Of course, few players wind up with an ROI of
even 0.95 when they bet as many races as Haley does. As he says,
"If I've got an Roi of 0.95 vs. a track take of
20%, there's got to be somebody betting just as much as I am who's getting
back only 0.65."
Having played full-time for much of his adult life, with and without
rebates, the 36-year
Haley laughs at those who claim you can make huge ROls j ust by being
a little bit more clever. "If a guy could really make 20 or 30 cents on
every dollar he bet, he could rule the world," Haley says.
OK, so how does
he do it? Nothing very tricky. No inside information. No workout reports. No
watching video replays. No computer printouts.
Just Haley, a Daily Racing Form, the four televisions provided by the
hotel-casino where he lives, an Internet toteboard on his laptop computer, and a cell phone to call in his
bets. Also an assistant who
compiles some of the figures that Haley uses to calculate biases.
is single, no big surprise since gambling takes up virtually his entire
time. He says that
he takes a rare day off to play golf, he gets bored and can't wait to return to
the daily racing action.
the year he concentrates on one track
Churchill Downs), and the other half he plays two
tracks. Occasionally on a big carryover day elsewhere he'll dabble in
a pick 6. Usually, though, he avoids
New York and California and sticks with the tracks in the middle of the
country, along with Gulfstream. Although when he plays tracks like
Hoosier Park, he has to tone down his bets to maybe $2,000 a race.
Haley began betting as a teenager, and had some success. He needed a steady
income, though, so he became an exercise rider. After a couple of years of
this, he decided to try to become a full-time gambler.
He failed. "I was always doing a little
better than most people," he says, "but maybe there was too much
pressure when I tried playing full-time. I'd win, blow it back, win, blow it
back again. Maybe I just wasn't good enough. The fluctuations were killing
me, so I decided to go back to exercising horses."
He sat astride thoroughbreds until 1996, when he
decided to give professional gambling another go. This time, everything
clicked. He began to win immediately, and never stopped. Some people think
that his being an insider helped his gambling, but he says, "What I
learned was that people on the inside didn't know very much about
handicapping. Their horses were like their babies - they always loved them,
and couldn't be objective about them." He says he rarely uses his
backstretch knowledge in his handicapping, except when checking out the body
language of some 2-year-old or first time starter in the few seconds the
horse is shown on one of his monitors.
When rebates became available in Nevada, Haley moved there. Eventually,
Nevada outlawed them, but by this time he had made connections with several
rebate shops. His handle kept getting bigger, his success bigger still.
Just like the fabled computer groups that move millions of dollars through
the windows annually, Haley believes that the key to his success is being
able to bet a lot of combinations in a single race.
"The biggest hits I've ever had
have come in races where I didn't like the even-money favorite and I could
structure a bet against him," he says. "When you've got the type
of favorite who returns only 60 or 70 cents on the dollar, it's a tremendous
edge to leave him out because he's got a huge percentage of the exotic
When Haley finds such an animal, it's bombs away, with exactas and trifectas
his choice of weapon. He also isn't afraid to box three or four horses
in an exacta. "Let's say you've got a 12-horse fields and four of them
are simply too fast for the rest of them," he says. "I don't mind
using all four, sometimes betting more on some combinations and less on
others. I don't feel I have to simply pick one horse and hope I'm
Haley is always looking for profitable opportunities, and he made the most
of one incredible one in 2001. In a promotion, Hawthorne decided to offer a
daily $100,000 guaranteed Pick 6 pool, even though it handled less than half
of that. And the bet would be available in $1 denominations, which made it
twice as easy to hit. Additionally, Hawthorne took no special effort to
ensure that the pick 6 was filled with evenly matched full fields.
promotion lasted only nine days before the track's continuing losses forced
its cancellation. And those continuing losses could be traced to a single
bettor‑Tim Haley. Some days more than one-third of the pool was his.
Three times there was a single winner of the guarantee, which the track was
forced to subsidize because the pools never came close to matching the
guaranteeand all three times it was Haley. He showed me the W-2Gs:
* $76,905 won on May 5
* $76,924 won on May I I
* $83,884 won on May 13 There was another $25,612 he earned on May 4 as
Strangely enough, he says he's been a net loser on the Pick 6 the past
couple of years, though he doesn't play it often enough to make much of a
difference in his bottom line (though he did put in an unsuccessful $20,000
ticket when Churchill's carryover exceeded $300,000 one day in June).
charts are published each day, Haley's assistant compiles certain figures so
that Haley can quickly deduce if there was any inside‑outside or pace
biases. He looks at where certain posts finished, and compares those results
with the odds of t h o s e horses. If a preponderance of inside horses
outran their odds while the majority of outside horses ran worse than their
odds, Haley considers it a bias possibility.
"It's not an exact science, but if you've got certain trends happening
three or four days in a row, you've got something," he says. "I'd
like to know that there's
a good rail rather than to know
He then looks for horses who've been either helped or hindered by the
biases. Haley checks the figures for pproximately eight tracks and keeps
them in a neat notebook. So he can easily see if shippers had
advantage or disadvantage in their last race, and he can reasonably handicap
a carryover card at a distant track if necessary.
When he's handicapping two tracks, Haley spends about ninety minutes the
night before the races on one, and handicaps as he goes on the other, using
the 15 minutes between the finish of a race at one track and the start of
the next one at the other to do his work.
His work is probably less complex than what many less successful
handicappers do. Except for trainer switches, he rarely looks much at
supposed trainers specialties. He doesn't care about horses-for-courses. He
maintains no horses-to-watch list.
He has no interest in velocity numbers, horse win percentages, trouble
notes, jockey tendencies, workout reports, pedigree ratings,
or much of what passes for modern-day handicapping.
"Mostly I'm about pace and bias, and knowing the horses," he says.
"I watch the races live, and the replay right after the race.
I've studied the Form, So I feel I know these horses. But I don't want to do
a million things.
Some guys have so much information they don't know what to look at. I want
to do a few things, but do them at a high level."
The first thing he does when he gets the Form is to look at the probable
pace of the race. "I try to figure if it's going to be fast or slow,
and who's going to be where," he says. "I first figure out if the
pace is likely to benefit a front-runner or a closer. I like races where
there's either a whole lot of speed, or where there's no speed. Then after
I've done that, I try to analyze which horses are the best ones. I'm simply
trying to fit the pieces together."
He looks at the Beyer figures, but with a practiced skeptic's eye. "If
I think a number is too high for a horse, for instance, I'll look up the race and see what the
other in-the-money horses usually run," he says. "If a horse is
shipping from Delta Downs to Fair Grounds and shows
with a 60, for example, I'll go
to that race. If the horses he barely beat usually run 42's, I pretty much
discount that number. I try to get a sense of what a horse can typically do,
not just look at some high figure he ran last race when he got a w a y with
a slow pace.
I study the running lines and assume most horses will do what they usually
the pace hurt him or help him last time [Haley uses what he calls an average
pace figure for each distance at each track to determine this? What about
biases? My main ability is figuring out how good each horse is."
Haley says it's easy to be swayed by things
we see. Take, for instance,
the horse that breaks slow
"Right at the start, all the horses are close together
so a slow
start might cost the horse only a length," he says. "At the end of the
race, you've got horses strung out all
across the track, so that one length may
not mean very much. And sometimes the horse races better because he's
slow so the jockey relaxes the horse and maybe he avoids a speed duel.
"I don't care that much about ground loss, either," Haley says.
"I'll notice if a horse had a bad trip, but just because a horse was
wide at some part of the race doesn't mean he would have done any better if
ground. Remember that I'm not computing exact numbers, just getting a
general sense about a horse's ability. I'm more interested not in the
obvious trouble, but in situations like when a horse does better when he's
rated and the jockey decides to send him; the horse doesn't
his best race and the running line looks bad, but to me the race is a
throwout because the horse was uncomfortable, and uncomfortable
don't run their best.
"Some players are statistics junkies, but I think they get way too
involved with their numbers," he says. "Let's say a trainer wins
going sprint-to-route one time in eight, for instance. If he's got 16 races,
he probably won't win exactly two. He
might win zero, or he might win four. Neither result means much to me.
player who writes down the characteristics of every winner a certain trainer
sends out. Let's say you've got a split maiden field and the top four
finishers in one race run much better than the winner in the other. Why
should anybody ignore the trainers of the horses who ran faster in favor of
the trainer whose horse won because, luckily, he faced a softer field?"
isn't finished with what he believes are the misconceptions of many players.
"Why do people assume a horse loves a certain track just because he won
there, or hates it because he lost there?" he asks. "Maybe
he won at Keeneland last year because he was feeling good at that time, and
his form wasn't as good at Churchill because he was facing better horses and
had just been sick? If a horse is 1-for-5 at a track, how can you tell if
that means anything? Who did he beat? Does he consistently run better
numbers at one track than another,
What about win percentages? Are some horses simply hangers, like the maiden
with four seconds and six thirds? "Usually, speed types have a lot of
wins and not so many seconds and thirds, while closers are more likely to
get there too late and have to settle for a piece," he says. "So
when you find a maiden with a lot of seconds and thirds, just look at his
running style. That explains things a lot more than any supposed 'hang' the
horse might have." In fact, when Haley keys one horse in a race which
he says he does maybe 30 to 40 percent of the time - he'll generally key a
speed horse only for first and second, while he'll often key a closer only
for second and third (or, in a superfecta, for fourth).
"You can't got locked into one way of doing anything," he says.
"I'm always looking for horses who I think have a better percentage
chance of doing something than their odds would indicate. When I find them,
I try to structure a creative bet to take advantage of this.
"I'm not necessarily looking for the winner, which is what most people
do,"he continues. "I'm just trying to get a feel for the race, but
I don't know exactly what I'm going to do until the last minute because
everything depends on the odds."
Haley rarely talks with other horseplayers, and prefers it that way. He says
he has his own opinion, so why should he worry about anyone else's? Besides,
it's much easier to concentrate when you're alone in a room with no
distractions. No one to follow you to the window, or ask who do you like, or
maybe try to borrow some money.
he's lived there for months, Haley's hotel room
resembles the bachelor pad of a horseplayer who's on a two-week
gambling bender. Clothes are piled in a closet, a suitcase
laying disinterestedly on the floor. Everywhere are strewn Racing Forms,
Simulcast Weeklies, and Haley's own stat sheets. The television monitors
constantly show horse races, and the room's one computer is glued to the
Internet toteboard. Concept unlikely to be discussed in such a room -
anything not involving racing.
OK, it's a bit
of a one-dimensional life, but so what? Haley is content. He still enjoys
his work. And he's very, very good at it. He says, "I'm basically
a little bit better than most people at figuring how things are going to
happen," he says. "I just get a better read on the races. Some
people j ust aren't looking at the right things."
he does get a
wild with his wagers, sometimes betting a few thousand dollars too many at
some of the medium sized tracks he plays. "I bet too many races, and
too many combinations," he says. "If rebates went away, I'd have
to tighten up my game." He says he was a tad more careful when he was
playing for the rent money. Now, if he blows $200,000 or so on a bad run
(which he has done), he can shrug it off.
Asked his advice for those who'd like to do what he does, Haley says this:
"I think to make it doing this, you have to be a gambler in the first
place. A lot of these guys who play tournaments, or play in the racebook,
are very studious - but they're not really gamblers. Unless you have
the nerve to bet real money, and a lot of it, it's just like you're studying
golf from behind a rope, which is a lot different from trying to sink a putt
Being a good handicapper is not the same as being a successful player.
"What can the typical player do to improve his play?" he asks.
"Study and try to pick up things, and don't listen to
anybody." Haley never made much money as a salaried
employee, and his family doesn't own any oil wells.
All the cash
he's accumulated - and it's considerable - has come from having just a bit
better opinion than most people about how to win at the races.
with permission - from Meadow's Racing Monthly, website is trpublishing.com.