Conventional wisdom, especially when it's dispensed by squares and people who engage in horse racing betting as a pastime, not a living, should be taken with many grains of sodium chloride. In reality, what for decades has been passed down as equine betting gospel are little more than myths and betting sins.
Let's look at what passes for horse racing betting wisdom:
Deadly Sin No. 1: The most important thing is picking winners.
Wrong! Professional horse bettors will tell you that trying to pick the winner of the race is a failed strategy and that it's far more important to get value. What's "value?" Consider this: A horse that you handicap as a legitimate even-money favorite should win about half the time. So that horse is a bad play at 4/5 or less. A horse that you analyze should win about one in four times the race is run, should be about 3/1. That horse won't win as often as the even money shot but if can get value, say 5/1 or higher, you'll make money in the long run.
Deadly Sin No. 2: Never let a horse's price influence your selection.
It doesn't get much dumber than this. Of course price matters. You can't determine value (see Deadly Sin No. 1) without the odds. There aren't many things you buy, from groceries to cars to a home, without considering the price versus what you're getting. It's no different with horses. You wouldn't buy a car worth $30,000 for $50,000 and you shouldn't bet a 3/1 shot who should be 5/1.
Deadly Sin No. 3: You should bet more on horses you really like, such as your "best bet."
Ridiculous. Why bet if you don't like who you're betting? Put another way, any horse worth betting is one worth betting significantly. Sophisticated bettors usually bet about the same amount on every bet. After all, as one professional gambler told me, "If I knew what my ‘best bets' were I'd only bet those." A "best bet" is a media creation. If you know what you're doing, your best bet always should be the next bet you make.
Deadly Sin No. 4: Statistical betting trends are important.
Actually, they're not. "Technical handicapping," as it's called, is another of those manufactured disciplines used by professional touts, not professional horse racing bettors. Mostly, technical handicapping—wherein statistics are employed to predict an outcome—are little more than "backfitting," a practice where someone makes up a theory to fit a set of numbers. It's a lazy handicapping shortcut and no replacement for hard analysis.
Deadly Sin No. 5: Class will tell.
Tell what? The concept of class was popular a generation ago—before the advent of accurate speed figures—as a way of measuring a horse's worth. If a horse raced against top company, he was said to have "class." But this wasn't class so much as speed. A horse who wins an allowance race and moves up to stakes company won't look at the other horses in the starting gate and wonder if he has the class to compete. That horse will win if he's fast enough. Of course, there are other considerations when moving up in class, not the least of which is pace, but "class" isn't one of them.
Deadly Sin No. 6: There are certain rules of the game which never should be challenged.
This is nonsense. Among those "rules" of the turf are "Never bet a horse to do something he hasn't done before," which would mean you could never bet a maiden race, which, of course, is silly. Another old bromide is "Never bet the highest weighted horse on a muddy track," which can be discounted if the high weight is an overlay. Other "rules" such as "Never bet 3-year olds against older horses in the spring," or "Never bet fillies versus colts," also can be discounted because, as detailed in Deadly Sin No. 2, any horse can be a bet at the right price, that is, if there's value.
Deadly Sin No. 7: Specialize in certain aspects of the game and pick your spots.
Why limit yourself? If you never bet grass races or stay away from maidens you may be missing some great betting opportunities. When you gamble, having more options always is preferable.
Successful horse racing betting is a difficult pursuit but avoiding the game's seven deadly sins is a step toward betting redemption.