05/17/2017 3:40PM

Zoccali: Trust is a must or your handicapping game is a bust


As most of you know, I have been around racing in one aspect or another for my entire life.  Before I owned a horse, or worked in the industry, I was a bettor.  Regardless of where my professional life takes me, I will always be a bettor.

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I have been betting incorrectly for nearly my entire life.  How can I say that with confidence?  The numbers don’t lie.

I have always considered myself to be an above-average to good handicapper.  It is a craft that requires confidence.  So in 2016 when I saw that I had lost $4,165 on $42,138 in handle (offset by $1,365 in rebates), for a net loss of $2,700 or 6.4%, I thought that was pretty good.  After all, the “average” bettor churns their money at a 75% clip, so to churn at 93.6%, I thought, was good.

But right around the New Year, a bettor on Twitter known only by the identity “Inside The Pylons” pointed out what he perceived to be mistakes on a pick four ticket that I played.  The mistakes were centered on wasteful spending.  In other words, without realizing, I had all four favorites connecting within the sequence, a couple of which, I didn’t even like that much.  If all those favorites won, it would likely have resulted in my ticket losing money.  Sure, some will say that getting any return is better than no return at all.  But not when you factor in the point that the money I used to play the chalks connecting could have been used on another bet that offered far more value, not limited to, but including doubling up on my strongest opinions.

Since applying many suggestions by this bettor on Twitter, not only am I winning money this year overall, but my handle has skyrocketed, because I am churning at a higher rate.  So far I have wagered $32,346 with a return of $47,893 for a net win of $15,447 or a 47.1% profit (not including rebates paid, which sends my profit above 50%).

What am I doing differently?  It’s actually pretty simple.  I am no longer afraid to lose.

I will use Derby weekend as an example.  Like many, I was wagering on the stakes-latent cards at Churchill Downs Friday and Saturday.  I identified Friday to be the card that offered more value based on my opinions and thus wagered accordingly.  My betting for the day was built around the following horses:

Race 2: Northwest Bourbon (13-1)

Race 4: Twirl Girl (5-1) / She’s A True Beauty (6-1)

Race 6: Bird Song (6-1)

Race 11: Lockdown (36-1)

Given that these horses were my “strongest opinions” of the day, if they ran well, I had to make money on each horse.

After identifying what I believed to be vulnerable favorites in the first six races, I played horizontal exotics featuring the horses I liked the most in that sequence.  I was spending a large amount of my bankroll early, which is something I never would have done last year, out of fear of not having any money for later.  But, if I only really liked one horse in the second half of the card, why would I save my money for that?

Therefore in the horizontal exotics, I cashed the following bets:

Race 2: $5 Daily Double for a net profit of $420.50

Race 3: $2 Pick 3 for a net profit of $682.00

              $5 Daily Double for a net profit of $275.50

Race 4: $10 Daily Double for a net profit of $250.00

              $2 Pick 3 for a net profit of $1,100.40

Race 6: $5 Daily Double for a net profit of $310.20

              $2 Pick 3 for a net profit of $1,257.80


I also played Win Bets and vertical exotics in the races I had strong opinions.

Race 2: $50 Win Bet – profit: $685.00

              $5 Exacta – profit: $362.00

              $2 Trifecta – profit: $1,602.60

Race 4: $5 Exacta – profit: $168.50

             $2 Trifecta – profit: $628.60

Race 6: $20 Win Bet – profit: $132.00

             $2 Trifecta – profit: $955.80


By the end of the 6th race, I was up over $8,800!

What was I doing? A combination of the following:

1)    I was investing more money in my strongest opinions.

2)    I was not worried about the favorite (who I didn’t like) beating me for 3rd in a trifecta.

3)    I was using the money that I saved by not using favorites who I identified as vulnerable and reinvesting that money into the horses that I liked the most in the form of win bets and exactas (something I have never done before this year).

4)    I was not tying up sizeable portions of my bankroll in pick 4 or pick 5 tickets which included races that I honestly didn’t have a good opinion.

I did give some of this back in the next few races, but not much, because my bets reflected the opinion I had and I did not have a strong opinion in races 7, 8, 9 or 10, so I did not invest much into those races, thankfully.

Now onto race 11, the Kentucky Oaks.  I identified both favorites as vulnerable for similar reasons and also identified Lockdown as a potential bomb that could get into the exotics and if complete craziness took place, could actually win.  She was 36-1.

So, I made a good-sized win bet, because I cannot let her win at that price and not cash a ticket.

I keyed her up and down in exactas with several horses (neither favorite).

Then, I played a trifecta key box centered on her, using several horses in the other spots (again, neither favorite included).  It was an expensive ticket, but I wanted to be rewarded if Lockdown ran 2nd or 3rd.

While the result wasn’t the best case scenario, it was still good.  Both favorites dueled each other into submission, while Lockdown rallied and finished 3rd behind two horses I used in the trifecta key box, resulting in a payout of $2,863.80.

The point here is that many of these tickets, I would not have cashed at this time last year, especially the trifecta key box on Lockdown.  I probably would have keyed her first and second only because I would have used the favorites third.  I was ignoring exacta plays, not betting enough to win on my strongest opinions and was wasting money including favorites in trifectas, pick 3’s and pick 4’s that I really didn’t care for all because I was “afraid of letting the favorite (one that I didn’t  like) beat me.”  I didn’t realize that in doing so I was betting against my own opinion.

As bettors we should trust our opinions and we should invest more depending on the level of opinion we have on a particular horse combined with the value that horse is offering.  If we feel favorites in that same race are vulnerable, that is an added incentive to reinvest.

For example, barring special circumstances (like singling a very big price), I will not use the “All” button in a multi-race sequence.  If I feel a race is that wide open that seemingly any horse can win, why would I include the favorite?  Where is the value in that?

Granted, things don’t always work out the way they did for me on Kentucky Oaks Day.  Of course, your opinion has to be good in order to cash tickets at that rate.  But the point is this:  Here was a day that I was right more than I was wrong, and on my strong opinions, I was nearly flawless.  On days like that, you have to clean-up.  Last year, the way I was betting, I probably would have walked away with $1,500 or so, because I would have invested too much in worrying about being right on top and a favorite beating me on the bottom.  Will that happen? Sure.  But how many times does a defensively-used favorite have to connect in order to accumulate the bankroll I listed above?

Am I perfect? Certainly not.  I am always checking my bets, looking for inefficiencies.  You would be shocked over the course of a day, how much money I save in eliminating low-value wagers.

The point is very simple.  Bet with confidence.  Trust your opinion.  When it is a very strong opinion and the value is there, go for it.  If you don’t like a favorite, don’t feel compelled to use him or her just because he is the favorite.  It is far better to walk away saying “the favorite beat me” than “I can’t believe I didn’t use that horse 3rd at 24-1.”  I have discovered that this game is beatable, you just have to avoid wasteful spending.