04/24/2008 11:00PM

Pro's advice: Don't quit your day job


LEXINGTON, Ky. - If you aren't already familiar with him, Mike Maloney is a professional horseplayer based at Keeneland throughout the year who typically bets between $6 million and $12 million per year. The track has acknowledged Maloney as one of its top customers and provides him with a private office, complete with 12 televisions, which he uses to monitor a variety of simulcast signals.

He kept a low profile for a number of years, but that changed when he participated in the most recent National Handicapping Expo in Las Vegas. Maloney was caught off guard when he was approached by a large number of attendees who wanted to duplicate his lifestyle.

"I met some people at the Handicapping Expo who really want to become professional horseplayers," Maloney said. "It surprises me how many of those people are out there. They said they had set aside money, they had talked to their bosses, and they had made a business plan to do it."

Maloney was flattered that so many people thought he had the ideal job, but he was also concerned that some of these people were getting carried away with the boldness and the drama of the idea.

"It seemed like they were in a hurry to slam the door on their job, and that isn't the best way to go about it," Maloney said. "They need to work their way into it gradually. Instead of quitting their job, they should switch to part-time and see how they do for a while."

Before trying to make the transition from amateur to professional, Maloney believes handicappers should round out their knowledge with some practical experience with horses and the people who work with them.

"Anybody who aspires to be a serious horseplayer should spend some time on the backside and learn how people think," Maloney said.

Maloney's first experience on the backstretch came when he bought part of a racehorse.

"Four friends, we claimed a $2,500 horse at Latonia [now Turfway]," Maloney said. "We were the laughingstock of the barn we were in, but we did very well with that horse. He ended up winning at Churchill for $6,250 with Pat Day on him eight races later, and hit the board every race in between.

"I brought the Daily Racing Form with me every day, and I was talking to people and observing, learning who people were. I found out which horses were in to race soon and watched jocks come by, wanting to get on those horses."

Maloney learned a lot about horses that helped him with his handicapping, but he also learned a valuable lesson about backstretch handicapping opinions.

"What I learned pretty quickly, and I wasn't a great handicapper at that time, is that I knew more about a horse's chances of winning than the guy who saddled him in most cases," Maloney explained. "Not that they weren't good horsemen, but it is a rarity to find a combination horseman and handicapper. Bobby Frankel and John Langemeier are a couple of exceptions that come to mind, but it is a real rarity to find one."

Langemeier, who trains for Maloney, is based at the Throughbred Training Center outside Lexington.

On average, Maloney bets between $25,000 to $50,000 per racing day, but that amount can vary.

"The bulk of what I bet during the year is in streaks," Maloney said. "I'm a lot more aggressive betting with their money than I am with my own. I might bet $5,000 on one day, then $12,000 the next. Then if I get hot, I might bet $60,000 or $80,000 the next day. People see me bet big amounts and think I'm being wild, but they don't understand what I'm doing. The plan isn't for me to go to the bank, take out a bunch of cash, then go out and run it all through the windows. The plan is for me to feel my way and to dip a toe in the water. Then when I have success, I'm going to press. And the more success I have, the more I'm going to press. Then when it changes, I have to back off."

The simulcasting era has made Maloney's career easier and more productive because he has the freedom to play to his strengths without being limited to the menu of races offered at any single track.

"You have to be careful not to try to force a track to do what you want it to do," Maloney said. "In the age of simulcasting I want to take my abilities and observe different tracks and find a place where my abilities and my way of thinking are in sync with what is happening at that track. I don't want to butt heads with a track that I am struggling with or that I don't understand. And I don't have to do that with simulcasting. I'm trying to allocate my time into the most profitable spots available. There are certain tracks that I always observe. But I'm not going to lose money over a long period of time even on my favorite circuits."

Maloney pays particular attention to track bias in his handicapping.

"Track bias is a very valuable tool that is underused," Maloney said. "Some players not only don't understand it, some of them don't believe in it. I think it's very important to handicap the first two races of the day very thoroughly."

The first two races might be all Maloney needs to get a handle on what the track bias is on a given day. If not, he uses the rest of the first half of the card to figure it out. Then he makes more serious bets later in the day.

"You're much better to wait until the second half of the card to where you understand what's going on, and you're going to take the money of the guys who don't process that information," he said.

For years, Maloney has also been a strong and relentless advocate for maintaining the integrity of the betting pools.

Maloney was particularly concerned about the fact that betting machines did not always close promptly at the beginning of each race. He made numerous complaints to the racetracks involved, but got nowhere. In fact, he was often regarded as being a nuisance.

Things changed one day at Keeneland in late 2007 when Maloney actually made a few bets during the running of a race at Fair Grounds. The betting windows were still open 55 seconds into the race. The difference was that this time Maloney had physical evidence - the tickets he had purchased. With the combination of that evidence and his reputation as a big bettor, racing executives started paying serious attention to him.

"Keeneland backed me up 100 percent and was very helpful in getting this documented," Maloney said. "That was my proof that past posting can and does happen."

At the annual Racing Commissioners International convention in March, a New York official reported there have been eight instances over the past two years where betting was available on a New York race after the gates had opened.

Maloney is hoping that this year substantive changes will be made to prevent things like this from happening. If so, he will deserve some credit.

"What kind of a person would I be, having the opportunity to get some of these people to listen to me and not using it to fix something important that is wrong?" asked Maloney.