People can be grouped into two categories when it comes to their behavior. Those that follow the herd and do what is popular are sheep. The majority of people are sheep. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the contrarians that do what is unpopular or what has not gained widespread attention. Those people are wolves.
For the most part people take on one of the two roles in everything they do. The two groups are very distinct and have very distinguishable characteristics.
Sheep are like robots because they do what they are told, do not question authority or process. Sheep only know one way to do their jobs or complete tasks and do not seek alternative means to do so. Sheep are afraid to express their opinion and prefer to be excluded from decision making , they are most comfortable in the background. For sheep life is a script written by others, it is the safe path with very little risk.
Wolves on the other hand think for themselves, question everything and seek better and more efficient ways to accomplish goals. Wolves openly express their opinion, are the decision makers and thrive in the spotlight. Wolves are the most successful people at what they do. Wolves write the script for others to follow through their actions and are always willing to take a risk.
Horseplayers fall into the same two groups, look at how you approach handicapping and betting on horses, are you a sheep or a wolf?
The handicapping process can be simple or complex and is different for every horseplayer. When and how you handicap defines the type of horseplayer you are: a sheep or wolf.
When You Handicap
Regardless of how you handicap when you do so is a telling sign of whether you are a sheep or wolf.
Sheep: Handicap some races the day before or the morning of the races but more often than not do most of their handicapping on the fly between races.
Wolf: Handicap all the races they plan on betting before the races begin.
Determining each horses current form is one the first steps in the handicapping process for most horseplayers.
Sheep: Focus on beaten lengths and finishing position in their last race(s) regardless of the circumstances under which the performance occurred when judging current Form. Rely on comments in past performances to assess any trouble that may have occurred in past races. View bullet works as a sign of good form and slow works as a sign of poor form.
Wolf: Read between the lines and consider the way the races played out in evaluating current Form by consulting results charts and watching race replays. Know which trainers work horses fast and which work them slow.
Class is often hard to grasp, especially for less experienced horseplayers but is a vitally important part of the handicapping process.
Sheep: Downgrade the importance of Class and sometimes ignore it completely when handicapping. Cannot differentiate the various Class levels at each track and find it difficult to compare Class levels from track to track.
Wolf: Know the Class hierarchy at the tracks they follow and can confidently compare Class levels between tracks. Know that Class almost always trumps Speed.
“The race is too the swift” is quite often true. The fastest horse wins most of the time so long as it is in good Form, fits on Class and is not compromised by the Pace of the race. Before speed figures were published in past performances speed handicappers had a tremendous edge. Now that speed figures are available to every horseplayer that advantage is all but gone. The high figure horse is usually the favorite or one of the favorites.
Sheep: View speed figures as absolute and ignore how they were earned. Give speed figures the highest weight in the handicapping equation. Believe Speed trumps Class.
Wolf: Evaluate how the speed figure was earned. Know that Speed is only part of the handicapping equation and it rarely overcomes poor Form and Class deficiencies. Project a speed figure for each horse based on Form, Class and the probable Pace of the race.
“Pace makes the race” is an adage as old as the sport of horse racing and still holds true today. Correctly predicting the Pace of a race helps identify contenders and eliminate pretenders.
Sheep: Ignore Pace or have great difficulty projecting the Pace of races except in the most obvious cases. Unlike their use of speed figures they do not utilize pace figures nor do they assign running styles to each horse. Do not know if the track favors speed, closers or is fair to all running styles.
Wolf: Use pace figures along with running styles to determine the probable Pace of the race. Evaluate pace figures in the same way they do speed figures: in the context they were earned. Know which running style fits each distance on each surface at the tracks they follow and are able to notice subtle changes in the track profile.
After handicapping the race(s) the decision making process takes place on which horse(s) to bet and which types of wagers to focus on. When you plan your bets and how you bet defines the type of horseplayer you are: a sheep or wolf.
When You Plan Your Bets
Regardless of how you bet, when you plan your bets is a telling sign of the type of horseplayer you are: a sheep or wolf.
Sheep: Plan their bets between races, sometimes as they wait in line to place their bets. Spend little time thinking about how much and what type of bets to make for each race.
Wolf: Plan their bets before the races begin and have a game plan for the entire day. Spend ample time thinking about how much to bet and what types of bets to make for each individual race based on the circumstances of each race and based on their strengths (which are known because of thorough record keeping).
The odds line for each race is the measuring stick horseplayers use to determine which horses and bets to make based on perceived value.
Sheep: Rely on the morning line odds to determine if a horse is offering good value (overlay) or poor value (underlay). Will often bet their selection regardless of whether or not they perceive their horse to be an underlay because they cannot handle watching their horse win without them.
Wolf: Make their own value line to determine if a horse is an overlay or underlay. Only bet when getting the best of it, that is when their horse is an overlay and are not upset when not betting on their selections that are underlays that win.
Program Selections & Expert Selections
To coincide with the morning line odds racetrack programs provide selections for each race, usually the the three favorites in order of their morning line odds. In addition to those rudimentary selections expert handicappers provide their selections which are included in some past performance, online (both free and paid) or in print (such as tout sheets at the track).
Sheep: Regularly bet the program selections and/or bet selections from expert handicappers blindly. Waste money buying others selections either online or at the track (tout sheets).
Wolf: Consult select expert selections to see if they overlooked any information from the past performances and to get a different perspective on a race. Never blindly bet someone else’s selections but will adjust their own if they feel they overlooked an important piece of information.
Betting angles are accumulated through personal experience and through interaction with other horseplayers. They are a small piece of the betting equation for astute horseplayers.
Sheep: Look at betting angles as shortcuts and sometimes bet them blindly without thoroughly analyzing the race. Are more likely to use well known and therefore less useful (meaning they generate underlays) betting angles.
Wolf: Incorporate betting angles into the final decision making process when planning bets. Avoid the well known betting angles and stick to lesser known or newer angles that are likely to generate overlays because the general public is unaware of them.
The way a horseplayer structures their ticket is a sure fire way to tell if they are a sheep or wolf.
Sheep: Boxes bets giving equal strength to every combination. Uses the “All Button” when they have no opinion on a race. Makes “Caveman Tickets” when betting multi-race sequences. Basically sheep are lazy and put no thought into how to maximize returns based on their opinions.
Wolf: Weight bets based on the strength of their opinion. Pass on races when they have no opinion or are unable to narrow the field down to a reasonable number of contenders. Use the “Multi-ticket Approach” when betting mutli-race sequences. Wolves are always looking for the best way to maximize their returns based on their opinions, they want to win big when they are absolutely right.
Frequency of Betting
The number of races and tracks a horseplayer bets are a strong sign of the type of horseplayer they are.
Sheep: Bet every race from every track as if every bet will be their last often times with little to no handicapping involved.
Wolf: Follow one or two circuits and bet almost exclusively on those tracks. The only exception being on days such as the Breeders’ Cup, Triple Crown or other big racing days around the country. Have no problem passing races if they have no opinion or if there is no value because they know another race will be run in about a half an hour and that another full race card will be run in the next day or so.
Are You a Sheep or Wolf?
While you may not be one or the other for every situation mentioned above chances are you fall into one of the two most of the time. Most likely you are a sheep because the majority of horseplayers are, especially those that are new to horse racing. I was a sheep for many years until I decided to take handicapping and betting on horses seriously. After reading every book I could get my hands on and talking to successful horseplayers I realized that the only way to win is to avoid what everyone else is doing. Think about it, if everyone uses the same handicapping methods and the same information and bets the same horses and same types of bets then they will rarely win big. If everyone lands on the same horse that horse will be the favorite and if everyone bets the same combination, be it an Exacta or Pick 4 or any other type of bet, then the return will be tiny.
In order to be a winning horseplayer you have to differentiate yourself from the crowd. You have to find nuggets of information that most people overlook. You have to bet smartly and maximize returns when you are right. The question is do you want to cash tickets or do you want to take home the cash? Sheep will cash more tickets because they are betting the favorites but those tickets will not provide significant returns. Wolves will cash fewer tickets because they are not betting the same combinations as the sheep but when they win they win big. For some cashing as many tickets as possible is good enough regardless of whether or not they made a profit, those people will always be sheep. For others it is all about making a profit even if it means not cashing a ticket for a week or month, those people are wolves.
Review your handicapping and betting process and determine which group you fall into. If you are a wolf then good for you, you are probably already a winning horseplayer or well on your way to being one. If on the other hand you are a sheep then its time to make a concerted effort to change your handicapping and betting habits.
So which are you? Let me know below in the comments and if you are a sheep let me know what you are going to do in order to become a wolf. In the wild wolf eat sheep and in horse racing the same is true.
Creative Commons photos courtesy of Linda N. and Fremlin