8 Strategies and Tips to Help Your Bottom Line – Part II

Ross Gallo continues offering his wisdom from 30 years of handicapping with the remaining five steps from his article last week.

Don’t be afraid to use the “All” button on occasion.  Handicappers are a proud lot.  I know guys who will never press “All”.  “There’s always throwouts.”  Or, “The 5, 7 and 8 can’t win here.”  I get it, really.  You know what you’re doing, you can weed out the race and it’s a waste of money.  Well, I contend that horses win every day that you couldn’t have had with tomorrow’s paper.  And I certainly don’t think you should always use it, but sometimes there are races so hard they can’t be handicapped.  And the extra cost will repay you in the long run with just a couple of those “impossible” wrinkles.

An example: 2007 the first year the Breeders Cup went to two days, I was at Canterbury Park preparing to play in my handicapping tournament (yes I had a real-money high end BC tournament, LONG before the BCBC.  But that’s a story for another day), a few buddies and I decided to pitch in and play the late Pick 4.  I took everyone’s opinion and started writing up the play.  We agreed on two things, the first leg was impossible and we liked Corinthian in the last leg, the Dirt Mile.  I felt I was done when I noticed we had left four horses out of the first leg.  I wrote one last ticket, those four with our top three horses in both of the next two legs and Corinthian in the last.  $36 out of a total $600 play, only 6% of the play.  Impossible horse wins first leg, $60 or $80 to win I think.  Top 3 win next two, and Corinthian jogs.  The payoff: $24,000.

We’re high fiving and celebrating, another friend comes up to me, ‘How on earth did you guys come up with that first horse?!”  “All” button baby!  Can’t cash a Pick 4 if you’re not alive.”  With 50 cent Pick 3, 4 and 5’s, 10 cents supers and Pick 6’s out there, the cost of this practice, on occasion, is not as severe as one might think.  And I would point out, in a 10 cents super, you might only need one of those 80-1 shots to run third or fourth to make you a big score.

ALWAYS bet against Bridge Jumpers.  Bridge Jumpers, for those of you who might not know, are people who see what looks like a sure thing horse and bet huge amounts to show in order to grab that quick 5% return.  $100,000 to show will earn you a $5,000 profit.  This will often work, but as everyone knows there is no such thing as a sure thing.  Play everyone else to show every time in this scenario.  The risk is minimal.  In a six horse race, for example, a $5 show bet on everyone else in the race (besides the favorite) will cost $25 and you’re guaranteed $10.50 back.  In an extreme situation, if one of those horses miss, you could average $75 a show ticket.  That would get you a return of $562.50.  The payoffs aren’t always that big, but the upside far outweighs the risk.  These horses run out on occasion, and in the long run you can’t lose playing against them.   Bet $2, $5, $10, $20, or even $100.  Whatever your bankroll allows, whenever you see a horse with 95% of the Show pool or more, NEVER pass on any of these opportunities.

“My friend just burned $600 because he’s up there calling numbers out and has no clue what he has or hasn’t got. “

Try to find a rebate program.  There are so many of them out there these days.  Most of the online services, and even some tracks offer cash back.  Ask your friends what they’re doing, but definitely look around.  The more you bet, the more they’ll give you, but even a percentage point back can have a positive effect on your bottom line come year’s end.

Keep a playback/play against list.  DRF and Brisnet.com both offer Stable Mail for free.  Easy to use, for sure, and invaluable.  You see a horse get stopped several times, come late for a sneaky fifth, you have to bet him back.  With horses changing tracks it’s easy to miss him if you don’t have an email notification service.  Conversely, I find keeping horses to play against next out just as valuable.  Odds-on favorite gets perfect trip and is all out to beat a 30-1 shot and looks terrible doing it.  Form will look good with the win, but that’s a horse that will get bet next out that I want to eliminate.  Betting against low priced horses that you’re fairly sure are throwouts?  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Wagering Tote self service machine

copyright AGameofSkill.com

Write down your bets before you go to the window.  This sounds simple right?  It is, but I’d love to have a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like this:  “Hey what do you like this race?”  “I love the 6 with 1, 2, 3.”  I watch the race, it runs 621, I see my friend.  “What did you get there?” “I don’t know he says as he rifles through the tickets.”  “Oh no man I forgot to get the $20 exactas 6 over 1-2-3, I only have a stinking $1 tri.”  Exacta paid $60 but the favorite ran third and the trifecta was $150 for a dollar.  My friend just burned $600 because he’s up there calling numbers out and has no clue what he has or hasn’t got.  I always write my bets down before I go to the window or sit down to bet at the computer.  This way I know I’ll get what I want, and if the total comes out different than what I figured, I know I forgot something or messed up a part wheel ticket.  This is a very simple tip that will save you from yourself.  The game is hard enough as it is, you don’t want to leave money behind with human error.

There you have it.  A few things that have worked out well for me over the years; hope they do the same for you.  Happy hunting (winners) my friends!

How Well do Horse Racing Favorites Perform?

[updated December, 2022]

by Rich Nilsen

The wagering public has been pretty amazing over the years. Historically, the betting choice, a.k.a. the favorite, has hit the Winner’s Circle at tracks all over the country at a fairly consistent 32% success rate. However, over the past decade or so I noticed that this rate of how horse racing favorites perform continued to creep up.

There is little doubt that smaller fields have played a significant role in this increase. The bottom line is that the widely used 32% win rate for favorites is inaccurate by over 15% (38 vs 32 percent) as favorites nationwide win 38 percent of the time.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am the first guy who will be quick to bet against the favorite. In fact, that is what I am looking to do every time I handicap a race.

Here are the average win rates for the wagering public’s favorite, on average, at racetracks across the nation:

Favorites Win 38% of the time

Favorites Place (run 1st or 2nd) 60% of the time

Favorites Show (run 1st, 2nd or 3rd) 72% of the time

Consider these numbers the next time you place a horse racing wager! If you are playing a trifecta wager, for example, where you have to pick the top 3 finishers in order, is it wise to just toss the favorite with no regard to the percentages? Considering that the typical favorite hits the board (show) over 70% of the time, the answer in most cases may be a resounding “no!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am the first guy who will be quick to bet against the favorite. In fact, that is what I am looking to do every time I handicap a race. However, I like to think that I am not stupid (no witty comments please). I realize that the favorite in most races stands an excellent chance of hitting the board. For that reason, I will often “use” the public choice in my wagers – somewhere – even if I am betting against him. It’s not just an insurance play. It’s playing the percentages, and as a “numbers” guy, that is what I am about.

A good example is the trifecta wager. Let’s say you don’t like the favorite. You are playing against him to win. However, realizing this horse could very well “hit the board” the wise thing is to include him underneath in the trifecta bet.

Learn about other handicapping tips from AGOS

This is a prime reason why “boxing” horses in a trifecta is usually not a good idea. If you don’t like the favorite to win, then don’t use him in a box, where, in essence, you are including him in the win hole of the trifecta wager. Otherwise, you would not be playing against him.

Post Parade Gulfstream Park maiden race

Copyright Agameofskill.com

The 2012 Donn Handicap was an excellent betting race, a great event to wager on the trifecta if you had an opinion. My top two choices in this field were Trickmeister and Hymn Book. I did not particularly care for Preakness winner Shackleford, but I realized that he could certainly be in the money, especially if he got loose on the lead.

With a full, competitive field of stakes runners, this was just the type of situation where you would hate to be right about one of your top choices (marked as A, B runners) but miss the trifecta because you tossed the favorite.

Hymn Book (A) and Trickmeister (B) were both square prices at 6-1 and 4-1, respectively. My (C) and (D) horses were Mission Impazible and Flat Out.

In this race I honestly felt any of the 11 runners could run third. When you are presented with a race like this, it is useful to employ the “ALL” button in the third slot. The approach with this type of race is to key around your top choices, and play a partwheel similar to the one presented below:

A, B with

A, B, C, D with


Total cost for this Trifecta: $108 based on a $2 base wager. The trifecta is calculated as follows: 2 horses x 3 horses (four minus one) x remaining horses, which in this case is 9 (11 minus two). Players with a larger bankroll could then reverse the 2nd and 3rd slot of the Trifecta for $1 for an additional $54 bet:

A, B with

ALL with

A, B, C, D

The idea behind the second ticket would be a form of protection in the event a longshot – or, even the favorite – got up for the Place spot.

Alhough the favorite, Shackleford, failed to hit the board in the Donn Handicap, I was protected with this wager in the event he did [provided, of course, that he didn’t win].

Hymn Book (6/1) defeated Mission Impazible (8/1) in a real thriller, as Redeemed (8/1) finished third. The $2 trifecta payoff returned a lucrative $1,296. Even if Shackleford had finished in the money, the trifecta still would have been a nice payoff because of the competitive nature of the field.

Imagine if my top two choices, Hymn Book and Trickmeister, had run one-two and Shackleford had ruined my trifecta? If I absolutely hated the favorite and completely tossed him from the wager, that would be a different story. But that wasn’t the case here. Shackleford was the deserving [lukewarm] favorite in this field. That didn’t mean I had to like him.

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Ten Pitfalls Handicappers Need to Avoid in 2012

With pretty much any problem the first road to recovery is admitting your mistakes. As horseplayers we all made blunders this past year. In fact, I dare say that if we had a dollar for every mistake we made in 2011, we would have enough funds to go after one of those big Southern California carryovers.

 It is never too late to learn from the mistakes we made over the past year and make corrections for future days at the parimutuel windows. In fact, it is vital to our success as horseplayers.

My father, one of the best handicappers I know, often reminded me that horse racing will teach a person to lose better than any other sport or recreation. Wise words, indeed. Anyone who has played the horses long enough understands that this game can be like a roller coaster ride. Your emotions can be riding sky high one moment and, less than 25 minutes later, plummeted to rock bottom.

 Successful horseplayers are able to ride out the low times in order to reach the peak moments. Winning players also recognize their faults and consequently make fewer mistakes than their competition. And who is that? Their fellow horseplayer.

 If you’re not pleased with the results you had in 2011, then check off the following mistakes that you made this past year. Put a star next to the areas you really need to improve on.

1-      You know that you are selecting a high percentage of winners, but your wagering strategies have caused you to lose money on days when you should have won based on your handicapping.

2-      Instead of selecting prime wagering opportunities, you are betting nearly every race you handicap or every race on the card.

3-      You are using the same general information to handicap that the majority of the general public utilizes. If the only thing you are using to handicap is the track program, it is not going to be easy to out-handicap the thousands of others who are using the same program.

4-      You are swayed easily by others’ opinions, lacking conviction in your own selections and analysis. What you hear on TVG or HRTV, for example, influences how you will wager on the upcoming race.

5-      You concentrate most of your wagers on low-percentage wagers, e.g. trifectas, superfectas, Pick-4s, Pick-6s, etc.

6-      You look for the quick fix, such as a hot tip from an insider or some mail order ‘winning’ system.

7-      You blame a losing outcome on shenanigans, instead of searching for the clues that pointed to the rightful winner.

8-      You pay no attention to how the track is playing, ignoring any potential track biases at play. Are you betting closers on a day when early speed is dominating? Are you wagering on running styles that rarely win at that distance and surface?

9-      You wager with scared money, having not set aside a bankroll strictly for horse racing investments.

10-  You lack a plan or strategy for wagering. It is commonplace for you to get online with only a few minutes to post without knowing what wagers you plan to make.

 If you’ve been playing the horses long enough, then chances are you have committed all of the mistakes listed above. Hopefully, you are at a point where you have only committed a few on this list within the past year. The difference between the everyday handicapper and the successful horseplayer is who continues to make the same mistakes and who does not.

 Sit back and ponder which mistakes you have committed and which have really cost you on the bottom line. Consider what steps you need to take in order to avoid these same mistakes in the New Year.

 If you believe that your handicapping is above average, then look at your wagering strategies. Are you swinging for the fences every time, trying to nail the trifecta, instead of cashing a nice win wager or exacta play? Knock your bets down a level. If Pick-3 wagers have been unsuccessful, then concentrate on the Daily Double instead. The inevitable result is that you will cash more tickets and boost your confidence.

 Make a horseplayer’s resolution for the New Year. Correct the mistakes you’ve been making and avoid these pitfalls this season. By doing so, you’ll immediately have an edge over the wagering public. When you minimize the number of mistakes you make on a daily or weekly basis, your confidence will soar and you’ll be winning more often. Isn’t that a resolution worth keeping in 2012?