When you go out to buy new clothes, isn't it a fact that in your mind you have a sum in mind beyond which you won't go? You might say "I'll pay $250 for a jacket but no more". It's what is known as your personal "comfort zone".

It's the same with betting. Each punter, big and small, has his or her own comfort zone. For some it could be as low as $10 in a single bet, for others it might be $100, or $500. Each person is different.

There's also the matter of feeling comfortable about your handicapping. How much is enough? One punter might spend hours on one race; his mate might do the same race in a few minutes. Once again, it depends on your own comfort zone.

US handicapper George Kaywood has tackled this particular problem. This is what he has to say:

"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 to discover new ways to look at traditional 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!

"Ainslie talks about the differences among 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 the meet or season, 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 of 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 tote price tends to rise, so the rate of profit goes down slightly, 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," says Kaywood.
  3. Rate of profit is important but is not everything. No one puts the numbers together better to explain basic racetrack maths than Ainslie. Let's look at a hypothetical fifteen-day period at a track. A conservative player who can be categorised as the one profiled in profile (1) might make thirty 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 fifteen-day period makes sixty bets, and makes a profit of 15 cents on the dollar. His net profit is $180.

Kaywood's question is whether the second punter should adopt the first punter's approach: fewer bets, greater percentage profit, but less profit overall?

He adds: "I can't think of a single book, class, system, method, or seminar that addresses this question - and that's why so many handicappers spend 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."

By P.B. King