I Was In A Slump

January 9, 2015

Saratoga Jon's Dad Window
The mutual window where Jonathan’s Dad worked for many years. Jon practically grew up hanging around that window as a young boy and teenager.

The game is very cyclical by nature. It’s also a game where going in, you know you will be wrong more than you are right. Those two factors alone make the slumps handicappers go through all the more exasperating. You are going to have them, so you might as well have a strategy on how you will deal with them. Most are uncanny, and have a way of reminding us there are indeed many ways to lose a race or bet.

Most of you know by now, my wagering style and philosophy is to go for the kill. It’s that approach that has led me to my greatest successes at the racetrack. I don’t hedge, I press. I’m not afraid to go for it all and risk getting blanked. It’s how I play the game and I imagine how I always will. There have been times I have regretted it but they have not swayed me from the life that I have chosen.

It was 1991 and I had not been living in Florida very long. Racing was in sort of a transitional state, from the glory days of the 70’s and 80’s I loved so much, to what it has become today. Simulcasting and home wagering had not yet made their way to the forefront of the sport and there were no TVG’s or HRTV’s to watch. On occasion, a major network carried a big race as they did the classics and this spring day was one of those occasions.

I had moved to Florida from New York with what was a moderate bank roll. Most thought I was crazy and it was risky but I loved it down there and wanted to get out of the cold. When I looked at apartments, I found a beautiful oceanfront condominium in Pompano Beach. It was about 30 minutes to both Calder and Gulfstream, which would now become my office, so to speak. It was also a Penthouse, the top of 19 floors and the view was forever. You could see the entire Atlantic and all the way down the Intra-Coastal waterway to Miami. Outside of Saratoga, it was the closest thing I found to Heaven on earth. When I asked how much it was and the realtor told me I said “you mean down, right?” No, she replied, that’s the purchase price. I’ll take it. Being accustomed to New York prices has its benefits when you leave New York.

My bank roll took a hit but I had started over many times before. After all, I had turned $60 into 14k one day, and $200 into 15k on another, so there was no cause for any panic. And besides now I had an oceanfront penthouse albeit without much furniture. My girl from New York reluctantly came with me. She was not a fan of horse racing and less of gambling. I guess that was doomed from the start but here we were, with a blow up mattress, outdoor patio furniture, and a television. Oh yeah, and that view.

I was in a bit of a slump, and thinking I had to get out of it, as I took my morning walk along the beach to get the Racing Form. I got my Form, some Dunkin Donuts coffee, and headed for the patio to study. I really did not see much I liked at my local track but the cover of the Form had an article about the big race that day, The Oaklawn Handicap. I did not bet or follow Oaklawn much back then, as it was before simulcasting became what it is today. Who knew then, years later I would spend some very enjoyable time at Oaklawn and make some great friends.

I studied The Oaklawn Handicap hard. I loved a horse. I did not think he could lose. Derby winner Unbridled was in the race as was top handicap horse Farma Way, so I would get real close to the 15-1 morning line on Festin. Festin was a California horse, who was a deep closer, shipping into Oaklawn for the first time. He had won plenty of races in his homeland of Argentina, I believe, but was sort of an also ran for Ron McAnally in California. He had caught some lone and dominant front runners out there, and probably didn’t care for the speed favoring surfaces. He was coming to a more honest racing strip, and catching plenty of speed, and good old Eddie D was coming with him. With all the speed in there, I knew he could beat Farma Way that day, who liked to race near the top. Unbridled would be tough, but it was his first start of the year and we had the edge. Jolie’s Halo had a punchers’ chance maybe, but the rest were outclassed. Regardless, Festin was going to win and I knew it.

Between the condo and the slump, my bank roll was hurting. Not DOA hurting but far from strong. There was about 2k between me and total poverty. I told my girl, listen, I can get us flush again today, and take us furniture shopping tomorrow, and I’m talking Roche Bobois, not Rooms to Go, but I am going to need some help. I asked her to take a cash advance on her credit card so I could bet more money. This was huge as she did not like horse racing, or gambling, and treated her credit as if it was way more important than I ever thought.

The toughest part of the discussion was convincing her why 2k was not enough to bet. She thought $20 was excessive, so you can imagine the conversation. I heard it all, but somehow she agreed. I think it was the Roche Bobois. We went to the bank and got a cash advance for 3k, which put the bank roll at 5k. I was in good shape, but I was in a slump.

As I said earlier, this was one of those rare days when a major network was carrying racing. ABC was showing the race on tape delay following the Wide World of Sports, you remember the show with that poor skier crashing down the mountain to the words ‘the agony of defeat.” The plan was for me to drive over to Calder where they were racing, make my bet, then head home to spend the day at the beach. I was going to watch the race on ABC later not knowing the results. There was no social media or ADW’s so it would be relatively easy to not know the results of a horse race being run in Arkansas.

I thought I would just keep things simple on the drive over to Calder. My plan was to get out of the slump and get flush again. I thought I’d bet the 5k to win, get 10-1 or maybe better, and take home 50k. I got to the track and took a final look at the race. I was not deterred. Festin would have his day I thought. I also thought I could really take this race down. It was a small field, maybe 8 horses, and realistically only one or two could run second. I decided to be smart and go for 150k instead of the 50k. The race set up perfectly for that, I thought.

I bet a 1k exacta, Festin over Unbridled. Then I bet a $600 exacta Festin over Farma Way. Next, I bet a $200 exacta part wheel, Festin over Unbridled, Farma Way and Jolie’s Halo. Next I took a $100 triple part wheel, Festin over Unbridled with all. Being the brilliant handicapper and bettor I am, I was not going to leave that door open in the third slot. Next it was a $25 triple part wheel, Festin over Farma Way with all. Last but not least it was a $20 triple part wheel, Festin over Unbridled, Farma Way, and Jolie’s Halo with all. That left me with somewhere around $1500. I thought well if I am wrong about Unbridled let me even things up some. I bet three more $500 exactas, Festin over Unbridled, Farma Way and Jolie’s Halo. Perfectly played, I thought. Not one exacta was reversed. Fearless. I saved only enough money to pick up the next day’s form on the way out. The eternal optimist player, I was sure I’d need it.

On the way to the car, I thought I could have bet the last money to win, but immediately thought nah, I will do so much better in the exacta, and if I am right about Festin I am going to nail the exacta. I’ve got the Derby winning favorite, the top handicap horse in the country, and a dangerous longshot, and all I need is for one of them to be second in a small field, if my horse wins.

I couldn’t wait to watch the race. The excitement built all day. I had the Wide World of Sports on but couldn’t wait for it to end. As the show progressed, I knew the race was over but had no idea of the result. I watched and waited. A very strange thing happened next. I never expected it and was unprepared for it. It taught me that I was wrong all those years when I thought it was plain ignorant to dislike someone you never met and didn’t know. It isn’t. Out of nowhere in the middle of Wide World of Sports, Frank Gifford blurts out ‘this just in.” In a major upset in horseracing today, Festin upsets Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled resulting in record exacta and triple payoffs for the race. What! You ruined everything! Why would you do that when you know the race is on next? Anyway, I couldn’t stay mad very long. Festin won, and Unbridled was second. I figured a long shot also ran third resulting in the record payoffs.

I told her, get ready, Surf and Turf at Burt and Jacks tonight, and Roche Bobois tomorrow. How much did we win, noting this was the first time it was ever we. I don’t know, but I think a lot. Maybe 100k. Maybe more. Could even be 200k.Even 250k. At this point who cares, the pressure is off. I still couldn’t wait to watch the race, but now it was with a different sort of knowing calm. We did it.

The show came on and the first thing I noticed was, it was pouring at Oaklawn. Wow, I thought, the track was fast when I had bet and now it was like a river. You couldn’t even see dirt. I didn’t bother to mention had I known it was sloppy I might have thought differently. The race started and Primal under Earlie Fires went out and took a big lead. Really big, and in the slop and a downpour. I wasn’t worried though, why should I be, I already won and had the money spent. As they hit the backstretch I laughed, as Primal opened up even more on them, and looked to be traveling really well, and handling the slop like a speed skater on ice. About midway down the backstretch I said to myself, wow, how are they going to catch this horse, this must be amazing. He didn’t look like he was stopping.

They turned for home and Primal still had a nice lead and was looking good. I was waiting for the drastic change. It had to come. Frank said it, Festin in a major upset over Unbridled. I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly so worried. You don’t root on the replay do you? Well maybe but it seldom helps. Primal was leading down the stretch, how was this going to happen. Inside the 8th pole I spotted him. Festin kicked in. He stayed on the rail but was coming fast. I got excited all over again. He did it, he got up on the inside. Unbelievable. What a race. What a horribly bad beat. I was in a slump. Festin won, paid over $20, Unbridled was nowhere? I had not a ticket to cash. I hated Frank Gifford. Who does that? He specifically said upset Unbridled. Doesn’t that mean Unbridled ran second? Not when you are in a slump. I don’t have to tell you, Jolie’s Halo the long shot was third. Imagine that record payoff. He was longer that Primal.

The heartbreak was twofold. I wasn’t only the dumbest player, I was the unluckiest. 50k on the win end sure looks good now. I guess that’s what happens when you put a teletype about racing in front of someone who knows nothing about it.

What you do when you are in a slump and how you get out of one depends on a few things. First you need to ask yourself why you play the game. Are you a recreational player or do you eat what you kill? Whether you play for fun or play to win determines a lot about how you should approach things. My advice is geared more to those who play to beat the game as I do. After all if you don’t then it doesn’t really matter. If you answer yes to whether you play to win, then ask the question are you good?

Do you beat the game, as that is the only benchmark? If yes, then the slump will fix itself as the game is cyclical. It will turn around. There is no need for breaks, changing styles, or playing differently. If the answer is no, to are you good, then you have to rethink your whole approach. That’s an entirely different conversation.[/quote][divider]

If the slump gets really bad and you want to press out of it you can. I’d coach that like we are in the NFL. Let’s go for high percentage plays. For example, find a spot you are confidant in. A horse you really like. Play him to win and on top in two exactas. High percentage. Avoid the multi race wagers until you are back on. Remember if you good, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Ride it out. Fearless bettors never panic even when Primal has five at the 8th pole.

Very well done piece by The King, John Stettin twitter.com/jonathanstetti…

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