Learning the Game with Richard Eng: Preparation, Game Plan Keys to Success

Racing fans discuss a betting strategy at the 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships (Eclipse Sportswire)

In the fall of 1986, I was hired as the director of public relations at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. There was no Internet back then so I followed local news the old-fashioned way, I read about it in the newspaper.

I subscribed to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Lexington Herald-Leader, and Louisville Courier-Journal and read them front to back. There was a person named Rick Cushing who was the daily handicapper for the Courier-Journal. He had a saying that went like this: “Make your first bet of the day a winning one.”

I thought he was spot on then and 33 years later he is still spot on with that advice. In fact, I made it a part of my book “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies” on page 177. When, not if, I get into a betting slump I try to practice that axiom even more so.

The idea Cushing espoused is simply to be prepared. Do your homework the night before so when the racing day begins you’ll have a game plan. If you have a decent game plan then your first bet of the day should be a strong, well-thought-out wager with a good chance of winning.

So what does being prepared entail?

First of all, you’ll need a Daily Racing Form, or whatever form of past performances you prefer, to have each horse’s history to handicap from. You should get it the night before, but if you can’t, then get it first thing in the morning. Past performances are like a blueprint to an architect. You have to have them.

If you are fairly new to the sport, you’ll need extra time to study the past performances. Believe me when I say this, but if you compare the past performances of today versus 30 or 40 years ago, you’ll see why the modern player starts out with a big advantage.

Way back when, we didn’t have a horse’s history broken down year to year. There was no data on how a horse did on a fast track, a wet track, a synthetic track, on grass, at different distances, etc.

Thus, there are major advantages to the modern-day product.

If you are more novice than experienced horseplayer, you may not be ready for pace and speed figure analysis products such as the Ragozin sheets, Thoro-Graph, Colt’s Neck, etc. These products are expensive but they are also very good.

Many players buy clocker reports especially for the major circuits. This is helpful in maiden (baby) races where most of the runners are making their first career start.

A simple suggestion to newcomers is become familiar with the jockeys and trainers on your favorite circuit.

A thumbnail fact is that 80 percent of the races on a circuit are won by the top 10 jockeys there.

Know the trainers, too. In the Daily Racing Form, they list the statistics not only of the jockeys and trainers, but in their doing business together. You’ll know quickly who is hot and who is not.

Before you make that first bet of the day, make sure to get the scratches, changes, and track conditions. Then analyze the new data to see if it affected your previous handicapping of how you thought the race would be run.

Proper preparation will help make your first bet a good one. The old axiom of “the harder you work, the luckier you get” is very much in line with playing the races.

Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing.  For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at www.racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at rich_eng@hotmail.com and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on Facebook.com.

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