Aug 28 2018

The Casual Handicapper

Nancy Meyers

Introduction (by Neal Benoit): In one of my very first articles (Horseplayer Styles), I commented how horseplayers come in all shapes and sizes and have their own styles.  Nancy offered to share her “style” with my readers and I’m glad she did.  She reminds me a lot of my wife; learning the basics, gaining confidence over time, doing her own thing, and ultimately becoming a horseplayer in her own right.  And, I believe her methodologies are very adaptable to fans who are new to the game.  So, without further ado, here is the “Casual Handicapper.”

By Guest Author: Nancy Meyers

I have enjoyed reading a lot of Neal’s columns because they give me new and interesting things to think about when wagering on the races. I offered to write a column from the perspective of someone who only wagers on races when my husband and I attend the races in person (about 7 race days per year) or at home during big racing days such as the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup. Otherwise, I remain on the bench, keeping up with what’s going on in racing through discussions with my husband, glancing at the The Blood-Horse magazine and of course, reading Getting Out of the Gate.com.

I consider myself a casual handicapper with which some readers may or may not agree. While I sometimes play a “hunch” wager, I never wager solely on “the grey horse”, “the number 4 horse” or a favorite combination of numbers. If that was how I wagered, then I would find other forms of gambling interesting, which I do not. For me it’s about the horses. I admire their beauty, tenacity and the excitement of seeing them racing down the stretch. Over the years I have learned to read the track program and DRF PP’s with enough detail that I rarely have to ask my husband what a particular column or symbol may mean. Although I may not understand how a speed figure for a race at Finger Lakes is different than a speed figure for a Belmont race of the same distance on the same day, I understand that knowing how to read the basics of the program allows me to make informed decisions. I can say I haven’t invested the amount of time and effort that serious handicappers have to understanding all the nuances of the various past performances, sheets and clocker’s reports out there, but for me at least being able to read the past performances most readily available at the track has provided enough information to allow me to have many enjoyable days at the track. So here is the general method I employ when wagering on the races.

First, what are my expectations and bankroll? I generally approach a day at the races as entertainment, with the chance to make a few winning wagers. If I lose every wager, I won’t be happy, but my disappointment won’t exceed all the other enjoyable experiences of the day, especially at Saratoga. From watching horses up close in the paddock, to seeing jockeys and trainers walking through the crowd, the ragtime band and all the characters that inhabit a racecourse, the day is great win or lose. I usually start with $100.00 and hope to make a net $150.00. If so, I can buy a nice bottle of wine with dinner that night. Most sporting events and concerts costs at least $100.00 when you add in the time, parking, concessions, etc. They don’t offer a chance to get back a few dollars toward the ticket price. I’m content with that value.

Once we arrive at the track, I purchase a program. I make sure I note all the program changes, including scratches, jockey changes and surface changes. I then set out handicapping each race. I don’t play the multi-race wagers, unless my husband and I combine on a small ticket. I generally focus on the exacta, $.50 trifecta and the $.10 superfecta. While I enjoy a rooting interest in each race, there are races where I don’t make a wager. I skip races if the field size is small, I don’t have any firm opinions on at least 2 horses to use in my wagers or I am convinced that the most likely winners will finish 1-2-3 and result in very low payoffs.

When studying the program, I do not look at the handicappers’ picks and I don’t ask my husband for his selections. I like to evaluate each race focusing on class ratings, horses for the course and jockey/trainer percentages. I also consider wins or good efforts at the distance over the same surface and the most recent works. During all of this analysis I keep asking the same question, “Why not this horse?” It has helped me include horses in the middle odds range of 4-1 through 10-1 that frequently offer good value in the exacta and trifecta. I rarely play “bombs” in most races. Although they offer tempting odds, they usually seem to be running up the track. I am content with exactas paying in the $30.00 – $75.00 range and some tris or supers paying in the $90- $250.00 range. While a megascore in the thousands would be fun, I realize with my bankroll they are tough to hit. I try to consistently get some winning tickets throughout the day. The highs aren’t too high, but the lows aren’t too low either.

After I write down my selections, I often ask my husband who he is playing, look at the program picks and also see who some of the public handicappers are picking. If a horse I didn’t consider appears in several handicapper’s picks, I will give it a second look. If I think I need to include the horse I may make a change, but if not convinced, I stick with my picks. As I said at the beginning, I will also see if any horse jumps out as a hunch play. My hunches are usually based on a past performance, his past record at the racetrack, if his trainer appears to be doing something unique, or the jockey has been on a hot streak that day. I’ll try to get that longer odds horse in the mix or use it as a key in a part wheel wager.

Placing the wager. When I arrive at the track I take my funds to a teller and get a voucher for use at the self-service machines. I enjoy using the machines as I can enter my picks, check the amount and print my tickets and vouchers. I have nothing against the live tellers, but I realize on big days most novices are using the windows. Most experienced bettors will use the self-service machines, make their wagers without delay and I will have plenty of time to get my wagers in. If you are new to the game, get an experienced player to show you how to use the touch screen machines. They will make your day a lot more fun.

If I hit a few tickets early on in the day I may feel the freedom to increase my subsequent wagers by adding another horse to the exacta, tri or super, or increase the amount of the bet, but I make it a point to hold some dollars back, in case the rest of the day turns out to be a loser. I never want to lose out on the chance to play the later races that may have more horses and longer odds. If I have winning tickets, I get my cash from the teller before heading home. If not, I vow to try and get back on track tomorrow.

In conclusion, I am there to try and pick some horses using basic handicapping principles that I have learned from days at the track and asking my husband what the various symbols and acronyms mean on the program. Win or lose, I enjoy the thrill of cheering my horses down the stretch. That experience can’t be diminished by a losing ticket. I know that we will meet a lot of nice people at the track, get close to the competitors and have fun no matter what. For me, the “casual” handicapper, a day at the track with my husband always lands us in the winner’s circle.


By Guest Author: Nancy Meyers

3 comments on “The Casual Handicapper

  1. Nice recap and approach, Nancy.

    With your permission (and Neal’s) we’re going to pass this article on to some of our newer partners at Rainbow’s End Racing Stable.

    I’m confident that they will find it most helpful.

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