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HALF THE RACE IS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL - Part 1

I‘ve just completed an article that will appear in the June 2004 issue of American Turf Monthly that is entitled “A Paddock Refresher”. I highly recommend it to all but not from an egotistical standpoint, because after writing 9 books and composing more articles than I’d like to admit, my ego hardly needs any stroking.  However, your paddock skills might need a mini tune-up!

At the very beginning of my paddock refresher, I made a brief reference to how much of any specific race is out of one’s control from a handicapping standpoint.  I wanted to expand that reference greatly in that paddock piece, but the article was written to help you in the paddock.

With that “physicality revival” completed, I can now greatly expand on the topic that tells us that “half of any race is out of our control”.

A wise sage whose name escapes me, once penned a profound statement that went something like this; “Better than 50% of any given race is out of the control of any handicapper and is therefore unhandicappable”. If I butchered this enlightening assertion a bit, I apologize to the author.  The concept is what’s important here, not the exact words.

When I first heard this postulation it stopped me cold and I do mean cold! 

Could it really be true that 50% or more of handicapping any race is beyond our control and not included in our overall methodology? Because if it is true that 50% of any race is out of our control, that’s scary! Scary, that is, if you have no way to counter this alleged 50% “tax” much the way one does when trying to “beat” a 15% “mutuel take” with any win bet.

I’ll let you decide at the end of this writing whether or not you believe that 50% of any race is beyond your control.

But before making your decision, I’ll offer you many things to consider. You won’t necessarily become an instant believer of this 50-50 alleged axiom, nor should you refute its validity before considering these many different items.  And to further ensure a valid answer from you, I’ll try to keep my personal opinion until last so that you get “the facts and only the facts” a la Joe Friday.

There was a time when I hadn’t even considered putting a “number” on what parts and/or percentages of any specific race were out of my control. But self-reflection has many benefits as I’m sure you’re already aware, especially in our handicapping universe.  If we didn’t do personal and proprietary research and investigation, we wouldn’t know anything-----or at least not enough to win consistently. We’d merely be carbon copies of Joe Six-Pack and most likely oblivious to all that goes on before us at the racetrack.  “Mr. Six-Pack” believes the whole game to be nothing more than a matter of luck and being in the right spot at exactly the right time.

I’m all for luck and positively love the “feel” of luck whenever it crawls all over me.  Whenever I’m in my “zone”, I usually know it and always attempt to maximize my profitability. I couldn’t “make a mistake” if I wanted to.  But that is exactly what being in one’s “zone” is all about.

“Zones” have lives of their own and last just as long as they do.  All handicappers end up in their “zones” sooner or later.  Sometimes my “zone” lasts for only an afternoon, but I’ve also known it to continue for over a month and swell my head to enormous proportions, not to mention my bankroll.

My late father used to say that he’d “rather be lucky than smart any day of the week”.

Amen to that Papa!

When my daddy was “hot”, he was like an 8 year old kid on a roller coaster enjoying every second of his exhilarating experience. And when his ride was over, he patiently waited until it was “his time” to ride once again.

While cut from a completely different mold than my father who very rarely went to the track, he did teach me how to know when luck had unexpectedly become my best friend and how to maximize my “gloat time” over my unexpected good fortune for as long as I could. Because as we all know, Lady Luck often departs faster than she arrived. 

Furthermore, I’m sure he’d be happy to know that I’ve taken luck recognition to another level.

More often than not, I can induce my own “luck” whenever I so choose.  All that I have to do to find my “zone” is to work both harder and smarter than Joe Six-Pack. And the smarter and harder that I work, the “luckier” I get!

I didn’t mean to go into a lengthy “sidebar”, but have faith.  My momentary wordiness on luck or being in one’s zone, plays heavily in determining if 50% of any race is actually beyond one’s control.

I know that in certain types of races, I feel that the entire event is totally out of my control, not just 50%. I get that eerie sensation every time that I look at the past performances for a bottom-feeding 8K or 10K claiming race in Southern California.

But the unpleasant gut feeling of total uncertainty isn’t indigenous to Southern California racing by any stretch of the imagination.  Before relocating to California’s sunny “Southland” 12 years ago, I felt no different on the East coast when confronted with similar races. Handicapping the “bottom” is handicapping the “bottom” whether you do it at Del Mar or Saratoga.

Granted, these bottom-claiming ranks all have different degrees of uncertainty with cheaper tracks having an overabundance, but if there ever was a point or juncture to understand or give serious thought to our “50-50 theory”, the bottom claiming ranks is surely the starting point.

Whenever a longshot silences the stands or stuns a satellite facility, you’re very likely to hear roving post-race pontificators offering absurd reasons why the winner won.  You’re likely to hear things like he drew the 4 hole, he was taking off 9 pounds while moving to a better rider after his last out claim, he was shortening up 2 furlongs when coming off his 2 year layoff, he was facing a bunch of nobodies, it was late Thursday afternoon, and most importantly of all, it was the trainer’s birthday and his wife was out of town.

And the louder and longer these post-race pontificators go on about why this longshot buried his respective field, the more that you can be self-assured that he didn’t have 2 bucks on the horse.