08/23/2017 12:30PM

Horseplayer, track thyself

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Last week I wrote about the importance of being able to handicap yourself as a contest player. But how does one do that in the real world? The answer is simple: keep records.

For horseplayers, it’s very common that the specifics of the last bet are forgotten the moment the payouts appear on the screen. But if you want to truly learn about yourself and delve into your strengths and weaknesses for guidance in the future, you need to step up your game.

With so many types of tournaments available to play (live bank or mythical, online or in person, mandatory or optional, all-in or live), a player needs to get a handle on what he or she does well as opposed to where he or she is simply donating money to the pool. Setting up a simple spreadsheet can go a long way.

One good example from the tournament world comes from my co-host on the DRF Podcast, Jonathon Kinchen, who shared an example last week at Equestricon. In the course of his tournament play over the past few years, he’s had success playing multiple entries in various contest formats. He made his name on the contest scene after famously landing two entries in the top 10 of the NHC back in 2015.

Earlier this year, Kinchen was playing two entries every day in all-in contests on DRF Tournaments. As he tracked his progress, he noticed that in the all-in format, where picks couldn’t be changed, he wasn’t gaining much extra benefit while doubling his cost when he played two entries. There was one exception: When at least seven of his selections in a 12-race tournament were the same across two entries, they did provide benefit, enabling him to snare multiple prizes in the same sequence. He has adjusted his play since and become a more effective player. He only knows this because he set up a tracking spreadsheet to keep a record of his play.

Record-keeping is not the fun part of being a horseplayer. It forces you to step out of the fun zone and do a few minutes of what feels like real work, but the results can be rewarding. If you’re a laptop-at-the-track person like me, you can keep results in real time. Other players will simply go back after the fact and transfer wins and losses over to a sortable spreadsheet.

The lessons learned from record-keeping don’t only apply to contest play, of course. Noted tournament player Ricky “The Quiet Assassin” Zimmer, kept detailed spreadsheets on all of his contest play and all of his bets through the tote. They show him which pools he should be playing in and suggested that tournament play should occupy a bigger part of his overall handle. At the time I saw his records, he was an overall winner in contests.

In Mike Maloney’s soon-to-be-released book, called “Betting With An Edge,” he encourages all players to pay closer attention to their results in an effort to learn from them.

“As horseplayers, we’re always working on a ROI [return on investment] scale,” Maloney writes. “The goal is to have every dollar you wager become worth more than a dollar and, at the very least, to make sure it’s worth more than eighty cents [an estimate of the blended takeout]. If you want to know how good you are, you need to know where you are on that scale.”

Record-keeping also enforces a reality check by providing an unbiased look at the results.

“There are always extenuating circumstances at the track,” Maloney continues. “ ‘I got DQed for $1,000,’ or ‘I lost this photo,’ or ‘I had this horrible trip.’ In a horseplayer’s mind, those excuses allow you to distort reality.”

Maloney then recalls the old Bill Parcells maxim: You are what your results say you are. It doesn’t matter that your football team would be 4-0 if your kicker made that extra point in one game and if your running back didn’t fumble in the fourth quarter of another. You’re still 2-2.

In the long term, the best option for a horseplayer is that you are who your results say you are.

Once you accept that idea and allow the results to start dictating where you spend your money, your play – and your bottom line – will only improve.