Betting Against Yourself

November 25, 2014

LOGOBy Jonathan Stettin

Some weeks back I wrote a column talking about money management and structuring super-fecta tickets. Since that column I must have gotten a dozen e mails and messages thanking me from people who read it, applied it , and won where they might not have prior to the column. I have to say that felt as good as many of my own wins. An often overlooked great part of this game is helping others improve their approach to it.

Today we are going to change things up somewhat. Let’s talk about bets that you possibly shouldn’t be making and why. I say “possibly” because whether you are making them or not depends on your goals when going to the races and your approach to the game. If you go to the track for a social outing, or to have some fun and make some fun wagers, then which wagers you make can very well be based on which are the most fun and exciting for you. The racetrack can be a fun place where you can win some money and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If your goal is to stay alive or battle to stay in the fight as long as you can, or to try and minimize losses by insuring your wagers then some of the wagers I will discuss may work for you. If that is your approach there is nothing wrong with that as well. We can have our separate goals just as we have our separate opinions.

If, however, your goal is to beat the game, and to actually turn a profit, perhaps even a handsome one, then I would recommend paying attention. First let’s review some basics. Most who play don’t beat the game. That club is reserved for a select few and you have to work hard to earn your way into it. Most in it know who the other members are. It’s always been that way. The old “it takes one to know one” I guess. Let’s also keep in mind we have chosen a game where we will be wrong more than right. That’s a key thing to understand as, if you do, it has to affect your approach. The only profitable approach on a long term basis to a game where you will be wrong more than right is to make it count when you are indeed correct.

Making it count involves maximizing your profit when you win. One way to improve doing that is to eliminate or reduce making losing bets, or bets that cut into your profit margin. One example is what I call insurance bets. There are more than one type of insurance bet. Generally I avoid all of them.

One of the most common insurance bets you see occurs in the last leg of a multi race wager. People have a tendency to want to cover themselves or insure their bet in the last leg of a multi race bet they are alive in by betting to win on horses they do not have. This is one way of betting against yourself. The first question is, if you liked these horses so much that now that you are on the verge of a win, you want to deviate from your play, and go into your pocket to bet them, why did you not include them on the original wager? Generally speaking, most people choose the 50 cent denomination when making multi race wagers, if it is available. They do this to spread out and include multiple horses. The nature of that already includes many losing combinations and a reduced payout based on the 50 cent play. Why would you want to cut into your profit margin further by betting additional horses you didn’t feel strongly enough about at the start of the sequence? Yes you may insure your wager, and possibly get your money back if you lose, but again is that what you are playing for? My style is more inclined to take one of the horses I already have and key it on top of triples and supers thus creating a home run possibility. Maximizing on when you’re right. In the long run you want to get as much money into that black column as you can and as little as possible into the red one.

Speaking of home runs, does anyone even know exactly what NYRA’s grand slam wager is? I think you have to bet three horses to show and it all goes on the last one to win, not in a parlay wager, but a pool sharing one. I may be right and I may be wrong, but suffice to say I have never bet one. It’s been around a while so somebody must be betting them. I don’t know who, and no other track has been prompted to also offer the bet.

I have known a few bridge jumpers in my lifetime. They all thought they were smarter than the game and everyone in it. They all had large bank rolls but none had made them in racing. The argument was always the same, what bank will give you that type of return turning over in a minute or two. Yes, the answer to that question is, none will. On the flip side you won’t lose with a bank. If you play large amounts of money on heavy favorites to show, you will learn at some point you can lose. When you do the hole you will find yourself in is very steep. Betting 10k, or 100k to show on a horse requires a certain type of mindset I don’t have. Doing it with regularity is a slow and painful death.

I remember back in the 70’s there was a part time Saratoga seasonal mutual clerk who spent the rest of the year as a school teacher. He thought he had found the greatest part time job in the world. He got into the habit of making large show bets on favorites while he was selling tickets, sometimes perhaps with money he did not have. It reportedly worked for a few years and he grew to consider it a perk of the job. One sunny Sunday it didn’t work out. The first show bet he made went down. He had no choice now but to double up on the next one which also went down. I would imagine the sinking feeling began sometime after the second one lost but before the third. Of course as a school teacher he understood he would have to bet even more on the third horse which he did. You can guess what happened.

The story was by the tail part of the day the school teacher was behind somewhere around 20k. His cash drawer was light and even though things were lax back then he worked himself onto the radar screen approaching the feature race. In a desperate attempt to “get out” as we say, he decided to change from show to win as show betting was futile at this point. Not knowing what was going on just yet, I remarked to a friend someone must be sending it on Tiller. Tiller was a real nice grass horse being ridden by Ruben Hernandez and was surely a contender, but he was dropping with every flash of the tote board. Sure he was, there was a very worried man punching $100 win tickets on him and stuffing them into his pocket like he was running a conveyor belt.

By the last race he was licked. There would be no final get out attempt. I heard he was hang dropping off the catwalk that leads to the clubhouse when “they” were coming up to check out what was going on. He, like Tiller just minutes earlier, didn’t make it. The final tally was something like 55k I think. Considerably more back then than it is today.

There are plenty of good handicappers that bet win and place. I wouldn’t call any good bettors or money managers. This is another way of betting against yourself and reducing your profit margin. In the long run, doubling up on the win price will put a lot more into the black column than splitting it with a reduced place price will. Sure that place bet will save your money sometimes and even yield a small profit at times, but again why are you here? There is no right or wrong answer to that question, it’s personal. Old habits die hard, but if you are playing to beat the game, you have to look hard at betting to place or win and place. You want the bulk of your money where it yields the biggest payout when you are right.

To be a dangerous bettor you have to be willing to cash less but win more. You can’t play scared or conservatively. Boxing is something I almost always avoid. Far too many losing bets on a boxed ticket to start with. I am more inclined to key or part wheel one horse on top, maybe two if I have to but boxing cuts too much into my winning wager. Even if you take a simple $1 exacta box of three horses which costs a total of $6, you are cutting into your win if you are right. I would take one of the horses and play a $3 exacta with my horse over the two others. If the exacta pays $150 I wind up with $450 if I was right. That helps my black column a lot more than $150 for the same $6. I’d feel like I lost $300 if I boxed. Killer instinct, there is nothing like it.

If you avoid certain types of bets, and are good with a set of past performances in your hands, you can increase your profitability. In this game only one thing counts, do you beat it? We know going in we have to overcome takeout, small fields, reduced wagering denominations, more sharks in the water, litanies of information available, syndicates using computers, algorithms, crystal balls and who knows what else. The last thing we need is to bet against ourselves.

While I am not in favor of system handicapping per se, in that each race and sequence is different and can require any one of the many different facets of the knowledge you will build up, I am in favor of doing your homework, studying each race, and sequence, and going after the ones that give you the best chance. We all know about the blind squirrel and broken clock, you don’t want to be either of those and lock into a system. None work enough to beat them consistently. I’ve studied the game my whole life, and have beaten it more than most and for longer. There are some things that just don’t work and make it impossible.

You can go on social media just about any day and see several people spouting opinions. I’ve talked before about deciphering which ones it may pay to listen to. One of the main things were which ones actually bet. There is no room for monopoly money although there is a ton of it flying around. Another is to see who is spouting an opinion in every race at all the tracks that are running. They are either using a failing system, picking random numbers, or who knows what. Whatever it is it isn’t going to help you win. You have to focus on one, maybe two meets at a time and you’d be wise skipping the bad betting races at those meets as well. You’ll need discipline to get into that club we talked about.

Cashing less but winning more is a concept a lot of players have a problem with, in part because it goes against our natural inclination to want to cash every ticket we buy. It is a necessity to get into the elusive club however. If you are not maximizing the times you are right than the times you are wrong are going to devour you eventually.

An exciting weekend of racing awaits us. We’ll have strong cards at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, Del Mar, and Gulfstream West formally known as Calder. There will be stakes abound and classy racing with plenty of opportunities to capitalize on. Try it without betting against yourself and getting the bulk of the bankroll on what you really like.

California Chrome looks to be a go on the turf in what will either be a clever or DA move. A win puts him square where they want to be championship wise, but a poor race or even another loss will hurt where he is now. I like the gamble but if he is good enough to go why not The Clark over a strip he likes and against a horse he beat?

High 5

Wayne Lukas has done it again. He proved Take Charge Brandi was no bias aided fluke in the Breeders’ Cup and won the big money again on the Delta Downs bullring. He cast his filly right into The Eclipse conversation with Lady Eli and he may not be finished yet. The Starlet is under consideration.

Low 5

Anyone who bashed the CHRB over the new whip/riding crop rule gets a low five. Say what you want about the CHRB but give credit where credit is due. This is a good rule and good for the game, and for the horse, and changes nothing from a wagering perspective. We have a “weigh in” on the website about it. The future consideration of clearly defined rules highlighting exactly what warrants a DQ and what doesn’t and minimizes subjectivity sounds like it came right out of a column I saw recently. This is good too.

Horse to Watch

Shook Up debuted over an off track at Churchill Downs. The Tapit filly ran into a half to Close Hatches with a start under her belt who was also cutting back from a mile. She broke slow but made a powerful move into the stretch to give the more experienced runner all she could handle and never stopped gaming it right to the wire. Galloped out great and should improve.

Louis & @ItsMeGinoB talk next w/@jonathanstettin about today’s races & the amazing Ruffian piece he wrote this week.…

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