Strong Opinions

Joe Takach

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The last chapter of my book SITUATION HANDICAPPING THE READY HORSE (1991), related a story about one of my former students back East who eventually turned into a successful full-time professional in the 90’s.  This story rang true then as it still does today and is worth repeating.

The “kid” arrived at the track one afternoon in a state of total euphoria!

Since this wasn’t his normal state of being, I asked him if he had hit the state lottery the night before.  The payoff was around $20 million and I figured this was the only thing that could so enhance one’s mental attitude.

I was dead wrong.  He didn’t play lotteries of any kind, it was a horse in today’s 5th race that he saw as the “bet of the century”.

I quickly took another glance at the 5th race and saw no such “standouts”!  In fact, I didn’t like the 5th race and had not even considered a wager.  The race was simply too contentious.

Puzzled, I asked him whom he liked.  He named the horse and I looked hard at him again in context to the field.  On the surface he was certainly a contender, but no “mortal lock”!  Three others entered in this event also had solid credentials and every right to win.  That made a total of 4 horses who could visit the winner’s circle.

I remember noticing his selection walking short with a slight hitch exiting his last race and marked it down in my program for his next outing.

The “kid” gave me 20 solid reasons why his horse would win.

I offered only one reason why he could lose.  He might be injured!

It went over the kid’s head.

We both passed the first 4 races while taking copious physicality notes, trip notes and post-race notes.  The kid’s effervescence grew with each passing race.  I caught him counting out $500 for his anticipated win wager in the upcoming 5th race.  Since he normally only bet $20 dollar bills, I suggested he refrain from such a large wager (the biggest of his life). 

Even if his horse looked perfect in every way and warmed up well, too many things could go wrong that were beyond his control once the gates opened.  He could easily withstand a $20 loss and quickly make it up, but $500 back in those days was a sizeable piece of “change” as it still is today.

He respectfully told me that his horse simply couldn’t lose!

My mind shot back some 15 to 20 years prior when I offered my mentor the “lock of a lifetime”.

To make a long story short, I made a huge wager on a horse I too thought couldn’t lose.  I was correct, he won by 9 lengths, BUT WAS DISQUALIFIED for breaking left out of the gate and causing serious interference.   I was so shaken by the experience that I couldn’t bet for over a month.    

As we observed the horses for the 5th race in the paddock, I discerned some discomfort in his selection that was related to my last out post-race observations.  While not walking “short” in the very strictest sense of the word, his extension was minimal at best.  When he warmed up, he was very tentative going into a light gallop.  He got an OK warm-up, but I was far from sold on him in light of the other 3 contenders who looked much “sharper” than he, and without any old “baggage”.

Rather than putting a hex or the “kiss of death” upon the kid’s “lock”, I refrained from betting and merely decided to “watch” the race.  I had nothing to prove.

At least the kid waited for the very last second to place his wager after watching the warm-ups.

As he ran past me, I told him only bet a $20 bill-------I doubt he ever heard me or even wanted to!

His horse went off @ 7-2 and led every step of the race to the ¼ pole.  The whole field went by him so fast that I knew he was in deep trouble and so was the kid.  The horse was quickly pulled up, vanned off, and retired from racing.

The kid was more fortunate and took the whole thing rather philosophically.  He recovered the very next day.   He learned the importance of money management-----he also learned NOT to get “fixated” on anybody in any race!!!

He swore he’d never get “taken” like that again, nor “oversold” the night before.  He’d always take a fresh look at every horse’s raceday “physicality”.  Too much can change from day to day and from race to race.

We as handicappers have chosen to play the “toughest game” on the planet.  It can take us to new unknown heights when making huge wagering scores, but also to near despair when seemingly unable do a thing right. 

Perhaps that’s what draws all of us to this great game.

Thru these ups and downs you must always maintain your balance, reasoning that peaks and valleys are a normal part of the handicapping process and the unending learning curve. 

But one thing is for sure as you can see from my story, getting oversold the night before or blindly having too strong an opinion in any race, can shake you to the core.  Fortunately for the “kid”, it helped him to become the talented professional that he is today.

Always ask yourself one simple question before you wager (in person or at a satellite facility).

What does my selection “look like today”?

Simply don’t get oversold the night before!


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