- Every serious horseplayer knows that you should keep detailed records of your bets. This way, you can compile a set of past performances on yourself. Are you more successful in allowance races or claimers? Dirt or turf races? Have you been more profitable (or less unprofitable) betting speed horses or closers? Perhaps you do well with first time starters, or maiden claimers, or with non winners of 3 allowance races. Have your best scores been exactas, triples or Pick 4s; what is your P&L on each? You could theoretically assemble a database like Formulator, and find that you have a high winning percentage betting mid-pack closers on muddy tracks in $35,000 claiming races on Tuesdays and on days that Pat Robertson calls for an assassination.
For me to be writing this is kinda like the chain smoking parents who tell their kids not to light up. I don’t keep any records despite the fact that all the pros say you should. I blame it on simply not having the time, but perhaps I’m afraid of what I might learn about the bottom line and find a less expensive pastime like gardening or bird watching. Besides the cash, it’s a huge investment just in the sheer mental energy required to devote such intense concentration to the effort, with so many different things to process, quantitative, qualitative, and intuitive. Remember when you were a kid, it was easy to shut everything out and make a ballgame or an album seem like absolutely the only thing in the world. Now, after a full day of some serious handicapping, I’m mentally spent and would have trouble comprehending My Pet Goat.
I think I have a pretty good idea at this point of what races I do well with (3 yo turf races, maiden races, mid-price claiming sprinters, races with clear false favorites like Hey Buddy horses) and which I don’t (sprint stakes, any races over 9 furlongs, the Preakness Stakes, and any races at Charles Town, Philadelphia Park, Australia (ha!), or, if last weekend was any indication, Saratoga.
Marc Cramer packed a lot of wisdom into his little 1994 novelette Scared Money, and he expanded on the idea of keeping records. Cramer distinguishes between handicapping and decision making. I imagine that me and most of you reading could probably look at most races and agree on who the contenders are and aren’t. Identifying the contenders is part of the handicapping process (for me, the races I really jump on are the ones in which I handicap that the favorite is not one of them). But then, after narrowing them to perhaps 2 or 3 or 4, comes the decision making process, when you may want to weigh the odds and determine who presents value, whom you're going to bet and how; and it’s in the final few minutes, at least for me, that the final decision making is completed. I would say that I rarely bet a race more than 2 minutes before it goes off – even for Pick 3s.
Cramer writes about keeping records of not only how he came to his decision on each race, but where.
Pouring through my own records, some valuable evidence materialized. I keep a “book of why” in which each bet on the ledger is accompanied by a complete explanation of each betting decision. Going back through my winning periods as well as the latest crash, I learned that my most inspired betting decisions had been achieved while I was standing at the rail or walking around under the grandstand. Literally, I had been thinking better on my feet.I loved this idea of keeping track of where I am and what I’m doing when I make my bets when I first read the book - it just makes sense to me - but never followed through on actually keeping the records. But again, at this point I’m well aware that I also think better on my feet, and almost always make my best decisions that way, often while walking to a specific monitor or to find a betting machine. It didn’t help this past weekend, but I realized that I’d done a lot of sitting, and I started to make a conscious effort to get up out of my comfy lawn chair and head into the grandstand or clubhouse, where the greenery and serenity gives way to the racetrack, with the betting odds and the chatter and the tension building as the track announcer counts down the minutes to post.
Both of this year’s IRS payoffs had been the result of exacta inclusions made while walking from one haunt to another. A third big score had been fashioned while standing at the urinal. Meanwhile, none of my best decisions had come while seated.
No expert’s book would have explained that, for me, the difference between a winning and losing streak was primarily one of decision making. And decision making was linked to things like attitude and inspiration.I do get inspired when I’m on my feet and particularly when I’m inside, where the atmosphere becomes hard core; my attitude goes from laid back and subject to distraction to total focus on the task on hand. When I’m sitting, I look at the board and think, “Jeez, they’re already on the track.” When I’m standing, it becomes “Still plenty of time.” I’ll be on my feet a lot when I return to Saratoga for Travers weekend.