Betting Strategy: Game Selection with Ryan Pipenger Part 2
This is Part 2 of my interview with Ryan Pipensger. Go back to see Part 1 first!
Ryan Pipenger is a horseplayer living in Indiana. Following him on Twitter, I quickly realized how extensively he keeps track of pace and post positions at the tracks he is playing. He offers charts tracking all this data that are better than many pay for. With a strong following, he is able to drum up helpful conversations about specific races, offering his analysis, but also about betting strategy in general. Game selection is essential to a successful betting strategy, and Ryan walks us through that and more. Follow him on Twitter @HandicapperRyan.
You say "Trust your process in selecting winners and stick to it. Don't be chasing a different angle or tactic every other bet you place." Can you say more about the importance of this and offer details about how you do this personally?
This is where I would say the fundamentals will take you far. A lot of handicappers can narrow down a field of runners with no problem. The trouble I think a lot get into is trying to deviate from their proven success.
I would say I fall more into the “spot play” category as a handicapper. I look for particular race shapes and patterns. The easiest one is a race with a lone speed horse. I think most handicappers would be confident in finding these races, and that is supported by the low payouts on these types of runners. The other spot play I look for is a dominant early runner with multiple early horses in the race. When I know one of the early runners can bury the others and make them chase, those other early runners can’t win from that position. For some reason, I can get some prices with this as I think there is usually confusion in the betting public.
As crazy as this sounds, I have certain races that I have won with these spot plays saved. When I go on a cold streak or want to keep sharp mentally, I’ll go back and look at them. Again, it is all pattern recognition to me. I see how I got that winner and look for the same pattern in other races.
That is the process I begin with when analyzing a race. Is there a pattern I have seen before that produced a winner that I can use in the race today? I want to get to the winners in a way that has worked for me in the past.
The trouble I think a lot of people get into is looking at a race and knowing they don’t have a grasp on it fully but still wager. If you haven’t handicapped a winner in this fashion before, how do you plan on doing it today? If I come to that conclusion, I will look to pass the race. If I need to get through the race for horizontal wagering reasons, I will spread like crazy knowing my main play is in another leg of the bet.
I don’t get too caught up with stats or use any tool to analyze them. I will utilize what is added on the Brisnet Ultimate PPs because they include the important stats that factor into the race for that horse. I can get a glance at how well a trainer is first off the claim, with a first-time starter, first time on turf, etc. Mostly, I don’t pay too much attention since I try to focus more on what the horse is capable of.
Once you've handicapped the card, what do you do to narrow in on the sequences you are going to play?
The first thing I do is make a note of which races I want to avoid. Those mainly being maiden races. I then will mark which races I want to target. That will be my starting point. With the way I play, I know I’ll be making a win bet on those targeted races, for sure. It then becomes which horizontal wager should I be looking at? With being a big daily double player, I have my own rule of only playing the wager if I can toss the favorite in one of the legs. If I can’t eliminate the favorite in one of the legs, I’ll have to settle on only having the win bet in my targeted race.
Where things get really good is when I see that two of the races I am targeting are within a pick 3 or pick 4. This is when I am willing to dip in and play a ticket knowing that I am going to be skinny in two legs. From there, I will be more than willing to spread in the other races.
Just doing that process alone will get me about 3 to 4 win bets on a card and 2 to 3 daily double wagers. I would say for the most part I might get a pick 3 or pick 4 in if it lines up perfectly, but it has become rare for me lately since I haven’t wanted to get away from what has been working in my betting.
Talk to me about the work you do before a meet begins. How do you set yourself up for success in terms of organization and in terms of defining the betting strategies you will employ?
Going into a meet for me is a lot about how I will look to play the certain surfaces. I want to know what to expect. Do the dirt sprints usually favor a running style? When going two turns, is there normally a post-draw bias? Is the turf racing here usually won near or far off the pace? All these things are questions I’m trying to figure out starting a meet with horses shipping in. How will the switch to a new venue help or hurt them?
For example, in New York, the move from Belmont Park to Saratoga is going to be big for those horses that want to go gate to wire. I’ll be more aware of the speed and fade runners shipping in from Belmont Park knowing that Saratoga historically is a bit more kind to speed. Same with the turf, the sun is going to be beating down and quicken things up. The deep closers will probably have a tough time until they get out of Saratoga.
The other thing I would look at is takeout. I’m not a cutting-edge numbers guy on this, but you have to be aware that it 100% is a factor for you as a bettor. I try to stay away from those high takeout bets. I understand the player with the big bankroll is going to take swings at the pick 5 and pick 6, but for 20% or more takeout, it doesn’t make sense for me to be diving into those pools.
Tell me more about you. Your background, successes as a horseplayer, and day job. Where you live, home track. Any personal details you want to share?
It’s funny because I sort of stumbled into horse racing. I’ve always tuned in for the Triple Crown coverage but never realize this sport is pretty much 365 days a year. Once I started looking into horse racing, and betting more and had some success, that is when I dove in. Then that snowballed into looking at any information I could get my hands on for handicapping. For the most part, I was the typical weekend warrior sort of guy, but in the past few years have started looking at races four to five days a week.
Living in Indiana, the closest track to me is Horseshoe Indianapolis. It is a great place, and they continue to do an awesome job of marketing the racing there. I’ll credit them for truly getting me hooked on racing. Years ago I was there and found an absolute pace-less race outside of a horse named Elma that was going off around 34-1. She flew out, and somehow held on late to win. That day and race showed me “OK, you cannot sweep a whole card, but you absolutely can find these sort of races to go after.” The front half of my week is usually pretty busy, so it’s hard for me to get down to Horseshoe Indianapolis since they switched to weekday racing. I do like trying to get there when they have the occasional Saturday racing because the fans are awesome and it is a cool track to visit.
You post helpful graphics about pace and post position biases. When did you start doing this? Do you hope to grow this further?
I have always liked keeping a chart for each meet of post position and running styles of the winners. For longer meets, it helped me look at horses coming back that may have broke from a position that isn’t producing many winners. The other angle I look for are horses trying to go wire to wire that ended up getting caught late. Maybe during that period they raced, the track wasn’t producing as many gate-to-wire winners. I’d want to look at them hard next time out because they could be more than live at a price.
I’ve been taking it a step further and charting the winner's running position and beaten lengths at each call of the race. When factoring in field size, you can paint a mental picture of visually where winners are coming from. My goal of posting those graphics on Twitter with that information was to help others get more winners. The person that would benefit the most from this is the new player. We all like the thrill of seeing a horse come from the clouds to win a race. At the same time, the new player wants to win their bets just as much. I once was that person searching for information about horse racing, just like the new players are. If they stumble on my posts they’ll be able to see that maybe betting those closers isn’t a good idea in this race since they are winning at such a low percentage. I think fan education like that is key to gaining and retaining new players. Each race is a puzzle, but I believe in track biases and feel this is where handicappers of all levels could find an edge daily.
About Kevin Kilroy
After my first season as a public handicapper, I looked at my betting account and realized one thing: I need help. Picking 349 races, I had 97 winners (28%) with an ROI of $2.08. But I had lost 15% on my personal bets. Clearly, I need to spend more time structuring my wagers. I will use this column to learn from people I respect about how to better express my opinions. Kevin Kilroy is an author, handicapper and two-time NHC qualifier cashing in 2021. Serving as the Publicity Specialist for Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and a freelance horse racing writer, you can find him @trustyourluck on Twitter