8 Traits of Great Horseplayers

By Ray Wallin

Horses at Tampa Bay Downs (Photo by www.TampaBay.com)

In the past I have talked about the traits of losing horseplayers, but this time we’ll talk about the traits of great horseplayers. So, whether you are a casual horseplayer or you make your money from playing the races, it’s time to see how many of these traits you have.

#1 Be Passionate

Like the old adage says, “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” If you are going to be a successful horseplayer you need to enjoy not only the betting and handicapping aspects of horse racing, but the sport as a whole.

While I do know a few individuals that only play what their computer spits out, most of the serious players I know are fans of the game. Even Rail Guy has a soft spot for his favorite Travers finishes or will tell you about the time he saw “da greatest hoss of all time, dat Secretariat” run in the Garden State Futurity at the old Garden State Park.

If you aren’t enjoying the process of handicapping and watching the races, you shouldn’t be doing it. If it feels like a job, you’ll never enjoy it or feel the passion for the game.

#2 Be Supportive

Great horseplayers are open to talking to both track veterans and less experienced horseplayers. They are good sounding boards for ideas that others may have since they may have had some of same ideas themselves. They know that engaging a new generation of horseplayers is good for the game, even if it takes them a while to find their way to profitability.

They say that “misery loves company,” but I think you’ll find that if you and Rail Guy both miss the winner, you can probably figure why if you talk about it for a few minutes.

#3 Be Practical

Great horseplayers get things done. They are organized and efficient about their handicapping and betting. They know what works and doesn’t work. They triage a race card and focus on where they know their greatest opportunities lie in a day of races.

How often have you dwelled on a specific race for half an hour and you still have a low confidence level in your contenders? You figure that if you spent this much time on a race you need to come up with some sort of play, right?

Wrong. Great handicappers avoid chasing a bet that isn’t there. At some point you need to figure that the race is unplayable and move on. When you try to force action, how often does that end up as a loser?

Time to move on.

#4 Be Confident

There is a fine line between confidence, insecurity, and arrogance. If a horseplayer is insecure, they will bet with scared money or on races where their confidence is low, and the risk is high. If a horseplayer is arrogant, they will miss a key factor that would change their opinion of the race.

I use the 90% rule. Only play the race if you are 90% confident about it. This eliminates the insecure races. I run multiple pace scenarios as a “what-if” analysis to avoid letting me be biased in my contender selection or predicting the probable pace scenario.

#5 Be Curious

A great horseplayer is always curious. Curious about whether there is a better way to handicap or way to wager. They are constantly reading new handicapping books and tracking their angles or figures to see if their handicapping method is still relevant in this ever changing game. Great horseplayers are continuously learning about the game and continue to grow.

The game is changing, and great horseplayers change with it. Racing secretaries have gotten craftier with conditioned claiming races, allowance optional claiming conditions, and the maiden optional claiming race has

continued to be popular at certain venues. These are conditions that weren’t that widespread 25 years ago.

#6 Be Solution Oriented

Great handicappers look to turn problems into opportunities, turn their weaknesses into strengths, and find a way where there is seemingly nowhere to go.

A great way to test your handicapping ideas is to do a premortem. After you handicap a race and come up with your pace scenario and contenders, try to figure out how you could get beat. This will help you to identify your weaknesses without the bias of the results of the race. It is always easier to look back after the fact and make a case for why something happened than to anticipate it happening!

#7 Be Collaborative

A horseplayer doesn’t become great in a vacuum. I can guarantee that every handicapping idea or method you have wasn’t developed from scratch. You have used a speed figure or rating developed by someone else in your handicapping. There is no shame in bouncing ideas off of other horseplayers.

Who knows, maybe they’ll tell you something that is the missing piece of information to what will make you more profitable?

#8 Be Empathetic

Great horseplayers rejoice in the success of others even when having a bad day. They aspire to do the same or better instead of being jealous. They also know when others have a bad day to be kind and encouraging. Our fortune can change in an instant. We have all been a photo finish away from a bad beat or heard the three little words that made our day great! It is better to be on the good side of the karma bus!

At the end of the day you are in this game because you love racing and you are trying to make a profit. Good horseplayers may turn a profit, but great horseplayers make a profit and support the livelihood of the sport of racing.

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.