02/06/2013 10:29AM

Keith Gisser: Every bettor needs a freshening once in a while


I have to admit, I have been a bit out of the racing loop lately. Maybe it is because I am very busy with my reptile business, which just concluded a very successful month, or perhaps because I am concentrating on my repeated testimony regarding wild animal legislation in front of Ohio’s legislators, or maybe it’s because for the first time in 10 years I lost money at the windows in 2012 and I felt the need to take a break. I am not sure which of those are reasons and which are excuses, but I clearly needed a break from the windows.

Just as race horses need to be turned out once in a while, so do racehorse bettors. Last year, due to the requirements of a handicapping column I was writing, I totally changed my strategy of play in order to match my editor’s requirements (something my editor here would NEVER make me do). Now, nothing said that my real world plays (which are generally win bets, with a few exactas or a place backup) had to match up with my column plays (far more exotics, including trifectas, pick fours and pick fives), but when you handicap that way, you start believing your own hype. As a result, I posted a small loss, only about $500 on the year, but more importantly by the end of the year, having blown a $1,000 imaginary bankroll in six months, I was tired and confused. So I am now turned out. I have not looked at a PP page since mid-December. My plan is to start back in a couple weeks, and my hope is that the fresh outlook will help my handicapping and my bottom line. And just as a horse needs to get some slow miles under him as he trains back to racing shape, I will need to take it easy until I get my legs back under me as I wager.

And I may even change my strategy or philosophy. The key here is that there must be a reason for a change in handicapping and wagering strategy. One obvious reason is a change in the racing. For instance, on the Chicago circuit, racing alternates between the half-mile Maywood track and the big track at Balmoral Park, with one of the longest homestretch in the sport. Yet, many handicappers I talk to handicap the lines without regard to the track, but only to the class and performance of the horse, despite the fact that the difference between small track and large track racing is one of the most basic handicapping factors of all.

A less obvious but just as valid change can be at the same track, when there is a change in management or racing secretary. No better example of a changing racing dynamic exists than the one we are currently seeing at the rejuvenated Meadowlands. The institution of A-B-C racing has clearly changed the dynamic. Several writers here have addressed some of the vagaries and difficulties of this system, so I will not rehash that. BUT, the change in classification system clearly calls for the intelligent horseplayer to take a look at whether his handicapping and money management need to be adjusted.

While the new dynamic at The Swamp may mean you play a bit more cautiously until the classification system shakes out, you still must come in with a strategy or a philosophy of how you plan to play the track. Whether that means win betting instead of exactas or adding an extra horse to your exotic boxes in order to be covered, be consistent and make sure you have sufficient bankroll to keep you in the game while you make these changes.
Another obvious time to change strategy is when a new driver changes the dynamic at a track. Whether it is Ron Wrenn, Jr., at Northfield, or Brian Sears at Yonkers, one driver can change the entire dynamic of racing. He may be listed on a multiple horses, meaning that he gets his choice of drives, but also that other horses may end up getting fresh hands when Sears or Wrenn choose off. This changing dynamic may require a change is strategy. Check the overnight sheets - the driver choice angle is often a strong one.

Most importantly, the worst change in strategy you can make is to try to force things. Just as a pro golfer has to manage the course, sometimes playing to the center of the green instead of playing right at the flagstick, if the obvious play is not there, don’t make it. Back off. Pass the race, or bet a little less. Bet win instead of exacta. Looking back over five years of these columns, I preached that regularly. But in 2012, I stopped doing it, and it cost me money. Fortunately, it was just a few bucks and not more.

I look forward to my return to the racing wars. This year I will stick with what I know best, at least at first. That will be akin to those slow miles a horse needs coming off a layoff. I am a win bettor. I will rarely be the guy who takes down the big payoff.  I will always be a grinder. The tracks will love me thanks to my churn, and my Players Club rewards should increase as well. In 2013 I will make sure that I subscribe to coach John Wooden’s philosophy of not letting the things I can’t control affect the things I can control.

On a totally unrelated topic, it has now been two years since I was let go by Northfield Park. The track has survived some tough times and I still have a great deal of respect for Brock Milstein, Tom Aldrich and Dave Bianconi and the entire management team. I have nothing negative to say about the way I was treated after our separation and I have refrained from any other public comments. Until now. I want the Hard Rock Café/Northfield venture to work. The horsemen deserve the benefits, even if they will not see as much in increased purses as those at Scioto Downs. But the new casino name of Rocksino? Really? Is this where Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble go to gamble?  Wager 30 minutes and get a free brontoburger, or a rack of ribs that will tip over your car. Was this name vetted or focus-grouped, or did it come out of some creative guy’s office with no public input at all? Brock, Tom, Dave. What were you thinking? Your track has run many creative promotions over the years, but this was not a yabba-dabba-do moment for you.

That’s all for this month. Now, whether you are at the Meadowlands, Yonkers or the Rocksino, go cash.