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During the first week of January 2017, a Pennsylvania handicapper sent me a link to the sad news that the great public handicapper Russ Harris had passed away at 93 years of age. For younger handicappers who may be unaware of Mr. Harris, he is often referred to by pundits, handicapping writers and knowledgeable handicappers from his era as arguably the greatest of all public handicappers. The world of thoroughbred horse racing has certainly lost a legend.
Reading the article of his passing got me to reminiscing of times long past. My memories of Mr. Harris are many and fond, and they are inextricably intertwined with memories of my own father who actually began following Russ Harris in the mid-1950's, before I was even born. About three decades later, when my father Tom Worth taught me how to handicap, is when I first learned of Russ Harris. My father had recently designed two 'quickie' spot plays based on public handicappers, and the New York Daily News had a full complement of name handicappers, and his preferred public handicappers to use were Mr. Harris and Bill Finley, son of noteworthy handicapper and author William Scott. Harris was still going strong at over 60 years old, which in this day and age is still quite young!
Indeed, Harris is likely to be remembered as one of the best ever of the public handicappers. However, as talented a handicapper as Mr. Harris was, he could never manage to win the annual Battle of Saratoga, which if you're not familiar with it, it pitted three of the New York Daily News handicappers against one another over the course of the Saratoga meet. Each was assigned the same size bankroll at the start of the meet, and the winner was determined by the size of their bankroll at the end of the meet. It was all hypothetical money, but it made for a great Battle when you followed their selections and wagers each day of the meet. Each day Saratoga ran, there was a report in the News of how each one of them was faring. Over the many years I followed the Battle, I witnessed him match wits and selections with Bill Finley, Tony Heyes and later on with Jerry Bossert.
Mr. Harris knew how to pick horses, but like many of us, he had an Achilles heel - at least as far as the Battle of Saratoga was concerned - and that weakness was in how he structured his wagers. In sum, his money management was his undoing in the annual Battles. And I believe there is a teaching point in this for all of us: namely, how you wager is equally if not more important as your selection. You can be a top-notch handicapper, one of the best there is at picking horses, but if you are not wagering in a manner that reflects your own past performance as a handicapper, you may very well be spinning your wheels. To bring this point home, I want discuss the 1995 Battle of Saratoga. Yes, Russ was now past 70 at this point, but as far as handicapping is concerned, he still had his "A" game going.
In one of our most popular TIPS Report ever, the January/February 1996 issue, I did an in-depth article that examined the NY Daily News' 1995 Battle of Saratoga. Bill Finley won that year, earning a 32% ROI on his $1,000 bankroll. However, despite isolating four to six winning horses on most days that Saratoga ran, selecting more winning horses than his two 'competitors' over the course of the meet, his bankroll didn't grow accordingly. For example, one day that summer, he selected seven winners on the ten race card, yet his profit for the day was a paltry $10. In fact, his comment was: ”Plus $10. Shoulda been a lot better."
How could this be? Here he was picking solid selections yet was not making any headway in increasing his bankroll. In my own humble analysis, I believe it's because of the way he wagered. Instead of wagering in a manner that capitalized on his strengths, he usually wagered in a manner that suggested he was trying to cash in big. He simply did not wager in a manner that mirrored his handicapping strengths. To add fuel to the fire, he would switch it up in terms of the types of wagers he made, and this hastened the demise of his bankroll every year. For example, in the 1995 Battle, after days of losing on exotics, he changed course and tried a place parlay. The one or two days he tried the place parlays in several races, he did not cash a single one. However, at least on one of those two day experiments with place parlays, every one of those horses finished at least third. If he had gone with a show parlay, he would have earned a juicy profit—well over 100% for the day! He abandoned the place parlays in favor of something else, which all taken together did not help his bankroll.
While pinpointng a selection that will win or finish in-the-money can put you on the path to success, it truly is just half the equation of earning a profit. How you wager is pivotal in whether or not you deposit money in the bank from your handicapping efforts. Your wagers can make you or break you - they are a turning point for your bottom line! Your daily records of how your selections finish and their respective mutuels provide you with a road map of how you should structure your wagers in order to maximize your talent for handicapping. In other words, analyze your own past performances as a handicapper and wager accordingly!
As a simple example to illustrate this point, if your selections finish in first place 15% of of the time, but run in-the-money 85% of the time, you may want to wager to place and show more than you wager to win. If your selections finish third a very high percentage of the time, you may want to consider parlay wagering. Or, if your selections finish first and second a high percentage of the time, you may want to consider exacta boxes. In other words, you need to run the stats of your daily handicapping and chart out how your selections finish along with their respective mutuels and exotic payouts. (If you aren't keeping track of your results along with payouts, start doing so today!!) After you've calculated your stats over at least the past four or five months, you should run a few projections of what you would have netted for various wagering strategies. For example, what if you had wagered in a ratio of $2-$4-$12 or $2-$6-$0 or $0-$6-$0 rather than wagering to win-only for most of your selections?
In short, review your record of your selections on a regular basis. It's one of the best things you can do as a handicapper. If you are adept at selecting horses who win, select a money management approach which capitalizes on that strength, you may want to keep your wager simple and wager in a ratio that also includes place and show and not all to win. Again, I strongly recommend that you run the numbers with a few different wagering scenarios. If you want to wager on exotics, make sure you connect often enough to ride out the inevitable run outs when your selections don't fit the exotic on which you wagered. And, if you choose to make exotic bets, make sure you are mentally prepared to withstand the run outs, which may be 15, 20, 25 in a row.
To further illustrate the importance of wagers and money management, let me share with you a little story I heard from the world of football wagering. I was listening to a Boston Sports talk radio station while driving home from church on January 8th, which was the first Sunday of the NFL playoffs. In recent years, especially during the football season, the show has as a guest a sports handicapper. After he shared his selections for the NFL games that day and reviewed his record from the previous week, he noted that of his PRIME football selections of 'locks' for the College and NFL season, his win % was just above 60%, with an excellent 40% ROI for the season to date, firmly in the black and quite impressive. However, he noted that due to his penchant for wagering smaller amounts on a handful or more of other games each weekend where he did not do as well, he was in fact down a bit on the year.
Again, the lesson is clear: stick with your strengths! If you are compelled to wager on a lot of races, first, resist those that are outside of your comfort zone, and second, keep your wagers small and keep a completely separate bankroll and records for casual wagers. But do try not to stray from what your records show you do best!
Mr. Harris had a great talent as a handicapper, and perhaps with his own personal wagering he did well, but at least when it came to the Battle of Saratoga each year, his money management plans often scuttled his bankroll and overshadowed his great achievements as a handicapper. Lo and behold, while thinking of all this and thinking through what a difference a wager can make, within the space of a couple of days, I heard from two different handicappers with their take on money management. Both are wildly successful although both use very different wagering approaches, even though they use the same handicapping method, namely: The Even Finish Spot Play, a method about which I continue to hear great things, even three years after its original publication date. Clearly it's a method that withstands the test of time.
You can see a couple of their messages to me below but first let me say that the Even Finish Spot Play is perhaps the quickest spot play I have ever written. It takes only 2, maybe 3 minutes at most, to handicap a race. In fact, one of the two handicappers who wrote me often finds, 8, 10 or more selections while handicapping three to four tracks, occasionally five, when using the Even Finish, all in about an hour! One day he found 53 selections!
These two handicappers were kind enough to send me their results. Yet another handicapper, a man from Massachusetts, also went into great detail on his Even Finish selections. I plan to write an article in The TIPS Report to discuss results and review what these handicappers are doing. I believe you will agree their results are nothing short of phenomenal!! In fact I have received numerous detailed emails from Ray who thoughtfully keeps me in his handicapping loop!
I received the email below from a southwest handicapper. While his money management style is more complicated than some might wish to use, it is also, very effective. The only drawback is that it does require him to monitor odds, although it has proven very profitable.
From: R <>
To: TIPS Report <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Mon, Jan 2, 2017 3:23 pm
Just spent the last 2 days going over my EV results. Flat betting place and show proved not to be profitable. Betting all EVs even the multiples there were 862 bets @ $2 level yielded only a profit of $6.70! Betting singles at min 5/1 odds 239 bets which showed a $10 loss, a minus 2%. Betting all singles same as betting all. 381 races yielded a profit of $10. 18.6% hit rate.
Time frame was 11/20 thru 12/31.
NOW using a 15 divider debit plan, betting singles at any odds yielded a $2 base bet profit of $1,238!!! Quite a difference!! Needed a 500 min bank for this plan to cover a 5 day losing streak. Considering this, I plan on using a 20 divider debit plan to keep losses down, yet will still be profitable.
Considering handicapping time is very minimal, EV is the best plan to use for multi track betting. I will not be betting the evening tracks so my handicapping time will be even less.
Hope you and your family have a phenomenal New Year! R.
Two days later, I received the following email reporting of similar results from a New York handicapper who was also using the Even Finish Spot Play.
From: Joe <>
To: tipsreport <email@example.com>
Sent: Wed, Jan 4, 2017 8:51 pm
Jon....purchased your Even Finish method last month. I could not be more pleased. For the month of December over 6 tracks I wagered on 87 races with 29 winners and 77% of the selections finishing in-the-money. I wagered 10-20-x on all horses going off at 4 to 1 or less and 5-10-20 if they were 9/2 or more. I cleared $1648. 77 of the selections were singles. Thanks and keep up the good work.
Joe of New York
While the Even Finish is very effective and profitable when you have more than one qualifier, (as explained in the method), Joe, and actually more than a dozen other handicappers, have informed me that it is most effective and profitable when there is a ‘single’ qualifier. I detected this as well when doing my live research, and over the next couple of years other handicappers have repeatedly verified this finding. Thus, I strongly encourage you to actively use the Even Finish Spot Play, and when you do, be on the lookout for 'singles'!!
As noted, the TIPS Report issue with the “Battle of Saratoga” article remains to this day one of our top five or six most popular issues ever published from among our 120+ issues. If you don't already own it, I strongly you encourage you to order it today! To that end, choose among any of the following special promo options, all print versions: