I Can See Clearly: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Brain Fog While Handicapping

By Ray Wallin

As handicappers our brains get a little foggy from time to time. I’m not talking about a little haze; I am talking about Larry Collmus calling a race in the fog kind of foggy.

We struggle to focus on the next day’s races. Every race seems harder than usual and ends up taking longer than we would like. You feel like you can’t remember anything, you can’t focus, and you struggle to figure how the race will set up. Before you throw in the towel, take a few easy steps to help reduce that brain fog so you can continue picking winners like the folks that make their living playing the races.


#1 Mess Creates Stress

A handicapper sits down at his home office desk to start handicapping. He starts off by clearing away a pile of bills, Junior’s overdue permission slip, and some work they brought home to look at before that big deadline. As they start to dissect the first race, they take the time to fill out that permission slip after looking at the first two entrants. A quick check of the cell phone leads to commenting on a couple of Facebook posts and watching a couple of corny cat videos. Twenty minutes later, their focus returns on the last couple of entrants.

How does this race set up? The handicapper has no clue and decides to pass on that race, having wasted 30 minutes and having no feel for what may have been the best betting opportunity of the day if they had paid attention from the race from start to finish.

Do you have a favorite place to handicap? Is that where you do your best work? Do you have a mess or ton of distractions there?

For me, I love to print out the past performances and sit on my deck on a nice summer afternoon and work through the races. Usually it is me, my resources, my past performances and fresh air. Otherwise, I clear off my home office desk and work there. This means no permissions slips, no work files, and no cell phone. It is me and my past performances. Anything else and I won’t do my best work.

#2 Multitasking Doesn’t Work

We all live busy lives. We rarely have the time to handicap an entire race card every day and still work, play races that day, and have a life. How much attention did you pay to the race at Monmouth Park you are handicapping if you are watching the post parade for Mountaineer while looking at the tote board for the current race at Penn National?

Some days I play evening races. On the days those races are running, I don’t handicap while I am trying to watch and play those races. I know how long I need to assess a race and look for windows of time between the races I plan on playing to turn 100% of my focus from betting to handicapping.

When you multitask, your focus suffers. Commit to completing one task at a time. Place that wager, watch the race, and record your results before you dive into working through a race for the next day.

#3 Don’t Get Comfortable

When I first started handicapping seriously over 30 years ago, I had some great angle plays that worked well. They hit consistently and turned a nice profit. It was a good thing. Actually, it was a great thing until it wasn’t.

The next meet the first few times I came across this great angle it didn’t do well. I figured that it would start hitting and even itself back out. It didn’t.

What happened?

I learned a valuable lesson that summer. Even if you have a winning angle or system, you can’t get comfortable with it. You need to constantly track it, check to see if it is still producing at the same level as in the past, and if there is anyway it can be improved. The nature of the game is always changing, whether it is through new types of race conditions written by racing secretaries trying to fill fields or through different methods used by modern trainers. As handicappers, we need to keep up with it.

#4 Don’t Sit Still

I know we are all busy outside of our handicapping. We have jobs, families, school, and other responsibilities that take precedence over our handicapping. When I have gotten to my busiest and most insane stretches over the last few decades my handicapping has suffered. A couple of 60-hour work weeks with coaching Junior’s soccer team a few nights a week and on the weekend left me with little time to handicap.

As the result of looking at a handful of races a few times a month I found I lacked any sort of consistency and I was making what were stupid mistakes when did my postmortem of those races. Since then, I have adopted a new approach for busy times. I find free PPs and download at least one race a day. I can always find the time to look at one race a day. Maybe instead of mindlessly scrolling through everyone’s “perfect” lives on social media you could look at that minor stakes race on the turf at Santa Anita.

Your brain is like a muscle, it needs to be exercised to perform at its best.

#5 Take a Break

Sometimes in life we find ourselves stretched too thin and on the verge of becoming worn out. Before you mentally hit rock bottom, sometimes you need to take a “vacation” from handicapping. Take some time off to clear your mind from all the thoughts swirling around inside of it.

I have often found that some of my best new handicapping ideas come when I take a two-week break during the off-season of New Jersey thoroughbred racing. I write down the ideas that pop into my head and find that I am ready to handicap again with a renewed interest once my mind is rested

Next time you are in a handicapping fog, take a step back and look to see what you could do to clear your mind. It may be as simple as turning off your phone, picking a one race a day, or taking a break. Once you clear your mind your profits will grow again.