Short Term – Long Term

Short Term – Long Term

Memory:  Does the way our brains function serve to sabotage our efforts at handicapping and betting the races?

Since not many play this game at a consistently profitable level, what could be a reason for that?  We all have almost identical brains, and after everything is said and done , and all the variations accounted for – we all have more or less the same potentials and capabilities.

It seems that the reason most fail to succeed to their hoped for levels of profit in this game – is a natural function of the brain itselfThe way most of us actually think and remember is throwing a monster monkey wrench into the mix. 

It’s a hurdle that can be overcome, but your betting success depends on identifying it, and making a concentrated effort to modify this natural tendency.

 Recent discoveries by neuroscientists prove that the brain is hard-wired to:   think short term – not long term 

There was a fascinating series of experiments that showed our tendency for “anchoring” – the impulse to latch onto irrelevant input and information when we are faced with uncertainty (like betting in a horse race). 

Below is the experiment performed . . . try it on yourself right now as you read this. Do the steps below:

1. Write down the last four digits of your telephone number.

2. Now – do you think the number of physicians in London, England is higher or lower than this number?  Write down your answer.

3. What is your best guess as to the number of physicians in London? Write down your answer.


The idea of the experiment was to see whether respondents were influenced by irrelevant and unconnected information – the phone number they had just written down – while estimating the number of doctors in London. The results of the experiment are below:

The average estimate for those with last 4 digits at  7-0-0-0 and higher was over 7,000 doctors in London.
The average estimate for those with last 4 digits at  3-0-0-0 and lower was below 4,000 doctors in London.

The point proved was that people latched onto (“anchored”) their own telephone number (even if subconsciously) – which was completely irrelevant data – to guide their forecast. 

The conclusion then – which is of huge importance to us as handicappers and race bettors – is that:  In the absence of more definitive data, we have a marked tendency to use nearly worthless data to help us predict the future.

AND – we tend to “anchor” to the very most recent available data (like the phone number you had just written down in the above experiment) in lieu of  referring to more rigorous long-term data. 

That is – we tend to think that what has just happened is the most likely thing to continue to happen.

That’s why horses that have just run first or second in their last race are almost always overbet and underlayed.  Handicappers are focusing on the most recent data – which may not be of great relevance in today’s race mix.

That’s why handicappers often see a track bias where there is none.  If a couple of horses go wire-to-wire in successive races, that “recent data” is grabbed by the brain and influences its next decisions. Same thing with; post position, “hot” jock or trainer, etc.

But – and believe me IF I COULD SHOUT HERE, I WOULD – the most important take-away from this study – that verifies what some few of us have always known intuitively . . .

Without keeping extensive records long-term, you will be putting yourself at the misguided mercy of your brain’s natural tendency
to be overly (and most often erroneously) influenced by the most recent data available.

Food for thought.

What do you think?  As always, your comments are welcomed.                  – Gary





  1. Interesting article Gary…..that is one reason when I get a
    new method….I take the time to: 1. go over old races with the new method and handicap as if the race was going to be run in 15 minutes. This gives me “experience” with the method.
    2. I then will handicap dozens of races “live” without places even a $1 dollar bet. ( for readers…if you have never done this it is well worth the time ….you find out quickly that its the money that adds the emotional involvement! ). This 2 step process gives me both experince and either confidence in the method…or I dismiss it for now. If I choose to then use the new method in my daily handicapping and betting I will have enough confidence that when I hit the “rough” patch…( and fellas …it will come) …I can stay the course …

  2. Well, I did the experiment, and wrote down the answers before reading the rest. My answer fell well outside of the norm: phone# 3000 or higher, and I answered “higher” as to the number of docs. My estimate for total # was 15,000. I don’t know what this proves, but it is inconsistent with your data.

    • John – Thanks for the response. I don’t have the actual data from the experiment, but I should think standard deviation to the normal distribution would certainly be around 2-3% – so if 1000 people took the ‘test’ – 20 to 30 of them would experience results variant to the norm. This would prove absolutely nothing, and not at all change the potential validity of the reported results. Gary

  3. Fascinating. I’ve always been intrigued by mind stuff – hypnosis, NLB, meditation, etc., but never knew of this phenomenon. Now I will pay attention to why I’m changing my bet at the last second (usually to my detriment).

    • Dave – Thanks for the comment – and good insight. All of us know deep down that our last-second decision changes, though they sometimes work out just right – are in reality long-term money losers. This research kind of points to the possibility that we may be making those ‘changes’ based on something noticed (even subconsciously) very recently. These signals we tune in to can be almost subliminal. – Gary

  4. Gary….another interesting, thought-provoking article. While I don’t maintain a data base even close to what you obviously keep, I have relied on the ability to “look back” over past data to help me stay focused on those important points in racing results that oftentimes either get totally forgotten or, at least, diminished in importance when analyzing current data. We are generally too short-sighted and looking for instant feedback…causing frustration when our analysis does not perform as expected right away (and every time we employ it!). Rather than patiently gathering our data over time and increasing the number of samples, we over- or under- adjust our hypothesis to get those short-term results we expect…only to find it doesn’t hold over the longer term.

    Goes without too much thinking that maintaining at least SOME past data can do nothing but help each of us when we are delving into the science/art of handicapping…


    • Carl – Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’ve always tried to steer away from complexity (though not always succeeding) in the handicapping process. I’ve kept moving through the “trees” in order to emerge and get a better view back at the “forest.” The larger the data base, the less likely any particular mix of factors holds it’s edge. Yet – that very data will reinforce the overall importance of a very few viable variables (as one of my mentors used to say), and establish a sort of “wise overview” – a sense of the real game and how it might best be played. I think that is kind of what you are touching on in your reply. – Gary

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