04/08/2015 2:49PM

Fornatale: Why I will never wish a handicapper good luck

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You’re not going to hear me wish you good luck if you’re playing in a handicapping contest. I certainly understand the critical – you could even say paramount – role that luck plays. No rational person could deny that. But somehow, admitting how important luck can be, right before a contest no less, feels like bad form – like telling the leading lady, “Have a great show!” on opening night.

Jonathon Kinchen noticed this quality of mine shortly after meeting me. “I’ve met a lot of people, including you, who don’t say good luck,” the National Handicapping Championship Tour leader said. “I work really hard. I try to spend 30 minutes to an hour on every race. But you still have to be lucky.”

There are all kinds of luck: There’s racing luck, decision-making luck, and there’s the luck that you don’t want your opponents to have. All of these things are out of our control. And yet we see so many of the same players consistently be in a position to win week after week. These players don’t spend their energy worrying about what they can’t control – luck. They spend it controlling the elements that they can – doing the work, being prepared for the task at hand, getting in the right mental state for optimal decision making.

It’s not magic. The best players aren’t wizards, they are card counters in a casino, turning the percentages ever so slightly to their advantage so they can win in the end. In aggregate, they don’t need luck. Maybe they need the absence of bad luck, but that sounds like a hollow thing to say to someone about to enter a competition. Over the years, I’ve come up with a preferred phrase to say to racing friends in all contexts, whether they are owners, trainers, jockeys, agents, or bettors: godspeed.

In the case of the horsemen, the wish is pretty literal: I hope your rider and your horse come back safely. With the gamblers, there’s an element of metaphor, but the message remains the same. Kinchen, for one, appreciated the sentiment. “In the overall scheme of things as a horseplayer, godspeed is appropriate,” he said. “At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the month, we just want to be ahead. That’s the whole purpose of what it is that we do.”

On any given day, you’re going to need all kinds of luck to win a tournament, but to me, to wish you mere “luck” is to deny the work you’ve done and is vaguely insulting. Even if we know we don’t have a large measure of control when playing in a tournament, I think players are better off – at least in the moment – acting as if they do.

I once spoke with Brian Burke, a statistician and a former Navy F-18 pilot. His website, www.AdvancedNFLStats.com, does for football what Bill James did for baseball. Burke told me something I’ve never forgotten: “Every time a pilot goes on a mission, there is a chance he is not coming back. As a statistician, I know that’s the truth. But the guy actually flying the plane can’t think that way. In his mind, he’s got to know with 100 percent certainty that the mission’s success is completely within his control.”

And that’s why I say godspeed.

Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Hey Tommy.....I unintentionally just broke your record for most replys to a comment. LOL.
Paul G More than 1 year ago
Godspeed?? God has nothing to do with gambling. Picking horses is completely an act of free will and the results of a race are due to the skill and talent of the equine, jockey, trainer, groom, any other connections, preparations, random events and conditions. The skill in handicapping is in weighing numerous factors, finding the relevant and eliminating the rest....but, usually, the aha moment comes after the race, when we realize that we missed something that now seems obvious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's just a word with an appropriate meaning, you can look it up. Notice I didn't capitalize the "G."
Paul Shurman More than 1 year ago
Wow! You have a nice little article on wishing people luck in tournaments and you end up with attacks on all tournament players! I can understand why someone might not want to partake in tournament play...but to say that you have no respect for tournament players, that you don't know why there is a need for tournaments or that tournament players don't know what they are doing is a little harsh....don't you think???? Why say anything???? Can't we all just get along!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great question, Paul. I am always torn between allowing people their opinions and just bouncing all negativity from the comments. Fortunately, the positivity in the comments far outweighs the negativity.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Peter....come on now....that's not exactly fair. I was not totally negative at all. I just was expressing how I feel about the subject. Creating a dialog. I'm not the only one with this opinion. So, if you really took it as an attack or negative, I'd like you to read my post again. It really wasn't meant as that. I just put it as a matter of my opinion. That's why I commented on it. I knew you'd respond, because I know you love this sport as much as I do. So, relax. If I offended you or anyone I apologize. I, of course, still have my opinion. But, no attack was intended. I was just giving a horse player's opinion of why I'm a big player, but don't play tournaments from what I've seen. Yes, my perspective.....I admit....maybe I'm wrong. Trust me...I've been wrong before. Shocker I know. It's funny...from my perspective those in my camp were nice about what they thought...as opposed to those with the opposite opinion as me.....I must of struck a semi truthful nerve...as some of you really got upset. Have fun. Relax....Derby day is soon to be here ....and I know we all love that day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey, I posted the comment, didn't I? ;)
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
I've sat with some very good gamblers, and bet on the same horses they do, and I walk away a loser that day, and they walk away smiling with the money they made, in their pockets, time and time again. GO FIGURE!!!!
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
The idea that somebody needs to enter tournaments that revolve around a parimutuel game has always puzzled me. If you can actually make money at the game - just do it. No need to have your wagering constrained by the rules of a contest. Contest players are contest players - they are not professional horseplayers. Period. You often confuse the two.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I disagree with your assessment. There are plenty of pro players who play in tournaments.
Utbighair More than 1 year ago
What constitutes a professional?
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Excellent point Jim.
Tim Sr. More than 1 year ago
Great story Peter, thanks.
derby1592 More than 1 year ago
The Roman philosopher said it best, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Cheers Chris P.S. Good luck (per definition above)!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like it!
Leslie Burke Fernandes More than 1 year ago
are you talkin to me
rberto64 More than 1 year ago
The hell with. Good luck I wish them all bad luck when am playing
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Peter, I truly enjoy reading your articles. You are a great writer and I admit reading your stories has made me battle with whether or not I might start playing tournaments. I've commented before with what I'm about to write on here and for sure I know your opinion. But, I have to say. I have no respect for tournament players. Now don't get upset. Let me tell you what I know. First, I am a winning horse player. Enough said. I can tell you I grew up at the racetrack and took me probably about 40 years to finally learn how to win, so let's just say the last decade of doing well probably just got me even for my lifetime. But, I do well. With that being said, I've met folks in tournaments, I've been in the rooms...and I have to say confidently....I've never met many, ( I'm not saying all), that have a clue how to handicap a race. If you talk to them, they might talk about past numbers, fractions, trainers percentage, jockey percentage, ( which always makes me laugh because none of those have anything to do with present time), but they can't tell you who will be or most likely will have the lead and why. Some will know who is supposed to close in a race. They have no clue on bias of that track or especially on that day. They can't tell you how a race sets up. I'm not kidding. They don't know how to handicap or even consistently win. So, there goes my respect. All they do at tournaments....and trust me I've seen many....all they do is have multiple entries, partner with others and watch the odds board. They will use a horse based on the range of his odds. Mostly in tournaments it's longer odds of course if that's what they need. As the tournament goes the strategy is severe. Where are the leaders compared to how many races left and where you are. NOTE, nothing to do with true handicapping. Now, it does sound fun....and yes, it looks fun. Because I do well, I will admit I'm intrigued...maybe even chomping at the bit to go for it....Except...I know...in real life in real time, not being in a tournament, I can choose the race I am going to bet. I can choose the amount. I can parlay any two races I want to create my own daily double. I know if I go in a tournament I'll have to do what these others do...team up, have multiple entries and play longshots who have a great shot of winning and hoping that on one of my entries I hit and try to maintain the lead. It's not handicapping. It's just not. Don't get me wrong...I don't bet favorites either. My point is just this, next time your at a tournament, ask a simple question to anyone....who is going to lead this race? and why? I can tell you this....a tournament player has no clue. What he will know is whatever horse he has on his ticket has to be at the right odds to give him a shot at winning.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Many contest players are as sharp as any players I know, and I've probably interviewed more pro horseplayers than anyone alive. We'll have to agree to disagree here. But thanks for reading and commenting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frank If you get a chance tonight *Hang It Up* High On Poker
Tim Sr. More than 1 year ago
Really Frank??? Every race track, off track parlor has a couple of Frank Reach's. The 'I had that one' and another 'I that'. They win every race, and if you don't know, they'll tell you, tell you who you should bet .........you're a bettor, a tout your not a horseplayer. And there is a big difference between you and a horseplayer. A horseplayer plays his style, his strategy, using the tools he's garnered over a lifetime, and he doesn't care what you do or how you do it. In other words every thing you are not.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Tim, I appreciate your perspective. But, you are wrong. I can tell you this, I am not one of those guys you refer about. I'll just give you one concrete real example. In 2008, Yavapai Downs asked me to be their track handicapper for a summer. Yes, I know....crappy Yavapai Downs that is now out of business. I had TWO racing days....that is TWO...on camera....still own the tapes....where I picked all 9 winners on the card. Oh, you think they were all favorites....uh, NO. One paid $23.00 to win. So, you can take your amateur opinion and walk. I was NOT being disrespectful to Peter...in fact I love horse folks, handicappers and the sport. I was just saying my opinion....I've met these guys in tournaments....and I didn't say ALL of them.....but, most truly have no clue.
michael stapler More than 1 year ago
I agree with you, Frank. I too, make a nice living betting horses, but the contests are not handicappers, they are contest betters. they couldn't make a living going every day. 41% of horses that I bet to win cross the line first, but the way contest are set up, it is hard for me to win. Multiple entries, teams and people simply taking stabs arr what you get in contests. I talked in depth to that wierdo blind guy from the series about handicappers in depth at Monmouth park one day. CLUELESS. But he did have 4 other people with him. Still finished fourth. HA. the online games are even worse. take a peek after the day at what they choices are. MORE THAN HALF of the players are pickuing 15-1 in every race with the hopes of two of them winning. Here is my contest............. Sit next to me and we both start with $200. By the end of the day, I am a winner, as I usually am and you are broke, Mr contest player.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't mean you specifically MS but lamenting about the unfairness of multiple entries has truly become the contest world's rallying cry for the losing player.
derby1592 More than 1 year ago
When horseplayers talk to me about how contests are "nothing like real betting at the track" and cite "multiple entries" as a big reason, I usually ask them when was the last time that they singled every leg in a Pick-4? Is playing multiple horses per race in a parlay wager (I.e., making multiple bets on the same sequence of races) really that much different than playing multiple entries in a contest? They usually don't have much of a response. Cheers Chris P.S. I know many successful betting players that will admit that they are not great handicappers in general. However, they know their strengths, which are often very focused and narrow and limit most of their wagers to those types of plays. By doing so, they maximize their ROI. That being said, most handicapping contests are trying to challenge players across a broad range of handicapping skills intentionally forcing horseplayers out of their typical comfort zone. I think that is the biggest difference between success at wagering and success in contests. The former is all about focus and specialization, the latter is much more about testing a broader array of skills not only in terms of handicapping and wagering but also with regards to decision making, dealing with pressure and competition. It is not surprising that some do well in one and not the other and that few can really excel at both.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great points, Chris. Tx, as always, for sharing your insight.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Ever heard of a paragraph, Frank?
Dahorsecapper More than 1 year ago
Frank i think you might want to delete your post. If you think the tourney players can't handicap your sadly mistaken. Most our the best. Were the same guys who take down pick 3,s pick4,s, pick 5,s and 6's. Were the guys who smash that exacta and double at the big tracks while your hitting your parlay at Turf Paradise of Robertino Diodoro and Mike Chambers. You will be eating some humble pie as you participate in these contests but you should join and participate. $50 buys you a membership to the NTRA and then you can play a few of the free contests. NHCqualify.com, Drfqualify.com, BCqualify.com all have inexpensive entry fees. Other sites even less expensive as low as $8 per tourney on one site i play. Your a winning player so surely you can afford a few of these even as a trial experiment ! Give it a whirl :) The tourney players and in particularly the successful ones know the in's and out's of these races like the back of their hand's. They know the bias, they know the pace, they know who is going to be on the lead. They know how to handicap ! Using an example of a 10 race mythical contest of $2 win and place we know on average that the winner will most likely need 2.5 times ( $100 ) total to win the contest or be in top 10% as it has been discussed in Peter's blogs before.. This is using past numbers, past percentages to set a goal. From that information derived it is up to the tourney player aka handicapper to find the horses that will equal or come close to that total at the end of a tourney. Whether it is finding 2 cap horses or multiple winners on a card that were lower prices were handicapping each tourney and each race and each opponent. I beg you to think again and join the ntra and try out a few contests. I think you will enjoy and then change your mind on what you wrote today. I believe if your a winning horse player now we might have to watch for your name on the leader boards in tourneys. I will be watching and till then keep on winning and padding your bankroll for those entry fees and membership to the ntra :) GOOD LUCK because with your mindset now and evaluation of the tourney players you will need GOOD LUCK and godspeed
Michael Beychok More than 1 year ago
This has got to be some sort of April Fools joke post right Mr Reach? I congratulate you on your winning success but I find it entirely unbelievable that if you are so good at handicapping horses you are so awful at handicapping people. The disrespect you display and spout is offensive to me. Did you by chance stumble into a slot tourney instead of a handicapping tourney when making your generalized proclamation that no handicapper could tell you what horse is going to the lead? These guys are serious pros and that statement of yours makes me doubt very seriously your claim to success. But I will take it on faith that you are a winning player. What you should take on my word is that the guys and gals that play tourneys are seriously good at what they do - winning tourneys and winning money. Just because you don't respect their work doesn't for one second mean they don't win at the other side of the game. In fact many if not most of the top players are winning players at the cash side. They have moved some of their play to tourneys because the return on investment is higher. Where else can u take a 25 satellite entry and turn it into hundreds of thousands in a day? I'm sure you will say you have done that. Your comments are almost too unbelievable to be offensive to the many players who are good handicappers but they are offensive and insulting. I wish you luck in your future endeavors because with the bad karma you just heaped onto yourself - you are gonna need it. Michael
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great stuff, champ -- tx for chiming in.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Ok, OK...LOL. I get your point Michael. I appreciate your post. I did read it. And I admit I laughed a little. But, point taken. One thing's for sure....Peter can thank me for creating a good dialog about this subject. Ok.....maybe I can look at this subject again....and obviously I could be wrong about tournament players handicapping ability. The good news is I am open to differing opinions. I will tell you I meant no disrespect like you all took it. I truly enjoy Peter's perspective and his articles. Obviously I'm into horse racing, as I check in one this site daily....as well as bet on this great sport daily. I wish you the best Michael. I've got no problem with a difference of perspective or opinion. One things for sure, we can all agree that it's a GOOD thing that handicappers disagree......that's what makes great bets and great pari mutual wagering. As Peter would say, " God speed".
tommy More than 1 year ago
You are right frank !!!! Let's go in the contest and take all that money!! Plus I will have my horses in the race and I will get the purse money also!!! If you google exercise physiologist and nutritionist , there are top in their field and know more about exercise performance enhancement , supplements, nutrition, and just about everything that deals with exercise and health !!!
mikey More than 1 year ago
Pete When it comes to luck we your readers are the lucky ones.As i have said in the past you are our only link to the contest world.We love to hear your stories and share ours with you.Keep the news coming and stay well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tx man man. . .so many great stories in the contest world this week!
Rob More than 1 year ago
This might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. Saying ‘good luck’ is more an expression of “I hope you do well". Not literally I hope you get lucky today in your endeavor. To think its insulting is beyond absurd.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
agree ti disagree, luck should have nothing to do with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
" To think its insulting is beyond belief" QFT High On Poker
BombsawayBob More than 1 year ago
As someone that 'moved his betting tack' from weekend 4-hour blitz's at RockinghamPark or Foxwoods racebook over 10-years ago to the comfort of my home OTB, i had forgotten how cringe-inducing the dreaded "good luck" can be. Interacting with many bettors & gamblers on Twitter, that feeling now comes back when a new player tweets me "Good Luck" AFTER i've caught a 19/1 shot in the first leg of my Pick-3/4/5. I know realistically it has ABSOLUTELY no impact on the rest of my bet, but the grumbling sound in my gut tells me otherwise. (unless it was that pastrami & swiss w/a half-sour pickle i had earlier)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Haha, I love it, Bob. I'm not surprised that you're one of the guys who "gets" it. Keep on rockin'.
georget More than 1 year ago
Very good definition of what luck is not.
tommy More than 1 year ago
You will need more than good luck if you were playing against me !!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
settle down, tough guy ;)