I spent a little free time these past few weeks organizing my thoughts. My intent in
doing so was to be able to do a write up of the mental process I go through on a
daily basis when Iím in the act of playing horses. I think this stuff is
important. While Iím playing, there are certain processes I do each day as I
attempt to beat the takeout. I tend to think of the sum of these processes in
terms of them forming a game plan or roadmap that leads to success. I know from
my own personal experience that when I follow this roadmap the very act
of overcoming the takeout becomes a much easier thing to do than if I attempt to go
outside its boundaries. What you will find in this write up are things that I do
to help me achieve my goal of being a winning horseplayer. My hope in committing
these thoughts to writing is twofold. First, I hope that the act of writing this
piece will serve to reinforce my own clarity about these ideas and help me to
remember them on race day. Second, I hope that someone else out there somewhere
finds them to be of benefit after reading what I have to say.
Most of what I am going to present here is basic philosophy. Much of it reaches well
beyond the subject of handicapping. In fact, if you give it some thought, you just
might realize that this can be applied to just about every area of human
endeavor you see fit to undertake.
A Little History and a Profound Realization
In February, 1999 I left a
pretty cozy accounting job in the 9 to 5 world that I had held for 12 years. At
the time I decided I needed a career change. I loved programming but had no
formal training as a programmer. I had already written a very early version of
the program that would later evolve into JCapper. I had the ability to run
database queries and had crafted a handful of CPace and BasicFitness UDMs that
had shown reasonable enough profits over a pair of 3,000 race samples. I decided
to take a shot at playing horses for a living.
My rough game plan was to use some of my savings as a bankroll. I hoped my winnings would be enough
to cover my monthly expenses. I would also devote 20-30 hours
each week towards getting enough formal training to make it as a programmer
in case things didn't work out as planned.
I knew from the database tests I had run that success was one possible outcome. I
also knew that failure was another very real possible outcome. In the end I made my
decision more as a leap of faith than anything else. I believed I
could fly. Therefore I jumped.
Please understand that I am in no way trying to convince any of you to jump
in the event that jumping is something you happen to be thinking about. It should be
obvious. Failure to fly under such circumstances can have very severe
negative consequences. Attempting to fly was the right decision for me at that
time in my life. In no way does my own decision make it the right decision for
In February of 1999 I was living in Tempe, Arizona. I had never heard of
offshore wagering accounts or rebates. Back then, I had to drive 35 miles across town each day
and show up at Turf Paradise to enjoy full card simulcasting. Arizona's OTB
locations, and there was one barely a half mile from my house, offered the
local Turf Paradise card but only a tiny number of out of state simulcast
races each day. Stranger still, Arizona's OTB network did not commingle wagers made into their
pools with those of the simulcast host tracks. Instead, they created their own separate pools which
tended to run on the smallish side. That point was painfully driven home one afternoon.
I nailed a $130.00 winner in a Maiden race at Hollywood Park - only to see my own $30.00
win bet in the local pool (which was barely $1500.00) knock the price down to $58.00.
At the time my workday would start around 7:00 am. Using a dial up modem, I would download data files from
Bris. Then I would manually unzip them. I loaded them one at a time into my program, and spit my
reports out onto perforated computer paper using a very loud (and slow) dot matrix printer. On most days
I would have 4 or 5 tracks printed out by 8:00 am. After some breakfast I would
drive across town and arrive at Turf Paradise sometime around 9:30 am. That
would give me 30 minutes or so to start handicapping the early races at the east coast
tracks. In those days I had to comb through my printouts and manually identify my own
plays. I carried around a set of index cards with rules written on them - one index card for each spot play (UDM) that I had.
The simple concept of programming a computer to find my own plays wouldnít even occur to me for another three years.
I saw the same faces at Turf Paradise each day. People got to know me. And I got to know
some of them. One of the most memorable events that ever happened to me at a
racetrack happened within the first 30 days of me setting out to see whether or not
I could fly. An elderly man Ė I only remember him as Jim Ė asked me a question.
Jim knew that I had quit a pretty good day job to play horses full time. Understandably he
thought I was nuts. And he made no bones about hiding it.
It turned out to be a loaded question. I didnít realize it at the time but the
answer Jim gave me to his own question turned out to be one of the most profound
things anyone has ever said to me.
The exchange went something like this:
Jim: ďJeff. In your opinion, what is the single most important factor in horse racing?Ē
Me: ďThatís easy. Early speed is the most important factor.Ē
Jim: ďYou sure about that?Ē
Me: ďYes. Why?Ē
Jim: ďAre you really sure?Ē
Me: ďUm... Ok. Early speed with enough form and class for a horse to stay in front all the way to the wire. Thatís the
most important thing.Ē
Jim: ďYouíll never make it as a handicapper.Ē
Me: ďUm... Ok. Iíll bite. What do you think the single most important factor in horse racing is?Ē
Jim: ďDiscipline. That's the single most important thing. Without it you have no chance as a
horse player. Never forget that.Ē
Unfortunately, I dismissed this conversation at the time. It took nearly two full years for me to realize
the profoundness of what Jim had actually said to me. In the end it turns out Jim was 100 percent correct. Discipline
is the single most important thing in betting horses profitably.
What follows are my own thoughts on making discipline work for me.
When I play horses the first thing I do is form the image of a glowing electric blue sphere in my mind. Try not to laugh.
My sphere is my reality. I have rules for my reality. Anything with the ability to affect me, in either a positive or a
negative way, is important and belongs in my sphere. Everything inside of my sphere, because it has importance, deserves and
receives my intense focus.
Everything outside of my sphere has no ability to affect me and is therefore irrelevant. I completely ignore everything that
exists outside of my sphere. I refuse to waste my time and energy by focusing in the least on things that do not matter.
So what belongs inside my sphere? What belongs outside?
In my opinion, the most powerful single thing found in JCapper (Iím the programís author remember?) is the concept of the UDM.
Hopefully I can get my point across in such a way that it wonít be lost on you.
Suppose for a second that you have one and only one UDM. Letís also suppose for the sake of argument that your lone UDM has one
very remarkable trait:
As you bet its plays over the course of time you get back more money from the cashier than you fork over for the tickets you
buy as you make the bets. In other words your UDM is profitable.
Suppose for a second that you create a sphere of your own.
Now, given the above scenario, let me ask you a question. What happens if you place just one thing inside of your sphere? What
happens if you place your one UDM inside of your sphere and nothing else?
Now let me ask you a second question.
What happens if your sphere is your only reality when you play horses?
The answer should be obvious. If the only thing inside of your sphere is a profitable UDM and the only reality you have when you
play horses is your sphereÖ you just became a winning horseplayer.
Go back and read that last paragraph again. Let it sink in. Itís what really
separates the tiny percentage of winning horseplayers from the vast majority of
players who lose money.
Hereís a list of the things that are important to me and have a place in my Sphere:
1. Profitable UDMs. Just because a UDM is profitable
across many samples doesnít mean it has a place in my Sphere. One area that I
often see with new users is that they try to do too much. Iím talking about a
question of workload. In my opinion itís far better to play a single UDM at a
single track and do it accurately while following scratches and changes and
making the bets in accordance with an overall bankroll money management plan
than to try to make the plays for dozens of UDMs at multiple tracks each day if
trying to make all those plays means that you have to do it haphazardly. By
haphazardly I mean that you are missing scratches and changes here and there and
you are possibly even getting shut out of races because there are too many plays
coming up simultaneously.
2. A Bankroll/Money Management Plan. Iíve made no secret of the fact that my game is based around backing UDM plays
to win their races and that I play to a bankroll. One of the primary goals I have when I play is growing a
small bankroll into a large one. Unless you are just extremely lucky the task of
actually doing this takes an incredible amount of willpower. The reality is that
without discipline the act of growing a small bankroll into a large one over an
extended period of time is nearly impossible. Along these lines I suggest that
the inexperienced player start out by going through the exercise of simply flat
betting UDM plays just to get experience. After proving to yourself that you
have the ability to bet UDM plays while betting nothing else, and do it
profitably - then and only then try making each bet within the context of each
bet being part of a bankroll. Trust me, there is no other way. Until you try you
simply wonít believe how hard it can be sometimes to play a perfectly clean race
day Ė a day where the only bets you make are UDM plays and where each bet is
made at your intended percentage of bankroll.
3. Mental State. When I play horses I want to be in the best mental state possible. The right mental
state for me is one of detached involvement. When I play Iím not concerned with
outcomes. Iím concerned with being able to execute my game plan. Past history
tells me that if I can do that then the outcome takes care of itself. Thereís
one question that I ask myself over and over each race day that helps get me in
that right mental state. That question was taught to me by a professional poker
player. That question is ďWhat should I be doing next?Ē I find myself asking
myself that same question over and over hundreds of times each race
When Iím in the right mental state my decisions become instantly
clear to me. Iím on autopilot and my game plan seems to self execute. I check
each race for fresh scratches before I bet it. I see a play and I make it. I
move on to the next race. The game seems incredibly easy at such times.
Everything flows and time ceases to exist. The only things I see are those
things Iíve allowed inside of my Sphere.
Hereís a list of some things I refuse to allow inside of my own Sphere:
1. Emotion. In my opinion emotion has no place in horse race betting. I could tell you a thousand
horror stories of how Iíve let emotion cloud my own judgment Ė how Iíve let it
cause me to make action bets that bled profits from my UDM plays and bankroll Ė
how Iíve let emotion cloud my judgment so that I missed making plays on overlay
UDM winners that I had every intention of playing, etc. The bottom line is that
emotion, good or bad, can cloud your judgment and prevent you from executing
your game plan. Because of this emotion has no place in my Sphere.
2. Action Bets. Iíve mentioned this before but it bears repeating here. Itís easy for action bets to get out of
I define an action bet as any wager:
My attempt at playing professionally ended after 18 months because I lacked
the discipline to make it work. I let action bets get the better of me. I ended up having to go back
to work. Donít get me wrong. I landed a very nice programming job. But imagine
the self reflection that comes from realizing I chased a dream and failed
because I couldn't control myself.
Made on a non UDM horse.
Made on a UDM horse outside of predefined odds or odds ratio value ranges indicated by my own research.
Made on a UDM horse when the bet is sized incorrectly. I employ a Bankroll Money Management Plan based
on hard research. Each bet is a percentage of bankroll where the percentage is determined by the strength of play.
Betting too much is bad because it increases the player's risk of tapping out. Betting too little is bad because
it curtails earnings (provided the player has a positive expectancy.)
Looking at my UDM plays in isolation, I realized my betting was profitable enough (without a rebate)
for a period of over 18 months to have covered my monthly bills and allowed me to put money away each month.
Looking at my action bets in isolation told me exactly why my dream would have to wait:
The amount of money I had I lost on action bets totalled up to nearly two thirds of the profits made from UDM plays.
The profits from UDM Plays less the losses from Action Bets still left me in the black. Technically, that made me a winning player.
But I wasn't making enough to cover monthly expenses. So in the end, even though I was a winning player, I decided to bite
the bullet and go back to work.
Trust me. I know of what I speak. Action bets have no place at all in my Sphere. Hopefully youíll
never find them in yours.
3. Distractions and Annoyances. These also have no place in my
Sphere. I say this because they have the ability to invoke an emotional response
from me. Hopefully Iíve already gotten the point across that emotion has the
ability to lower your mental state to the point to where it can interrupt the
execution of your game plan. With that understanding in mind Iíll list a few of
the things I consider to fall within the Distractions and Annoyances
a. Lost Photos
c. Troubled Trips
d. Poor Starts
e. Bad Rides
f. Late Money Odds Drops
g. High Paying Mutuels from non UDM horses
h. Not noticing scratches and changes
i. Not focusing on the task at hand resulting in getting shut out of a nice winner
You can probably think up a few more. But hopefully you get
the idea. If items h and i from the above list are happening to me with any
frequency at all I take it as a very strong hint that I'm letting something
interfere with my desired mental state. I immediately flush my emotional
reaction away by telling myself "Ok. That's in the past and I can't change that.
Now what should I be doing next?"
Iíve found success with this approach: I create my own Sphere each and every race day. I
only allow certain things into my Sphere. I deny certain other things entrance
into my Sphere. When I play horses my Sphere is my only reality. Everything
inside of my Sphere merits my intense focus. Everything outside of my Sphere is
worth none of my focus at all.
Create a Sphere of your own and let me know what happens.
Copyright © 2008 JCapper Software