Handicapping - Know Your Metrics & Work the Margins

Handicapping horses and turning a profit might be the most difficult task for any gambler of a skill game. We know all too well that beating high takeouts is not for the weak or unwilling. Most handicappers tend to think that 'if I can get one or two scores' I will be ok, and push to try and get into the black. We also are pre-programmed not to think at the margins, but in the aggregate. Hopefully I can show why looking at the margins is something that everyone should do, at all times. More often than not, working the margins can be a ticket to success.

I just finished reading SmarterSig's Improve Your Betting, a UK gambling book, concentrating on racing. In one chapter, gambler Alan Potts is interviewed and he says this:

"Analyze, especially losers post race. I found that after five years I was backing the same number of winners, but I was getting less losers."

Working at this can improve your ROI tremendously. I often go through all of my numbers and make sure I am doing things correctly. Most ADW's allow you to track bets, by bet, by track and so on. This information is vital.

I went through all of my statistics from 2004 recently and looked at what I improved when I set out to improve it, and what I need to do now to improve again. It is a never-ending struggle. Here are a few snapshots:

Place betting (something I have tried to do as a strategy): 0.969ROI over a large sample. I simply can not crack 1.00 here, no matter what I do. I think this is because place bets for me tend to be action bets. I want to play something, but I am not sold on the play, so I look for a reason to play. This is never a good thing.

By track. I started playing the thoroughbreds more than I had in 2007 and have tried many tracks. Turf Paradise: 0.883ROI Penn National (on at night via HPITV, so why not right?) 0.772ROI - a drunk monkey could play better. Conversely, there are several tracks I have done very well at over the years, in harness the Meadowlands, and in thoroughbred Belmont to name but a couple.

Super High Five wagering: 0.536ROI.

So, what can we conclude by looking at the above? Three things, and we have to be cognizant of them to work the margins.

One, a large sample of place bets has occurred and I can not get my ROI up there. If I eliminate these bets they push me to a higher overall ROI. I should not be wasting time on place bets, and I should watch action bets in general.

Two, I have enough of a sample that tells me I am not playing Penn or Turf Paradise correctly. There are dozens of tracks out there to play. If you are terrible and can not get a feel at Mohawk, why push it? Learn Western Fair instead and try there, or Georgian, or Chester. You never know what is around the corner. For example, the HANA track ratings (click for spreadsheet) showed that Sunland Park is a decent track to bet so I went and gave it a shot. My ROI at Sunland in 2009? 1.366. You just never know where you might click.

Three, low hit rate bets have to be looked at differently and this is important to understand. My super high 5 ROI is poor; however, the sample size is small and I can count five or six times I missed monster scores with them, for pool shots, by a head, or by bad racing luck. If one, just one of those converted for a pool shot score, I am up with this bet. I do not want to worry about ROI's on low hit rate bets until I have a large sample size. The only thing one needs to worry about with these type bets is capitalization. If you are under bankrolled you do not even want to be thinking about playing them.

I am sure there are some people out there with incredible discipline and incredible prowess to achieve 1.20ROI's or above over a large sample size. I am not one of them. I have to weed out the bad, and concentrate on the good in my betting to make sure I am betting efficiently, to have a shot to be a success. 1% or 2% a year to a bottom line can be a huge number, and can help turn a long term losing strategy into a winning one.

Track your bets, and work the margins. I think you will be happy you did.


bumby said...

Great post. Failure is the best teaching tool there is, and analyzing losers is absolutely key to winning at this game.

Try to figure out why a bet or series of bets went wrong and take steps to avoid doing the same thing in the future. I see so many people at the track blaming the driver, the juicing trainers, etc. You know what? The only thing we can control is ourselves and at the track that is whether we make the bet or not and for how much.

People that can't admit that they themselves are wrong sometimes (and betting horses we are going to be wrong a lot) will never make money at this game in the long run.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you would bet Turf P. I think it is a felony for Arizonians to bet Woodbine, Windsor, Flamboro, etc..on a computer.


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