Once, on a beach in Seattle — yeah, they actually have beaches there… or at least they used to, they might all be Starbucks now — I tried to enjoy a day in the sun. I say “tried” because, as is often the case in the Emerald City, the sun was playing hard to get — ducking behind drifting clouds at maddeningly regular intervals (you can do that when you’re the center of the universe). And a funny thing happened whenever it disappeared: everybody that was sunbathing suddenly sat up and looked around, like groundhogs searching for… well, whatever it is that groundhogs search for.
It was surreal.
A similar type of thing often happens at the racetrack, when, following a surprising result, horseplayers en masse reach for their past performances like earplugs at a taping of The View. Some are seeking an excuse; others, knowledge; and still others, a brief respite from the guy yelling, “What did I tell you? I knew that horse was gonna win. He looked fantastic… I should’ve bet him!”
Many times this post-race analysis does, in fact, lead to a greater understanding of the race in question — perhaps a past effort suggesting hidden talent or a missed workout indicating improved form. But just as often, I fear, such post-mortems only create greater confusion or, worse, a belief that the result was a fluke or in some way pre-determined, i.e. “fixed.”
Hence, while I believe that players should always try to learn from their mistakes, I also think that handicappers must be careful not to overanalyze their failures to the point that they impair their ability to make decisions in the future.