12/29/2008 12:00AM

How to break out of a slump


Some horseplayers may have resolved for the new year they would give up playing expensive multi-race wagers in favor of straight win bets and less exotic exactas. Others may have resolved to spend more time reviewing replays and result charts, or the pet moves of winning trainers. If you have resolved to do something different in 2009, I am quite sure you are hoping to turn around a losing streak or losing season. We rarely resolve to change much when things are working.

Once upon a time - actually it was more than once - I lost more than 20 bets in a row and had no clue what I was doing wrong, or how I could correct it. When you're lost like that, you can count on one thing: You will lose even more.

Was the track playing different than expected? Had I lost touch with the trainers who were geared up for a winning meet? Were the horses I marked down in my notebook over the top? For reasons that are not clear, when I was in the midst of such a bad streak, my game deteriorated even further, from a disciplined approach into a series of wild shots on too many marginal contenders. So, I took a few days off, but in truth, I did not really fare any better when I resumed play.

Then something accidental occurred that did help, a lot. While about three hours early for a 1969 Knicks game at Madison Square Garden - the guest of a popular basketball coach - I saw Bill Bradley on the court alone with a ball boy, shooting racks of foul shots and jumpers over and over again - sandwiched by dozens of chippies with his left hand from underneath the basket. He was playing a game with himself. Every time the right-handed Bradley missed a left-handed chippie he would go to the foul line and shoot 10. If he missed more than one, he would shoot another 10. When he hit 20 chippies, or 10 foul shots, he would allow himself five jumpers from the top of the key. If he hit all five, he would get five more.

Towards the last 15 minutes of these drills, I counted 21 straight jumpers from what is now three-point range and just for good measure Bradley capped off this drill with 25 straight foul shots and more than four dozen chippies.

That night, Bradley, who was a major factor in the Knicks' team-oriented championship season, missed only one shot from the field, hit all of his foul shots, and left the floor with a Knicks' win and a smile on his face.

Looking back over his previous few games, it was obvious the extra practice was designed to curb a temporary shooting slump. So I wondered if some extra shooting practice might help me out of my betting slump.

In baseball, coaches will tell you to cure a hitting slump by taking bunting practice and to try to hit the ball squarely up the middle rather than shoot for the gaps or the fences.

Coaches for horseplayers are rare, or nonexistent, and we usually have to resolve handicapping and betting issues on our own. But there were lessons in Bill Bradley's drills. So, after thinking about it, I devised an approach that has helped me out of slumps and mini-slumps that involved my version of shooting chippies and foul shots.

Because I was having such trouble picking winners, I went back to a basic handicapping issue: I decided to try to pick horses in a bunch of races that were least likely to win. I reasoned that I needed to be able to eliminate non-contenders before I could pick serious win threats.

So, on Day 1 of what would prove to be a most enlightening four-day experiment, I was embarrassed to find that three of my "can't win" types actually won their respective races, while two more finished second. I submit that you will find similar embarrassing results if you try this experiment; it is harder than you think.

On Day 2, I had one of my three-dozen guaranteed losers win and two more finish second. On Day 3, I encountered similar results but on Day 4, I finally picked more than three-dozen that did not hit the board. It might seem funny to you, but a strange sense of accomplishment came over me, as if I had made a major score.

Before I went back to wagering, however - convinced that I knew how to pick losers - I put another experiment into play, an added exercise that all by itself will help anyone gain strength in their game, slump or no slump.

In addition to a card of potential losers, I also picked out the horses that I believed would take the lead before the first point of call. When I picked a couple dozen front- runners correctly out of nearly three dozen, (with more than a dozen winners amongst them) and I further picked another complete card of losers, I felt some renewed confidence in my handicapping.

The next and final steps to break out from my slump were self evident. I could see the value in accenting front-running horses for the next several weeks. Gulfstream Park was opening, just as it is set to open this weekend. The Aqueduct winter meet was in progress and the inner track was playing towards speed just as Gulfstream's main oval tends to do.

Going back to such basics completely changed my mindset. Looking for losers to toss became a first and important step. Looking for legit speed types was at least as important. With real, but modest amounts of money on the line, I hit at least 10 foul shots in succession and a few long-range jumpers too. Goodbye slump, hello to a simple method any player can use to straighten out or improve a losing game.