Pouring over the formguide recently, I suddenly realised I’d been “at it” for three hours, non-stop. And I was only up to race 5!

It set me thinking. How much is too much when it comes to sitting down with a formguide and going through the various races? Is there a point where you can simply strain your brain too much?

I guess it depends on individual personality. Some people I know seem to have been born with the ability to study for long stretches at a time. Others I know get bored or restless after five minutes of just reading a newspaper or a book, let alone studying a formguide and making decisions.

Sometimes I can spend anything from an hour to three hours on one race. This involves going through the formlines, picking out  the races which may be pertinent to today’s race, looking at replays (sometimes three and four times) and then checking out ratings. It all takes time.

Take a simple 1200m race. If you watch it three times that’s at least five minutes of your time, given breaks between viewings. That might be for just one horse!  Ten in a race, that’s a minimum 10 replays to watch!

Much depends on the approach you use. A friend who usually does well at the racing caper tells me he quickly picks out one race on the card and concentrates his attention on it. Twenty minutes is his average time to look at the form.

Many others might scoff at such an approach. There are punters around who feel guilty if they don’t spend time minutely examining every horse, right down to the 100/1 shots!

The US expert George Kaywood has spent some time reviewing the situation of different approaches, and time taken, and so on. Here’s what he has to say at www.handicapping.com:

I knocked a book off my bookshelf the other day. It was Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing, one of the oldies but goodies that I re-read from time to time in which I still discover new ways to look at handicapping concepts. I decided to see which page it fell open to, and it happened to be the chapter Handicapping Theories, and the heading You Can’t Win ‘Em All. 

I had to read it! In that section, Ainslie talks about the differences among different successful handicapping methods.

I’ve often kicked this around myself and I’m sure you’ve mused about it as well.

If you’re a speed or pace-oriented player, you may wonder how it is that your fellow player who concentrates entirely on class and consistency, picks the same horse you do – or an “unpredictable” winner that you just couldn’t include in your handicapping selections.

Or the weekend player who, using just a few traditional handicapping factors, only bets a horse that won its last race. Or, likewise, in the same manner, the bettor who begins by eliminating any horse that won its last race.

It’s hard to accept that any one of these different types of players can be classified as an expert, but at the end of day, if that player has stuck to his preferred handicapping method and shown a profit, can he not be called a pro?

If you are one of the majority or players who haven’t settled into just one approach to handicapping, or you keep tinkering year round trying to improve your performance, you might do well to think about three key ideas that Ainslie named his “Prescription for Success”:

  1. The handicapper who has the time and patience to use an approach that is very detailed using all possible approaches to handicapping and learns when to favour one over another depending on the race will make the fewest bets, pick the highest percentage of winners and generally have the highest rate of profit.
  2. The handicapper who does not devote as much time and effort will make more bets and pick a lower percentage of winners, but may earn the same or nearly the same profit as the handicapper described in profile (1).

    How can this be?

    The answer is truly simple: the median or average mutual price tends to rise, so the rate of profit goes down slight, if at all. Ainslie says this is why some players keep trying to simplify their approach for most of their lives.

    Further, he postulates that an educated player equipped with five or six spot plays can find a few plays a day and be just as much a pro as the first handicapper profiled here.
  3. Rate of profit is important but is not everything. No one puts the numbers together better to explain basic racetrack math than Ainslie. Let’s look at a hypothetical 15-day period at a track. A conservative player who can be categorised as the one profiled in profile (1) might make 30 bets, betting $20 on each horse and collecting a profit of 25 cents per dollar. His net profit is $150.

Now, consider a type (2) player, less conservative, who in the same 15-day period makes 60 bets and makes a profit of 15 cents on the dollar. His net profit is $180.

# of BetsProfit Per $Total Profit
Have you figured out yet when to stop handicapping?

I can’t think of a single book, class, system, method, or seminar that addresses this question – and that’s why so many handicappers spent time regularly trying to perfect the handicapping approach that can make even more money for them.

The answer should be obvious, but like so many things in horseracing, it’s not.  The answer is: “when you feel comfortable.”  If you are happy burning the midnight oil and make $150, as in the example above, stop.

If you are happy being a little less systematic and careful, but you manage to make as much (or sometimes more), as your more detail-oriented friend, stop.

And if you are truly happy constantly tinkering with what you are doing, stop. You’ll reach a point of burnout that will make you unhappy because you’ll never be a profile (1) handicapper – OR a profile (2) handicapper.

What a great example of the expression “It’s about money, but it’s not really about money.”

I once attended a radio seminar in which the question was asked “When is it time to hang up your headphones?”

Like other in the group, I assumed the speaker was talking about retiring from the profession and it made me uncomfortable. After some discussion, he said “The time to hang up your headphones is at the end of your shift.”

What he meant was that you shouldn’t take your work home with you. While handicapping is a highly personal activity that most of us do at home, the message is the same: getting away from it regularly is just as good for your long-term play as it is for your mental health.

Ainslie’s “prescription” for players has a lot more meaning then he may have had in mind when he wrote it.

By Martin Dowling