Handicapping and wagering strategy - two side of the winning coin of playing the races. It tough to make money if your handicapping doesn't lead you to the prime contenders to win a race. It's even harder to make money if you don't know what to do with those contenders after you've identified them. Putting into practice solid handicapping fundamentals is always the first step in any winning process; wagering strategy is useless is you can't pick the winner. But if you you're an exotic player of any kind, wagering strategy is the key to cashing or ripping up tickets.
Because I'm not averse to subjecting myself to additional anguish, I spent much of yesterday reviewing my handicapping and wagers from Oaks and Derby days. In short, Friday was an excellent day of wagering, with a decent profit for my work. Saturday saw me give it all back, along with some simply unforgivable wagering choices in the Derby.
Below is the conclusion of my Kentucky Derby Selections piece for SB Nation last Friday in which I point out my top selections for the race:
"If the Kentucky Derby was just a matter of selecting the best horse, I'd pick Bodemeister and call it a day. Unfortunately, the Derby isn't that simple. The pace, trip and distance are too important to simply pick a winner based on talent.
I won't be a bit surprised if Bodemeister wins the Derby, but the wagering gods have me looking at others for a bit more value. I'll have some money on Bode, but he won't be my prime bet.
The majority of my plays on Saturday are going to involve putting Dullahan and Alpha in the top spot, with Union Rags, Creative Cause, I'll Have Another, and El Padrino on the bottom. In Pick 4 and Pick 5 wagers, I'll use all of those horses, along with Bodemeister."
In general, I feel pretty good about my handicapping for this year's Derby. I figured Dullahan would run a big race, I thought Bodemeister was the most talented colt in the field, and I'll Have Another was a horse I identified as a contender worthy of inclusion in my tickets. But while my handicapping was on message, my overall wagering strategy was poor and is a perfect example of why handicapping and making picks is only part of the equation. What you do with your opinion at the betting window is just as critical.
The first thing that really sticks out at me is my decision to use Bodemeister in P4 or P5 plays, but not in my Derby plays. Perhaps my brain was fried from all the days of handicapping and writing, but it makes no sense to not use the horse that I felt was the most talented in the field in my exacta and trifecta plays. Bad decision on my part and the first of two poor wagering decisions.
The second poor strategy on my part was only playing my top picks above my other contenders, which means I wasn't putting into practice some of the excellent wagering strategies you can find in Steve Davidowitz's Betting Thoroughbreds book. While the majority of my play should have been on my top picks over the contenders, I should have at least reserved 10 or 15% of my bankroll to play the contenders on top in any exacta and trifecta plays. Had I done that, the Derby would have at least been a break-even race, and perhaps I might have earned even a small profit.
While there's always an element of "coulda, woulda and shoulda" with handicapping, sometimes the reasons for not cashing a bet are as simple as organizing your wagers around your top choices. That was certainly the case for me on Saturday.
Handicapping and playing the races in an educational journey; every day that you read the form or go to the track you can learn something, however small, that you can use in the future. None of us will ever have all the answers but, at minimum, we can attempt to improve our craft by learning from our mistakes.