I am pretty sure Yogi Berra was talking baseball when he said “90% of this game is half mental.” I always understood Yogi and had a similar way of thinking. In racing 90% of this game is at least 50% knowing how to bet. Handicapping is unquestionably vital, but if you do not know how to bet and structure wagers effectively and efficiently, you will get swallowed as fast as a horse who goes 44 to the half in a mile and a quarter race.
I have written about my philosophy, which I often call a kill-shot, many times. I have bet the way I do now for a long time, but it also took me a long time to develop both the strategy and discipline it requires. While it may not be the only way to beat the game today, I am certain it is as good as any. The possible exception is those who play for rebates and by computer programs that cannibalize pools at everyone else’s expense.
Today I will share my outlook for those who may wish to consider it at times, or even as a matter of practice as I do. Keeping in mind, I think all who play should play to win, and you should do what works for you, especially if you are beating the game which is truly the only benchmark.
In pari-mutual wagering we are not playing against the house, as we do in say a casino. We are playing against each other, the take-out, the intangibles, and the computer syndicates I referenced earlier in this article. They are out there and have their hands or keyboards in not only the racetracks pockets, but all of ours as well. In a future Past the Wire article or broadcast I am going to talk more about “them” and how to beat “them” at their game. Does anyone who follows me think I would not at some point deal with that? Not if you know me, but that is for another day.
Keeping in mind this is indeed a skill game that has intangibles and luck, that we even out with odds and value. You have to have a solid game plan and stick with it to enjoy long term success. If you are hap hazard and fluctuate your approach, beating the game is next to impossible and you turn a game of skill into a game of chance. We all have seen that movie and know the ending.
Kill-shot wagering and the philosophy behind it goes against human nature and that makes it hard for most to employ. Most players want to cash as many tickets as possible and use as many horses they can afford to insure they do. I have come to learn that is a mistake and flawed approach in the long run. I want to make as few losing wagers as possible, minimizing my losses, and make it count or maximize my winnings when I am right. For example, I never box an exacta. Never. A three horse $1 exacta box costs $6. You start with in the hole with: the take-out, your expenses, the computer syndicates, and with 5 losing wagers. That is a lot to go in your red column. I would play one horse I like best over the other two. I will cash less, but win more, when I am right. That is what counts over time. The more you put in the red column, the more you have to dig out. So, while human nature is to cash as many tickets as you can by playing as many horses and combinations as you can afford, it is not the best road to long term success in the Sport of Kings. Additionally, if you go for the kill-shot and your budget for the exacta was $6, now you have the number for $3 instead of $1. Cash less, win more.
This style works well with every bet with the possible exception of the Pick 6. That is a whole different animal. In pick 4’s and 5’s however it does apply at least for me. As opposed to taking a multi-race wager for 50 cents, I will always have one or two short races or singles to allow me, within my budget, to have the sequence multiple times when I am right. If you can be good enough to be right 20-25% of the time and are not afraid of the board, you are in the game big time.
I have watched and studied racing long enough to know you can handicap for the winner, and even the second horse, but nobody can handicap for third, fourth or especially fifth. Nobody. There are way too many factors that influence those, placings, not the least of which is riders wrapping up when they know they can’t win. It happens daily. You can eliminate horses from all the meaningful placings, thus not needing the all button every time you play a triple or superfecta, but even that can be risky. I like to turn triples and superfectas into exactas. I will take one horse over two horses, and then take all in the third slot and in the fourth slot as well if it is a superfecta. If I am right and hit the exacta, I know I have the triple and superfecta. I won’t cash them as many times as some others might, but I am not in to cash the most tickets, I am in to win the most money.
What works for you is what I think you should do if you are coming out ahead, where you want to be at the end of the year or meet. If not, maybe try going for the kill-shot. If you can maintain the discipline and stick to it, I am confidant you will see improvement. You can’t be afraid to leave a horse out, or to miss a sequence. You have to believe in yourself and your ability, and know it is just a matter of time until you make it count. Here’s to making it count.