Odds – Odds ! – Odds !!

Did I mention odds?

Okay – I’m going to beat an old drum in this post, but the topic is one that every handicapper needs to get pounded into his/her brain until any hesitation, and all “backsliding” are completely rooted out!

There are two drawbacks (at least) to how our brains (these unbelievably powerful computers we carry around on top of our shoulders) function;
1. We are wired to do what is pleasing, and to avoid what is displeasing
2. We tend to recall short-term results, and lose track of long-term results (i.e. the most clearly remembered events are those that happened most recently).

Though good for our physical survival in general – these tendencies can be death to the survival of our bankroll . . .

Four posts back (https://horsebettingsuccess.com/belief-and-disbelief) – I discussed the fallacy in believing that the next race would be a win – that the handicapper would be rewarded for all his hard work.

An unfortunate extension of that kind of thinking is that – we not only believe we will win the next race . . . we also very sincerely want to win the next race. Since our computer brain realizes that lower odds horses win more often than higher odds horses, and since that same pleasure-seeking, advantage-seeking brain is subconsciously averse to ‘getting burned’ – we naturally tend to ‘lean’ towards the lower odds among our handicapped contenders. This is a mistake in the long-term.  

The exact opposite approach should be taken:

When our handicapping tells us that more than one horse has a credible shot to win the race, we need to go with the higher odds among those potential contenders.

There may be an odds cut-off level at which you capitulate and say to yourself that you may have simply been wrong about the horse (say 35-1 or 40-1 and higher), and there may be an odds level at which you will automatically bet a highly ranked horse (say 5/1, or 6/1), but the general preference should be to wager on the higher paying horses from among those that you have given a shot to win the race.

If I could re-state what I’ve written many times:  Don’t fall in love with your handicapping – but do fall in love with the ‘gift’ odds you are occasionally offered.

Below are some examples from the last couple of weeks of the HRG Index we issue each week to our subscribers.  In the Index we list our handicapped contenders using a ranking order which we label as A, B, C, D (the yellow highlights in the table below).  This as a way of getting the subconscious out of the 1, 2, 3, 4 (i.e top, second, third, etc.) rut.  I learned this from Doc Sartin back in the early 80’s, and it has been instrumental in weaning my thought process off the “top choice” fallacy.


odds ex 1


In this two-week period, we issued right at 100 races.  The 11 races above show that in 10% or more of those races – purposeful contrarian betting decisions were necessary in order to get the good paying winners.  You’d better believe that in those 11 races – the horses with the ‘pink’ highlighted odds (the low-priced favorites in the race) looked darn good in the racing form – even “un-beatable” in a couple of cases.

But – let me reiterate my favorite axiom in this game:  “It’s a horse race – anything can happen.”

In the “Simplified Betting Approach” we give in the HRG Index Betting Guidelines, our suggestion is to bet the two contenders with the highest odds from the ranks A through D.

This is, as stated, a ‘simplified’ approach – not a definitive approach (which would require also integrating our “Optimized Odds Betting Guidelines”).  But – in the 11 races shown above – going against the flow, even perhaps against your own “better judgment”  – would have netted you a +516.8% ROI (betting 2 horses in each race) in those races.

Of course – there are races where the same simplified approach (or any betting approach you ever use) will cost you a decent winner – at 5/2, 7/2, 4/1 etc., and that old ‘protective’, ‘yearning-for-positive-feedback’ brain will jump in and start second-guessing.

A little voice may chime in from the back of your head saying, “See – I told you so – you’ve just missed two in a row that you could have easily had – they were your top choices after all – and they paid okay at $6.80 and $9.60 – while you were throwing your money away on 12/1 and 15/1 horses with only a small chance to win.

When that happens – stick in the earplugs, and advance from there (it worked for American Pharoah!).  Forget the ‘feeling good with a lot of low-paying winners’ inclination, forget the “hossy sayings” that have got stuck in your head throughout your years in horse racing, forget everything – except your long-term, bottom-line . . .

. . . And that is the most basic wisdom I can offer for success in this great game.


As always – comments are welcomed.


  1. guy tedesco

    hi gary guy here. was looking at above chart of big payoffs when the hvy favorite was pink. i understand to bet against them however i see one pink hvy favorite that is 1/5. according to the rules you set up isnt this a case of passing the race because the 1/5 horse is ranked “B”?
    i am referring to the 11/22 race three @ prk.

    • Guy – You are correct about passing that race if following the Index race passing rules. The series shown was to make my point about being willing to overlook good-looking low odds horses in favor of others one has made potential contenders. In the total stats we keep for the HRG INdex, that race was listed as a “pass” race and not entered into those totals. However – the ROI actually

        goes up

      on that series of races by passing that race – because that $18.60 winner was a lower payoff than the average for the other winners. And too – the “Simplified” betting approach I mentioned there in the post – is for players who bet the races only occasionally (the Optimized Odds approach is preferred for serious players) and that type of player is more likely (and should be) to “go for the gusto” and try for larger scores in the relatively fewer races he bets each week.


  2. I just took a close look at the chart. Two of the races present a situation I have encountered while deciding which horse(s) to play. In the 6th race, you’ve got three at 3/1, one at 5/1. Obviously the 5/1 is a play. But what about the others at 3/1? Similarly in the next-to-last race, the 11/1 is a play, but you’ve got two tied at 2/1. I suppose you could decide not to play below 9/2.

    But there have been times I’ve got a bet in at the last instance, only to see two horses flip flop in their odds. The 5/1 I played is now 3/1. and the 3/1 at the time I wagered ends up at 5/1.

    Obviously we have no control on the outcome of a race. But even if we get our bets in an eye blink before the gate opens, we are powerless to know what money others have put in that may affect the final odds, which don’t show until the race is underway.

    • John – To your first question: I keep complete and extensive records of all races handicapped and issued in the HRG Index. We have a many – thousand race data-base (Keeping only the most recent three years at any given time). One of the many things I track are the odds at which each of my handicapped ranks win – as discussed in this blog post: https://horsebettingsuccess.com/is-your-opinion-valuable/ . . . I use this to make those “which one?” choices in cases of ties.

      To your second question: Odds changes are a “fact-of-life” for racing – it will never be any different. I’ve done research in years past – that led me to the conclusion that the results of very late changes will go for you as opposed to against you in the same proportion as those odds that don’t change. i.e. your bottom line ROI will remain very nearly the same in those two sets of races.

      As well – using the same data I mentioned in the 1st paragraph (the Optimized Odds Chart issued as part of the HRG Index) – I can know that if the odds change – either up or down – which rank will be advantaged, over another(in general).

      Best regards – Gary

  3. Gary-it is difficult to train the brain to feel that I am right and those chalk odds are wrong. After all these years of handicapping,I will still get swung into using the chalk on top and kick myself after the race. It’s a mindset that must be used to be successful in this game. I could use a little “Gary” on the top of my shoulder and yelling in my ear to not get suckered in. Thanks for the reminder again and I’ll have that installed in my head for today’s races!

    • Dave – Thanks for the comment.

      Another thing that is influencing player’s decisions is that the chalk is winning more often in recent years. I.e. – more handicappers are ending up on the same horses, and as bettors are willing to go ahead and accept the lower odds on what they consider is the most likely winner. For me 2/1 and 5/2 are absolute low minimum acceptable odds, and that is only if showing a profit in the rank that it falls in my handicapping.

      Because I wager two horses per race, I am able to ‘get away’ with playing some of these 2/1 and 5/2 horses. I’ve alwyas got them along with another runner that is at 5/1 or higher. These lower odds choices don’t help my profits, but it helps me mentally not to get involved in very long losing streaks by sticking only with high odds horses, or by choosing to bet only one horse per race. – Gary

  4. Once a year I use this approach at the Breeders’ Cup races – or Lottery Day, as I sometimes call it. Then pretty much forget about it the rest of the year. Could have something to do with my negative ROI.

    • Dave – You’re right that BC Days and Ky Derby are excellent situations to apply – as for the remainder of the year . . . well – better increase your dose of Gingko Biloba (?!) – Gary

  5. I’m not familiar with the decimal based odds you are using in the chart. Could i get an explanation for those decimal numbers.

  6. Gary

    First off to you and yours a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.Also you are right on,I find myself making that exact mistake and then kicking myself in the butt when you make answer so simple.


    • Terry – Thanks – and a very happy holiday season to you and your family as well. One thing about this game (or any game) – it will never be a ‘mistake-free’ endeavor. The hope is to gain a bit of wisdom and savvy through time – in order to lessen the frequency of those mistakes as much as is possible. – Gary

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