Apr 6 2013

Teach a Man (or Woman) to Handicap


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Translation into Horse Racing:

“Give a man your picks and you have a fan for a day.  Teach a man to handicap, and you have a fan for a lifetime.”

This has always been my philosophy when introducing horse racing to my family and friends.  And it all started with my wife more than thirty years ago.  But, let me first confess … it began for selfish reasons.

In the early days (pre-wife), I frequented the track with a group of high school friends. Sometimes they would bring their girlfriends with them to the track.  I noticed how different their experience was on the days they came alone versus with their girlfriends.  When alone, they focused entirely on horse racing.  When accompanied, they ended up talking about everything but horse racing.  Their girlfriends constantly interrupting them with questions; “Who do you like?”  “Which horse should I bet on?”

I was determined not to let this happen to me.  When I started bringing my future wife, Deb, to the race track I made three strategic decisions that have paid off handsomely every since:

  1. I buy two copies of the racing form; one for me, and one for Deb.
  2. I taught her how to read the racing form, and then how to handicap.
  3. I make sure Deb has her own money to use for betting.  No playing on my ticket.

Fast forward thirty years, and I’ll summarize our typical joint visit to the race track.  I download the PDF version of the Racing Form to my iPad and print a paper copy for Deb.  We head to the track with PPs, lawn chairs, and cooler in hand.  At the track, we purchase two betting vouchers; one for her and one for me.  For the remainder of the day we make our own selections and wagers.  At the conclusion of the day, we ask each other, “How’d you do?”  Now we might compare notes on a couple of horses during the day, but we almost never know what the other person bet until after a race is over.

Deb Benoit at Belmont (7 mos. pregnant)

Deb Benoit at Belmont (7 mos. pregnant)

The funniest part of this story is recalling when Deb first started handicapping she would ask me who I like … but now, not only doesn’t she ask me who I like, I don’t think she cares.  She has developed her own style and doesn’t want her choices to be clouded by my opinion.  I guess I taught her well because I’m the same way.  For the same reasons, I rarely ever listen to another handicapper’s comments regarding an upcoming race.

By the way, I will describe Deb’s handicapping style in a future post when I contrast the differing styles of some of the horseplayers that I know.

The same approach I took with Deb I repeated with my two children.  I was teaching them how to handicap horse races about the same time their friends were taking batting practice at Little League.

Michael Benoit at Gulfstream Park

Michael Benoit at Gulfstream Park

My son has taken a unique path of his own.  He uses an entirely different approach to handicapping modeled on a spreadsheet “formula” that I taught him years ago.  This formula will be covered in a future post.  This picture is from a recent trip we made to Gulfstream Park. Michael likes to set up shop with his laptop and do his thing.  I am a wanderer, so I usually check in with him a few times over the course of the day.

My daughter is a little higher maintenance than my wife and son.  She knows how to handicap, but she prefers a more leisurely approach when she visits the racetrack.  I find that a $20 betting voucher, lemonade, popcorn, and an occasional “tip” from Dad will usually keep her happy.  But, in the end … the proof is in the pudding.  Out of the four of us, she attends the races the least.  She’s happy just getting the fish.

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

2 comments on “Teach a Man (or Woman) to Handicap

  1. You forgot to add that you still have friends that WANT to go to the track with you, but cant because we might ask you “what horse do you like?”…:)

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