01/02/2014 12:49PM

Make racing-specific new year’s resolutions

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For the horseplayer, a new year means new possibilities for success – the excitement of what is yet to be. But what’s the best way to get the year started? I think we all should make racing-specific new year’s resolutions.

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the year of the horse. Technically, the Chinese new year doesn’t start until the end of the month, but that’s okay. The way I look at it, the new year hasn’t quite started for horseplayers, either.

I choose to measure the year not from Jan. 1 to Jan. 1 but from one National Handicapping Championship to the next. Since the NHC doesn’t start until Jan. 24, we still have a couple of weeks to get our ducks in a row.

So, what should we resolve to do? That’s up to each of us, of course, but having spent as much time among my fellow degenerates as I have, I have a few suggestions.

Resolve to come up with a clear goal. Too many players simply fritter away too much money when it comes to horse racing. And, hey, if you’re just out to have a good time for a few hours each month, week, or day, that’s totally fine. The pools need you.

But I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you’re different. You read the Form – not just the past performances but the articles as well. You’re clued in. You want to win. You should have a goal.

Some possibilities, ordered from least difficult to most, include playing every day at a meet like Saratoga and keeping your head above water, hitting a pick six at some point in the year, qualifying for the 2015 NHC, showing a flat-bet profit in 2014, and finishing in the money in the NHC.

Choose a goal, keep the appropriate records, and, perhaps most difficult of all, be honest with yourself about it.

Actually, this last point is my second suggested resolution in and of itself. We’ve all heard the great Harvey Pack story about the guy who started out living in a mansion and ended up living in a furnished room near Aqueduct. When he was asked by a stranger if he was up or down from a lifetime of playing horses, he said, “I’m about even.”

Don’t let this happen to you. Again, it’s fine to treat gambling solely as entertainment, but whether you want to be a pro or are just messing around, you really should set aside a specific bankroll for playing horses at the start of the year and play off that. Your upside is the same, and you limit your downside.

The final resolution I want to talk about is the one I’m making myself. As I write this, it is actually Jan. 1, and I want to take a moment to wish a sincere happy birthday to every Thoroughbred born in North America. Without these wonderful animals, we horseplayers would have nothing.
It’s not often enough that we remember that. I love racing, but more than that, I love being around horses.

When Michael Beychok won the $1 million first prize at the NHC in 2012, the horse who got him the win was Glorious Dancer. He and I recently talked about his decision to claim her.

“For years, I was guilty of taking for granted what these horses do every day on the track,” he said. “We derive so many gains from them, both financial and recreational. They get oats, carrots, and, if they’re lucky, get treated as pets. We owe them more than that.

“I bought [Glorious Dancer] first as a sporting gesture: ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to own the horse that won me a million dollars?’ We ran her, she won, we had fun. Then I thought, ‘Why am I running her?’ She had nothing more to do on the track.

“I know you can’t save them all, but for starters, I personally wanted to save this one, so I brought her to Louisiana, retired her, thought about breeding her, then I donated her to a Louisiana rescue. She lives the life. Then, in my speech at the Eclipse Awards, I offered to contribute a percentage of my winnings to horse rescue.”

I love this idea, and I’m on board. I will donate a percentage of all the gross money I receive from various efforts in racing to various accredited horse-rescue organizations. This will include money won as well as money received from the Daily Racing Form for my book and this column. Feel free to join me. Let’s make the Year of the Horse mean something.

◗ Here are the contest races for Saturday’s “Last Chance” NHC qualifying tournament:
3:34 Gulfstream 7
3:53 Tampa Bay Downs 8
4:03 Gulfstream 8
4:22 Tampa Bay Downs 9
4:33 Gulfstream 9
4:50 Tampa Bay Downs 10
5:03 Gulfstream 10
5:25 Fair Grounds 8
5:30 Santa Anita 5
5:55 Fair Grounds 9
6:30 Santa Anita 7
7:00 Santa Anita 8