Jason Beem's Thursday Column for March 2, 2023

March 2nd, 2023

A good Thursday morning to you all! Welcome to Part 3 of our little series here called “The Six Secrets of Unsuccessful Bettors.” It’s a little riff off Peter T. Fornatale and Frank Scatoni’s book “The Six Secrets of Successful Bettors,” which you can find at your favorite bookseller if you’d like to check it out.

I’m shooting to show some things that I think unsuccessful bettors routinely do that causes them poor results.

This week’s topic is that of race and pool selection. Last week, we talked a lot about how as bettors we assign our dollars a specific earning value based on the tickets we play and horses we bet on. This week, I want to talk more about the race and pools that we decide to exercise our handicapping opinions in.

In poker, this is called game selection. I studied poker a lot as a younger man, and I remember many of the books discussing how important game selection was.

For instance, I would go in to the room to play $4/$8 limit Texas Hold 'em and there might be four or five tables of that game going on. Initially, you usually have to sit in whatever game they tell you to, but you can ask for a transfer to get into another game. Why is this important? Well, maybe the table you’re at is filled with good players. Or tight players who don’t really mix it up in the pots very often. Low-limit games like this are brutal to beat, especially with the rake taking out a decent chunk of the pot. Another table, same limits, same game might have five players there who are drinking and being social and just playing tons of pots for no reason other than some action. Give me those two different types of tables, and, of course, I want to go into the weaker and looser game.

Going back to the first column of this series, I talked about how often people don’t think pari-mutuelly as horse racing bettors. In a poker game, our competition is only the seven or eight other people at the table. In horse racing, our competition is the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of other people playing in the same pools we are.

I think most horseplayers really think of the game we play as them versus the races, not them versus the other players in the same betting pools. In poker, in the long run, the cards are going to shake out mostly the same for everyone. In horse racing, we’re all going to take some bad beats, we’re all going to get some lucky bobs, we’re all going to get bad rides. It’s what you do to capitalize on your good opinions and on those times you’re right that will determine whether or not you’re a strong player.

So what is race and pool selection in horse racing? Well, it’s as it sounds. You’ve probably heard lots of players say, “I’m a good handicapper but a bad bettor.” A huge part of being a good bettor is learning how to construct tickets and maximize opinions.

We’ve talked about it a ton on the podcast and will continue to do so. But part of it is knowing what tracks you’re strong in and what pools you’re better at and attacking those.

I know people who constantly play Pick 5s and they stink at Pick 5s. They continually chase that big score even though it’s a tough bet to hit and they’re up against many of the best players in the country in those pools. The tougher the bet is to hit, you can bet the tougher it is for you to be a winner long term because you’re up against the better players who can actually win long term in those pools.

Bad bettors often play in pools that they are over-matched in, either because of their ticket-making ability, bankroll, or just playing against better players. 

Another thing that falls under the umbrella of race and pool selection is the idea of patience. I used to be a total “Action Jackson” player at the OTB. I would look up at the bank of televisions and would play whatever track was coming up next. It could be a track I’d never played, and I might not even have past performances, I just wanted action.

My good buddy Gabe Prewitt refers to it as “screen-to-screen combat.” It’s fun, but, man, is it a bankroll siphoner. I think unsuccessful horseplayers often fall victim to playing too many races and too many sequences.

Whether it’s small and chalky fields or just sequences that aren’t that appealing or you don’t have a particularly strong opinion, betting good money in bad spots is a killer. Those dollars can be used later in the card when your opinions might be better or the races just might be better betting opportunities. Picking and choosing not only the races but the pools you should be playing in, like everything else in racing, takes time to learn. We need to analyze our strengths and be honest about our weaknesses as players and adjust to those to put ourselves in better positions to have success.

Everyone have a great weekend!