by A.J. Coltrane
1. I wound up at Emerald Downs last weekend. By coincidence, it was almost two years to the day after the last visit. I think late in the season is the right time to go to the track anyway — a lot of data has been collected for the year, which at least in theory should make it easier to gamble. Since I don’t know anything actually useful about horses, that data is critical to have any chance at all.
It seems a typical day at Emerald Downs features about eight races. Two years ago I made around $60 on a series on bets mostly in the $2 – $8 range. I may have gotten a little lucky, though it didn’t feel like I was especially lucky that day.
This year I made fewer, smaller bets, and made $11.60. I probably wagered something like $6-$12 per race — the total outlay was about $70-80. (A $40 bankroll — $20 was too small to allow any real flexibility.) Last weekend worked out to a ~15-20% return on investment, which I’m fine with given the lack research required. (And I threw away $14 on one race by ignoring the obvious, which didn’t help the end result. It was doubly bad because I threw away money and one of the eight races for the day.) Two years ago it went much better, but that’s why it’s called gambling, right?
I think the biggest difference between those outcomes is that I won about as many close finishes as could have been expected in 2011, but I lost almost every close finish this time around.
2. Many, many years ago I’d go to the library or the used bookstore to get books about “How To Win Betting On Sports”. Most of them would have a chapter about baseball (with rudimentary conclusions drawn from even more rudimentary box scores), one about football, one on the horses, and so on. One thing that continually came up was that something like 1 out of 25 people win money over time at the track. To put it another way: 4% of people who go to the track can expect to leave as winners.
Given that I know less than zero about horses, and looking at those odds, I avoided the track up until two years ago, and even then I figured if I didn’t get shelled I’d be happy. I did better than that though, and I did better than break even this time too.
I’m beginning to think that maybe people are putting their money on a horse that they like the appearance of, or the horse’s name, or the color of the jockey’s outfit. Maybe they’re doing Daily Doubles and throwing their money away on those, or some other kind of stupidly improbable long-odds combination bet.
All I know is that it doesn’t seem that hard. There aren’t that many variables. I looked only at the numbers. I ignored the tip sheets. I tuned out the other players and the PA system offering advice. I didn’t want to be influenced. The horses I picked could have been pink, with huge, floppy ears, and I wouldn’t have noticed until after they took off down the track and I saw their ears trailing in the wind. Maybe after a couple more visits I’ll figure out I’ve been lucky all along. At this rate I’ll know the answer to that by 2017..