At long last, here is a look at my wagering stats for the 2020 year. I put off putting this out not because of the results (much better than the historically bad 2019) but because of the depths of the information I attempted to track.
My ROI for wagering in 2020 was -4.38%, marking my “best” (always feels funny saying that when I didn’t win) since 2017 when my ROI was -3.44%. My rolling five-year (2016-2020) ROI was -8.63% while my ROI for the decade ended 2020 was -10.12%.
These figures represent raw wagering dollars and do not account for rebates, but they do include (for 2020) contest play (entry fees, live money, etc.).
Unquestionably, the pandemic tracks of Fonner Park and Will Rogers Downs lifted the boat. They represented about 20% of my handle but almost all of my successes. I was ROI positive at both tracks with at least $10,000 in handle at both. My only other profitable tracks in 2020 were Keeneland, Saratoga, and Churchill Downs but only Keeneland was meaningful (i.e. Saratoga and Churchill were profitable on paper only).
On the negative side, Oaklawn and Gulfstream were abominable with ROIs on > $10k in handle of worse than -50%. REALLY BAD!
One final note on the Keeneland success: That was due mostly in part to my first ever live tournament cash—the Grade 1 Gamble at its special July meeting on Blue Grass Day (thank you Art Collector).
That contest success is a good segue to one of the major changes I made in 2020 after that abominable 2019: more win betting and absolutely *NO* place and/or show wagering. I still think exotic wagers offer the most opportunity for the type of score that provides the balance between trying to win and satisfying my gambling jones, but careful analysis of my opinions and the wagers that go with them indicated to me I was too often squandering solid plays trying to fit square pegs into round holes. 2020 was my best win ROI since I started tracking in 2010 (and only time it’s been positive).
The compulsion might be to say, “Why not just bet to win, then?” And that’s a fair question, but I do think if my opinions are good enough to beat the win pool then they’re good enough to beat other pools—it’s just a matter of being judicious with selection of races, pool, etc.
More on the win pool: one thing I started late in 2020 was looking at how horses on my grid did if you bet them blindly. I looked at the following situations:
- ROI flat-betting a lone “A” (-9%)
- ROI flat-betting the longest price in the “A” column (-12%)
- ROI flat-betting the longest price in either column (-4%)
- ROI flat-betting “top pick” (-15%)
It sucks that my top pick has the worst ROI in this situation, but it does illustrate the struggle of making picks without seeing the board. Obviously the third situation is the most interesting. The solid ROI is because there were several instances where I had a 30- or 40-to-1 “B” that won. Being willing to wager on those type of longshots instead of a logical top pick is tough for a lot of people, but based on seven to eight months of data, it’s definitely the right play for the way I handicap.
The other variables I tried to better dissect in 2020 was when/where I handicap/play the races. It was pretty clear that my ROI improved when I was able to interact with a card as it happened. Putting wagers in ahead of time was an absolute disaster. When I handicapped didn’t matter, which makes sense. I feel good about my ability to look at a race and know what the opportunity might be, when to dig in more to find it or confirm it, etc. But rushing wagers to have action and/or “because I handicapped” or “to have something to watch” while doing something else was definitely bad for the bankroll.
That’s an ego thing, unfortunately. Too much worrying about “But what if I’m really right this time?” Not taking the time to structure properly, be aware of scratches/surface changes, etc., is just playing with incomplete information but paying the same rake.
So what’s my path to riches in 2021? I hope I find it because the first half of the year hasn’t been great!