By MARK HOFFMAN
For The Recorder
As you are reading this column, one day is in the books for the 2017 Saratoga Race Course meet. That leaves just 39 more to get even, if your opening day was unsuccessful.
Last year I was really lucky on opening day and had enough winnings to last the entire meet on a voucher anytime I traveled to the Spa. The final Saturday of the meet and last day I was on track, I cashed out the $50 voucher I purchased on opening day. It was only the third time in 30 years that I beat the meet and ended up ahead in winnings. As fun as the Saratoga meet is, it’s also very challenging.
The evolution of my handicapping the Saratoga meet has changed throughout the years. From 1986 through 1990, it was primitive in many ways. Past performances didn’t play much of a part back then. From 1991 to 1997, it was more about watching the races, looking at the past performances and learning who the top connections were and the thoroughbred breeding of the horse. But, it has been the last nineteen years where my game has stepped it up as a public handicapper in print.
When I joined the Recorder in 1998 as a thoroughbred columnist, it was handicapping the Saratoga meet that excited me the most. After all, I had been making selections for the meet since 1988, even though they weren’t official. Now it meant getting a copy of the Daily Racing Form (which was not easy) each day and making selections by the paper’s deadline. Sometimes it was quick as only one day to make picks for nine races. As the years have gone by, it’s become much easier to get the past performances several days in advance.
My way of making selections for the races have changed also though the years. It was the basic top three picks with a best bet and longshot play at first. Then later I added a value play along with my favorite and price selection. The past 10 years, with the advent of so many different exotic plays, I remodeled my selections to a first and second exacta play with description for both runners and two to three horses underneath to use in exotic wagers.
This is the way I’ll continue, but only handicapping the stakes races. Two years ago, I discontinued handicapping the entire daily card and last year only made one top selection. With the Saratoga meet being 40 days long and with race cards that have 10-plus races, doing the entire card was quite time consuming. So this year I’ll only be handicapping the Spa stakes races and making a bankroll play, something I haven’t done in quite a few years.
The return of the bankroll play will be done quite easily with a set amount each day, no more or less. The bankroll selections for Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will total $10 each day ($40). Weekend picks (Saturday and Sunday) will total $20 or $40 for both days. Opening day and closing day are both at $50 ($100 total) and Travers Day will be a $100 wager. If you add up the total, the whole year’s bankroll is $700. If there happens to be a scratched horse and part of a wager is refunded, the money total will be returned to the bankroll as a minimum balance cushion. This means the bankroll will never have a zero balance. I find this is the best way of doing a bankroll play that is less confusing than having no set amount each day.
The bottom line is making money the best way with the least investment. I love the 10-cent superfecta play and 50-cent trifecta wagers. I tend not to make large win wagers and rarely play place or show. Pick three wagers are the best way to single horses and hook them up in multiple races. My personal wagering bankroll is less $100 each time I’m at the track and between $20 and $40 dollars when betting off track.
One other thing I do is limit my wagers to a set total each day. So if I’m spending $60 for the day and I’ve spent $55 going into the last race, I’ll only play $5 on that race. This unfortunately sometimes comes back to haunt me if I throw out certain wagers not to go over my set total and they come out.
Remember, even though it’s racing, it’s not a sprint but a long distance race of 40 days. Use your bankroll wisely and get the most bang for your buck. Good luck.