I decided to list of few of my handicapping principles. This is not an inclusive list, but it definitely includes some of the more important ideas that influence my own handicapping. If this is too basic or comes off as preaching to the choir, please let me know.
1. Trust your own opinion!
This seems like common sense, but in my 30+ years of handicapping, I have found it to be a most uncommon virtue. This is especially difficult for handicappers that are new to the game because of all the (experts?) with their air of certainty telling you how positive they are about their selections. In most cases, these experts are no more likely to pick the winner than anyone else.
2. Do not let the odds change your opinion!
This one is tricky because the odds will often affect how you bet the race, but they should never affect your opinion in the race. You may be unwilling to bet a lot because the odds on your choice are too low to compensate for the risk; this is fine. You may spread to more combinations in a race because the odds are very high; this is fine. But you should never change your mind on a well handicapped choice because the odds are too high. High odds are what good handicappers live for. Horses cannot read the tote. Never let high odds chase you off a horse that you like.
3. Cover the catastrophic result!
Before every race ask yourself, "What is the one result that will drive me absolutely insane if it occurs?". Everyone in the game has had the experience of looking at their tickets after a race and saying, I can't believe I don't have this!". I'll give an example. In the Belmont, I keyed Hofburg in all my wagers. If he ran 1st or 2nd, I would have been a very happy camper. With 10 minutes to go, I asked myself the question above. My answer. What if Justify wins and Hofburg runs 3rd?!! I bet a trifecta with Justify 1st, all the dosage horses 2nd, and Hofburg 3rd. The resulting trifecta was so generous it got me back everything I had bet on Hofburg plus a little more. Avoiding the catastrophic result is very important for your peace of mind. Missing something you should have had can throw you into a downward spiral for weeks. Don't let it happen.
4. Visualize the race before the race!
This is much more than simply identifying the main speed. Identifying the speed is certainly important, but it is only the start. How many speeds are there? How exactly will they sit? Where will all the other horses be? What are the likely fractions? Is there a dominant speed? Will your selection be helped or hurt by the most likely scenario? There are many tools out there that can assist the beginner, but you should get to the point where you don't need them. Trusting yourself is always best.
5. Master the fundamentals!
This is more than being able to read a past performance chart although that is certainly a good place to start. Learn everything you can about body language, breeding, the condition book, biases, trainers, jockeys, and trips. Once you've learned it, stay current. The game is always changing. The biggest advantage in handicapping is knowing something that no one else knows. I don't mean tips or inside information. I mean hard data that you uncover because no one else will make the effort. That is a true advantage.
6. No excuses!
Take your defeats on the chin, shake them off, and move on. After a race don't dwell in woulda, coulda, shoulda nonsense. Tough beats are part of the game. Horses that run up the track are part of the game. Being on the wrong side of a photo is part of the game. As best you can, try to learn from your defeats. You should always do a post mortem on the race. If you missed something, try to incorporate it into your methodology going forward.
7. Try to Beat Odds on Favorites!
Because these favorites are overwhelmingly bet across all pools, the opportunity for large payoffs on minimum investments is too good to pass up. Yes, you will take it on the chin in many of these races, but when the odds on favorite runs out and you are on the most likely upsetters, it will more than make up for it. Everyday, at every track, cheap claimers are sent off at odds that should be reserved for only the most unbeatable champions. Look at these situations as the opportunities that they are.