With a house take often in excess of 20%, beating the track is a daunting task, even for a skilled race handicapper. A lot of factors can affect a given race, and the techniques used for handicapping one race on one track at one point in time may not work at all somewhere else or even at the same track at a later time. Adapting to these variables is difficult, and even if one has some success, a great deal of data must be amassed before a true trend can be established. In How to Beat the Dog Races, long time track veteran Bill McBride tries to suggest some methods by which the reader can learn to win by betting on the dog races.
McBride generally assumes that the reader has at least a passing familiarity with the dog races. The book does not start with a basic introductory chapter. Racing/Betting terms, such as “Exacta” and “Schooling Race” are defined in a fine glossary at the end of the book, but they are not always defined when they are first used in the text. Therefore, someone who is new to dog racing may want to spend some time around the track or find some way to become familiar with the terminology before starting in on this book. Or, failing that, a novice may want to read the book’s glossary thoroughly before staring in on the main text.
The author spends several chapters talking about handicapping. While I am by no means a dog racing expert, it sounds to me like his general tone is pretty good. He categorically states that there’s no single magic way to gain a betting advantage at a track, and the methods that work at one track are by no means assured of making money at another. McBride advocates doing a lot of research before placing a wager, a philosophy I wholeheartedly agree with. He explains the data that one is likely to find in a racing program, and which data have, in his experience, tended to be good indicators of race performance and which haven’t. I believe his approach to generalized handicapping is probably pretty good.
Once a race has been handicapped, the projections need to be translated into mathematics and compared to the posted race odds. The author talks about ligaz11 bets that have a positive ROI (return on investment) and suggests researching a history of races where one would have had a positive ROI using a given set of variables. The reader is then instructed to bet similar races going forward. I’m not sure that’s enough, especially since the number of races that are likely to be meaningful are probably statistically small. I also don’t think that in the long term one can get a 30% edge over the track, as several of McBride’s ROI calculations would demonstrate. This is not to say that these aren’t profitable bets, it’s just that given a small sample size, we would expect that some winning bets to appear as losers, and some situations that look extremely profitable to not turn out to be quite so good. Moreover, this method will not always spot the maximally profitable situations. Therefore, I think the book is a better handicapping guide than it is a wagering manual.
Despite my criticisms about the way the author chooses to place his bets, the methodology presented in this book would be a huge step forward for most race bettors. Further, it’s likely that many of the readers of this book would be less likely to adopt a more math intensive handicapping system, although I think that if one were to use a more elaborate model for the race conditions that the industrious student could improve their results.
In How to Beat the Dog Races, Bill McBride describes methods to win at greyhound race tracks. If the reader is a complete novice at dog racing, it may be worthwhile to use some other book as a primer, this one is aimed at intermediate or more advanced students. The author promotes deep research and hard work over “magic” systems, and while I don’t feel qualified to judge the merits of his handicapping techniques, it’s an approach I admire. For my taste, the betting systems section isn’t as mathematically rigorous as I’d prefer, but as a handicapping guide, this book seems pretty sound.