03/07/2012 1:56PM

Keith Gisser: Deep into the harness bankroll at Victoryland


On the road this week, I had a number of things reconfirmed. First, bankroll is critical. Second, it is sometimes better to be lucky than good. Third, don’t leave a voucher in the stinking self-serve machine.

I was in Auburn, Ala., for some high school soccer coaching when a friend from Atlanta called and suggested a trip to the world’s largest off-track betting parlor, Victoryland Greyhound Park, in Shorter, Ala., 20 miles east of Montgomery and 30 miles west of Auburn, right on I-85. Except, there are no greyhounds racing there anymore.

Owner Milton McGregor built a palace.

We rode the escalator up and immediately found that Victoryland was not taking Northfield that night – apparently they missed the memo that the Route Eight Oval had resumed Saturday racing in March. So we got Yonkers and Meadowlands programs and went to work ‘capping. My buddy and I were knocked out of the Meadowlands pick five in the first race, and by the third, our chance of a four of five consolation pay was dead, too. My first play at Yonkers made a break and my second was parked leaving. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights, as bad breaks and bad luck continued.

Meanwhile, my 24-year-old son, staked to $20 of wagering by his dad, lost his first $3.60 play, a 10-cent Meadowlands superfecta. A couple races later, he carefully structured a pick three play, anchored by a couple of Ron Burke-trained horses, including a coupled play in the Four Leaf Clover. His 2x1x2 play, a monster $4 investment, looked risky to me, but it was his gambling money. And even if he lost, he had $12 and change left, right? Wrong!

The greenhorn had left his voucher in the self-serve machine. And although he realized it almost immediately, it was too late. Someone had snatched the ticket. So now, if that pick three does not hit, the kid is out of business. Naturally, despite keying two 8 horses and a Burke horse who also scored from post 8 (a 1A), he hit for $81 and change. I get my $20 stake back and finally something positive started to happen for me, too.

Around this point, I was stuck nearly $200, pretty close to my limit, but I had cash left, so I continued playing. I hit a 5-1 in the open pace at Yonkers and then a trifecta at the Meadowlands, and got within shouting distance of even. We played a bit more, with some wins and some losses and some close calls. The bottom line is that I lost about $30 on the night. Considering where I was at one point, I can live with that.

But, ifI did not have enough cash with me, I would not have survived that late night into the night. I would have been back on I-85, with my tail between my legs. I had planned on a gambling trip while I was down in ‘Bama, and I brought extra cash with me, knowing that money might end up being gone. It is a fundamental of wagering that I have always lived by, and this night, although I still lost, it served me well.

How many times have you been at the races and had a buddy hit you up for $10 or $20 because he was tapped out? Or had a friend say, “Man, I loved that horse in the 13th, but I was out of cash and missed him.” That is inexcusable. We must have enough of a bankroll to carry us through the rough times, whether one night, one week or even a month. And we must be willing to manage our money appropriately.

I was out of my comfort zone playing Yonkers and The Meadowlands. But I kept plodding, even when things went poorly early on. I didn’t panic, or double up. I stuck with my style - looking for angles such as driver changes/choice; hot barns; overlooked shippers; improved posts, for example – and playing when I had an angle and value, passing when I did not.

Racing style and wagering patterns at Yonkers surprised me. The Meadowlands did not. I figured Yonkers is a half-mile track, like Northfield, where I usually do well, so I should do well there. But I caught just that one $12 winner, driven by former Northfield star Jim Pantaleano. But Yonkers racing is nothing like Northfield racing. At Northfield, the front end is stronger, the action early in the mile is rarer, and the stretch is just too short for much of anything to happen.

The Meadowlands actually played a lot more like Northfield, other than post position being a far less important factor. There is action galore, with fast fractions possible anywhere in the mile, and risky moves by drivers doing everything possible to win, throwing a monkey-wrench into trip handicapping. The biggest difference is that with 10-horse fields and favorites rarely odds-on, prices are very good. My Meadowlands trifecta was the top three choices – a 2-1, a 5-2 and a 4-1 - and it paid $90. At Northfield, that ticket might have paid $40.

All in all, it was a fun evening of handicapping. So remember, check the machine for your voucher, and bring a sufficient bankroll and you will have a decent chance at a profitable evening. Now go cash. See you next month.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Milton McGregor, owner of Victoryland Casino in Alabama, was indicted and convicted for having employees escort public officials to certain slot machines that were going to pay out large jackpots. While McGregor was involved in a legal battle and did stand trial, he was found not guilty of all charges on March 7.