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Monday, September 9, 2013

Three Handicapping Lessons to be Learned

(This is a blog I wrote on the Today's Racing Digest blog from June 11, 2013)

All of us have had our share of bad beats. It could be a bad ride, a bad bet or just plain bad luck. The one that comes to mind for me is with Arcangues in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Yeah, the one that was 133/1 with Jerry Bailey that won!  As a budding young handicapper, I would always try to beat the favorite and I could not figure out why they brought Arcangues all the way over from Europe to run in this race.  His form was not good, but I figured they know more than I do.

I can remember I played an Exacta box using Arcangues, Best Pal and Devil His Due with the latter two a pair of favorite horses of mine at the time.  By my own stubbornness I did not use the favored three-horse entry of Bertrando, Marquetry and Missionary Ridge.  Looking back, how stupid was I not only to not use a three-horse entry, but those three horses were pretty damn good.

As it turns out, Arcangues won the race with Bertrando running 2nd.  The Exacta paid just over $1,000 and I did not have it.  I searched frantically thru my tickets hoping I had it by accident and I did have a ticket to collect:  $2 show on Arcangues.  How could I not have this horse to win and have the Exacta!  Instead of a big win, I collected my $18.20 and walked to the car with my head down questioning my own sanity.

Handicapping lesson #1: Always play the horse you like to win.
Even if the win is small, it is a win and if anything it helps mentally to collect a winning ticket.  For me personally, I do not play odds-on horses to win. 

There are different ways to play Exactas.  You can bet them straight, you can box, you can key or you can wheel.  Many people often advise to always box your Exactas, but I’m not a fan of that if it is more than two horses in a box.  Even then, if Quinella wagering is available, I advise to play the Exacta the way you think it will come in straight and then play the Quinella using those two horses.  That way, if it comes in the way you think it will, you collect on both tickets.  If Quinella wagering is not available, play a two-horse box, but three or more I would use another method.

Lately, the way I play a lot of races is to play the horse I like to win and then using a few contenders on top in the Exacta with my horse in the second slot.  Handicapper Steve Fierro taught me this as he said you will probably catch more higher-paying Exactas this way instead of playing the horse to win and backing it up to place.  It has been sound advice as I have caught some nice Exacta payoffs since using this method.

Of course, I was dumb enough in my early days of handicapping not to back my horse up either in the Exacta or to win.  The 1996 Pacific Classic was the race where I learned my lesson the hard way.  I played a straight $20 Exacta with Cigar on top and Dare And Go in 2nd.  I did not play it once the other way nor did I play Dare And Go to win.  Dare And Go paid $81 to win and the Exacta with Cigar running 2nd paid $123.  Not only did I learn my lesson, I also learned there is no “sure thing” in horse racing as Cigar’s 15 race win streak was now over.

Handicapping lesson #2: When playing the Exacta, always back up your bet.

Playing a straight Exacta is playing with fire.  There are so many ways to lose a race and now you are trying to predict the first two finishers in exact order.  Back up your straight Exacta with a win wager or box the Exacta on the other horse if it is a two-horse Exacta.

Whether you place your bets with a human teller, a self-service machine or your own computer, you should always check your ticket to make sure it is the one you asked for.  We humans are not perfect and will make errors from time to time whether it is yourself or someone else.

Before wagering online, the local OTB’s would be packed especially on big days like the Breeders’ Cup.  I was at an OTB for the 1994 Breeders’ Cup and the wagering lines were so long that I decided to use the self-service machine using a betting card.  I filled it out and it only took a few minutes to wait in line and for the wager to go thru.  I played $20 to win on Timber Country and cheered him home as he won.  However, I did not mark the right box on the betting card and had $20 on some other horse.  I just cost myself $48 in winnings and the mentality that I just lost on a winner.

Handicapping lesson #3: Always check your tickets.

We all make mistakes and assuming your tickets are always right will lead to a losing ticket.  I’m sure there has been a time or two that the mistake ticket has won, but the wrong ticket will almost always lead to more losers.  It only takes a few seconds and that precious time will help to eliminate those mistakes.

Bad beats make for great stories to tell later on in the future, but by following these three lessons you are more likely to have less bad beats and more winners which we all love to have!

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