It’s interesting where we spend our time, effort and energy. What we do and how we do it, not only defines our endeavors, but essential define ourselves. In the horse-playing world there are two exclusive, interconnected worlds where we spend most of our time:
Handicapping – seeking out and considering the most important data to determine a winner or narrowing down contenders to just a select few to bet
Gambling – making wagering decisions based upon handicapping…or not
Excellent handicappers eliminate contenders from pretenders and have a pool of choices that can lead to positive wagers – some of the time. Excellent gamblers place their wagers with or without extensive handicapping and receive positive returns – more often than excellent handicappers. Huh? Sometimes finding our pathway to peace and tranquility require us to dismiss notions or ideas we take as reliable. Too many believe long hours of handicapping lead to greater returns on wagers. I’m here to say this may not be so.
An experience many us can and do identify with is sifting through the past performances, video replays, clocker’s reports, etc. on our way to forecasting what we believe the race result will be. Whether it’s vertical wagers (exacta, trifecta or superfecta) or the horizontal variety (daily double, pick three, four, five and six), sometimes you just feel your handicapping speaks to a wining bet. Then…well then, just one of the entries you eliminated breaks up your winning ticket. Excellent handicapping still begets losing bet(s) due to bad luck.
The excellent handicapper just like the excellent poker player despises luck when it gets in the way of the anticipated analytical/statistical result. The excellent gambler realizes that the wager predicting the future is bound by elements outside of the bettor’s control and thought process. When the gambler gets beat, it’s just part of the process.
This may be a contradiction or simplification or just plain nonsense depending on your point-of-view, annual winnings or lack there of. But I will further disarticulate gambling from handicapping so you may connect the two in time for your 2012 Kentucky Derby bets.
Think of handicapping as the logical part of your brain or self. It is reliant on the information at hand and deducting clues of pace, class, jockey talent, training stats, track bias, etc. This part of us believes there is a way, like the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, to unlock a race’s clues in time to create a reasonable, winning bet.
Think of the gambling as the emotional part of your brain or self. Here is the side that is far less formulaic and far more reliant on feel, mood and the emotion tied to the bet. While it may be easy to discount such feelings as bogus assumptions based up superstition and/or intuition, to do so means to toss out the baby of our existence simply because it somehow doesn’t seem to wash some 40,000 years after we decided to walk upright.
Reason and emotion find there homes in separate parts of our brains and pull us in different directions depending on the circumstances in front of us. In his straightforward explanation of the complex biological systems within our brains in How We Decide, Johan Lehrer argues that we should pay attention to what we are thinking and ways to better understand our decisions and ourselves. Emotion, Lehrer explains, is just as important, if not more so, than the logical selves we so often think are more responsible for clearer thinking.
Another point from Lehrer to strongly consider is that your brain can only handle four to nine data points in making any decision. Any experienced handicapper knows you can get beyond nine points of data on the first entry in the Derby’s 20-horse field. (By the way, car salespeople often confuse many us at dealerships by throwing all kinds of information at us from transmission power to terms of a lease agreement.)
The thousands upon thousands points of data in the Derby past performances basically paralyzes your logical brain, overwhelming you until your left making haphazard stabs at handicapping decisions. It is also easy to get embroiled in the emotion of the Derby by basing your Derby wager on how you did last year, last week or during early races earlier in the card.
To combat such confusion, Lehrer makes the suggestion that for complex problem solving (and if making a winning Derby bet isn’t complex, than nothing is) study for a set amount of time, take a meaningful break and return to the problem briefly. In essence, allow your conscious, logical brain to flex some muscle, crunch some data and then come back for a shorter time allowing your subconscious, emotional brain to lead you to a better informed decision - in this case a winning bet.
My Zen advice for the week – take a few hours studying past performances a night or two before the Derby. Then come back the next day for 15 minutes to half and hour to get the proper feel for your bet. In this way, both your conscious and subconscious will come together for what I hope is a winning bet.