Growing Your Bankroll

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Derek Simon

November 21st, 2014

Ask the average handicapper to detail his/her greatest weaknesses and “betting” typically makes the list. Granted, it’s not always justified. Players often make excuses for their mediocre handicapping skills — “I shoulda played the six-horse” is not a betting mistake — but there is no question that most players lack a definable wagering strategy.

What do I mean by “definable wagering strategy?”

Well, as the risk of turning this into a Jeff Foxworthy bit, if you formulate your wagers on a cocktail napkin… you might just need some betting help. Just like good handicapping requires thought and study, so too does good betting.

Start by assessing your goals.

Are you looking to make steady profits at the track or are you seeking the “big score?” This might sound trivial or pointless, but, in fact, it is crucial in determining how to handle your bankroll. And, on that subject, do you even have a bankroll (money set aside strictly for betting purposes)?

If the answer to the latter question is “no,” chances are you are a casual player who enjoys the occasional trip to the track or OTB. If that is, indeed, the case I suggest the following money management strategy:

1) Determine the amount you are comfortable losing. Nothing can destroy a good time at the track more than eating Ramen Noodles the following week because you bet more than you could afford.

2) Once you know what kind of capital you’re working with — and, hey, if it’s $10-$20, so be it — it’s time to decide how to allot that capital. I recommend starting with your (perceived) best bet of the day. Figure out how you want to bet that race for maximum return and work down from there — to your second-best bet of the day, your third-best bet of the day, etc. If all the races are roughly equal, simply allot the money evenly.

3) Adjust your wagering as circumstances dictate. If your best bet gets scratched or a race comes off the turf, bet — or not (passing races is not a crime) — accordingly.

Now, if you happen to be a more serious player, the kind who earnestly desires to make money at the racetrack in a consistent or semi-consistent manner, the strategy necessarily changes:

1) To begin with, I highly recommend establishing a finite bankroll for the meeting, month, year… whatever time period you choose. Again, the amount is not that important, although I think $500 for any extended length of time is a bare minimum.

2) Next (and this is the hard part), try to determine your betting edge. The Kelly Criterion provides a reasonable gauge and is calculated thusly:

Winning Percentage - Losing Percentage / Avg. Winning Odds

Note: Remember your order of operations — multiplication and division before addition and subtraction.

So, for example, if you made 100 bets and cashed on 30 of them for a $210 return, your Kelly edge would be 2 percent (0.3 - 0.7 / 2.5), which is the amount you would stake on every wager to optimize bankroll growth.

Of course, this type of betting strategy entails a fair amount of risk, so many bettors will bet only a fraction of Kelly — in this instance, say, 1-1 ½ percent — and forego a little potential growth for a reduced likelihood of going broke.

3) Once your edge is established — either by record-keeping or guesstimating (naturally, the former is greatly preferred) — only bet when you are presented with a race that gives you that edge. In other words, if you have the aforementioned two percent Kelly edge, but only betting to win in claiming races on the turf, you have no business playing an exacta in a stakes race on the main track.

If you don’t have the discipline to adhere to this rule, I’d recommend setting aside additional funds for such bets (in his book “Picking Winners,” Andrew Beyer termed these less-than-ideal plays “action bets”).

4) Stick to the plan and stay the course. Any variance is likely to cause mental anguish when it doesn’t work and can quickly get out of control. Likewise, once you have established that your Kelly edge is legitimate, be confident in the end results.

Just as the stock prices go up and go down, your bankroll will oscillate as you experience winning streaks and, more often, losing streaks. Always keep the end goal in mind.

FREE Past Performances for the Delta Jackpot

One of my favorite races for two-year-olds, the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot, takes place on Saturday… and I think the 5-2 morning line favorite Mr. Z looks vulnerable. I’ve provided a link to the past performances (with my speed rations) and my Pace Profile Report for the big race below:

Pace Profile Report
Past Performances