Do These Two Things Every Day at Saratoga

Saratoga backsideSaratoga, aka The Spa, is one of the best places in the world to visit. Nestled in a quaint town in the middle of the spectacular Adirondack Mountains, Saratoga Racetrack is like none other in the country. Known for the best horse racing during the year, Saratoga is the race meet many horseplayers look forward to each summer.

I have been going to “the Spa” since I was a young boy. When I visited as a tyke with my family in 1977, a couple of two years olds by the names of Affirmed and Alydar were running that day. My father liked Alydar. Neither my mom nor my brother knew how to handicap, but they both picked Affirmed to win. The rest is history.

There is nothing like Saratoga racing in the summer, and for a horse racing fan, it doesn’t get much better. Needless to say, it is a heck of a lot better when you win… and win consistently.

How can one possibly beat Saratoga, one of the toughest meets that handicappers will face all year long? The top barns converge on the beautiful upstate New York track every summer, and the money of horseplayers everywhere follows in droves. Pools are plentiful, but so are the contentious races. And it is those contentious races that can make Saratoga so difficult to beat. There are some races that are reminiscent of the Breeders’ Cup events where so many runners are contenders and throw-outs are hard to find.

There are several facets of Saratoga that every handicapper should know, and there are some solid strategies that I recommend for beating the 2023 meet which begins Thursday, July 13, and runs through Monday, September 4. Just by applying the following two steps you will put yourself ahead of the wagering public who have no game plan and approach each day at the Saratoga Racecourse haphazardly.

Have a Game Plan for The Spa

How often do we approach an important meet like this, and we have no idea what we are hoping to accomplish and how we are going to wager from one day to the next? I’ll take an educated guess and say that is the case for most players. We don’t want to shoot from the hip. Many players, including myself, make wagers based on the races we handicap and “who we like.” We will make all sorts of bets, from straight wagers to stabs at the Pick Six.

The better choice is to decide what your game plan is going to be prior to opening day of the Saratoga meeting. It is certainly fine to make various types of bets, but you may want to focus most of your wagering strategy on one or two bet types. Maybe you are good at structuring Trifecta or Pick-4 wagers. Maybe you’re an effective straight player (win, place, show) but you get “sucked into” playing exotics. Recognize your strengths and build a game plan around them.

Heeding this advice and showing discipline throughout the meet could be a real difference maker for your bottom line. Fortunately, most of the general public does not approach the races with this mindset, and that is great for us handicappers who are taking this seriously.

Pick Your Spots at Saratoga

“Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.” ~ Lou Holtz

On a related note, picking your spots is the key to beating the meet. You are not going to finish ahead by the time Labor Day rolls around if you are playing every available race at the Spa. Unless you’re Houdini, wagering on hundreds of races at Saratoga and turning a profit isn’t going to happen.

Needless to say, this is good advice, year-round, for horseplayers but especially so for Saratoga due to all the contentious races. Handicappers looking to turn a profit over the 40 days have to pick their spots. Focus on the races you excel at and avoid the ones you typically don’t have a good handle on. If you have been playing the races long enough, then you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, so use that knowledge to your advantage. Or pay the consequences.

Have a game plan this Summer and focus on your best plays. Best of luck!

Related Information for Horseplayers

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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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