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Living in the Eye of the Grind at Saratoga

by Brian Nadeau

August 10, 2017

No one ever said a 40-day meet was easy. Especially when it takes place in Saratoga Springs, NY. Where, come every July and August, Mondays and Fridays blend are one in the same, bars and restaurants seemingly serves drinks and offer up food and music 24 hours a day, and “taking it easy tonight” means getting home by 10pm. Some 19 days into the meet, I feel like I’m six months into the meet, due in no small part to a bunch of horses who didn’t get the memo that they are running a bit slower than they are supposed to. But alas, as I type this, there are 23 racing days left, and plenty of time for a reversal of fortune. Just how to go about it is the real question?

I’m the biggest advocate of the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” mantra. But when you are slumping, and the waves seemingly are getting bigger and bigger, it’s tough to find a lifeboat. Saratoga can be brutal for a handicapper; 12-horse inscrutable turf fields can be followed by 10-horse allowance races where there’s nine win candidates, which can be followed by a 2yo MSW where there are six horses who “the barn likes a lot.” Point being, there are often a lot more swings and misses than solid contact, which has been a theme for my meet so far.

As a guy that basically only plays the early Pk5, I understand that I’m not going to win often. It’s the nature of the beast, when you’re trying to hit five races in a row at the hardest track in the world to pick a winner. But it’s been beyond frustrating in this corner, as several times I’ve gotten to the cashout leg, been alive to some solid scores to very logical 5/2 types, and watched them run non-threatening 3rds and 4ths. That’s annoying. Especially when you’re putting in the work and spending more time handicapping a card than you do at any other point during the year.

But, as I mentioned above, it is a marathon and not a sprint. As handicappers, one of the hardest parts of our job, and certainly the most underrated, is picking and choosing our spots and letting the races come to us. If you’re struggling, then remember the meet isn’t even halfway over, and the beauty of this game is that is the poster child for the “it only takes one” billboard. Yeah, I’ve missed on a ton of Pk5s and only hit a few minor signers, but I’m also one solid score away from being up handsomely. And, for the most part, I’ve played within my means and not chased, which can be absolutely devastating to a bankroll if you get in that mode. It’s hard enough to beat this game with a sound plan and judgement, but when you are losing, and throwing all caution to the wind, good luck making it to Labor Day.

The other thing I like to do when I’m not winning is take a step back and give a good, honest assessment of what I’m doing, how I’m going about it, and how my horses are running. Regardless of what kind of bettor you are, be it win/place, exactas, trifectas or Pk4s and Pk5s, if you’re going about everything the right way and coming up a bit short, then so be it. You need to trust the process, trust you’re on the right path, keep your nose to the grindstone, and let the results come to you. But if you’re making win bets on 7-1s and they are running 8th, if you’re making exacta and trifecta bets and getting only one horse home, or if you’re playing a Pk4 or Pk5 and not even hitting half the sequence, then something is obviously amiss and you need to take a step back and try to figure out what it is.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. Well, if you aren’t anywhere near the finish line, yet still keep making the same bets on the same types of horses, then something is obviously wrong. Take a step back, look at the overall picture, and make some adjustments. More often than not, if you’re honest with yourself, you should see the leak in your game and be able to tweak it enough so that you start turning things around.

The good news is that time is still on our side, with more than half the Saratoga meet left. But, if you don’t take a good hard look at what you’re doing wrong, and try to fix it, it wouldn’t matter if the meet was 200 days, because nothing is going to change.