New Year’s Resolutions for Becoming Better Horseplayers in 2022

Horseplayers looking to refine their game in 2022 should follow these 5 tips.

Horse racing is a difficult game for novices and professionals alike. With so many variables at play, even the most sophisticated horseplayers can struggle to produce consistent winning results. Here are 5 ways to improve your horse playing in 2022.

Horseplayers Resolution #1: Finding Value

When people think of successful horseplayers they usually think that they are able to pick winners more often than the average person. However, the reality is that picking winners is just the first step in the process. Given that you will lose more than you will win it is important that players always keep their eye on whether or not a horse presents good value.

Sunday 1/2/22 Aqueduct Race 8

In the 8th and 9th at Aqueduct on Sunday I loved the #4 horses in the 8th and the 9th. My plan was a $20 daily double on 4/4. As the post drew near the #4 in race 8 was 1-5 and the double into the 4 was paying $3 on a $1 bet. I scratched out my play and instead decided to take a shot with the rail runner in the 8th since it had been playing well all weekend. My new structure was a $5 daily double 1/4 and $15 to win on the #4 in race 9.

The result was 4-4. My $20 double would have paid $55. Instead I cashed only my win bet for $30.75. However, the #1 battled gamely in the 8th race and lost by only a head. If the result of the 8th race had been flipped, that $5 double would have paid out roughly $145 plus my win bet.

If the rail hadn’t been so good my audible would have been just a straight win bet on the last race or a complete pass of the sequence.

Get good at know what fair value is on a horse you like and only play when you have an edge. As you get better at determining win odds you can start to use those to leverage your picks in other wagers where they present value as well such as the exacta and the daily double.

Horseplayers Resolution #2: Keep Records

Horseplayers love to be right. Sit in any simulcast center and you’ll meet plenty of people that are happy to tell you how many winner’s they’ve landed on today. However, many of these players focus too much on how the horse they picked ran. Instead I posit that the successful horseplayer should look inward at why they landed on the winner or the loser.

As much as we’d all love to be an expert at every distance, surface, class, and track, the reality is that the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.

If you really want to be a better horseplayer in 2022. You need to start keeping detailed records of your own stats. These are just as, if not more, important than the jockey, horse, and trainer stats in your past performances.

Build A Spreadsheet

The days of pencil and paper ledgers are in the past. Thanks to sophisticated and user-friendly spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, even the most novice handicapper can track their strengths and weaknesses.

When building your spreadsheet make sure you are keeping track of the following items:

  1. Track: Not all tracks are the same. A player may have a positive ROI at Aqueduct, but not at Belmont. If that’s the case, it may suggest that a horseplayer should be pushing a greater percentage of their bankroll during the Aqueduct meet.
  2. Date: The racing calendar ebbs and flows. Recording the date of all plays can tip your hand to certain types of races that you excel at. Though admittedly there is likely another factor at play besides just time of year.
  3. Surface: American racing offers races over dirt, synthetic, and turf surfaces. Each type of track has its own dynamics. Tracking surfaces with your bets can tell you which surface better aligns with your handicapping style. Push your prime plays through the surface you do best at.
  4. Distance: At many tracks different distances have different quirks. Knowing that you have a high ROI at 7 furlong dirt races can help you pinpoint opportunities to create separation from the other pari-mutuel players.
  5. Track Condition: Tracks can be fickle and sometimes a little bit of moisture can completely fit a track profile on its head. If you handicap specifically for early speed and a track plays to that when rains fall, that might be a great opportunity to take advantage of your extra edge.
  6. Class Level: Not all race classes are alike. Graded stakes races tend to be much more formful while the claiming ranks can be extremely unpredictable. Someone with a great concept of breeding may excel at maiden races but may be lost in claiming ranks.
  7. Top 3 Finishers: I encourage players to track the top 3 finishers. There is a big difference between picking a horse who is a hard fought 2nd and a horse that projected well, but never threatened. By tracking the top 3 you can identify if your process is working rather than focusing solely on if you had the winner.
  8. Bet Types: Players who pick winners at prices are best to stay in the single race wagers or horizontal exotics. Players with a great sense of pace may find more success in bets like the exacta and trifecta. Figure out which bets you make the most on.
  9. Return on Investment: When recording ROI it is important to look at your ROI as a percentage of your handle. Knowing how much you bet in each pool and where you had the highest returns can suggest where horseplayers should be focusing their bankroll.

The above list is not meant to be comprehensive. There are several other things you could track to further your understanding of whether or not you have an edge in certain races. The beauty of horse racing is that you can get as detailed as you wish. Regardless, knowing what you do well should allow you to focus your 2022 bets into races where you have a distinct edge on the rest of the public.

Horseplayers Resolution #3: Become a Circuit Expert

The previous resolution was all about getting to know yourself. However, there is also great value in getting to know horses. Horseplayers fall into two major categories. The first category is daily grinders who will be firing away on a Monday at Parx as though it was the Breeder’s Cup. The other category is the big day players. These players only find their way to the races when marquee races are on the docket.

Regardless of which category you fall into, following key circuits can be a vital tool to give you an edge on the rest of the horseplayers.

Daily Grinders

If you are a player who plans to play on a consistent basis, picking a circuit and learning it’s intricacies can be a huge asset. A lot of the nuances at the track aren’t detectable in the past performances. This includes things like jockey trainer combinations, jockey preferred run styles, trainer patterns, and shipping trends.

For example, one summer at Canterbury Park, there was a string of Arlington Park shippers that were unbeatable. They won at all prices. At one point my stats showed Arlington shippers winning at over 40%. This gave me a huge edge on a lot of the handicappers that were looking at the shippers based on their merits.

By studying a single circuit you are more likely to find mistakes made by the wager public which is often largely composed of simulcasters firing at every track around the country.

Big Day Horseplayers

For big day horseplayers, the circuit is less about a particular track or collections of track and more about prep races. Currently, many are closely following the Road to the Kentucky Derby which began this winter and heated up last weekend with the running of three prep races.

If you are someone who won’t be betting until the first Saturday in May, the Travers Stakes, or maybe the Breeder’s Cup, there is still information to be gathered. Some major stakes races have a clearly defined series of prep races such as the Kentucky Derby or the Breeder’s Cup, but races like the Met Mile can have their own races that trainers frequently use to get horses ready for those major events as well.

In the lead up to the races you will be heavily invested in, make sure you are doing your homework. Check in regularly on horse racing publications for any information that may suggest when a horse can pop a big performance. For example, Brad Cox was not shy about telling anyone who would listen that after his first workout he said “That’s my Belmont horse.” That horse was Essential Quality. Knowing that Cox felt he perfectly fit that race from the start, helped to eliminate the white noise of some of the other wise guy horses in the lead up to the race.

Horseplayers Resolution #4: Bankroll Management

The key to any successful wagering endeavor is to bankroll management. Many a great handicappers have ended up in the poorhouse because of bad money management. While bankroll management is a largely personal preference there are some general rules that can help make your 2022 more profitable.

  1. Establish a Bankroll for the Year: If you run out of money, you’re done. Whatever number it is, make sure it can cover your plays.
  2. Determine how much of your bankroll to use on a given day: My general rule is that I never bet more than 3% of the annual bankroll on a given day. I will move this number up to 5% on major racing days such as the Breeders' Cup.
  3. Stick to your specialties: As was outlined earlier, know which races fit best with your handicapping and make them the focus of your wagers.
  4. Enter the day with a bet strategy: I always like to establish where the horses I like are located on the card. I will write out bets that I think give me the best chance to take advantage of those opinions. This will avoid taking a swing at a race you have no opinion of trying to chase losses from the previous races.
  5. Be Flexible: Entering with a plan is important because it prevents players from going on tilt, but as the odds boards shake out you will occasionally need to call and audible based on track conditions, value, weather, etc.

Horseplayers Resolution #5: Redboard

A common term in the horseplayers vernacular is redboarding. It essentially means handicapping the race after it has been run. While this can be detrimental if given too much attention, it is an important part of getting better at your craft.

Following each race, win or lose I will go back and highlight positives about a horse I noted in the past performances. Occasionally if I overlooked a red flag on a horse that didn’t run to expectectation I will highlight that as well. If I can’t find something on the page within 30 seconds of the end of the race I write a question mark and move on. Sometimes we have to accept chaos in this game.

Along with the races players should be redboarding their own performance as well. How were your opinions? How was your betting? Did you stick to your strategy? During this phase it is vital that you focus on the methodology behind your selections and wagers. I have made plenty of horrible bets that cashed and good bets that didn’t. Long term the well constructed bets will outperform the poorly constructed ones so try not to focus solely on if the day was positive or negative. That very rarely tells the story.

Make 2022 Your Best Year Yet

Winning at the races is no easy task, but far too many horseplayers also don’t put in the requisite time to maximize their play. However, through value shopping, the use of record keeping, becoming a circuit expert, managing bankroll, and redboarding your performance you have the tools to make 2022 your best year at the races yet.

Don’t forget to let Betting News help you with your selections at tracks from across the country using our free handicapping tools.

By Chris Adams

Chris first got introduced to horse racing in 2009 at Canterbury Park (Shakopee, MN). Along with handicapping and betting, Chris has worked as a teller at his local track and participated in ownership partnerships. He now enjoys sharing his passion with his wife and two young daughters who love going out to the track each and every summer.