Beat Saratoga! 8 Tips for Turning a Profit

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8 Tips for Turning a Profit!

UPDATED FOR 2018

Download this free guide "Beat Saratoga: 8 Tips for Turning a Profit" by AGameofSkill.com founder Rich Nilsen and play the 2018 Saratoga meet successfully.  Beating this 40-day meet with so many contentious races is no easy task, even for experienced horseplayers, but the tips in this guide will get you on track to do just that.

15-time NHC Qualifier and 7-time major contest winner Rich Nilsen walks you through the steps required to beat this prestigious race meet.   In "Beat Saratoga: 8 Tips for Turning a Profit" you'll learn:

  • What steps it takes to beat this meet successfully
  • Which jockeys and trainers dominate the Saratoga meet
  • Which 'dark horse' jockeys and trainers you need to know about.  These guys bring home the prices, and one trainer in particular is the King of Saratoga Longshots!
  • How each of the three tracks (dirt and turf) play and how this affects you as a handicapper
  • Plus .... be on the lookout for this one important trend - it occurs every year!

Fill out the short form below to claim your free report "Beat Saratoga!"  You will automatically receive an email with a link to the PDF document that you can download to any device.

8 Tips for Turning a Profit at Saratoga

Expert advice for beating the Saratoga meet

The 2018 Travers Stakes Begins in...

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Superfecta Strategies for the Kentucky Derby

The goal between now and Derby Day is to figure out how to maximize my coverage and opportunity based on the opinions I will have developed on the 20 Derby entrants.

by Justin Dew

Favorites have won the last five Kentucky Derby. In 2016, the top four betting choices ran 1-2-3-4 in order. As a bettor who likes to use the Derby as an opportunity at a life-changing score (or at least a year-making score), an edition dominated by low odds horses usually means a bad day for me. But that doesn’t have to be the case, and to my credit I feel I have learned from past mistakes.

Take 2004, for example. Smarty Jones and Lion Heart were the top two betting choices in the Kentucky Derby, and they ran 1-2 in order of favoritism. Imperialism finished 3rd at a modest 10-1. But the fourth-place finisher, Limehouse, helped to light up the tote board by contributing to a $41,000 (for $2) superfecta at odds of 41-1. The trifecta only paid $987. So let’s say you liked the two favorites to run 1-2, and then used every horse that was under 20-1 the 3rd spot, with all in 4th. As a $2 play, that’s $380 and a return of over $41,000…..with the two favorites running 1-2 in order!

Easy game, right?

Not so fast. Last year, I liked Always Dreaming as a top win candidate, but wouldn’t have had Battle of Midway or Lookin at Lee even WITH the ALL button (joke). In 2013, Orb was my top pick, and I used runner-up Golden Soul on all tickets, but didn’t match them up with the rest of the superfecta.

Thus, one of my goals for this year is to make sure I am in a position to cash a big ticket if I am right about the most likely winner and also right about a longshot who runs big. And I need to do it economically. But at the same time, how many horses can I confidently eliminate from superfecta consideration? Six? Seven? Can I trim down my selections near the top of the ticket and allow myself to use the ALL button? Do I need to just single my top pick in the 1st spot in lieu of a win bet on him, and then spread heavily underneath?

Maybe I’m looking at something like 1x13x12x11 at a cost of $1,716 (that’s one horse keyed on top over the other 13 in spots 2-4). If one of the seven horses that I eliminate from superfecta consideration runs 4th, then I guess I can just accept the fact that I didn’t deserve to cash. Or maybe the thing to do is play my top two in 1st and demand that one of my top five or six longshots runs somewhere in the 2nd and 3rd spots, with the other logical horses in there as well. So, something like this:

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top six longshots
3rd: Top seven overall (including the top two)
4th: Top seven plus top six longshots

So that’s 2x6x6x10, for a cost of $720. And then I play it with longshots only in 2nd and 3rd at a cost of $600, followed by using the top seven in 2nd with just the longshots in 3rd for another $720.

So overall, I would spend more on the superfecta that way, but I’d have my top two on top instead of just a single horse. And in exchange for having that extra coverage on top, I must have at least one of my longshots run 2nd or 3rd, with a big payday coming my way if I’m right about the winner and the non-super-contenders, AND I get more than one one my longshots in the 2-4 spots.

With the 1x13x12x11 approach, I could easily envision a scenario where I hit the superfecta but lose money. See: 2016. But with the “demand a longshot” approach, my top pick could win, spots 2-3 could be filled by logical horses, one of my longshots could run 4th, and I lose. Again, that’s the price (in this example) of using two horses on top.

Or…maybe I try this…..

Use my top two in first, trim it down to three longshots, and leverage the ALL button.

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top three longshots
3rd: Top seven overall
4th: ALL

That would run me $612, plus another $612 when I move the longshots into 3rd and the top seven into 2nd, plus another $510 when I play it this way….

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top three longshots
3rd: Top six longshots
4th: ALL

The $510 play gives me a big score if my longshots run 2nd and 3rd, with some extra coverage in 3rd.

I am not after bragging rights. And having been very lucky in recent years to cash some very large tickets at the track, I am not excited by the prospect of winning a few thousand dollars on Derby Day. Apologies if anyone doesn’t like the way that sounds. But I don’t want to see another $75,000 superfecta pass me by.  I feel like I need to be willing to spend the money to hit it.

handicappers Dew Justin Rich Nilsen

Justin Dew (Left) and AGOS Founder Rich Nilsen (Right)

The goal between now and Derby Day is to figure out how to maximize my coverage and opportunity based on the opinions I will have developed on the 20 Derby entrants. And I am willing to use all or most of my bankroll to take a swing at that payday. Because if someone guaranteed me I could double my bankroll on the Kentucky Derby, I wouldn’t sign up.

Now, if my Derby bankroll is $2,000, and the horse I like is 12-1, maybe the thing to do is abandon the entire approach that I just spent the last hour writing about and simply bet to win.

I have a lot of thinking to do.

Overcoming Yourself

A Plan for a Day at the Horse Races

by Rich Nilsen

You’ve arrived at the feature race, and you’re down $180 for the day. Mentally, you are frustrated from having played every race on the card, losing two costly photo finishes, and having wagered on a “too good to be true” favorite who still hasn’t finished. You’ve narrowed the feature race down to two solid horses, but lack of conviction and failure to have a positive mindset is playing havoc on your decision making.

Lookin’ Good is the favorite at 2-to-1, and Darkened Form is an enticing wager at 6-to-1. In a moment of indecision, you glance at the past performances again in hopes of finally separating the two selections. Noticing the company line from three races back, you see that Lookin’ Good defeated Darkened Form by five widening lengths. You quickly scan your eyes to the closest monitor to see that there’s only two minutes to post, meanwhile, failing to notice that Darkened Form fell on his face at the start of that particular race. The rushed decision is finalized. Your remaining $20 is played as $10 to win on Lookin’ Good and a $10 straight exacta Lookin’ Good over Darkened Form.

horses racingYou return to your seat with zero minutes to post, grasping the tickets in your hands and praying for your luck to turn around. Darkened Form breaks to a clean lead as Lookin’ Good gets shuffled back into fifth. Your second selection continues on an uncontested lead while Lookin’ Good begins to weave his way through traffic. The favorite gets stopped behind a wall of horses as Darkened Form leads the field to the top of the stretch. You realized that your worst nightmare is coming true, as the 6-1 shot opens an insurmountable lead past the eighth pole. The favorite finally gets clear and closes with a tremendous rush. The rally falls a length short of Darkened Form, who scores at juicy dds.

You wanted to stay for the last race on the card, but you’re tapped out. On your way out, you see from the monitors that Darkened Form returned $15.40 to win and the “reverse” exacta returned $42.20. Then you recall what your good friend, a disciple of proper money management, would have done in this scenario. He would have used the $20 as follows: wager $10 to win on the longer priced horse, and box a $5 exacta with the two runners. Such a bet would have returned $182.50, covering your losses for the day.

This scenario is repeated numerous times a day at every betting facility in the country and every online wagering platform. The bettor encounters a race in which he or she does not know what they will do. This is the root of many handicappers’ problems. When a betting situation occurs, they either do not know what to do, or they let recent failures dictate their wager. The result is usually devastating to the struggling horseplayer.

Do you know what you would do in a particular situation? Having a betting plan puts you far ahead of the general public. Many handicappers do not think that they have a problem with betting scenarios, but they will end up wagering on similar situations completely different.

The wagering menu available may also dictate their bets. What normally would be a win and exacta box bet becomes a trifecta bet with the “chance” at a bigger payoff. The win and exacta are forgotten. The top selection wins but the other plays fail to complete the trifecta.

Does any of this sound familiar? How often has it occurred to you that the way you bet caused you to lose the race? Every handicapper has made this mistake. Some just continue to make it everyday.

For players who feel a change is required, let’s go through the steps required to become a better bettor.

 

STEP ONE: Determine Your Level of Risk – Exactly what kind of bettor are you? Are you a $2 win bettor, a $50 win bettor, a $100 multi-race exotics player, or a combination? Know what you are and stick to it.

STEP TWO: Build a Bankroll – The answer to the first step determines the size of your bankroll. The amount you wager on a daily basis, e.g. $200, should be about 5% of your bankroll, which, in this example, would be $4,000.

STEP THREE: Discipline – Avoid spreading your daily bankroll across 10 races. Spot playing does not have to mean one bet per week. Spot playing can be $200 wagered, in aggregate, on your two or three best races of the day.

STEP FOUR: Conviction – If you have to spread your bets too thin, a common occurrence for many at the track, then the wager is not worth making. Conviction results in smart bets with the prospect of a profitable return.

STEP FIVE: Strategy – The theme of this article. You need to predetermine the type of bets you will make depending on the scenario. Nothing needs to be written in stone, but guidelines do need to be decided upon beforehand.

If you have a solid selection in the second race, are you going to play the daily double and for how much? How much will you wager on your second race selection? If there are two horses you figure can run second to your top selection, how will you play the exacta? Of course, there are hundreds of scenarios, depending on your selections and the types of wagers offered. Make a conscious decision to predetermine the type of bets you will make. Be consistent and good luck!

 

  • Rich Nilsen is the founder of AGameofSkill.com. He will be making his 14th trip to the NHC next month.

Handicapping Tip #39 – Pace Makes the Race

Handicapping Tip of the Day

by Rich Nilsen

On select major days throughout the year, I offer my professional analysis of the big race, e.g. Preakness, and the undercard races at that track.   This past Saturday I did the 14 races on the Pimlico Preakness card, which is always a great day of wagering.  One of the key aspects of my report is the pace scenario analysis for each race.  If you don’t understand the expected pace of the race, it can be very difficult to select the winner or the top finishers.  How the race sets up is critical to predicting the outcome.

In turf sprints I almost always emphasize early speed, especially if it is a 5 furlong grass race.  In analyzing the pace of race #2 on Saturday (May 20, 2017) one horse jumped out to be as the lone speed.  #1A FLIGHT CREW was 20/1 on the morning line, enough to scare off many horseplayers.  After determining that he was probably the early pace setter, I needed to look at the overall early pace to determine if he could “hold on.”  Was there enough other early speed to put pressure on him at some critical early juncture of the race?  I came to the conclusion that the answer was “no.”  It looked like a moderate pace, so now I was very intrigued with this longshot and dug deeper.

Pace makes the race

He was the son of Elusive Quality, who has sired many good horses sprinting on the law, and out of a mare by Danzig (enough said).  The pedigree was certainly there.  This was only the 2nd career grass start for Flight Crew.  In his only other attempt, he pressed a fast pace (+17 +19 on the BRIS Race Shape figures) while going 1 1/16 miles on a good turf course.  Despite that, and breaking from a poor outside post, he still ended up defeating half the field, finishing 5th.   He was trained by 15% local horseman Hugh McMahon.  What else did one need to pull the trigger on a big longshot?

Pace makes the race.  Flight Crew did not get the initial lead but by the time the field hit the far turn of this turf dash, he was in complete control.  At odds of 9-1, he opened up under Katie Davis and kept the field at bay down the lane. Scores like this are very sweet indeed.

Make sure you analyze the pace of every race you wager.  It’s the first step to selecting many winners.

GOT REBATES?  Learn more here

Crush Keeneland with the Best Trainer Pattern Book

Rich Nilsen 13x NHC Qualifier

One score will more than pay for this book.  Our AGOS contributer Art Parker has a one-of-kind database on all the Keeneland trainers.  No one understands how these horsemen win better that Art. This year's guide is better than ever and now in a more user-friendly format.  It's a wealth of information for players wanting to attack the upcoming Keeneland meets.

Completely revamped. The 2017 Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns by Art Parker is now available.

Over 50 Trainers covered with a detailed summary of how they win!

Longshot horsemen identified for easy reference.

KEENELAND WINNING TRAINERS taps into Art Parker’s personal database and gives you the detailed pattern summaries on the 51 trainers, explaining exactly how they win at this prestigious meet.

Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns bookHow do they win? What handicapping patterns do they use?

How do they work their horses prior to victory?

Do they bring home horses at a price?

Do they score off the layoff?

What owners & jockeys do they team up with?

and much more.

Author and Agameofskill.com contributor Art Parker has taken a hard look into his comprehensive personal database to uncover the trainers that win the majority of races at the meet – the 51 Kings of Keeneland – with a close look at how they accomplish this.

This one-of-a-kind handicapping book includes three bonus handicapping articles written by veteran turf writers Art Parker and Rich Nilsen

The 2017 Annual Edition of “Keeneland Winning Trainers” is published by All Star Press LLC.
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You can put this comprehensive trainer guide on any PC or Mobile Device, and then easily look up the Kings of Keeneland when you are ready to handicap or play a race! Only $14.97 for the complete 33-page, jam packed book.

THAT’S LESS THAN 30 CENTS PER TRAINER

The Kindle version on Amazon is available here

Tips For Handicapping Horse Races of Odd Distances

Guest Post for AGameofSkill.com

There are no real standard distances in horse racing other than the classic races and the classic distances. While many tracks offer 6 furlong events, there are many that also card everything from 4 1/2 furlong events to 1 and 3/8 mile races and everything in between.

It can get confusing and, despite the advent of speed figures and the use of track variants to help in comparing racing times, there is still some confusion and some inequities. I don’t trust speed figures for races under 5 1/2 furlongs because I have found that at the shorter distances, speed figures have a tendency to jump up and appear as though a horse was really much faster than it really was.

Mountaineer racetrack

Beware the bush track horse’s speed figures

A horse that has been racing in 5 furlong races may post speed figures of 100 while switching to 6 furlong events will have it posting nothing higher than a 90. I’ve seen this pattern over and over. Therefore I am very careful about comparing speed figures when horses are going from races of less than 5 1/2 furlongs. The same is true of races over 1 1/4 miles, they just don’t seem to compare well.

While many of the larger tracks shy away from races of odd distances, the smaller ones seem to embrace them. One pattern I have seen repeated is that a horse will ship into a larger track from a bush track. That horse has been racing at the odd distances and seems to have speed figures that make it a contender, but when the gate opens it trails the field, unable to keep up.

It isn’t long before that runner is back at the bush track, seemingly burning up the course. The problem isn’t just that the competition was tougher, it is that the horse never really was as good as its speed figures made it appear to be. On the other hand, look out for horses that do specialize at the odd distances. There are some horses that seem to prefer races of five furlongs or seven furlongs who regularly fail at the more prevalent distance of six furlongs.

If a trainer seems determined to get a horse in a race of 5 furlongs or seven furlongs and seems to wait for those opportunities, it may be that he or she realizes the horse has a penchant for those distances and will excel at them while failing at the commonly-run six furlongs, even if it is in with a softer field. Horses, like people, have their quirks and preferring a particular distance to race is one of them.

The most consistent horse racing systems have to have the basics and a handicapper must understand the basics. I have been around horse racing for 50 years including as an owner. Without the basics the rest is not going to do any good. If you want to learn how a horse owner and insider handicaps just go to Matchbook and get the truth. Also, for the latest horse racing odds, visit Matchbook.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #35 – Start at the Start

by Art Parker

Saratoga starting gate

Good horseplayers investigate troubled trips when trying to determine the truth about a horse’s past. The best way to do this is by watching video tape replays. The best place to start watching and begin your analysis of a troubled trip is the start of a race. The first three seconds of a race can mean everything. A horse may be prohibited from his usual running style. A slight squeeze at the start can cost three-four lengths. Trouble can be found at any point in a race, but more trouble occurs at the start than anywhere else. And, when you view the start of a race try to get a view from every angle possible.

Related Article:

Racing’s Most Important Moment is When the Gate Opens – great insight on this topic

Handicapping Tip of the Day #23 – Watch for this Sneaky Trainer Move

Up in class, distance switch

by Art Parker

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

I know you have seen it so you should remember it. A horse comes off a layoff and runs opposite of its historical successful distances. The horse gets trounced in his return to battle but then shows up a short time later for another race. But this time the horse goes back to its successful distance and goes up in class. For most players this move is a world of trouble simply because of the increase in class.

When you are confronted with this, take the time to view the replay of the return race. Did it look like the horse was intentionally wide in the trip? Was the horse gunned to the front when it is not usually a speed horse? If something doesn’t look right it may be that the trainer was using the return race to tighten up the horse. The trainer may know his horse is close to being ready and just needed to get a race in his charge. One key is the short turn around. If a trainer thought his horse wasn’t ready after a return race then why hurry it back to the track?

Other things to look for in this situation is a positive jockey change or a change in equipment. Catching a good trainer with a slick move is hard to do. Remember, suspicion will not work for you unless…you are suspicious.

How to Find Value: 4 Angles for Horseplayers

by Glen S.  for AGameofSkill.com

Sharp horse players are always looking for value.   Are you? It is tough enough to make money at the races, so betting underlays means you need to pick even more winners. The easiest way to find value is when the wagering consensus on the race, in your perspective, is incorrect.

I find the best way to find value is by uncovering overbet, vulnerable favorites.

Here are a few horse racing angles I always like to watch for to bet against:

-Maidens that finished 2nd and are now dropping a level.

Why would you drop a horse to a lower level when you just beat everyone at a higher level. The only way I may consider betting this horse is if the higher level was really slow time and the trainer knows that he needs to drop

– 28 days of no activity.

When a horse has not raced or worked out in over 28 days, I find this is a bad sign. Why wouldn’t you at least work your horse out if you can’t find a race for him to enter?  At “A” tracks this is a very strong angle, “B and C” tracks the top trainers still get away with it and may even hide a few works from time to time. I still would not make a strong bet on them.

-Dropping a horse after a good performance.

Why drop when the horse is competitive at a higher level while posting strong numbers? Sure the top trainers will run the horse down the others’ throat and you need to be aware of that. The poor trainers are poor oftentimes because they don’t have the stock to win. However, if a drop down off a good performance is trained by a weak (low %) trainer, then the class drop surely means a sore animals.  Small barns don’t have the luxury of “playing poker” like the big outfits, e.g. David Jacobson.

-First time front bandages.

This is strong when a horse was running well and is dropping. Also a horse that has had a good career and not worn them before, especially when the horse will be the favorite.

When these “bet against” angles occur, really take the time to find something to take a shot on. You will get your value. Maybe you will not win, but will feel much better knowing by picking a winner you will be rewarded. A few ways to play the race would be box a few horses in an exacta or take a bunch in a rolling pick three.   Consider even a bet in the win, place or show pool on your choice of the race.

Go find your value, it’s out there.

Click here for a custom rebate schedule and special BC signup offer

Click here for a custom rebate schedule and special BC signup offer

Horse Racing Handicapping is a Process

How to invest in horse racing

by Glen S. for Agameofskill.com

Do you have a process in handicapping a race? If you say “NO”, you are already behind the eight ball. If the answer is “YES”, then the next question: is it a successful one that makes you money?

There are many successful ways to process a race. Everyone is a little different in getting the correct result. Here is mine:

Step 1: Check the race distance and conditions. (self explanatory but kind of important) along with the betting options.

Step 2: Scan the entire field first, jockeys, trainers, last race and date, and workouts.

I find it important to get an overall perception of all the horses as a group first. Make some quick notes on each horse. This first scan gives you an idea of the level of competition.

Step 3: Now start to get some race shape of the field.

Find the early pace horses (the ‘need the lead’ ones if there are any in the field), stalker and closers. This part of the process is a absolute must. If there is a lone speed horse in the field that instantly makes that runner a contender

Step 4: Next, start to look at each horse a little more individually.

Confirm running style, and ask the question: is the horse in improving form or declining form? What is the top effort of the horse and can they run that today? I use the “Horse Street Par times” quite regularly, especially on the tracks I play (that is another blog entirely) to give me figures at where they might be throughout the race.  Perform a quick scan of the beyer’s figures simply to see their average level. I do not live or die on these figures.  The main reason for that is because too many people use these ratings and they effect the price (odds of the horses) too much.

Step 5: At this point I will have my contenders and pretenders.  I will view the replays of the contenders for sure, especially if the comments have a trouble line or many have run against each other. Replays are so valuable, because you can spot things that can’t be seen in numbers.

Step 6: By now I will have an idea in the direction I want to bet. If there is a standout in my mind that becomes a win bet.  I may throw a few runners that I like in an exacta box. If I have a top horse or two and then a few at each level then maybe a trifecta wheel comes to mind. I do not restrict myself on the same types of bets in each race. It all depends on what I come up with is how I bet the race; it may also mean passing a race and moving on.  With this type of handicapping process, you can become more successful at the races and enjoy it that much more.

– Of note, the first two steps of the process for myself usually occurs the night before and then I go with step three the next day. For me it really sets myself up for a strong day and clear vision day of racing, and saves a lot of time on race day.

I could write a short novel on the process but I tried to keep it as short and ‘to the point’ as I could. Any comments good or bad are always welcome. I am always willing to learn; everyone should want to improve their process in ‘capping races.