July 1, 2022

New Year’s resolutions for the horseplayer

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In a New Year’s Day tweet, the satirical @RacingOnion feed nailed it:

“December 31: My New Year’s resolution is I’m gonna really focus and be selective on my bets and only play tracks I follow all the time. January 1:”

Following that text was a picture of a horseplayer staring intently at a nearby screen with a mountain of dead tickets beneath him.

It’s very easy to headfake in the direction of making changes at the start of any New Year. A precious few resolutions stick, while the vast majority fall by the wayside before Punxsutawney Phil pops his head out of the hole.

Despite the challenge, I believe it’s worth it to use this time of the year to prepare for everything to come.

The Best Place to Start

The best place to start is to come up with a goal for the year. At the very ambitious end of the spectrum would be to resolve to become a winning player. I’d estimate that fewer than 1 percent of players are in the black at the end of the year. To win at this game requires a commitment to hard work and discipline that few people possess.

That said, if you want to make a go of it, there’s no better time to start than right now. I’d recommend setting aside a separate bankroll in a dedicated ADW for starters. Your ADW will automate your record keeping and make it possible to monitor your progress in different pools and at different tracks. You won’t want to overreact to small sample sizes, but at the year’s end, you’ll have valuable data that will help your horseplaying going forward.

I suppose in a perfect world, you’d be able to set aside a bankroll for the whole year, but that’s not realistic for a lot of us. With that in mind, if you bust out of your initial stake, feel free to reload and try again – even if it takes you a bit to scratch together a new bankroll. Many professional gamblers talk about the importance of going broke. In gambling terms, going broke isn’t necessarily literal – we’re not talking about lying in the gutter sucking on a bottle of Woolite. Going broke just means blowing a bankroll.

RELATED: Money Management for Winners by Frank Scantoni

It’s a painful experience, but one that I can confirm from personal experience can also be a great teacher. You’ll want to avoid that pain in the future, and it will make you work harder and enforce discipline.

There’s no shame in being a horseplayer who enjoys the game more as a diversion/leisure activity. Plenty of people spend $10,000 or more on season tickets to their favorite team. At the season’s end, they don’t lament that they “lost” $10,000; that was simply money put aside for entertainment. It can also be so in racing. But even for a player who takes a casual attitude toward his or her bankroll, it’s still a good idea to set a goal for the year.

Here are a few ideas:

…resolve to win your way into the National Horseplayers Championship or Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Both are really fun events that deserve a place on horseplayers’ bucket lists and could provide a focus for the year.

You could also resolve to make a major score. The great Andy Beyer was the first person I ever heard say that to succeed in playing the horses in the 21st century requires the making of big scores to win. Current economic conditions make grinding it out day in, day out a near impossibility. I know many professional players, including Mike Maloney, agree with this idea. Maloney, with whom I collaborated on his book Betting With An Edge, manages his money with the idea of having big, big days that pay for the year.

With this in mind, maybe look to spend a significant portion of whatever your allotted bankroll is swinging for the fences. Whether it’s racing’s biggest days or mandatory payout days, there are still some terrific opportunities when it comes to betting horses. This is still one of the only gambling games where you can turn the odds in your favor and have a positive expectation. Let’s resolve take advantage of this.

Another resolution could be to add an element to your handicapping arsenal. An easy way would be trying out a new handicapping product. A really ambitious player could use this time of year to experiment with making his or her own speed figures or taking detailed trip notes.

Speaking of notes, that relates to my resolution for this year. As a horse racing podcaster, a large part of my job involves paying attention to races of the most interest to fans nationally as well as Thoroughbred breeders. That means maiden special weights, allowance races, and stakes at major tracks. Cutting down the number of races I’m looking at allows me to do more note taking.

This is a really good time for the broadcasting of races on a daily basis, from track simulcast feeds and via national broadcasts on Fox and NBC. By listening to both pre-race analysis from the likes of Maggie Wolfendale and others, as well as interviews pre- and post- race with connections, there are many tidbits to be gleaned that can help inform opinions going forward. I noticed plenty of these by osmosis in 2019. In 2020, I want to make it a real project to take note of which 2 year-olds look like they’ll excel on turf and what “plan A” is for various stakes runners.

I encourage readers and listeners to make a few resolutions of your own as we stare at the 12-page calendar for 2020. There’s a lot of great racing ahead of us, and hopefully we can all get started on a winning path.