Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Feb. 16, 2023

February 16th, 2023

A good Thursday to you all! I wanted to use this Thursday column to start a new series for the next several weeks.

Back in 2005, Frank Scatoni and Peter Thomas Fornatale wrote the book “Six Secrets of Successful Bettors,” which featured lots of interviews and insights from many professional horseplayers and handicapper types. So I thought maybe it would be fun to steal most of their title, but do some columns focused on things I think that so many of us do wrong. And I think it’s very important to recognize the things we do wrong so that we can make changes to that. So let us begin, The Six Secrets of Unsuccessful Bettors!

For secret number one, I think one of the things unsuccessful bettors don’t do is ‘think pari-mutuelly.” From the beginning, most of us are taught and constantly asked, “Who do you like? Who do you think is going to win?” Which is fine and dandy to try to decide, but of course, usually that act of handicapping is done without considering the price the horse is going to be. I believe “thinking pari-mutuelly” means that no matter what you do with your handicapping, you have to have an awareness of how that horse is going to play in the pari-mutuel pools. 

Quick example: If I think the #1 horse is most likely the winner of the first race, I want to bet the winner, so I go put $2 on him or her. All I’ve done with my handicapping is determine who I thought is the most likely winner. I haven’t taken into account what percentage of the time I think he or she is going to win. I haven’t assigned my needed odds based on that percentage guess. I haven’t gauged how others are going to bet the horse and move their odds up or down. All I’ve done is try to pick the winner.

So if the horse goes off at 1-2 odds but has a 50% chance of winning the race, I haven’t done a very good job of thinking pari-mutuelly. I’ve just tried to find the winner. And then I’ve bet on a horse who is a long-term losing proposition. Even if they do win and I make a $1 profit this time, making that bet over and over again is going to yield me a net loss.

I believe most unsuccessful players really get exposed more so in the exotic wagers by not thinking pari-mutuelly. Pick 4 and Pick 5 players often go into a sequence with a set budget and go through race by race and make their selections. At the end, they have a total ticket cost, and if it’s within their budget they’ll play it; if it’s not, they’ll start taking horses off the ticket. Funnily enough, they usually take off the longer-priced horses.

What’s missing in those Pick 4 and Pick 5 tickets is an analysis of how the public might be playing the sequence. If you’re investing $36 and have all the logical horses that the majority of the public has, you might be playing for a $100 payoff. Picking four or five winners is extremely hard. Accomplishing something so hard and only getting 2-1 or 3-1 on your money is brutal!

People who don’t think pari-mutuelly aren’t concerned about their competition and how they’re playing, which is kind of crazy considering that’s who you’re playing against. Many players think they’re playing against the horses and not against the other gamblers. However, when you make a big score, that means you hit when far fewer of your fellow bettors did as well. When you get back $20 on a Pick 4, it means that half the building also had winning combos. Being right is fine and dandy, but being right at the right time is much better.

Thinking pari-mutuelly requires you to put yourself in the shoes of the general public. If a Pick 4 sequence has kind of an obvious flow, then chances are many, many people in the public are putting their tickets in that way.

If the first race is a big field spread, the second is two clear favorites, the third is where everyone is singling, and the fourth has a few contenders, you better believe a ton of tickets are going to look like 8x2x1x4 or some close variation to that.

Is your opinion the same as all those other folks? Maybe it's a good sequence to pass on or maybe just press your best win or double thoughts. Do you hate the horse everyone is singling and think you can beat the two logicals in the second leg? Now you might have a sequence to really attack.

Sure, you might be wrong, but if you’re right...boom! You’re going to be wrong an awful lot betting the horses. So when you are right, you've got to more than make up for all those wrongs. You do that by being right when everyone else in the pari-mutuel pools is wrong.