Changing Your Handicapping Paradigm
“I took the one less traveled by, and it has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
Many players find it difficult to look past the favorites in a race to find live longshots that may offer big value not only in the win pool but that could juice up exotic pools as well or vault them to the top of a contest leaderboard. If you are one of these players, how do you break out of that mindset? Read on to learn about one simple technique that might dramatically change your approach to handicapping.
What is a Paradigm?
The term “paradigm” has been used frequently in popular literature. Even those who typically don’t read much other than the Daily Racing Form have probably come across the term but what does it really mean and what could it possibly have to do with handicapping a horse race? A paradigm is a change in your frame of reference with regards to how you think about something. Let us use a racing example to illustrate. Everyone is familiar with watching a horse race using the normal “pan” shot of the race. It is a great way to watch how a race unfolds and to identify which horses are making moves and which horses are starting to back up. It also makes it easy to see the silks and saddlecloth numbers of the horses. The pan shot is the best way to watch a live horse race and you get a lot of information from that view, but you also miss out on a lot of information. Instead of watching a race using the pan view, try watching the same race using the “head on” view. The race will look dramatically different. You will now see a lot of things that you missed with the pan view such as which runners broke out of the gate straight, which were bumped, etc. This is an example of a valuable paradigm shift that most trip-oriented horseplayers have successfully leveraged. What if you could shift your paradigm for handicapping a race in a similar but even more fundamental way?
Changing Your Handicapping Paradigm
Most players are familiar with the term “redboard.” It refers to boasting about a winning wager and why you liked the winner of a race AFTER the race is run. It originated from the old-time method of declaring a race official, by posting a red flag or board on the tote board. Nobody likes to listen to someone redboard, but when a longshot that we overlooked wins a race, most of us will go back and look at the past performances and to try and uncover any information that would help explain why that horse won the race. This can be a useful exercise that helps you expand your thinking so what if we took this to the extreme and shifted our handicapping approach a full 180 degrees. What if instead of redboarding AFTER the race, we applied that same type of thinking but did so BEFORE the race? That is exactly what I am proposing that you do. I coined a term for this new handicapping paradigm – greenboarding.
What do I mean by greenboarding? Let us illustrate by example. Start with a typical approach to handicapping such as the following:
- Identify the logical contenders and why they look better than the rest of the field using popular and proven factors such as fast recent speed figures, class advantage, pace advantage, top trainer, rider, etc. This method is logical but typically leads you to the likely favorites because that approach is very similar to that used by most other players, which is exactly why those horses will be favorites.
- Identify all the horses that you can “toss” as non-contenders based on using popular and proven factors such as slow recent speed figures, class disadvantage, pace disadvantage, poor trainer, rider, etc. Again, this method makes sense but typically leads you to toss all the longer-priced entrants because that approach is very similar to that used by most other players, which is exactly why those horses will be longer prices.
Now, instead of stopping your analysis at that point to move on to the next step and formulate your wagers, take it one step farther and shift your paradigm in the following way:
- Take the longest-priced horse that you “tossed” initially and imagine that the race is over and the longshot has won. Now redboard why the horse won the race. See if you can come up with some plausible reason(s) why the horse won. Plausible is a stronger term than possible. Almost anything is possible. Plausible means that there is a reasonable chance that it could happen. We are talking about more than the chance of being struck by lightning or that Mike Smith will try to save ground in a turf race. There should be at least a 10 to 20 percent chance that it could happen. This will force you to be creative and move beyond the typical handicapping factors, which is a great way to separate yourself from the crowd and identify hidden value in a race. In most cases, even your most inventive ideas will not lead you to a plausible reason that the horse will win. That is fine. You can toss such horses with even more confidence. But occasionally, you will uncover something that you missed initially. Some creative angle that leads you to believe that the horse has a plausible chance to win. In such cases, you have greenboarded your way to a good value play that likely will be overlooked by most other players.
For example, assume there is a longshot that has run poorly in its last four races and, at first glance, looks like an easy toss. But you find that, if you greenboard that horse and dig a little deeper, then you see that the race four back was after a long layoff and the horse always runs poorly off the bench. Further checking shows that the barn has not won off such a layoff in 81 tries over the last 5 years. You also see that the following race was in the slop and the horse always runs poorly in the slop and that the next race was a route and the horse has not won in 6 tries routing but has won 3 of 7 races while sprinting. Finally, you look at its most recent race sprinting on a fast track, but you cannot come up for an excuse for that effort based on the information in the Past Performances. But then you decide to watch the replay of that race (head on view of course) and you notice that the horse seemed to be moving well early on while in the clear but began to climb and toss it’s head because of kickback when the rider tucked him in behind horses. That caused him to drop back to last where he stayed down the backside and through the turn until the rider finally shifted him out into the clear in mid-stretch. He did try to re-rally a bit all on his own at that point, but by then he was hopelessly beaten and the rider did not push him at all down the lane. Suddenly, that longshot does not look nearly so hopeless. He had valid excuses for his last 4 races and prior to that he had won 2 of his last 4 dirt sprints on fast tracks. You now feel that he indeed has a plausible chance to win the race and is great value at likely long odds.
Next, repeat this process for all of the longer-priced horses that you tossed initially to see if you can greenboard any hidden handicapping gems among those outcasts.
- Finally, take the likely favorite in the race and imagine that the race is over and the favorite has lost. Now redboard why the horse lost the race. See if you can come up with some likely reason(s) why the horse lost. Note that we use the term “likely” (i.e., more than a 50% chance) rather than plausible (at least a 10-20% chance) because you are now looking for reasons to bet against the horse rather than bet on the horse and thus we have to raise the bar significantly to find value in betting against the favorite. Once again, this will force you to be creative and move beyond the typical handicapping factors, which is a great way to separate yourself from the crowd and identify a bad favorite in a race. In some cases, even your most inventive ideas will not lead you to a likely reason that the horse will lose. That is fine. You can now play such horses with more confidence. But occasionally, you will uncover something that you missed initially. Some creative angle that leads you to believe that the favorite is likely to lose. In such cases, you have greenboarded your way to identifying a weak favorite that likely will be overplayed by others.
For example, assume that the favorite just convincingly defeated most of the other entrants in the race and, at first glance, looks like an easy repeat winner. But if you look closer and watch all the replays of the races run the day of that last race (or use available bias information such as that shown in some PPs or track websites), you may find that there was an extremely strong speed/rail bias that day and the favorite grabbed an easy lead on the golden rail for a bias-aided victory. The horse has drawn the rail again today, but this is the last race on the card and it is pretty clear, based on watching the prior races, that there is no rail bias today and, in fact, it might be the just the opposite. You also notice that there is another speed horse in the race that was not in the previous race and this speed horse looks quicker than the nead-the-lead-type favorite based on pace figures in your PPs. You now feel that this favorite looks likely to lose and is a weak favorite that you are confident in betting against.
That’s it. That simple paradigm shift from redboarding AFTER that race about winning longshots and losing favorites to greenboarding BEFORE the race looking for possible live longshots to play and weak favorites to play against can lead you down the path less traveled by, and make all the difference.
Follow that author, Christopher Larmey, on Twitter @derby1592
Additional Reading Material from the Author
Value is in the Eye of the Beholder: Making good decisions, particularly when gambling, is about balancing risk and reward. Finding that right balance is difficult but essential and depends on your personal situation, objectives, and appetite for risk. Value for a professional is not the same as value for a casual recreational player so a good bet for one might actually be a bad bet for the other and vice versa. It also means that you can actually make a “bad” winning bet and a “good” losing bet. This article is an attempt to explain why this is the case and to hopefully provide some insight into how you might find your personal sweet spot with regards to risk and reward and thus make better decisions that result in better outcomes.
How to Greenboard Your Way to Much Improved Play: Many players find it difficult to look past the favorites in a race to find live longshots that may offer big value not only in the win pool but that could juice up exotic pools as well vault them to the top of a contest leaderboard. If you are one of these players, how do you break out of that mindset? Read on to learn about one simple technique that might dramatically change your approach to handicapping.
Shift your Pick-5 into Overdrive: The popularity of the Pick-5 has risen dramatically in recent years for many reasons. The wagering menu at most major tracks now includes Pick-5s that offer low takeout (compared to most other wagers) along with the possibility of large payouts sometimes even exceeding five figures. That is the good news. The bad news is that the Pick-5 is a difficult bet to cash and is also a challenging one to bet efficiently. That is a dangerous combination because many players are likely to focus on only trying to cash the bet as often as possible given their limited bankroll without taking into consideration the actual value they are getting from their play. That approach will inevitably lead to disappointment over the long term. This article provides a basic way to begin to factor value into Pick-5 ticket construction (or any other horizontal wager) to help overcome that natural tendency to just focus on cashing. It is overly simplistic and far from ideal but can help some players improve their results because they can begin to bet more efficiently and, given the pari-mutuel nature of the game, can thus begin to profit from the folly of others.
How to Thrive on the Pick-5: With many tracks now offering a lower takeout Pick-5, it has been rapidly growing in popularity and has become the go-to bet for many players. That popularity has created huge liquidity in one of the few pools where the new Computer Robotic Wagering (CRW) methods seem to have very little edge over the everyday player. Given that, I thought players would love to hear the insights of a few highly respected, successful players about how to structure tickets and attack the Pick 5. There is a lot of great information and discussion about handicapping races generally available but not nearly so much about how to structure tickets and bet races based on your handicapping opinion. This article is an attempt to begin to address that deficiency for what is one of the most popular and challenging wagers of all, the Pick-5. I asked four top players to answer a list of questions. Their full responses to each question are included at the end but we will begin with a brief summary of their combined wisdom focusing on points of general consensus but also highlighting some key differences. I know I learned a lot through these discussions, and I hope that you will as well.
Finding Your Contest Sweet Spot: You may be a relatively new horseplayer or a veteran horseplayer that is new to handicapping contests or possibly experienced in both. In any case, you may heard others talk about different contest formats complaining about some while praising others and you might want to learn more about the different types of formats and why some players prefer certain formats over others and most importantly which format is the best for you. The following article is an attempt to help you answer that question and maybe even learn a little bit about yourself and other horseplayers in the process.