Some Thoughts on Winning

by Dick Mitchell

There are two ways to learn how to consistently win money at the track. The first is to figure it out for yourself. Read every book, go to seminars, interview successful handicappers and practice, practice, practice. That is, practice with feedback. Take your results back into the data. Find out what happened when you failed to isolate the winner, which will be most of the time. Go to the track and earn your wings in the school of hard knocks. And please, use real money.

Handicappers who can win "on paper" usually find it very difficult to make the transition to real life. Reason - removing the obstacle of "fear of failure." I often use the metaphor of the "twenty-foot plank." Offer $100 in cash to anyone that can walk heel-toe-heel-toe across a plank thatís six inches wide and twenty feet long. If they can walk the entire length without stepping off they get to keep the money. Youíll be flooded with takers. If you locate the plank between two twenty-story buildings, the number of takers will decrease dramatically. Why? Fear of failure. Thereís a very serious consequence for failure. Same with betting real money. If youíre going to win at the track, you must learn with real money.

If you take things seriously, and adopt the attitude of an investor, as opposed to that of a gambler, in two to five years you will become a winning player. The game can be beaten, if youíre willing to pay the price, which is time and hard, hard work. Thatís the first way to do it.

The second way is faster. Itís to find somebody whose already winning, and model them. Find out exactly what they do. Do the same things. Youíll get the same results. Let me share a personal experience with you. When it came to thoroughbred racing, I learned to win from Mark Cramer and James Quinn. Also, about the same time, I read a paper by a trio of academics: Ziemba, Hausch and Rubenstein. This paper was about inefficiencies of racetrack markets. Ziemba and company found the place and show holes were rather inefficient, given the strong efficiency of win pools. In other words, win odds truly reflected a horseís chances of winning. Place and show odds did not. They devised a toteboard system involving the first three public favorites. It was automatic. You didnít even have to buy a program when you went to the track. You simply used the toteboard figures and put them through a mathematical equation. If you had a 14% or more edge, you made the bet. If not, no bet. You can read about this in the book Beat The Racetrack by Bill Ziemba and Don Hausch.

I was impressed with these findings. I called Bill Ziemba and got all my questions answered. I really studied and mastered this subject. I really understood it. Applying it blindly, it made a small profit. It was doing what it was purported to do, but not returning the profits promised. The method estimated a 14% minimum edge. My results were 8%. Not bad.

Then I added a new wrinkle. I modified the Ziemba strategies. Instead of blindly accepting the public favorites, I added the dimension of thoroughbred handicapping. I had already developed a very sophisticated computer program, which was tuned to picking superfavorites. I only played when the softwareís top pick was overlayed by at least 15% in either the place or show pool. If I were going to make a major bet, I would ask Jim Quinn his opinion if there was any chance my bet would not hit the board. If he expressed the slightest doubt, I would make a small bet instead. Insisting the horse be my programís top pick, plus getting confirmation from Jim Quinn enabled me to almost double my profits.

Why am I telling you this story? Simple. You can do the same thing. Find a player who is first of all a consistent winner, then only bet when your opinion matches his or hers. Your performance will improve dramatically. If youíre patient and find your spots, you can make a very nice chunk of change at the track. See you on the short line.