While Ted Kleine's article on horse-track betting ("One-Track Minds," June 13) provides some interesting insights into the world of a professional handicapper, it also perpetuates a common fallacy: to be a successful handicapper, one simply must have the diligence and talent to pick winners. Unfortunately, the ability to pick winning horses more often than other bettors is only a necessary requirement to be a winning horseplayer. It is not sufficient.
To make a living at the track not only must one be able to pick winning horses more often but also one must receive sufficient odds to make placing a bet on that horse to win profitable. As Kleine points out, even "the best pros pick a winner only about a third of the time." Hence, to break even before the track take, even the best handicapper must receive odds of 2-1 (accounting for the track take requires the player to receive better than 5-2 odds to break even). No matter how lively a horse looks prepost or how well it runs on certain tracks and conditions, placing bets with unfavorable odds is tantamount to burning the cash in your wallet.
Of course, even this picture drastically oversimplifies matters. A professional horseplayer must have an adequate bankroll to withstand the inevitable cold streaks and know how to alter her bet size to maximize profits. The point, however, is that the ability to pick winning horses more often than other bettors by itself will not make you money at the track. That does not mean that horse-track betting is inherently a losing proposition; it simply is even more difficult than Kleine's piece makes it out to be. Whether the sacrifices such a life entails are worth it, though, is another question entirely.