Betting Strategy: Pursuing Opinions Worth Betting

September 15th, 2023

“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”

― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Opinions, we’ve all got them. Some fare better than others. Some are well-reasoned, accurately reflecting one’s astute handicapping analysis that comes to bear in the results of the race. Others are just wrong in every way, and thank heavens for the guy next to you at the track watching the replay and explaining exactly why you were wrong.

Forming accurate and well-reasoned opinions comes with studying handicapping angles and watching races, but whether you are new to betting the ponies or not, you need to ask yourself if you are forming nuanced opinions or simply searching for a horse you like.

This is an important distinction to keep in mind: the difference between an opinion and a preference. Both reflect a horseplayer’s subjective viewpoint. However, opinions are based on a person's knowledge and understanding, and they can be supported by evidence or arguments. Preferences are focused on expressing a person's likes or dislikes. They reflect individual tastes, values, and emotions, and they are often driven by personal biases.

Self-reflection is vital to leveling up in any endeavor, and horseplaying is no different. Ask yourself: 

  • Why am I using/not using this horse?
  • Why am I playing an exacta (whatever pool you choose)?

If your best answer is “I like front-runners” or “The exacta is my favorite bet,” then consider expanding your preferences into full-fledged opinions.

  • The only other front-runner in the field needs the lead or quits, while the front-runner I like drew outside and has proven himself dueling and prevailing in the past. 
  • The favorite is a lock, but he’s an underlay. I am against the second and third choices. There are two overlays who will get the right trip to be second-best today. I am keying the favorite on top of these two overlays in the exacta.

Going Further Than Picking Winners

Picking a horse on top, deciding who you think will win is not a full-fledged opinion if you are working with the many pools of the modern betting menu.

Blame whoever you want, but in horse racing, we are win pool-obsessed. We handicap a race trying to find the winner. Why? An easy enough explanation is that this was the first bet — my horse can beat your horse. But it also fits so many of the models our brains are saturated with in terms of how we tell and are told the stories of our lives. “Timmy is the best math student in his class.” “Suzie is the fastest kid in second grade.” “Wilbur was the valedictorian.” “The Chiefs are the Super Bowl champions.”

Often we handicap in the same way, like we are running a tournament in our minds, working through who we think is the best in this field. Yes, every race has a winner (unless a dead heat) but the most lucrative opinions we can form that result in us turning a profit (our goal in all of this) deal with much more than this. 

Instead of sitting down to handicap with the question in mind of who will win this race, what if we begin our analysis with the question of how can we make money from this race? The question we ask of anything will assuredly determine the answer we get. If you bet to win, that’s all you do, then yes, keep asking who will win this race. But in horse racing we have a cat waiting to be skinned in multiple ways.

How Can We Make Money From This Race? 

When we shift into this mentality, this lens of analysis, we can form a range of opinions far more nuanced than who might win.

Here are some valuable opinions to try to form while you are handicapping.

  • Before anything else, we should ask if this race offers value? Five-horse field with a 3-5 morning line favorite? Assess the favorite.
  • Who will run second, who will run third, fourth, fifth. Why?
  • Who will not win? Who will not run second, third, etc.?
  • If “x” horse wins, what is the most likely race shape that plays out, and who else would run well in that situation?
  • If “y” horse doesn’t fire, then who will capitalize?
  • What would have to happen for “z” horse to finish off the board?
  • Which running style has the best chance in this race?
  • What part of the track does a horse need to run on to have the best trip?
  • Who is rounding into form and will run better than previous races? Who just ran their top effort and will not be able to repeat?
  • Your opinion extends from your handicapping, and if it is well thought out, it can dictate your betting strategy and increase your odds at turning a profit.