Apr 26 2013

Horseplayer Styles

One of the beautiful things about horseplayers is they come in every shape and size imaginable; and they all have their own style.  And as most good horseplayers will tell you, they have evolved, and adapted their style over time.

Sometimes it’s an adaptation forced on them by a fundamental change in the game (e.g. the introduction of Synthetic surfaces at some race tracks).  Other times it comes from within, as they adjust something like their wagering style to better fit their personality.  More about that in a future post.  In either case, external or internal, Darwin would be proud of their adaptability.

And, it’s never ending.  For example, last year I purchased an iPad.  That simple purchase caused me to adapt my style of handicapping.  Before the iPad I would print forests of paper, make my marks and notations on the paper, and then throw them all away.  I tried for awhile saving the old papers, but Deb grew very tired of my mounds of paper, and it became unmanageable to search through them anyway.  Now, using the iPad (and a PDF Annotator App), I make all my marks with my stylus, utilizing color for the first time.  My document is saved in a folder for posterity.  Now, at the touch of a stylus, I can retrieve information that I previously would have thrown away or clumsily saved in a printed copy.  There will be future posts providing more details about my use of an iPad, and why I think it is invaluable to my present style.

I thought it might be fun now to give you a summary of some real life horseplayers and their own personal style.  The names were changed to protect their identity.  In case I didn’t mention it, horseplayers tend to be sensitive about their privacy.

What they all have in common is a firm grasp on the Basic elements of handicapping.  They just apply them differently and in ways that suit their individual tastes.

Fred “the Fridge”

He does no advance study of Past Performances (PPs); purchasing the Racing Form as he walks into the track about 30 minutes before the first race.  In the 25-30 minutes separating races, he scans the PPs for the upcoming race, making very concise markings on the paper.  He looks for his favorite “angles,” bets heavily on them, and spreads out on smaller exotic bets.  He demonstrates virtually no emotion, win or lose, and most days walks out with a pocketful of cash.  Cool as ice.

Vince “the Volcano”

He’s a Saratoga guy, to the core.  He jumps in 110% during the Spa meet, but bets very lightly the rest of the year.  He studies the PPs for a couple of hours the night before the races.  He has an excellent knowledge of breeding and bloodlines, but also has a very solid grasp of all the basic elements in handicapping.  He is purely a Pick-3 and Pick-4 player, preferring to focus on multiple contenders rather than trying to single horses with a Win bet.  The majority of the time he is the model of calm at the races track, but he is prone to wild eruptions (hands flailing about, programs thrown to the ground, etc.) at lost photo-finishes, bad rides, or any perceived injustice about the outcome of a race.

Charlie “the Horse”

He’s been around horses all his life. He’s a real student of conformation (Body of a Horse) and racing Class. He knows the intrinsic nature and habits of most trainers on his circuit. He studies the horses intently in the paddock area as they are being saddled. He knows full well how to read the PPs, but he lets the horse (and trainer) be his principal guide.

Donna “the Dean”

She arrives at the track a couple of hours before the first race. She finds a comfortable spot for her folding chair, near a TV and under a tree. She pulls out her Racing Form and a pack of multi-colored highlighter markers; and proceeds to turn her PPs into a rainbow of color. She constructs straight-forward Win-Place bets, exactas, and doubles. She makes relatively small and conservative bets, and is more than happy to leave the track with a small profit.

Deb “the Wife”

Deb at Keeneland

Deb at Keeneland

She is strictly an on-track horseplayer. She wouldn’t visit an OTB parlor to bet on a horse named after her first-born son. She doesn’t like to study the PPs for hours in advance, but she will use them while at the track. She has a variety of “angles” she likes to play, but they remain a mystery, even to me. I’m going to try to get her to divulge some of them in a future post.

Her real decision making kicks in when the horses are warming up on the track. She focuses intently on their energy levels. Are they on their toes, head held high, and ears pricked? Believe me when I say she has developed a real knack for this approach … and, it’s the reason why she’ll only make on-track wagers.

This is just a brief list describing the styles of some of the horseplayers I know. The point is; they all have their own style that works for them. And you will too.

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

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