As I prepare to bet on this year’s Kentucky Derby, I think of the first time I visited a circuit. My dad took me to Belmont Park in New York when I was about 12 years old. Even then, I sensed that every gambler has a “system,” that is, a methodology to ensure a winning day.
And on that first visit, I learned about my father’s system: a simple strategy that required betting on the favorite, that is, if our choice came first, second, or third, we were online to receive a payment. It seemed like a safe plan: how could the top horse not get at least a third place?
Naturally, we lost our T-shirts.
In the decades since that visit, I have used many other systems when I bet on horses. However, I can count on one hand, in fact, two fingers, the number of times I have made money over the course of a day. Clearly, this disabled business is not for amateurs.
But there are professional disabilities, as in people who make a living playing ponies. And if you ask them for advice, as I did, they will gladly share some of the tricks of the trade. So keep these eight tips in mind when betting on this year’s Derby, or any race in the future.
Buy the horse racing bible (and read it carefully)
Investors have their sources of reference information (including, alas, this website). And so do the riders, the Daily Racing Form.
What makes the Form so invaluable is all the information it offers about each horse in each race, including previous performances, pedigree and jockeys in charge. These facts and figures (and I will go into detail about some of them soon) form the basis of how all professionals, and many smart amateurs, prevent a career. Some handicappers will spend an hour reviewing the Form for each race.
Understand that rhythm makes the race
If there’s one factor that handicappers say determines their vision of how a race will unfold, it’s the pace. When a race seems to be dominated by speed horses that are known to run forward, a horse that normally lags behind can have a definite advantage. (The theory is that speed horses will get tired of each other when they get to the stretch.) Conversely, when a race has a lot of “locks,” a speed horse may be the best bet. (The theory is that while the locks are waiting to move, the speed horse will have opened an unbeatable gap.)
But how can a gambler determine the probable pace of the race? It is a matter of carefully reading the Form, which not only shows how the horses finished in their previous races, but also shows where they were classified in each stage (start, middle and end, as well as other intermediate points). ‘these races.
Be a value investor
For the disabled, it’s not necessarily a matter of betting on the horse to be “better”. Rather, it’s about betting on horses that have good value, the racing equivalent of Warren Buffett’s famous investment approach. People with disabilities are reluctant to bet on favorites because they tend to come out with low odds (and only win about a third of the time), so the risk-reward equation is unattractive. Nor do handicappers necessarily like long shots: what’s the point of making a 50-1 bet if there’s really no chance the horse will win?
Ultimately, the ideal horse is the one that comes out more likely than reality suggests: think of the horse that should be 4-1, but instead offers an 8-1 reward.
Know when to ask, “Who is your father?”
You will hear many people in the racing industry talk about pedigree, as in the father and mother of a horse. The belief is that success generates success, or why not talk about “study commissions” in the tens of thousands of dollars? The disabled will tell you that the pedigree counts, but especially in cases where there is not enough hard data to suggest how a horse will run. For example, if this is the first time a horse has run on the grass (as opposed to the more standard dirt track), it may be worthwhile to see how the mother and father handled the grass.
Think of the exotic
If you’re just betting on winning, making or showing, you’re probably not a professional. Serious handicaps such as “exotic” bets, that is, exact (prediction of the top two finishers in a race in exact order), trifect (first three) and superfect (first four). Another type of exotic is to choose the winners in several races, for example, a Pick Three (three races in order), Pick Four (four races) or Pick Six (six races).
The attraction is obvious: the more complex the bet, the bigger the reward (some Pick 6 winning bets have paid millions). Given how little a direct win bet pays, these larger profits are often the key to making real money. And, as my first experience on the track shows, trying to make money from show betting is an even more daunting challenge.
Don’t forget the jockey
In racing, horses do not live in a bubble: they need a jockey to guide them from start to finish. And while disabled people will generally pay more attention to the animal than the man (or woman) on top of the animal, they are also completely unaware of the jockey. A handicapper told me to look for a jockey with at least 12% wins. It may not seem so high, but in a competitive field, 12% is “a good thing,” the handicapper advised.
Arrive late (and profitable).
The disabled are likely to be the first in line to place their bets. And there’s a reason for that, actually two reasons. First, because the odds are constantly changing, handicappers may not be able to fully determine the “value” until it is close enough to the time of publication, such as the final two minutes. Otherwise, this 8-1 value bet could end up being a less valuable 4-1 bet. (This is not to say that disabled people do not do their homework in advance. However, they are prepared to adjust their betting strategy based on these last minute odds.)
In addition, the disabled like to take a look at the horses when they go out on the track, about 10 minutes before the race. This allows them to see if the horse is happy and ready to go (an arched neck is a good sign) or if the horse is stressed (sweating or foaming is a worrying warning).
The smartest bet may be that there is no bet
Of course, it’s fun to play all the races. But handicappers are a selective group: they favor races where there is value and skip others where they simply do not see a risk worth taking. Of course, this advice is best applied if you are spending a day on the track and have several races ahead of you. With the Derby, you are talking about a unique opportunity. However, proceed with caution.