Barry Meadow, one of America’s greatest modern-day racing experts, has been a top-name writer in PPM for some years now.

His collected works, in books and magazines, are a feast of information for punters no matter where they come from around the world.

In this article, and in other articles in coming months, we are publishing “the best of” Barry Meadow.

So you wanna be a professional gambler? It’s difficult to estimate the number of full-time professional thoroughbred gamblers, but it’s likely that most who’ve tried to do this have failed.

Why? Several reasons:

  1. The takeout is large.
  2. The competition is keen. The proliferation of computer programs and the detailed information they provide has helped to level the playing field.
  3. Computer programs that can identify overbet and underbet combinations have made it possible even for novices to correct imbalances in the pools.
  4. More information is available overall. Players all over the world can watch races live, check the late odds on the Internet, and get the latest track gossip. More players are informed.
  5. The game requires capital. People who’ve saved $2,000 and try to become full-time gamblers are probably fooling themselves. They can’t safely bet much more than $4 a race with such a small bankroll, and that’s not enough to make real money.
  6. The game requires a lot of time and study. Many players who are good handicappers cannot bet with discipline under the last-second decision-making pressure that’s a key element in this game.

While quitting when you’re ahead may be psychologically a plus, there is no mathematical reason for doing so.

If you are a long-term winning player who never plays unless you have an advantage, it’s foolish to quit while you’re ahead. If you are a long-term LOSING bettor who plays without an advantage, consider this a hobby.

If it is a hobby, as it is for the vast majority of those who attend the races, money management shouldn’t be a priority. Instead, enjoy the races, the social aspect etc. If you want to quit while you’re ahead, behind or even, play parlays or progressions or some due-column thing; feel free.

None of this changes a long-term negative expectation. You never know whether your edge will come in race one or race 10. You never know whether you will cash a ticket in the first or the tenth.

I have never heard of any pro player (poker, horses, sports, blackjack, harness racing etc) who believes that you should quit when you’re ahead. Because if you are a professional, you will simply get further ahead if you keep playing with an edge.

It’s often said, “This is a wide open field, it’s a great betting race.” NO. It’s only a great betting race if your opinion differs from that of the crowd.

Just because a field is large and wide open doesn’t necessarily make it a good betting race. If you have no opinion on the race, or you also believe it’s hard to handicap and looks wide open, it’s not a great betting race for YOU.

When bettors discuss the possibility of making a living at the track, I ask them about the records they currently keep. Have they been winning steadily using REAL money, or is their success based on paper bets and data-mined results?

How comfortable are they making large bets (nobody makes a living with $30 bets)? What improvements have they made since they started betting?

You can’t simply remember those wonderful days when everything you did clicked, and you brought home $12,000. You must remember the days when you went zero for eight and nobody even got in the call.

The best way to objectively look at reality is through records. If you’re serious about this game, you should focus on improving. Every handicapper, even those who have won consistently for years, is befuddled by some things.

No matter how skilful you are at betting the horses, you are at times going to make stupid bets. Heck, I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, and I still make them.

Stupid bets fall into one of several categories:

  1. You have no real opinion on the race, but decide to bet just to have some action;
  2. You like a horse, know his odds are lower than they should be, yet you bet anyway;
  3. You change your bet due to a comment made by a friend or a stranger;
  4. You are losing for the day and decide to get out by making a larger than usual bet on a late race.

All these indicate a lack of control. And if you can’t control what you’re doing at the track, then assume your betting is simply a hobby that is going to cost you a few dollars over the course of the year.

The best way to go is to plan your possible bets in advance. That means listing the day’s potential bets on a sheet. Mine, which I compile each day (generally the night before the races), lists the following:

  2. The race number for each race that interests me, along with the post time.
  3. The name and number of the horse I like, along with the odds necessary to bet it to win, along with the place percentages I need if I’m considering betting the horse in both slots.
  4. Potential exacta partners and the payodds I will need to lodge a bet.
  5. Daily double payoff require­ments for any doubles that interest me.

I may make some changes to this list after getting the scratchings and track conditions.

You are most likely to make stupid bets when you’re losing. Most of us get upset, to at least some small degree, when we are wrong. If some troubled “trip” means we’ve lost our big bet of the day by a nose, there’s a natural tendency to want to bet to make up. This is the most dangerous time of your betting day.
Sometimes, one stupid bet gets compounded by a second or third stupid bet.

That’s why some bettors believe in leaving the track early if they are having a bad day.

While mathematically this makes no sense, for those players who have trouble controlling their gambling, this could be a wise solution. There’s always another day, and maybe a better one.

While in general it’s best to see why “play” offers the best value in a particular race, some bettors might be better off sticking to one type of bet, such as win or exactas or trifectas.

By doing this, a player can concentrate on the races which seem to offer the best value for that particular bet. He also avoids the lament “I should have bet him in the trifecta” thinking, which can be so destructive.
Bettors with smaller bankrolls should avoid exotic bets altogether, because of the low strike rate.

I confess that I bet a lot of low-priced horses. But before I take a short price on a horse, it has to meet certain criteria.

  1. On my ratings, he must rank no lower than second in the field.
  2. He must expect to be in the top half of the field early (especially in US dirt track races).
  3. He has to have a competent trainer and jockey.
  4. He can’t have any form questions, no precipitous class drop, no poor last race etc.
  5. His running style figures to a be an advantage in the field, considering his barrier draw and the other runners.
  6. His trackwork must be acceptable.
  7. He must have demonstrated his suitability for the distance and the track going.

Filter should be used as a guide to help steer you towards the horses you want to back, and away from those who are less likely to win or who do not offer you the value you need.

Passing a race never hurts. But if you do decide to bet, in races where you have to grasp for any semblance of anything, try to look for change – distance switches, blinkers, new trainer/jockey etc. Avoid taking low odds on those obvious trainer-jockey combinations the public always hammers.

Hurrying to make up could be a mistake. You lose a race, maybe in a photo finish, and maybe for big money. You’re angry and you want to immediately make up for your bad luck (or your handicapping error).

So you rush into the next race, maybe betting more than you should in a quick effort to recoup.

And then if that bet loses, you find yourself betting quickly again, maybe even on a race you haven’t
analysed. Before you know it, you’re officially on tilt!

Staying in control of your emotions is a significant part of being successful at the track. Hang around a racetrack long enough and all kinds of crazy, bad things will happen.

The best way to react is NOT to react. Assume that some bad things are going to happen over the course of the day. When they happen you won’t be surprised.

Check out Barry’s website at

By Brian Blackwell