What drives us?
Author Roger Kahn once remarked that “horse racing is animated roulette,” a thought based on the difficultly of picking a winner in a race where so many things appear to be random and unpredictable. Horseplayers know our game is nowhere near as arbitrary as betting on a ball bouncing around in a circle decorated with numbers. At the same time, we also know that our game of handicapping is a constant challenge.
Some people play the horses simply due to the monetary aspect of the sport, but that’s not the case for everyone. I suspect that for many players the part of the game that drives us is quite separate from the amount of cash on the betting voucher at the end of the day. It’s the challenge.
Whether you just started playing the races yesterday or have played for decades, there are some days at the track where you feel you can do no wrong and the world is your oyster. On other days, you’re wondering if you’ll ever pick a winner the rest of your life. And despite the rollercoaster of highs and lows that betting on the races takes us, we keep coming back for more.
Handicapping a horse race is akin to solving a puzzle but one much different from the garden variety jigsaw or Sudoku. People like my mother will sit at the kitchen table and work on a single puzzle over the course of a day or weekend. Horseplayers attempt to unravel multiple puzzles on a single day, and ones that provide much more challenging circumstances. While the jigsaw puzzle has only one manner in which to fit the pieces together (and that outcome is already displayed on the box before you even start to sort the fragments of cardboard), the manner in which the field of a particular race fits together is only known to us at the end.
The variations of ways a race can ultimately finish in relation to our conclusions will swing wildly over the course of time. Some days, the pieces fit together rationally leading to strings of successful bets. Other times, we look back at our handicapping after a race and conclude, “I could’ve looked at that race for a year and never come up with that result.”
The ability to keep an even keel through the big scores and the crushing defeats is a key part of successful handicapping. How many times do we follow up a bad beat with an even worse bet in the next race? How many times does a big win lead to carelessly playing races just for the action? The peaks and valleys will always exist because of the challenging nature of the game but our desire to solve the puzzle doesn’t fade.
We know the game is hard and challenging … and we love it. We know there are times when the results look nothing like we pictured in our minds, but that only drives us to solve the next mystery.
Animated roulette? Hardly.
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