4 Ways to Build Your Handicapping Mental Strength

By Ray Wallin

If two handicappers have the exact same skills, what makes one more successful than the other? Being mentally strong.

Can an individual be born mentally strong? Absolutely, yet anyone can learn and strive to improve their mental strength – both in life and at the track. Here are a few ways that you can build your handicapping mental strength.

  1. Tolerate The Discomfort Of Losing

Different handicappers have different ways of dealing with the discomfort of losing. Some throw a temper tantrum at the track, hitting monitors, knocking over garbage cans, and yelling at anyone or anything in their path. Others turn to bad vices which lead them right down a self-destructive rabbit hole through drinking, drugs, or wagering more money to try to win their way back to even.

When handicappers lose they start to question their handicapping. When they are having a bad run and losing, they will often look for shortcuts to get their contenders rather than go through their established process. They figure what they are doing isn’t working so they’ll try something else. How does that work out for them in the long run?

Mentally strong handicappers know to trust their system and that winning in the long term at the track is a marathon, not a sprint. Even those who make their living playing the races have a losing day once in a while. The difference between them and the guy who can’t stand losing is that they don’t lose their cool and stick with their handicapping. By being able to tolerate short term losses, the mentally strong handicapper comes out ahead in the long run.

  1. Reframe Your Negative Thoughts

During my many nights spent on the second floor of the old Meadowlands grandstand with my friend Walter, we would hang out with a guy named Fernando. Fernando would place his bets and anxiously stand in front of the simulcast monitors. The race would go off and Fernando would get more and more animated as the race progressed which usually culminated with the use of the “f-word” as almost every word of his final outburst.

Beet red and with a vein bulging out of his forehead he would stop by Walter and U on his way back to his table to show us his losing tickets. “See here, I lose $2,500 on this one and another $750 on this one,” he would say emphatically before he tore the tickets up and tossed them in the air.

This was a ritual we grew to expect race after race, night after night. The problem wasn’t that he lost the winnings of the wager he showed us, but more so that he didn’t win that bet.

There was also a bigger problem than losing that bet. He didn’t reframe the negative thought of the payout he didn’t get into learning what part of handicapping the race he didn’t get right. Did he miss out on that frontrunner who took the field wire to wire? Did he miss out on hidden form or a sneaky class drop?

How would Fernando ever know if all he thought about was how much he didn’t win? Don’t view every losing wager as a loss, use it as an opportunity to learn and to make your handicapping better.

  1. Look For Explanations, Not Excuses

After every race our good friend Rail Guy waddles back to the Monmouth Park paddock with his program tucked under his arm. He will tell anyone that will (and won’t) listen what happened in the last race. “Dat bum bug shouldn’t be ridin’ da carousel outside da grocery store he’s so bad, did ya see da way got himself stuck on da rail?”

Rail Guy has an excuse for every race. One race is was the jockey’s fault. The next race the racing stewards are all blind. After that Top Trainer Tommy is apparently doping his horses.

Are any of these excuses helpful?

Not at all.

Take a look at the chart and the replay. Did the horse encounter unavoidable traffic? Did you miss the early speed the horse showed in his last sprint start six back before spending time on the grass and going around two turns? Did the winner have a class advantage given the racing secretary’s crafty condition writing? Did your horse look like crap in the paddock?

By finding explanations rather than excuses, you will improve and hone your handicapping for the next time you run into that scenario.

  1. Use The 10-Minute Rule

How long do you spend handicapping a race?

Ask 100 handicappers the following question and you’ll get 100 different answers, but you’ll find that most spend somewhere between five and 10 minutes. Some races have smaller fields that require less assessment of an individual horse, but the pace may not be obvious. Some larger fields take a while to assess each horse, but the pace jumps off the past performances.

We all end up with that intriguing race. The one you can’t figure out. You toy with several different scenarios and can’t seem to land on one. By the time you select your contenders in a race you don’t feel confident about you realize almost half an hour has gone by. You spent half an hour on a race you don’t feel confident playing instead of moving on to the next race which could be a better opportunity.

How can you prevent this from happening?

Use the 10-minute rule. If after 10 minutes you don’t have a good feel for the race and can’t confidently select your contenders, it is time to move on to a better opportunity. This will eliminate any frustration you have over that race and prevent you from wasting more time then you feel obligated to spend on a race that you feel you have already poured so much of yourself into.

After 10 minutes, if nothing is there, move on.

Some handicappers are born with it and others develop it over the course of time. Regardless, you need to work to be mentally strong in your handicapping. This will make a marginal handicapper a good handicapper, and a good handicapper a great handicapper.