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Track Tracts

If You're Not Handicapping Yourself, 
You're Handicapping Yourself

by Gordon Pine

If you want to make money at the track, handicapping yourself is more important than handicapping the horses. (Oh boy � I�ll get letters about this one.) Handicapping is a filtering process � in essence, handicapping means choosing a subset of all possible bets. Your justification for your subset might be pace, speed, trainers, pedigree, whatever. Everybody�s subset is different, as everybody�s handicapping is different. (A woman handicapper I knew seemed to do pretty well by betting on horses whose saddle cloths complemented the jockey�s colors nicely.) But whatever your subset is, if there�s any logic behind it, it�s very possible that you�re already a winning handicapper in certain areas and aren�t even aware of it. I�m not saying that handicapping the ponies is unimportant. I�m just saying we�ve overemphasized handicapping them and under-emphasized handicapping ourselves.

Let me deal with real world examples. June was a pretty good handicapping month for me. I have three main methods I�m using now. The first involves betting my top horse in a race if it�s overlaid. Looking at all the bets that qualify, I had 12% wins at average odds of 7.7/1, with a flat ROI of 1.04. However, it�s my policy to only bet with real money the most profitable subcategories of each handicapping method. For this method, the profitable subcategories changed somewhat during the month, but usually consisted of 3+Up Female races. My real bets for this method had these stats: 23% wins at average odds of 7.2/1, with a flat ROI of 1.84.

My second method involves betting one or more longshots in a qualifying race. All qualifying bets for the month generated an 11% bet win percentage and a 19% race win percentage at average odds of 8.1/1 for a flat ROI of 1.03. My real bets, which were restricted to my most profitable subcategories, generated stats of 13% bet win percentage and a 22% race win percentage at average odds of 7.5/1 for a flat ROI of 1.14.

My third method, which involves betting underlays at certain tracks, showed for all qualifying races 41% wins at average odds of 1.6/1 for a flat ROI of 1.07. I don�t have enough of a sample for this method to make many real bets: I made only three this month, won one, and lost a little money so far on this method. But my profitable subcategories for my "imaginary" bets indicate that I may be looking at a 1.20 or greater ROI for this method once my sample gets larger.

My point is, I�ve worked hard for years to get to the point where my methods are flat-bet profitable (and hopefully will remain so). My main method showed a 4% profit in June. But by betting only in my best profit centers, I made about 60% more profit than I would have, while betting only about 25% of the qualifying races.  I was able to increase the 4% profit rate by more than 20 times just by keeping and following my betting records. Did anyone read that last sentence? Hello? We search high and low for handicapping secrets, when the main secret is handicapping ourselves.

"Did anyone read that last sentence? Hello?"

Playing the devil�s advocate, you could take pretty much any sample of bets, divide it into a bunch of subcategories, and after-the-fact, you�d have certain very profitable ones. But the type of delving into your own betting records which I�m talking about differs from that kind of data mining. For one thing, the stats that I quoted were not based on subcategories rated after-the-fact. These subcategories were chosen before-the-fact. Also, profitable betting subcategories don�t seem to change that much over time, whereas random data-mining subcategories change constantly.

Keeping track of your bets is no fun.  Nobody wants to do this accounting work. Even with good software, it takes time to enter and analyze your bets. Serious handicappers are a romantic bunch. We�re like hunters entering the antediluvian forest, us against the world, facing nearly insurmountable odds but confident that we�ll face lions and tigers and bears and still come home with the bacon. (Someone call the mixed-metaphor police.) That�s why handicapping is mainly a guy thing. It resonates with our primeval-hunter natures. If we wanted to be accountants, we�d be accountants. We�re horseplayers, handicappers, the last romantics. But isn�t it ironic that the one thing that can help us the most is the last thing that most of us want to do?  NC

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