Some of you who have visited my new site have been nice enough to write in through the ‘contact’ feature. I read every message I get, and one I got Monday resonated with me in a very particular way.
It was from Ed in New Mexico. Ed is a handicapper (and by all indications, a very nice guy!) who admitted he seemed to be in a rut, and he asked me if there was anything I could recommend to get him out of it.
It takes a lot of guts to admit you’re in a slump, and it also takes strength to reach out and ask for advice. That isn’t something everyone does. As such, this blog post is intended to serve as my two cents on slump-busting, and hopefully, horseplayers out there can take something from it.
My take on slumps is this: It’s not if you’re losing, or even how much money you’re losing (although one should certainly bet within his/her financial means at all times). More than anything (to me, at least!), what’s important is HOW your bets are losing. That makes all the difference in the world, and if you can correctly diagnose the problem, then chances are you’ll have taken a big step towards future handicapping success.
The first thing I suggest is to study your bets, relive your philosophy, and see where things went wrong. Go into your betting archives (every ADW website has them), watch replays of races you’ve bet on, and take yourself through why you made the bets you placed.
If you consider yourself a skilled handicapper, there’s a reasonable chance that, a sizable percentage of time, your pre-race opinion will actually be closer to what happened than you’d like to admit. Maybe you thought a horse would get loose on the lead, and it did, only to get run down. Perhaps you thought a race would set up for a closer, and it did, but you bet the wrong late-running horse. Alternatively, from a betting standpoint, maybe your three-horse exacta box ran 1-3-4, maybe the longshot you put a win-place bet on ran very well, only to finish third, or maybe your Pick Four ticket went 3-for-4.
If any of this sounds familiar, I’ve got good news for you: That’s just racing luck. You aren’t doing as much wrong as a profit/loss sheet will show you, and you’re not seeing the ball badly. It’s the horse racing equivalent of a baseball player getting ahold of a fastball and crushing it, but it going to the deepest part of the playing field and getting caught, or getting lined right at a defensive player. The stats only show it as an out, and it looks the same as a weak ground ball to the pitcher, but the hitter did a lot right that the stat sheet won’t show.
Once you clear that mental hurdle, look at the horses you’ve bet on. Did they fall victim to track biases? Are you overvaluing certain connections or angles that aren’t as profitable as they’ve been in the past? Is there one condition or route of ground where your ROI really suffers? Handicapping is like anything else in life in this respect: The more homework you do, the more prepared you’ll be for success moving forward.
If it turns out you’re off by a considerable margin, look at the horses that do well at certain tracks, class levels, and routes of ground. What trends do you see? How does this go against your handicapping? Is there a measure you can take to tweak your approach to those races, and are there races you should skip because you’re not confident enough to bet them consistently? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the tough questions. Often, answering them will make you a better, more profitable horseplayer.
I made a baseball reference earlier, and there’s another comparison between sports that needs to be made. Baseball players and handicappers both tend to fail similar amounts of time. Good handicappers strive for about 30% winners as far as win-only selections are concerned, and good baseball players strive to hit .300. The important thing to remember is that a 30% success rate means a 70% failure rate. If you fancy yourself a serious handicapper, you must come to terms with the fact that you are going to be wrong most of the time in some way, shape, or form.
What’s important is not how often you fail, but how you apply what you know every time you look at a race, go to a betting window, or fire up your ADW account. If you get knocked out of a Pick Four sequence early, and realize you’re seeing the ball well and have confidence in your selections, jump back in with a double or a Pick Three. If your top picks are running second and third consistently, box exactas rather than keying that 10-1 horse you think can win. If you know you’re not having a good day and you see your handicapping is all over the place, relax, find something else to do, and regroup once you can re-examine where things went amiss. This game is a marathon, not a sprint, and gambling opportunities are plentiful every single day.
Not everyone wants to shine a light on where things went wrong. However, doing that, and seeing where, why, and how certain bets may have gone haywire, is something I’ve found key to busting out of slumps. It’s a confidence-booster if the horses you like run well, and it’s an instructional tool if your approach needs refinement. Ed: Hopefully, that answers your question.