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Oct 24, 2003

The Professional Way to Play

By: Ray Taulbot


If racing fans could somehow be persuaded to forsake their unrealistic attitudes toward horse racing and adopt the professional's down-to-earth position, they would soon discover that winning is much more fun than losing.

This writer entertains no serious hope that he can convert the racing community as a whole. But if he can convince a few of his readers that the professional's way is the profitable way, he will feel more than amply paid for his effort.

First, let's examine the contrast between the thinking of the average racing fan and the professional turf speculator. The average fan is a day-dreamer who envisions quick riches acquired with small operating capital, very little effort, and a mode of play which permits him to indulge his peculiar whims. In short, he dreams of taking a $20 bill and piling up profits without employing any degree of self-control.

His attitude toward turf speculation can best be summed up as "fun and games." He often resents any suggestion which deprives him of making the 101 blunders common to many turf enthusiasts.

The pro views his turf operation as a business, one upon which his livelihood depends. Therefore he never takes excessive risks. To use a poker expression, "He plays 'em close to his vest."

Whereas the average fan has a fondness for long prices, which often leads him into taking excessive risks, price is of secondary consideration to the pro. Like all of us he prefers a good price, but he never permits price to become the deciding factor.

He knows that price is of no value if after the race he has to tear up his tickets. As John Barsell once remarked, "Any price is better than a loser," a difficult argument to refute. Thus, the pro places safety ahead of maybe.

The pro's prescription for success includes the following components: Know-how, operating capital of an amount sufficient to accomplish his profit objective, patience with a capital "P" and self control as it pertains to ceasing action when the profit objective has been attained.

Adequate know-how embraces far more than merely having a sound knowledge of the basic principles of so-called handicapping. One must know which races on a card should be passed, and which races may be playable because they are of a type that usually offer the selector a reasonably good chance of finding a horse that enjoys some degree of advantage over its competition.

Of equal importance is knowing how to wager so that one can attain the highest possible degree of safety consistent with a price that is large enough to attain a profit objective.

There are various betting methods. But there are only two which are employed by the majority of professionals: they are the one-three scale win and place, and flat betting to place only. There are a few pros who are what is commonly termed show bettors, but most of these men do not adhere strictly to flat betting. Some of them use various methods of progression and regression. There are also some pros who always bet their selections to win only.

The most successful are the 1-3 men and the place bettors. The man who employs the 1-3 scale depends upon attaining his profit objective on any selection that fails to win but does place at a price of at least four dollars. The four-dollar place price is based on the fact that when the wager to place is three times the amount of the win bet it will give the operator a net profit of 50 cents on the invested capital dollar even if the horse does no better than finish second.

The place bettor seeks an added degree of safety by placing his entire wager to place, which will result in a net profit of 50 cents on the invested dollar if the place price is three dollars.

For example, if the wager is $50 to win and $150 to place, the horseplayer will net a profit of $100 if the horse fails to win but does place at a price of four dollars.

The man who places the entire $200 wager to place will earn the same net profit if the horse places at a price of only three dollars.

Upon first thought, one might be inclined to believe that the horseplayer who employs the 1-3 scale, will over an entire year earn a much higher profit than the man who confines his wagering to place only. Surprisingly, this is not true when identical selections are used. There will be a small difference in favor of the 1-3 man, but when this difference is viewed in comparison with the degree of safety involved, the small additional margin of profit becomes less attractive.

This brings us to the third component in know-how: patience. One must have a large degree of patience because if you are to take full advantage of the safety factor you are not going to find many acceptable selections on any given day.

The fourth and final ingredient in the know-how of successful turf investing is equally as important as the preceding three. This one requires more self-control than the average fan possesses. No matter how many selections the average pro may have on a given day, he ceases play with the first cashing wager that attains his profit objective, which is usually 50 cents on the invested dollar.

The question inevitably arises: why would anyone stop their play if they have what they consider to be three good selections on the card just because their first selection results in a net profit of 50 cents on the dollar? The answer is simple: because they know that when their first selection accomplishes their profit objective, at that point their cashing percentage is 100 percent, and they are smart enough to know that it is extremely risky attempting to improve upon that figure.

Moreover they knows that if they continue and their next selection fails to make good they will be in the red instead of ahead for the day, and no pro likes the idea of ending a day in the hole.

If a horseplayer has two or more acceptable selections, and the first selection loses he must, of course, continue play because that is the only possible course he can follow unless he is willing to stop with the first loser and call it a bad day. Most pros will not do this because they are inherently percentage men.

But when the first selection loses he knows that the cashing percentage is zero at this point, and he will move along to his next selection, if any, knowing that the chance of cashing a bet is now in his favor.

Many people believe that everyone who bets on the outcome of a horse raced is a gambler. Not the professional operator; he is a conservative who strives diligently to avoid every risk.

At this point the reader may say to himself: "The foregoing is fine; it is interesting and probably the most effective way of conducting one's turf activities. But it seems that one must be a good selector before he can profitably adopt such a mode of play and so far you have not told us what can be done about this feature of work."

There is no doubt that the more skillful an individual is as a selector the better he will fare. But it does not follow that the fan who is unschooled in handicapping is a lost soul. He is not, provided he can bring himself to confine his wagering to a certain type of horses.

We don't mean to imply that a system or angle can match the production of a well-trained, experienced selector. But there is a certain type of horse which, if one will confine himself to that type alone, will compensate to a marked degree for his lack of skill as a selector.

If this type of horse is backed to place, only and the minimum profit objective is set at 50 cents on the invested dollar, any man who can read the past performance charts has a reasonably good chance of removing himself from the ranks of the chronic losers.

We are aware that not every one can afford to make the $200 wagers required to earn a net of $100 on the basis of 50 cents on the invested dollar. But there is nothing to stop a player from scaling down the profit objective.

If, for example, a handicapper is satisfied with a net of $10, they need to bet only $20 to place, knowing that if the selection pays a three-dollar mutuel they will have accomplished their financial objective. If they wish to shoot for an average net of $20 a day then they must make flat wagers of $40 to place.

Only a very wishful thinker would dream of collecting on every selection they back. Therefore, one must be prepared financially to carry any losses they may suffer and still be able to continue operation on the same basis as their original flat bet wager.

The type of horse we are suggesting as an exceptionally good wager will not be found in every playable race on a day's card. In fact, when we eliminate all types of maiden races, jumping races, handicap races and all added money races, we have only the claiming races and allowance events to consider.

Key Horses in Claiming Races

1. A horse that has started within the past 14 days and was entered in this race for a price (or in a grade) as high as or higher than the top claiming price named in the conditions for today's race.

2. The horse must have finished in the money or within 2-1/2 lengths of the winner in one of its last two races when entered for a price (or in a grade) as high as or higher than the price or grade for which the horse is entered today.

Note: Never accept a horse whose in-the-money race, or the race where it finished within 2-1/2 lengths of the winner, was any type of maiden race. In addition: an allowance race at a major track is considered of a class higher than any entered claiming price.

3. If two or more horses qualify, select the horse that finished in the money or within 2-1/2 lengths of the winner in one of its last two races in the highest claiming grade or class. If tied, select the horse that ran most recently.

Key Horses in Allowance Races

1. A horse that has started within the last 14 days while entered in either a name handicap or stake race.

2. The horse must have finished in the money or within 2-1/2 lengths of the winner in one of its last two races, and the grade of the race must have been higher than allowance class.

3. If two or more horses qualify, select the one that finished in the money in the highest class within its last two starts. If tied on class, use the horse that ran most recently.

There will be days when there is no qualified selection at the given track; on other days you may find two or three acceptable horses.



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