5 Ways Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich Can Improve Your Handicapping

By Ray Wallin

A few years ago, Bloomberg Businessweek writer Ira Boudway wrote the business piece that coach Gregg Popovich would never write. He called it “The Five Pillars of Gregg Popovich.”

As far as NBA coaches go, Gregg Popovich is an anomaly. He has been coaching the San Antonio Spurs since 1996 and has racked up a lot of wins in that span. Most professional sports teams run through coaches like Kleenex, but Popovich’s approach has made him the longest tenured coach in not only the NBA, but all major sports leagues in the United States.

Like a horseplayer who is trying to make a living playing the races, you are only in the game for the long haul like Popovich if you have a recipe for success. Here is how you can use Gregg Popovich’s “pillars” to help your bankroll at the track.

#1 Own Your Luck

For Gregg Popovich to be this successful and turn a losing Spurs team into perennial winners almost overnight it wasn’t all due to his coaching magic. In the 1996-97 season an injured David Robinson would be out for the season and the lowly Spurs would only notch 20 wins. This would allow them to qualify for a higher-level pick in the upcoming draft where they would land one of the greatest power forwards of all time, Tim Duncan. A healthy Robinson coupled with the highly touted Duncan would become the foundation for a perennial winning organization.

As handicappers, some of our greatest scores don’t always come from races that go as planned. As a good handicapping friend of mine likes to say, “not any horse can win, but any horse can get third.” While we short-list a field down to a handful of contenders, you can make a case for a larger number of entrants to have a shot to find their way into your exotic wagers, often at long odds. When they do, those tickets pay well. These horses either take advantage of a shorter-priced horse that didn’t want to run today or that were subject to a troubled trip. Either way, sometimes we “luck” our way into a big win.

Own it when you do.

#2 Do Your Work

Popovich was not an overnight sensation. Before he took over the Spurs, he was the coach for the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens, a Division III college in southern California. Here he managed one winning season and a career winning percentage of 37% in the 1980s but took them from doormats to respectable. He would go on to be an assistant coach until he got another shot at head coaching by naming himself coach in 1996.

Popovich’s hard work and determination only added to his credibility. As handicappers, we need to put in the hours of learning our craft so that when we are presented with the right wagering opportunity, it is time for our hard work to payoff.

#3 Unleash Your Anger

Popovich is known to be a vicious head coach. He would rip his team apart after a win using what was described as “nasty and blistering” language. Yet Popovich was always under control. He used his anger strategically to rally and motivate his team.

As handicappers it is good to unleash your anger from time to time. I’m not suggesting that you punch our good friend Rail Guy in the face when you see him at the paddock before the next race, but you can’t let a day of bad beats, losing inquiries, and troubled trips build up inside of you. Sometimes you need to vent to get it out of your system and keep your head in the game.

#4 Widen Your World

Popovich is a bit of a renaissance man. He is a renowned wine connoisseur and an avid reader. Being well rounded off the court helps to give him perspective and provides common ground for him and his players.

As handicappers it is important to handicap the tracks that ship into your favorite circuit. It is important to try race types or surfaces that you don’t normally handicap.


It gives you a different perspective on how pace might work differently in a one-turn mile versus a two-turn mile. You can see the difference in the training patterns of stakes horses versus cheap weeknight claimers. You will see the impact of outside posts at bullring tracks.

All the situations that differ from your usual handicapping provide you with a different perspective of how these races set up and are run. At some point you will encounter a horse shipping in from Aqueduct after running a one-turn mile and now trying two turns for the first time. By having been exposed to this in the past you’ll know how to approach the race and accommodate the difference in your handicapping.

#5 Know Your People

Popovich is unlike many other coaches. He sees his players as individuals and not X’s and O’s on a chalkboard. He gets to know them each and what makes them tick. He cares for them and their well-being.

Handicappers need to do the same thing. The horses and horsemen’s names we see every race in the past performances are not names on a page. They are horses and people who have quirks, routines, and are all to some degree predictable. A handicapper that doesn’t know what races a local trainer is best at winning is going to have a hard time making a profit. The handicapper who doesn’t know which jockeys on the circuit win more than their fair share of turf races or can’t win to save their life on the grass will struggle mightily meet after meet.

Take the time to see who excels at what and take a couple of notes. Your bankroll will thank you later.

While we’ll never be the next Gregg Popovich we can at least emulate some of the things that have made him a success. By putting in the effort, knowing your circuit, and with a little bit of luck you’ll be rolling in the profits at the track.