Tools of the Trade: The 1986 Horseplayer vs. Today

Posted by

 | 4 MAR, 2013

 | Comments Off


I purchased my iPad 2 about 18 months ago. The sole purpose of buying this new gadget was for horse racing purposes. After much research, I knew the TwinSpires mobile site worked on the iPad 2. Plus, I knew there was a cable I could buy for $40 that would allow me to watch on my 42 inch flat screen whatever I had on the iPad screen.  It was like having my own simulcast center in my living room. In terms of the iPad for handicapping purposes, let’s just say I was getting tired of printing off 42 pages of Daily Racing Form PPs on my decade old Dell Printer. I wanted to go 100% paperless in my handicapping. Yes, the iPad 2 purchase revolutionized my life as a horseplayer. Yet, all of this information would sound foreign to the 1986 horseplayer. When I pulled out my version of Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing to read a section called Tools of the Trade, I reflected on how handicapping has changed over the years.


When I hear 1986, I instantly think of Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Dwight Gooden, and the World Series Champion New York Mets. I was a ten year old boy who played baseball, collected baseball cards, and pored over the boxscores daily. But in many ways, handicapping races in 1986 seems further removed from the modern day than Darryl Strawberry’s 27 homeruns, 93 RBIs, and 28 stolen bases. For example, in my 1986 edition of Ainslie’s book, he lists the tools of the trade for the handicapper. Among Ainslie’s recommended tools are the Daily Racing Form, The American Racing Manual, magazines like The Bloodhorse, microfiche, binoculars, notebooks, local newspapers, and the daily racing program.  (Just a side note, let me make clear that I love Ainslie’s book. It is full of timeless wisdom for handicappers of all levels. This reflective exercise is simply a great way to see how advances in technology have given the horseplayer a host of new tools.)


Oh, how times have changed. Binoculars are a valuable tool. However, today you can watch plenty of horse racing without ever physically going to the track. Most local newspapers do a poor job of covering racing, and the daily racing program usually gets passed off immediately to my wife to help her as she seeks to bet on all the grey/roan horses. And what is microfiche? I think I remember it from old school libraries in a former life of mine, but I needed the internet dictionary to tell me what it was. Apparently, microfiche is “a card or sheet of microfilm capable of accommodating and preserving a considerable number of pages, as of printed text, in reduced form.” Well, microfiche is a thing of the past, and I have no idea how many times the Daily Racing Form has changed ownership groups since Ainslie first recommended it. While past performances are as vital to horseplayers now as they were in 1986, the tools of the trade for the horseplayer today, look and feel much different.


While I started this article singing the praises of my iPad, let me be clear that an iPad is not essential for the handicapper. It does allow your handicapping to go paperless and gives you everything you need for a day at the track in one small tablet. I only used the hard copy Daily Racing Form for a brief stint before realizing I could print them online. If I wasn’t at the track, finding the Daily Racing Form in print was a daunting task even in a city of 3.5 million. Once I realized I could print the PPs online, things got much better – except for the large number of trees I would kill in preparing for a simple Saturday of racing. I definitely went through my share of paper and printer cartridges. Printers had become obsolete for me, right along with the wretched fax machine. For years, I had gone without a printer set up in the onehorsestable office. Yet, when it was time to print past performances, I would dig out my old Dell printer from a storage bin and hook it up so I could print off the PPs for a Saturday at Arlington Park. This is a wretched system. With the iPad2 , I download PPs directly from the site onto my device. It is wonderful. If you decide the iPad is one of your essential tools for handicapping in the modern era, then you need to know about Goodreader. I paid $5 for an app called GoodReader which allows me to open up my past performance PDF files and then make my own annotations. I can write directly on my iPad and make all the notes I want in a variety of different colors. Your notes are saved on the file itself, and everything can be opened and referenced even when you do not have wi-fi access. Add a boxwave stylus to your list of tools as this utensil is what allows me to actually write on my tablet.


The horseplayer today can go portable and paperless thanks to the iPad, but Steve Davidowitz reminds us about the best handicapping tool ever invented in his book Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century. Davidowitz writes of the value of watching races carefully. He calls it “a primary step in becoming a successful horseplayer”. Davidowitz goes on to declare that “the DVR and the computer are invaluable handicapping aids that surpass any other tools ever invented”. As someone who does not subscribe to HRTV or TVG, the computer becomes more valuable to me than the DVR for handicapping. I can watch race replays through TwinSpires, but most track websites also have replays that are easy to access. As a diehard Arlington Park horseplayer, I love watching race replays via their website. With my notebook and pencil nearby, I can watch race replays as many times as I need, focusing on different horses and watching from different angles. Yes, the tools of the trade are much different for the horseplayer today than they were in 1986. In the forthcoming sequel to this article, I will analyze DRF past performances versus Brisnet and compare a day at the local track versus using the advance deposit wagering platform of your choice. Handicapping in 2013 is much different than in the days of the 1986 Mets and the internet is a big reason why. So stay locked in to the fastest internet available to you and think about gadgets like the iPad that make your handicapping paperless and portable.