Letter to a New Horseplayer

Start Slow
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

A few short years ago I was minding my business on a Saturday afternoon, eating a taco and channel surfing. I had never watched a horse race before in my life. As I flew past the channels focused only on the show titles, I noticed one channel said “Horse Racing,” still flipping forward I thought to myself “horse racing, really?”. I clicked back & tuned in as they were introducing the horses for the race. I couldn’t believe there was that much excitement and beauty packed in to an event that lasted less than 2 minutes!

Suddenly wanting to know as much as possible about horse racing, and what the heck they were talking about before, during and after the race, I immediately went to Google thinking I could find an easy way to learn more about racing. To make an already long story a little shorter, my partner and I hope to make Hello Race Fans the site we wished had existed when we discovered racing.

So, as someone who was in your position not all that long ago, what would I tell you (or me, then)?

1. Think about your goals
You don’t have to have some grand plan to start playing the ponies but it helps to sort out a few things. Most, if not all, handicapping books assume that your plan is to become a serious player but one doesn’t have to become a serious player to enjoy the sport of kings.

For example, do you NEED to show a profit in the long term or would that just be a nice to have? The answer to this question will, or at least should, inform how you approach both handicapping and wagering. For me, racing is my entertainment budget. I’m extremely happy on those days when I come out ahead but I never have any (serious!) regrets. Regardless of whether you’re a weekend warrior or a more serious player you’ll need discipline, but the choices you’ll make along the way are likely to be very different depending on your goals.

2. Learn to trust yourself
If you asked 10 different players the same question you’re more than likely to get 10 different answers… none of them “more correct” than the next. As an illustration, I offer this video from the UK’s Racing Post. It’s a handful of England’s professional “punters” (as players are sometimes called across the pond) giving their advice to you, the eager to learn player. Sure, there’s some good stuff in the video but my point is that they’re not all saying the same thing.

3. Start slow
And how do you learn to trust yourself? By starting slow and experimenting… and accepting the fact that horse racing is a life long learning opportunity. There’s an incredible amount of data out there and you should know that you’re not obligated to use all of it!

One of the things I found the most vexing when starting off was trying to figure out how to prioritize all of the data points. Which one was most or even more important than any of the others? Which ones should be looked at in combination with others? The short answer is that there is no definitive answer, it depends ultimately on which angles you prefer and how you interpret them. It’s easiest to pick a few data points to start and then expand slowly, but the only way to figure out what works for you is to experiment.

4. Don’t get stuck
And by experiment I don’t mean find something that works and try to replicate it over and over again. Try different things, don’t be afraid to change to your opinion… be open to new possibilities! I’m still fine tuning my handicapping routine and constantly trying to let go of preconceived notions.

For example, just because you learn something about a horse doesn’t mean it will be relevant in every race they’re entered in. Each race is a unique puzzle, so the same horse in two different races could be factored very differently depending on A) the other horses in the race, B) the distance C) the type of race D) the surface E) the track condition F) the jockey G) the post position, etc. (you get the point, right?).

5. Keep & review your notes!
To be well on your way to #s 2-4 you should get in the habit of reviewing your notes after the race. What, if anything, did you read correctly? What, if anything, is “crystal clear” now that the race is over? And what, if anything, did you have a feeling about and disregard… and why? Ah, the fun you’re going to have! And like Kevin points out, you might even come home with some extra money in your pocket every now and again!

I still eat tacos in front of the TV on Saturdays, but now I’m watching the NYRA Network channel (channel 1994 on Time Warner!) with my trusty online wagering account open and tweeting with my racing pals.

Dana Byerly
Co-founder, Hello Race Fans
Twitter: @superterrific

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One comment

  • Dana,

    What a wonderful site! Like you I wondered what all the excitement was about for a less than 2 minute race. Thank you for all that you and the others do.


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