How to approach handicapping the races you choose to play

How to approach handicapping the races you choose to play

March 31, 2019

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by Frank Cotolo

Bettors Banquet (BB) recently emphasized the bettor’s need to carefully choose the races he or she will wager upon. Let’s say you get it and lately you have started to pass races that you may usually have bet upon. Maybe you have already cut the number of races you play by 25 per cent? Or more? It is a good start to recognize your downsizing of playable races; it is a big step to making profits betting pari-mutuels.

Remember, the most important thing about taking that first step — there is no turning back; you must continue to conservatively choose races to play, fiercely tossing out more and more.

In my early years of wagering, a stranger approached me on the apron of Roosevelt Raceway as I tore losing tickets to shreds. He said, “Most races are unplayable.” Then he walked away.

It took me a few years to understand that undeniable truth because it raised other questions. First, which races are playable? Second, is there a special way to play the races that are playable?

I knew, no matter how confident I could be about playing any specific race, I could lose that one as well as any I may choose. How do I pick a race to play, then? The answers will be available where BB takes your pari-mutuel profit-making journey next.

There are sound answers but we warn you, they contradict every way you most likely work to win presently, and although they do not guarantee you will win more or ever again, these answers provide a bettor with advantageous probabilities to accomplish the main goal of playing for profit.

From this moment on, put your head, not your heart, into all that follows in BB columns. Do not rationalize. Fight your ego, your need for “gambling action,” all hunches you may believe motivate you; and peer pressures and join the ranks of the few professional pari-mutuel players that make gambling on anything more than a pastime.

Let us approach it using the main steps in the big picture. The common bettor begins his or her pari-mutuel experience by handicapping races. Before he or she looks at one piece of information in the program past performance (PP) lines, that handicapper has a single purpose in mind: pick a winner from said group in said race.

That handicapper is then doomed. Handicapping is not the process of picking winners. Handicapping is a process of evaluating each contestant in a race. The evaluations are subjective; however, they become objective when betting is not the reason for doing it. To measure PPs in search of a winner means betting is on your mind. Shut it down, because handicapping to pick a winner is the most damaging act for a bettor’s ability to make a profit.

For this example, as usual, we turn to our two fictional bettors, Delaney and Ollie.

Delaney stares at the PPs for the horses in Race 1 at Western Fair. One by one, he puts a thick black line through the name of each horse he does not think can win. In a field of eight, let’s say, he finds three horses he spares the black line. Then, he compares them to one another, ignoring those he crossed out. One of his contenders will be his chosen as a win bet. Another will be his second choice and the other his third choice. He moves on to Race 2.

Ollie peruses the contestants in Race 1 at Western Fair without any intention of betting on it. He looks through the data of each horse before he puts so much as a pen dot on a PP. Ollie considers each horse’s chance to win Race 1. Ollie does not do this on the cuff; Ollie uses math.

Ollie asks himself the same question about each horse in the eight-horse field: “If this race were run 100 times, how many times would each of these horses win?”

Meanwhile, Delaney is already working on Race 4 (he has no intention of passing races 1 through 3, in which he has found bets).

Ollie takes his time and “measures,” in his own estimation, each horse’s chance to win Race 1. Ollie then assigns odds (chances) for each horse in the field — which is the definition of “handicapping.”

Delaney does not know how to truly handicap. Delaney selects winners per race — however he does that (more about specific handicapping elements comes later in BB).

Ollie handicaps correctly with no thought of betting and he handicaps knowing he may not bet that race at all, anyway. It is not that Delaney is bad at math; he is simply fixed on old school handicapping, which, because it leans on the wagering aspect, will take him down a path of playing too many races and winning too little as well as losing too much.

… to be continued.

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