By Ray Wallin
What would a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher know about handicapping?
I doubt Marcus Aurelius, the author of the famous philosophical work Meditations, was trying to figure out the contenders in the fifth race at Pompeii Downs or ever thought about making his living playing the chariot races. Instead, it was his philosophical side that lends itself to being helpful to your handicapping almost 2,000 years later.
1) Realize that many mistakes are the results of ignorance
You know our track friend Newbie Nick. Even if you don’t know him, you know another guy like him. He is new to the game. He thinks he knows it all. When he wins a race, you’d think he won the Mega Millions. When he loses he can’t believe it. You watch him week after week ride the highs and lows of a day at the track, but he consistently is missing something that seems almost obvious. Those lone early speed horses are his Achilles’ heel. You wonder how he hasn’t caught on to this yet, especially here at Monmouth Park where sprints favor early speed.
You don’t know what you don’t know, right? Every race offers you the ability to learn and grow. It is up to you though to accept that you don’t know everything and can find a gem of knowledge in a lousy situation. If you don’t, you’ll never be a consistent winner and stay in the black.
2) You’re not a God
Let’s leave Newbie Nick alone for a second. When he blows what you think is an obvious easy winner you start to feel superior to his skills. You feel that way until you miss that easy winner who had four troubled trips in a row who went off at 12-1 and beat this field for fun. You kick yourself for not looking down the past performances a little further and noticing that.
You need to remember that you have made enough mistakes yourself. If you have managed to avoid the mistakes others, like Newbie Nick, are making you should recognize that you have the potential to make a mistake and even do worse. Plus the only time you should answer that you are a god is when you are asked directly if you are a god while saving the world from ghosts.
3) Never be quick to judge others
Our good friend Rail Guy loves to talk about his picks to anyone that will listen. When you tell him your thoughts, he is often quick to tell you every reason why your picks are wrong in his mind. “How can you like da four here, he is off da layoff with dat bum bug boy in da irons. No way he finds da lead here, not a chance of dat upsetting my five or da three hoss.”
It is only human nature to second guess yourself when someone else criticizes your picks. Is he right? Are you wrong? Yes? No? Maybe? You won’t know until the race is run. You won’t know if the pick you came here to play is the real deal or Rail Guy is spot on with his play. You both arrived at your choices in a different way and as long as you feel confident in your selections, you should play them.
Ask 10 handicappers what they think about a specific race and you will get 10 different opinions. Not everyone will be right every time. Sometimes you all may be wrong. Respect the judgment others have before you are quick to dismiss them. Chances are you may learn something in the process.
4) Maintain self-control
After his horse gets beat by a nose, our friend Rail Guy gets a little fired up. “Dat bum couldn’t ride a carousel hoss in a circle. Dat nag must be full of drugs to get that kind of trip against dis field.” He’ll continue to talk about this race all day long. He will still be muttering about the jockey when walking to his car later with empty pockets.
He couldn’t let it go. He upped his bet on the next race to make up for it and lost. He played the race after that, which he didn’t like “dat much” to try to get the last two races back, while still complaining about the first race.
It is only natural to react to a situation by losing your temper or discipline. It isn’t constructive. You are the one in control over whether you spend your time and energy over something that you can’t control or that happened in the past. By staying calm and moving on you will be in the right mindset for the next betting opportunity that you have. You need to keep your head about you otherwise your bankroll will suffer the most of anything.
5) Know that pessimism can easily overcome you
Have you ever watched a horseplayer unravel through the course of a day at the track?
I think back to my days down at Monmouth Park when I would hang with a guy we called the Trader. The Trader would start off every racing card the same way, chasing the early double. Sometimes he’d hit it, but most times he would come up short in the second leg. That would start a downward spiral that would continue to get uglier as the day progressed.
It would start with the third race and a comment as he came back from placing his next wagers, “guess I am donating that $20 to someone who deserves it.”
By the middle of the card he would be a couple beers in and starting to chain smoke his Newport Lights. The loud claims of “never going to pick another winner” and “why do I love this crooked sport” would start. Since the Trader worked as an exercise rider part–time the security guards would let it go a little bit unless he got too out of hand. If he made it until the end of the card he was asking for a couple of bucks for gas and tolls to get home. Swearing he was the worst handicapper in the world.
Where did our friend the Trader go wrong? After bit of adversity at the beginning of the card he thought all his bets were doomed. Once you start thinking this way, chances are you are not thinking them through that well or weighing your options against the will-pays. Like we tell our children, if you think you can’t you already made up your mind that you won’t.
Marcus Aurelius was considered to be the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors before instability hit the throne in Rome. Yet we can learn a lot about successful mindsets from his writings. By staying grounded, learning from our mistakes, being positive, and staying in control of ourselves, we can all aspire to be better handicappers.