Betting Strategy: Game Selection with Ryan Pipenger Part 1

After my first season as a public handicapper, I looked at my betting account and realized one thing: I need help. Choosing 349 races, I had 97 winners (28%) with a return on investment of $2.08. But I had lost 15% on my personal bets. Obviously, I need to spend more time structuring my bets. I will use this column to learn from people I respect how to better express my opinions. Kevin Kilroy is an author, handicapper and two-time NHC qualifier cashing in 2021. As a publicity specialist for Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and a freelance horse racing writer, you can find him @trustyourluck on Twitter.

Ryan Pipenger is a horse rider living in Indiana. Following him on Twitter, I quickly realized how much he monitors the beat and posts positions on the tracks he plays. It offers tracking graphs of all this data which is better than many are paying for. With a strong following, he is able to spark useful conversations about specific races, offering his analysis, but also betting strategy in general. Game selection is essential to a successful betting strategy, and Ryan walks us through that and more. follow him on Twitter @HandicapperRyan.

You tweeted”It’s crazy how when you engage as a bettor and decide to pick your spots, your return on investment seems to increase. Find your bread and butter runs and increase your bets. Eliminate betting on races with so many variables.” Tell me about the work you did to find your groceries for bread and butter.

I was in the “I can have the winners, but I need to learn how to bet” group for a while. When the whole pandemic hit and everyone was sitting at home I started going back and looking at my bets from last year and started breaking them down by distance and area in a spreadsheet. What I learned quickly was that sprints on clay are where I had the most success. It made all the sense in the world to me. These races fit my handicapping style of matching horse gaits and seeing who can run at the pace of the other. I’m a sucker for speed and with the way races are today, speed kills on dirt when sprinting.

What excites me is seeing a short-term favorite in a sprint that doesn’t match race form. The other big thing I’m looking for is if the favorite has ever faced a pace that the projected leader is capable of running in today’s race. If they can’t, I look to capitalize as much as possible. These scenarios and types of races became huge for me.

On the other hand, the first races, and especially with many first starts, are not my strength at all. I’m looking to avoid these races as much as possible, because too many weird things are happening, and no one is proven yet.

How has determining your strengths as a handicapper affected your return on investment?

Part of looking back and reviewing my past betting history was to see which bets I showed the most success with. For me, it was the winning bets and the daily doubles.

Now when I look at a map I look for dirt sprints and build tickets around them. Realizing that I can hit the winner in these dirt sprints by a good percentage made me push further after the horizontal bets. I’m a big fan of daily doubles and look for these opportunities all the time now with my bets. These daily double bets have been huge for my results.

This after the Oaklawn Park encounter was more than nice to me because they don’t have grass racing. I was playing a good amount of doubles and was able to expand to racers on the roads as I was confident to cut down the fields in sprint races.

Realizing what not only my handicap but also my betting strengths are has been huge for me. I go after races I’ve been successful with and also bet in a way that I know I can make a profit.

What do you mean by “eliminate betting on races with so many variables”?

Any unknown in a race is a variable as a handicapper that we need to make an educated guess about. With my handicap, I want to see what the horse has done in the past on this surface and at this distance. If I don’t know what to expect from this horse, I tread lightly.

The two biggest variables I struggle with are stretching sprinters and beginners. When I encounter a race with a group of beginners or riders coming out of sprints and doing two turns for the first time, I will almost immediately pass the race.

Just passing these types of races has been huge for me in terms of return on investment, as I can now focus my money on the races I have proven myself with. This game is hard enough as it is. Throwing in more strangers will eat up your bankroll like it did mine. I found it best to skip these races entirely and move on.

What is your record keeping process?

My record keeping is pretty straightforward for the most part. I divided my bankroll into my main bets of straight wins and daily doubles. For my winning bets I will plot the track, then the surface and the distance so I can see my breakdowns there. I think it’s important to be able to see which lanes you’re doing best on, because part of winning is your handicapping philosophy. If you win a good number of specific races at a track, that’s something to dig into and find out why. Is this something I can look up on another track? I try to use all of this as a learning tool to become a better player.

With daily double bet tracking, I keep them as a running tally and track which track they were made on. I know most of the time I sprawl in one of the two legs, so I’m more concerned with the plus/minus column than what types of runs it is. If I go after a deeper horizontal streak, I will remove this bet from my daily double half of the bankroll.

The psychology of a player is also huge in this sport. How to stay disciplined?

The mental side is huge! This sport humbles you very quickly. As bettors I think we’ve all gone on tilt at some point and it’s a bit of a ‘trying to get it back’. Not a good feeling.

How I fought this by not focusing on my day-to-day success, but month-to-month. When I changed my mindset to look longer term, those bad days didn’t affect me the next day because now I’m more concerned about the number at the end of the month. I’m going to show up the next day and play the right way. More often than not, things will work out when you focus on what you can control.

I like to see it as baseball. Players who hit over .300 in a season have about a month of ripping cover off the ball, and the rest of the year they’re grinding it. I see it the same way as a punter, you get hot for a few weeks and you tear your bankroll up, and the rest of the time you grind it.

I think we see all the handicappers who talk endlessly about how they placed a winning bet in one race, an exacta in another race, and then took a swing at pick 6 but only made it to five races. To me, that’s not a disciplined approach to this game. Part of keeping records of your bets is to help you stay more focused on the task at hand. When you can look back on your bets and see that you really struggled with those exotic bets or maybe pick 5 or pick 6 bets, you will realize that if you want to keep the profits you worked hard for, you won’t waste money. to a bet with which you do not succeed.

What does “finding your edge” mean to you?

For me, it’s knowing where you are at your best as a bettor. Part of tracking your game is knowing which runs and bets you’re good at that maximize your profits. I realized I was a horrible pick 4 player. I was playing them way too much, and those losing tickets were eating up the profits I was showing with my other bets. That’s when I doubled over myself. I know I show a good return on winning bets, but I almost have to eliminate my pick 4 bets. I did, and my return on investment as a whole went up.

Now that this was happening, on the side, I was playing mythical tickets for longer horizontal bets, such as pick 4 or pick 5. It was important to me because I could follow, see the structure of my tickets and where I needed to be stronger. He did a few things for me. First, I had to stick to staying narrow in the races I was aiming for. I used to play defense and add horses that would reduce potential profits just for the sake of cashing in. Second, I realized how many times I blindly stabbed those footage. Part of playing those big bets should be because you get a feel for those races, not the action.

That being said, there’s no pressure like punching the bills and seeing your money on the line. You can’t replicate that feeling. What you can practice is the strategy you will use and how you decide whether it is worth pushing your chips or not when the time comes.


That’s all the time we have at the moment but we’ll continue this interview in part 2 here on TwinSpires!

Valerie J. Wallis