Taking a Deep Dive: 4 Tips to Purge Your Handicapping

By Ray Wallin

Whether it is part of your New Year’s resolution or an annual practice, doing a purge can help clean up parts of your life. I’m not talking about the movie The Purge, where there are 12 hours of no laws, no law enforcement, or governmental services, during which I would be worried if I was Bob Baffert. I’m talking about a day where you do a deep and critical assessment of your handicapping, although your neighbor may be focusing on his garage.

While my neighbors are hauling piles of junk to the curb, I am camped out in front of my computer reviewing and purging my handicapping.

Even though I have been profitable year after year, it pays to do a little clean up at the start of every year. Since I usually have so much accrued vacation time that I end up taking the last week of the year off, I use this time to hone my skills and get ready for the next year of handicapping.

What benefits come from this purge?

You will find that you streamline your handicapping. You are eliminating an underperforming aspect of your approach so you will see an increase in your bankroll. You are eliminating an unnecessary step in your handicapping process which will give you additional time to find more and better betting opportunities.

Horse racing betting slip.

What steps do I follow in my yearly purge?

Set a performance threshold

At the end of every calendar year, I am like an accountant reviewing the books while doing taxes. I look back at all the data I have been tracking to see how well an angle or figure has been performing historically over its useful life as well as over the last 12 months.

To determine whether I will continue using that angle or figure, the first thing I do is to establish an acceptable threshold for performance. Typically, I look for a figure or angle to hit at least 30% of the time or more and show at least a 15% return on investment. Some angles will have a higher percentage or return expected based on anticipated win percentage.

By setting a minimum performance threshold you will maximize your wagered dollar when you find the right betting opportunities.

Identify what is/isn’t working

Once you have a performance threshold in place, you can review how the figure or angle has performed over its history and the last year and decide if it makes the cut for another year.

The decision to eliminate a figure or angle from consideration isn’t necessarily cut and dry. While a figure or angle may not show promise under all conditions, it is worth reviewing the performance under different conditions to see where it may excel.

Several years ago, I created my first speed figure, which was the predecessor to my current pace based speed figures. Overall, the figure performed okay, winning at a 27.58% clip over 4,958 races for a small loss. When I started to look at the performance by surface, distance, and class, I found many areas it showed great results. It turned out that it was much better in dirt allowance and stakes races than claiming or maiden races in both win percentage and return on investment, showing a 30% win rate for a 15% return. I reasoned that this was because horses at these levels run more consistently than lower level claimers and maidens. Had I not taken the time to see under what conditions the figure had success, I would have dropped it from further betting consideration.

Don’t dump the data 

So, you found out that your favorite fifth off the layoff maiden claiming starters on a day that ends in a “y” angle is no longer returning a profit. Do you stop tracking it or delete that sheet from your database?


Back off the ledge and save your data for later. Maybe you will have an epiphany one day in the shower and think of a factor that may make your old trusty angle a winner again.

I keep a file I call the “boneyard.” Here I keep all the angles that I gave up on. Some I still track to gather data with additional factors I didn’t consider earlier. I have gotten into the good practice of tracking more factors for new angles than I need so I don’t have to either go back in time to try to find additional information or spend time building up another round of data to get to a confident sample size.

You never know where and when inspiration will strike. It may be through casual observation where you notice that claimers on the dirt seem to do well with you angle or during your annual purge. Regardless, it is always easier to store and recall than it is to delete and try to repopulate.

Update your resources

If you are like me, you don’t have time to develop and maintain track to track comparisons or sire and trainer data. It is not worth the time I would spend to do that data collection and analysis when compared to what it costs to buy the information.

Get in the habit of regularly buying the information. Use it to update and modify your manual or automated track adjustments for your homemade figures and pace analysis. It is worth the cost in the long run to not need to track all that information yourself.

By doing a focused handicapping purge over the course of a day, your handicapping and horseplaying will not miss a beat. You will improve the betting opportunities you will find over the next 364 days of the year and make progress towards your dream of making your living playing the races. If you get done early in the day, you can start working on your purge on that cabinet of expired food or that garage you have been neglecting.