he lost. If he didn’t hit a particular exotic wager, he claimed to have lost the value of the payout. Many days we got to hear how he lost in excess of tens of thousands of dollars. In actuality, he had “not won” those wagers. Yet, he seemed to be the unluckiest man alive.

While we were getting ready for the live racing to start at the Meadowlands, he would be on his last race of the day. No bet was safe from his wagering. Exactas, trifectas, and superfectas would see at least $500 or more thrown into the pool in the hopes that a longshot would save his day. More times than not, he then claimed to have lost those payouts too.

Don’t be Fernando.

You can’t chase longshots that aren’t the result of your own sound handicapping. At that point it is sunk cost. You are throwing good money after bad with no real chance to recoup your losses. Forget trying to make a living playing the races, you’ll never get out of the red!

What can we learn from guys like Fernando?

Go into the day with a plan. Stick with it. Know when things aren’t going your way and just like Kenny Rogers sings in “The Gambler”, you’ve “got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” If you are down late, swinging for the fences is not the answer. Low-percentage plays don’t work out that well in the long-run. Go with what you know!

Avoid the deus ex machina!

Ray Wallin
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 ray.wallin@live.com.