Handicapping Slumps, and How to Beat Them

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.

Got a question? Got a gripe? Think there’s something I should know? Head to the ‘contact’ section, and send me a message. Like I said, I read everything that gets sent my way.

The Best Advice I Could Give Anyone

A good portion of this blog will revolve around horse racing, with content ranging from analysis and selections to lists, columns, and other fun stuff. However, I don’t want this website to be solely racing-related, as I’ve done a lot of other things that I’m very proud of.

From time to time, I’ll post retrospectives or thoughts on certain things for various reasons. Sometimes, it’ll solely be because I enjoy telling stories. Other times, it’ll be because I have experiences that could possibly benefit someone who’s reading and going through something similar. There may be other motivations behind this stuff that I’m not even aware of yet, but at any rate, this is one of those times where racing takes a back seat.

Every once in a while, I get asked for career advice from people looking to enter horse racing, or broadcasting, or the professional world in general. I think it’s the duty of people being asked to provide the best answer possible in this situation, and that’s not a responsibility I take lightly.

My responses have varied over the years. Now that I’m a little bit older, a little bit wiser (or so I’d like to think), and a little bit more familiar with the way the world works, I’ve finally settled on a two-pronged response to the question, “What advice can you give me?” I’ll analyze both in detail.

1) Bet on yourself.

This sounds really simple, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put faith into your skillset. This goes for pretty much any discipline you can think of. I’m a believer that, if you’re willing to take chances for the opportunities you want, sooner or later, someone WILL take notice.

I gambled on myself in 2013, when, with the help of my parents (Dad and I took turns driving, Mom helped with a necessary car repair before making the trip), I moved cross-country. I knew nobody in Southern California except my boss, I knew nothing about any places to live, and it was downright strange getting accustomed to living 3,000 miles away from where I was born and raised. Well, except the whole “football games start at 10 a.m.” thing, which took zero time to get used to, but I digress.

I won’t go into the myriad of personal or professional reasons why I moved, but doing that opened up as many doors for me as anything I’ve ever done. Personally, my quality of life shot through the roof, due in no small part to one particular person I met shortly after moving west. Professionally, I went from being a local turf writer in a small city to becoming a respected handicapper on a national stage. If I hadn’t been willing to move cross-country and hit the “reset” button on my way of life, none of that would’ve ever happened.

Mind you, I’m not saying it’s wise to pack up and go somewhere on a whim. What I AM saying, though, is to be confident enough in who you are and how you live your life to take chances and do things that advance you to where you want to go. If you’re not satisfied doing what you’re doing, look at what you can control and do something about it.

2) Don’t ever let ANYONE tell you that you’re incapable of doing something.

Okay, gather around, it’s story time.

Back in 2010, after returning from my internship at the 2010 Winter Olympics, I sat down and plotted a course of action into how I was going to get my first-ever real job. My idea was to blast my resume to the athletic departments of every college or university with a Division I program, thinking that, sooner or later, a door was going to open.

We’ll get to the results of that in a bit. I got a myriad of responses to these inquiries, including several very nice messages of, “no thanks,” and a few interviews with some very nice people. By and large, the people who work in college athletics recognize the struggles of breaking into the business, and I was able to learn a lot by doing what I did.

I only got one response that made me question the wisdom of what I was doing. I won’t name the school in question, but I will say it was a major athletic department. I still have the email in my mailbox, in a separate folder off to the side, just in case there are days where I need some encouragement.

“I will be honest with you and tell you that, from my perspective in the radio broadcasting part of the business, your chances of getting your first job out of college on the air broadcasting for a Division 1 level network are nil.”

That hit me pretty hard when I read it seven years ago, and even now, the impact isn’t lost on me. I firmly understand that the writer of those words probably didn’t intend to come off in a negative light, and was probably trying to give a young kid some idea of how the business worked. For better or for worse, though, the words you see italicized have been a driving force in a lot of what I’ve done to this point in my career.

Fast-forward seven months. After searching for the better part of a year (as most 2010 college graduates were, given the economy), I finally landed an opportunity to show someone what I could do in a broadcasting/multimedia environment in exchange for a paycheck.

The place? Siena College. A school with a Division I athletic department, where I had a big hand in broadcasts for soccer, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse.

The writer of that email probably has no idea what I’ve been up to all these years, or how much what he said motivated me (inadvertently or otherwise). If he’s somehow out there reading this: Thanks for what you did for me…even if you didn’t mean to do it.

That concludes the first-ever full-on blog post here on AndrewChampagne.com. It’s a big racing weekend, with two Kentucky Derby preps on tap for Saturday and a mandatory payout in Gulfstream Park’s Rainbow Six set for Sunday. I’ll have a few posts up looking at those cards in the near future.

Until then: If you’ve got a comment, or a suggestion, or a gripe, buzz me by way of this site’s ‘contact’ section, which you can go to by clicking here.