Racing & Wagering

Discipline is the Key to Success

Churchill Downs Communications | 06/22/2008 #

Most people play the races as a source of entertainment. Sorting out a horse race is a challenging, mental exercise. The more races we analyze, watch, and then re-evaluate, the more consistent we should become.

There are so many different variables one can use when sorting through a race, and obviously our favorite “angles” don’t work all the time.

If you’ve scoured over a race a couple of times, and it simply isn’t making any sense, you can do one of two things: A) pass the race and look for better opportunities later, or B) pick out a couple of horses that you consider to be offering fair value, and construct a multi-race wager – Daily Double, Pick Three and/or Pick Four.

Here are some other basic rules to follow. Remember, the ultimate key to prolonged success at the races is discipline. 

  • No matter how much you like a horse – NEVER bet underlays (a horse whose odds are lower than you think is fair value). Have an idea of what price you “need” in order to play.
  • Try to avoid races dominated by “unknown factors” unless you are betting against the favorites or are playing multiple race wagers. Some races have wild cards – horses who could go either way. As mentioned earlier, if a race confuses you and your confidence level is low, stay out or just make a small wager to have a rooting interest.
  • Don’t get careless when you are ahead, and don’t chase when you are behind. Those trips to the cash machine are never a good thing.
  • If you like a wagering opportunity in a later race, stash away a percentage of your bankroll and make sure you’re not tapped out before that opportunity presents itself.
  • Learn from your mistakes. You can always improve your handicapping and wagering strategies and a losing day can be turned into a positive – if you learn lessons and apply them down the road.
  • Avoid sending out bad vibes. Negativity breeds negativity. No matter how bad your luck is going, stay positive and move on to the next race. Dwelling on your losses will not help the cause.
  • Your voucher or wagering card is real money. If you’re playing the races with a voucher, or the newly introduced Arlington wagering card, the figure in your coffer is REAL MONEY. Players tend to play a lot more loosely when they’re not physically handing over the green stuff. If you build your account to a solidly profitable level, cash in for part of it, and play with rest.
  • Keep a detailed record of your successes and failures. Keep track of not only the financial wins and losses, but also of what types of races and wagers are your most successful. I can’t cash a ticket on a maiden claimer to save my life. Allowances and maiden special weight races are where I find my success. Stick to what you’re good at.
  • Dedicate yourself to one or maybe two circuits at a time. Focus is the key. I’m sorry, but you can’t bet 50 races a day, every day, from random tracks, and expect to stay ahead of the game.
  • Marry yourself to the tracks you are playing – for me, it’s Arlington Park. It’s the track I know best. Make sure you carefully watch ALL of the races from the tracks you have chosen to follow closely, either live, or on replay and keep detailed track bias and trip notes. Arlington’s web site now offers replays for the entire meet, and they are available five minutes after the live running of the race ( If you’re going to dedicate yourself to keeping accurate daily notes on horses and races, it only makes sense to use the Daily Racing Form Formulator software. It allows you to punch all of your notes into a database, and to print DRF past performances WITH those notes prominently displayed. I am a huge fan of this product, and recommend it to anyone who is going to play the races semi seriously.
  • Read the Daily Racing Form and the Arlington Park barn notes. Stay on top of what’s going on at the track. Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh and Arlington notes writer Graham Ross talk to the trainers every morning. They preview upcoming features, and often times trainer quotes can key you into their level of confidence.

 Following this advice can help make you a more successful horseplayer, but you must practice what you preach. That’s the hard part.

We can’t control a stumble out of the gate, traffic trouble, or the head bob on the wire, but there are certain things we as horseplayers DO have power over, and discipline and a little work are the keys to success.