This article continues our series on the thoughts and ideas of professional handicappers around the world.

Last month, Craig Milkowskji from came up with a number of questions for punters to consider.

  1. How much of a bankroll do you have to put towards gambling on horses? This is a very important question. How much money are you willing to put aside to wager on the races.
  2. What expenses do you have that directly relate to wagering on horses? Some things to consider are past performances, subscription charts plans, books, breeding data, software, programs, gasoline, admissions, etc. Don’t include that shiny new laptop if you would have bought one anyway.
  3. How many days per week can you handicap and wager? This isn’t how many days you would like to play. It is how many days you can play once you consider the time and energy available to you. In theory, I’d love to gamble seven days a week, but I would probably hate it pretty quickly and also be worn out to the point where it would cost me money.
  4. On these days, how many race cards can you realistically handicap and bet? Consider things like how long it takes you to handicap a race, which tools you use, etc. Leave yourself enough time so that you are comfortable with your decisions.
  5. How many weeks a year can you handle wagering? I think everyone needs substantial breaks from betting. I like to play about 40 weeks a year and take off 12 weeks spread out during the season. This is similar to #3 above. Take time off to step away from the game. You’ll be amazed at the energy and enthusiasm you have when you come back.
  6. What percentage of the races you handicap do you find quality wagers? Do you bet all the races you handicap? A few? Or somewhere in between?
  7. Do you bet primarily straight wagers (win, place) or exotics? The key here is that exotics probably require a bigger bankroll. The chances of losing streaks increase with the longer odds you are playing, and exotics are always going to be higher odds or require larger bets.
  8. What is your expected return on investment (ROI) based on previous success or expected success? Keep records! If you don’t, you can’t really answer this question. Even so, make your best estimate and be realistic. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can maintain a 30 per cent ROI betting every race at 15 tracks a day.

While I could never cover all the scenarios, here is an example from a friend to whom I asked the above questions. He told me he hoped to win about $40,000 this year to double his income. Was his expectation realistic?

My friend, to make $40,000 betting, needs to actually show a profit of $42,000 to cover his expenses. He plans to play five days a week, 40 weeks a year, for a total of 200 days. He further plans to play four tracks a day, which averages 10 races each day. So he has 40 races a day for 200 days or 8,000 races to handicap this year. He is disciplined enough to only bet 50 per cent of these so he will actually bet 4,000 races if he follows his plan.

To make $42,000 betting 4,000 contests, he will need to make $10.50 per race. Using this information, how much does he need to bet per race? He says he expects to make 5 per cent betting plus 5 per cent rebate for a 10 per cent profit. To make $10.50 per race he needs to bet $10.50 divided by 10 per cent or $105 per race.

Can his bankroll support $105 win bets? I would generally recommend betting 1 per cent of bankroll for exotics, 2 per cent of bankroll for win bets, and 3 per cent of bankroll for very conservative win and/or place bets.

Betting a higher percentage would greatly increase the likelihood that a losing streak could cripple his bankroll. In this case, to bet exotics, my friend could bet only about $25 per race.  (He does not play them.)

As for his betting style, my friend rarely plays any horse below 4/1, and often shoots for longshots. With this information, I would advise him to wager no more than 2 per cent of his bankroll on any one race, or in his case, $50. Even if he were successful playing a more conservative style, I would not recommend he bet more than 3 per cent of his bankroll or $75 per race.

Clearly, my friend needs to re-evaluate his expectations. He can do one of two things. First, he can lower his expectation in half, to $20,000 per year. This would give him the possibility of success. The second, but much more difficult option, is to change his plan to meet his goals.

Now we come to Steve Zacks. He says that over the years he’s found that the answers to the following questions go a long way to finding out just what has been going on and pointing him in the right direction in search of solutions.

He says: “You have to have to be able to honestly answer the questions in an informed manner for the process to be truly meaningful.”

QUESTION #1: Did you make any fundamental changes to your own play, either by design or accidentally?
QUESTION #2: Is there any fundamental change in the game which is causing your results to change?
QUESTION #3: Are your horses running as well as anticipated but you are not profiting? Does your betting profile fit with your handicapping skills?

#1: Very often a player starts off the year with a game plan. Unless this is purely a pastime, racing should be viewed as a business and this is good business planning. Very often one then makes some adjustments to the plan; sometimes these are planned and based on information. However in some instances, they just creep in without a total sense of awareness.

NEXT MONTH: More from Steve Zacks and other international analysts.

Click here to read Part 4.
Click here to read Part 5.
Click here to read Part 6.

Click here to read Part 1.
Click here to read Part 2.

By Brian Blackwell