Still Grinding Away? 5 Steps to Reinvent Your Handicapping

By Ray Wallin

In business they tell you that you should reinvent yourself every five years to stay relevant. You don’t want your skillset to become obsolete and your position eliminated. The same is true at the track.

Max Player horse

Max Player – Photo Courtesy of NYRA

There are a million reasons to reinvent your handicapping. The figures or angles that were working for you over the last few years are not as profitable.

Your bread and butter track or circuit may have shut down or reduced the number of days it runs. Your day job is getting in the way and you need to find a better way to maximize your betting opportunities with limited time to handicap.

If you are like my friend Billy the Bookie, it may be because you were “away” from the game for a while. Billy was away for a while where he had no access to betting, but did get three square meals a day and a nice uniform to wear every day.

Regardless of the reason you were away from the game or need to reinvent your handicapping, there are several steps you can take to find your path back to profitability at the races.

1. Determine Your New Path

About a decade ago my own handicapping at Monmouth Park became flat. I was still picking solid contenders and hitting my share of win bets, but I was struggling with exotic wagers.

I would hit the winner, but would miss on my exactas and trifectas which minimized the return on my wagers. I wasn’t doing anything different than I had any other meet.

I had a decision to make. Should I keep plodding along and scratch out a small profit, or should I reassess what my focus was going to be at the track?

My initial feeling was that what I had been doing for years was what I knew and was comfortable with. It had been lining my pockets with cash for years. Maybe this was a bad patch and by staying the course my fortunes would rebound.

They didn’t.

I was still in the black for the meet, but it was a real grind. Finally I resolved to myself that what had worked for me in the past was not working now.

When I looked back over my records, I found that I had successfully picked a winning contender in a high percentage of races. In fact, when I was confident about a race I had a contender among my winners over 75 percent of the time.

This was a game changer. While I was missing exactas and trifectas, I was picking the winning contenders in race after race. After this realization I knew what I had to do. I had to abandon the exactas and trifectas and start playing horizontally. I started playing mostly rolling doubles, pick 3s, and select pick 4s. I started winning.

Your new path may be obvious. It may take a little digging into your records to figure out. Either way, you need to determine what your new path is going to be so you focus on maximizing your efforts to make it successful.

2. Embrace Your Liminal Period

Right now you are scratching your head like our friend Rail Guy staring at a full field of 2-year-old maiden first-time starters trying to figure out what a liminal period is. Simply put, it is a transitional period or phase. It is the time between your past and your soon to be profitable future.

Own it. Embrace it. Use it is an opportunity to improve yourself, integrate everything you have learned in your years at the track, and regain your focus.

Streamline your record keeping. Create a checklist to ensure you touch on every angle or figure when you do your handicapping.

When I was going through my own reinvention I created a summary sheet for each race card I handicapped. Since I was going to focus on horizontal wagers, I had a space to list each contender in each race so I could see if playing the wager had any value or made sense given the likelihood of the low odd contenders. I still use this sheet today to structure my wagers.

3. Get Going

Deciding to reinvent yourself is only half the battle. You also need to actually do something about it.

Cultivate your skills by playing on paper and working out the kinks. Gather or create the resources you need to succeed; par times, worksheets, sire or trainer data. Leverage your relationships with other handicappers, both online or in person, and read books or articles that are relevant to make progress towards your goals.

4. Work Your Network

Fellow handicappers or horsemen can be the source of new information or resources that can help you. Even those that you don’t know very well can be helpful. Don’t be afraid to email an author or online handicapper. Many will have resources they are willing to share. From how they handle one-turn mile races at Gulfstream Park to how they treat beaten lengths when adjusting fractional times or thoughts on pedigree, everyone has an opinion and is usually willing to share their thoughts.

5. Talk About It

Talk about your ideas. Talk about your results. Talk about your theories. Tell anyone who will or won’t listen. Talk Rail Guy’s ear off to the point that he leaves to get away from you.

My wife jokes that I am the cure for insomnia most nights when I get on the topic of discerning who the best late runner is in a field where I know the early pace will implode. Once you put your spouse to sleep, go online and get involved in a Facebook horse racing group or a message forum. Put your thoughts out there and find others that think and wager the same way.

Embrace that you need to reinvent yourself. The folks that make their living playing the races know to do it, so should you. It is the only way that you will stay profitable year after year in the long run. Your bankroll will thank you later.

If you enjoyed this piece, check out other articles at our horse racing news section!

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.