You Learn More When You Lose Than When You Win


Many benefits come my way in my real profession of a newspaper editor. Located in a bedroom community next to our state capital I have the luxury (or burden) of knowing many politicians and knowing the real truth about what is going on. This puts me in a position where people running for office often seek my counsel, especially those running for the first time that need of votes from my community. It is true, and don’t let anyone tell you different, that good columnists and editors of local newspapers have a colossal impact on the political landscape in this country, especially at the state and local level. But the time we have the greatest impact is with verbal communication with a candidate or one who already holds office.

I’m getting around to horse racing after this last piece of political chat so hang on. When a new comer to the political scene comes in my office and tells me he/she wants to run for a position I eventually get around to the key question. “What happens if you lose?” That is the question that starts the world turning in the other direction. They usually stammer or say “I’m not going to lose,” or something else. Never, do they say what they need to say to reflect wisdom. Eventually I get around to asking them that you may lose, especially if you run against an incumbent, so, what are you going to do then? Usually, there is no answer. Then I give them what I think is the best advice I could give anyone.

The advice applies to everything we do in life and certainly applies to politics and those that run for office. I tell them to run and don’t worry about winning. I tell them to get all involved and do everything you can to win. “But, if you lose it may be the best thing for you,” and that is when I get looks like I’m crazy. I always say, “You learn more when you lose than when you win.” It is a fact. I tell them run and don’t worry about it, just take a lot of notes. You get your name out there. You learn how to run. You may even find another office to seek besides the one you seek now. But whatever you do just remember, “You learn more when you lose than when you win.” Just ask Abe Lincoln. You look at his track record and one wonders how he was ever elected President.

Now, on to horse racing with this thought in mind. We are currently in the time of year where most everyone is in a “Derby craze.” Those who have played less than a few years are more susceptible to this mental state. The Derby craze will only get stronger the closer we get to the first Saturday in May.  So many players start reading everything about the ‘Run for the Roses’ and making decisions about this one race months away. They do not know what the weather will be on that Saturday, much less what horses will even be running. So every day that they do play, many of these horseplayers make their bets (and usually lose), but they always keep up with the Derby trail, what trainer said what, and read all about the latest hot horse, etc.

I’m glad there is much enthusiasm for our most sacred day, Kentucky Derby Day. It is a great day for racing. But that one race means so little in the grand scheme of things to the individual horseplayer.

Like many players, I spent several years at a track with my favorite bunch of “track buddies,” and pretty much every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we were together playing the horses. It was like guys that play golf together every weekend. Many of you have the same experience. One member of our group was the source of all the latest news on most everything that meant nothing at the moment. In the spring he knew just about everything about every horse that was a potential Derby runner. He would tell us all this stuff all weekend, every weekend. And he was a terrible horse player. He was a terrible “selector” and a terrible “bettor.” He was terrible. But, he was as great a fan of the game as you will ever find.

One weekend only a few races remained before quitting time rolled around and our friend leaned over to me and asked, “Hey buddy, you got a hundred I can borrow?” I looked at him and asked, “How many tickets have you cashed all weekend, maybe two or three? And last weekend it was the same, right?” He hung his head and shrugged his shoulders. I looked at him, rolled up my Racing Form and popped him in the back of the head. “If you would quit trying to be a Derby expert and try to figure out why you get your butt kicked all the time you would not need to borrow money,” I said with an authoritative, fatherly tone. I was the oldest in age and had more tenure in the game than anyone else in our group, so I guess I got by with it and no one else said anything.

Well, our friend didn’t show up for the next five weeks at the track. He wouldn’t return phone calls from anyone in the group. Some of the other guys let me know I was too tough on him. I started to feel bad. Then he showed up on a Saturday, all smiles. He sat next to me and said, “That was the best thing you could ever do for me,” which, of course, made me feel a lot better. He saved everything and probably had a thousand Racing Forms in his house and the charts to go with them. Our weak player had decided to pay attention to what he was doing. He looked at me and said, “I didn’t pay attention to my losing ways and that is why I never learned anything. I’ve started to go back and see a ton of mistakes I’ve made.”

I’m happy to say that my friend from many years ago is a fine player now. He pays attention to what he is doing, especially the losing efforts. Today, if you ask him in late April about the Derby he probably will say nothing because he is analyzing the $7,500 claiming race from Delaware Park he just lost (he doesn’t have as many of these losers as he once did) .

You learn more when you lose than when you win.  It’s one of the greatest lessons in politics, in horse racing and in life. Remembering this lesson will surely improve your effort as a horse player.

Handicapper Art Parker  — Art Parker is the author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns.” A new edition is due out in March, 2012 and available here at


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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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