Picking Up the Pieces After a Difficult Derby Weekend

It’s definitely a kick in the teeth when you look forward to a racing weekend for months, and then do dreadfully with your wagers. That was the case for me last weekend. And I suppose it doesn’t help matters when the Clemson football coach and other celebrities—one after the other—all go on TV and pick the Derby winner because they liked his name.

I’d like to blame my poor results on the mud, the soft turf—anything but my own bad handicapping. But we know how unrealistic and self-serving that is. The fact of the matter is I simply had a bad weekend, and those things are going to happen in a game where your chances of success in any given race is only 20% or so. And those big fields on Derby weekend can make things even more conducive to losing streaks.

I think it’s fair to say, though, that the weather did at least introduce additional factors into the handicapping process last weekend. This seemed particularly the case on Friday when it seemed that a horse needed to be on the rail in the dirt races at Churchill to have his best chance for success. And though the learning process was costly, I will take solace going forward that, four or five weeks from now, horses that took the worst of it last weekend will be much more apparent to me than they will be to those who weren’t paying close attention.

But what to do when a track comes up wet? Some people scale back their play. Contest players may decide to sit a tourney out.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But in contest play, I actually prefer “off” conditions or the existence of strong biases. For me, they typically result in feast or famine results (last weekend representing the latter!), and in contest scenarios–where you want to be in the top 5% of the standings because merely being above average gets you nothing—that’s just fine. In contests, you need feasts, not snacks.

And, as alluded to earlier, even the famines can be easier to take when you know there were biases in play that can help put you on a 20-1 shot with a legitimate shot next time out on a dry, unbiased track.

Nevertheless, it does seem to hurt more when you lose on a big day than on a random day—even if you’re the only one who knows. I think that’s natural given how mentally-invested we are in the sport and how important the big days are to us—not just with respect to our personal profit/loss records, but even (as crazy as this may sound) in relation to our self-esteem.

Down deep, though, we all know that we lose more often than we win in this game. If we didn’t, the wins wouldn’t feel so good.

And very often, those wins come as a direct result of the losses that recently preceded them.

3 thoughts on “Picking Up the Pieces After a Difficult Derby Weekend

  1. The Derby is nothing but a Calvary charge with 20 horses bumping and impeding out of the gate and into the first turn. Not to mention trying to pick a winner in a 20 horse field on a sloppy track. I played pinochle with my and in-laws during the race and watched it on the replay when I got home.


  2. Eric, Don’t be so hard on yourself. Serious value handicappers are always looking for a shot in a 20 horse field, especially on an off track. The winner had a perfect stalking rail trip, and obviously the talent to go the distance. It is a little aggravating when someone that likes the name, one-up’s seasoned handicappers!


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