How to Become a Better Bettor

I hate excuses.

In fact, one of the things that makes playing the races so appealing to me is that bad luck is irrelevant. Sure, one can whine and complain that their horse missed the break, that they got a bad ride or — my personal favorite — that the track was playing to speed (note: most tracks do) but, in the end, showing a profit is all that matters.

In the words of Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Sadly, not many horseplayers share Lombardi’s view, it would seem. Instead, many seek solace in excuses.

After Giacomo won the 2005 Kentucky Derby, all I heard from losing bettors was that his victory was a “fluke,” the product of a blistering pace. The refrain following Mine That Bird’s Derby victory four years later was eerily similar.

OK, let’s assume that these post-race opinions were correct — Giacomo and Mine That Bird were simply lucky. How much money does such an acknowledgement put in one’s pocket? How much does one learn by adopting such a stance?

Look, I understand that misery loves company (how else does one explain Seattle sports fans like myself?), but commiserating with others over a seemingly inexplicable result is just a waste of time and, sadly, a great weakness of far too many bettors.

Albert Einstein once noted that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Well, I don’t think he’s rolling bones to determine the results of horse races either. Only by assuming that there is an order to the Sport of Kings, can one hope to become a better — rather than a bitter — bettor. Remember, horses aren’t machines. Poor horses, mediocre horses, great horses — at some point, they all lose races they are expected to win.

Despite capturing the Triple Crown and setting four track and three world records in 1973, Secretariat lost three times that year — to Angle Light at odds of 1-5, Onion at 1-9 and Prove Out at 1-5.

The combined lifetime record of those “great” animals was 28 wins from 114 starts.

Hardly the stuff of legends.

It’s a tired axiom, but beating the races isn’t about betting the best horse, it’s about betting the best horse at the best price… and always striving to be a better bettor.

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.