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Handicapping & Wagering Guide

Getting Started

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When and How Much to Bet

Straight Betting

Exotic Betting - Intrarace

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Getting Started

The first thing I think any new handicapper should do is go to the race track, not an OTB, but to the actual race track.  There is just something about being there, seeing the horses run and watching them come down the stretch while holding your tickets in your hand!  Take $20 and go to the track.  Buy a program or Daily Racing Form make some selections and bet.  Except for a few lucky ones the majority of you will find out just how easy it is to lose money at the track.  You'll be thinking how did I lose, that horse had the best speed numbers, he was the biggest horse in the race, he had the fastest workouts or that jockey was 30% and never won once out of 4 races today?  The fact is there are so many forces at work that go into a race from track bias and pace to traffic and jockey mistakes.  Some people will stop after their first experience at the track and never pursue why they lost their money that first day.  They'll be content to go to the track occasionally with their $20 and place a few bets.  Others like myself, will be fueled with desire to try to understand the game at its deepest depths.  Sometimes that seems impossible because you lose and no matter how long you pour back over the past performances you cannot find an explanation.

Horse racing maybe the greatest game ever invented.  I always tell people, a 120 pound man on a 1200 pound animal going 40 miles per hour - how is that not the greatest game in the world!  And the best part is you get to bet on it!  But, it can also be the most frustrating game in the world, even to professional handicappers.  If you are going to be a consistent horse player you have to accept that losing is part of the game.  It is impossible to pick the winner in every race and this is what leads people to say, "You can beat a race, but you can't beat the races".  And that is the key to being a successful handicapper - learning which races you can beat.  The fact of the matter is you don't have to win every race to be a successful horse player.  You don't even have to win 50% of the races you bet. 

For instance, in 2011 a regular jockey at Colonial Downs in New Kent, VA had a 30% win rate overall.  If you had bet just this jockey when his horse went off at 2-1 or higher you would have placed 69 bets and won 16 of them.  That is only a 23% win rate.  The average payout on the 16 wins was $11.13.  So, assuming a $2 bet you would of had a return on your investment of 28%!  And that is before you handicapped any of the races!  Applying handicapping principles you would be able to increase your ROI even more.  My point is if you expect to play the races for more than just fun and have a positive ROI, then losing is part of the game.

I've always kept up with horse racing, but my first experience at the track was at the Preakness.  I had never handicapped a race or placed a bet.  My wife and I were in DC for her work that week and decided to stay over and go to the Preakness a few miles away in Baltimore.  The night before I read online everything I could soak up in a few hours about betting and handicapping horse races.  We sat down in our seats the next day just as the horses from the first race came down the stretch.  I can still remember a horse from mid pack running down a tiring leader.  From that moment on I was hooked.

I took out my program and started to handicap the next race.  I didn't know much from my late night studies the previous night, so I was strongly leaning on speed figures, what little I knew about class and records.  My budget for the day was $100.  I headed to the Amtote betting machine and punched in my bet.  I didn't know how to wheel on the machine so I boxed 3 horses in an Exacta at $1 each.  The bet cost $6 and I watched with joy as two of my horse finished first and second.  As I cashed my first ticket I thought, "Well that wasn't so hard!"  Usually in life when I have that thought I am about to get my world rocked, and this time was no exception.  Although I did win another bet or two that day, the majority of the day I lost and lost and lost some more.  By the end of the day I had lost my $100 plus the small winnings from the day.  As I left Pimlico that day I laughed off my loses, but something had changed.  I was in love with the sport of horse racing and even more determined to find out why I had lost and to learn how to beat this game.

It took me almost a year with a lot of practice to learn how to best apply handicapping principles and most importantly how to bet.  You can be the best handicapper in the world, but if you don't know how to bet your selections properly you will lose money.  Likewise, you can be a mediocre handicapper, but a great bettor and win money.  My goal in this handicapping and wagering guide is to help you learn how to be a better horse player without having to go through the same headaches and failures that I did.  Playing the races is a constant learning experience, even for the most season handicappers.  But knowing handicapping methods, how to bet and understanding where you succeed will give you a strong foundation.

My first suggestion to a new horse player would be to start with a few books.  While the internet can be a great handicapping resource, including this guide, there are a few books written by professional handicappers in the industry that are invaluable.  If you are an absolute beginner, as I was after I left my first Preakness, I would suggest starting with Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies by Richard Eng.  After you have a good basic knowledge of handicapping and wagering I would move on to one or all of the books by Andrew Beyer.  He is a colorful writer who puts the downside of horse racing into perspective. Finally, I would move on to what I call the horse players bible, Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st century by Steve Davidowitz.  This book is packed full of thoughts, concepts and situations from one of the industries leading handicappers.  He covers topics like track bias, speed, pedigree and a whole lot more.  It is truly a book where you learn something in every chapter and I found the book was best to be treated as a reference guide or read in sections while handicapping versus being read straight through.  There's just too much knowledge in there to absorb in one reading.

Next find where you are going to buy your past performances (pp's):  drf.com, equibase.com, brisnet.com.  While you will pay more for them at drf.com (Daily Racing Form), their pp's are much more in depth and you can see the data or statistics that you think is pertinent to a certain race.  Definitely when I go to the track, I get my pp's from drf.com.  I'm not going to go over how to read the past performances because most sites that offer them also have detailed guides or tutorials.

There are many types of bets you can play.  But when starting out I would suggest straight win betting.  The exotic payoffs are very, very enticing, but without a good understanding of how these bets work and how to apply them once you've completed your handicapping, you'll likely be throwing money away.  By starting with straight win betting you'll learn to work the odds and organize your bets where you feel you have the best chance of winning, something we'll cover more later.  Once you have this foundation you will be much more successful in your exotic bets.

With these thoughts in mind let's move forward....


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