On Track with Johnny D: It’s All New

Nothing like a new beginning. A fresh start. Clean slate. That’s what landed on our doorsteps less than two weeks ago. The gift of the New Year. Hope. Opportunity. The future. An empty canvas beckoning a masterpiece. A blank Word doc anticipating the Great American Novel. A zero win/loss Xpressbet balance.

‘Now’ represents a golden opportunity for us to make plans. Set goals. Establish resolutions. Perhaps you’ve already done so. Yours truly hasn’t. Why? I don’t know, but when I consider what I’d like from the future I don’t see a very specific picture. Perhaps, that’s because mostly more of the same will do just fine.

Personally, 2016 had its share of ups and downs, but nothing disastrous. Some health issues, but they were minor and not worth anyone’s concern but mine. Work went well. After all, I’m still getting paid to contribute to the sport/gambling game I love. Immediate family’s fine, although extended relations could use some potent prayers. My wife’s the greatest, although, as she often reminds when a photo finish goes the wrong way, “When you met me you used up your good luck.”

So, what could I possibly desire in 2017?

In 2016, I proudly maintained a resolution I had set last January. The goal was to take my handicapping process completely digital. (I may have broken other 2016 resolutions but I conveniently can’t remember any of them.)

As an old school Daily Racing Form devotee, who, for nearly 40 years, had eagerly scribbled on newspaper pages and then on printouts of online past performances, going totally digital was a gigantic leap. Thoro-Graph sheets, an indispensible handicapping tool, also were migrated to the digital world.

Despite saving time, ink and paper, the transition wasn’t smooth. I struggled with electronic past performance notations and the logistics of switching back and forth between the Form and Thoro-Graph on my iPad proved clunky. Many times I thought about giving up and returning to a paper and pen existence, but I soldiered on.

To make matters worse, about halfway through the year, I realized I wasn’t cashing nearly enough big tickets. That’s OK, I told myself, one massive score can turn things around in a flash. Still, 2016 was trending as my most unsuccessful wagering season ever. Was my switch from print to digital responsible for the collapse? Or, was it just coincidence?

When the Kentucky Derby superfecta, a wager a friend and I anticipate each season, delivered the top four public choices in exact order, I realized I was in for a long year. Traditionally, I embrace Derby chaos, so a chalky superfecta is my Waterloo. My fortunes rebounded in the Belmont Stakes, and I made my biggest score of the year when Creator got home by a nose to win, triggering juicy exotic payoffs.

Unfortunately, that was too little, too early. I didn’t make another big score the rest of the season. I often came frustratingly ‘close,’ but I was betting the races and not engaging in horseshoes or hand grenades. ‘Close’ didn’t count for much.

As I think about it now, perhaps, what also contributed to the worst wagering season of my career was that the majority of my wagers were of the ‘high risk, high reward’ variety. Pick 5s, pick 4s and carryover pick 6s dominated my play in 2016. Those are low percentage gambles that can quickly deplete an operating bankroll. Plus, the accompanying psychological strain of losing a string of wagers cannot be minimized. The old adage ‘Scared money never wins’ is true. And prospects for ‘terrified’ dough are even worse.

However, despite my personal wagering evolution and financial shortfall, Thoroughbred racing was solid in 2016, culminating with the most entertaining Breeders’ Cup ever. In person at Hollywood Park for the first ‘Cup in ’84, I’ve attended many since and enjoyed the most recent more than any other.

The entire 2016 racing season was engaging. There were enough outstanding performances and story lines to keep any horseplayer—even a losing one–coming back for more. On the equine front, special thanks for a tremendous season go to California Chrome and Arrogate, Beholder and Songbird, particularly for their Breeders’ Cup clashes. Frosted for his Met Mile explosion; Exaggerator, for his mud-loving romps; Nyquist for his Derby win; Gun Runner for his determination; Creator for that Belmont score; A.P. Indian, Drefong and Lord Nelson for sprinting excellence; Flintshire for North American turf dominance; Highland Reel and Found for unflinching international competition; Lady Eli for providing the mother of all comebacks; and Miss Temple City and Tepin for their talent and indomitable hearts.

So, come on 2017. I embrace the fresh start armed with a purely digital approach. You’re going to have to really show us something on the racetrack to outperform last season. Oh, and by the way, while you’re at it, feel free to permit yours truly to cash a few big tickets. I’d hate to think the United States Treasury Department changed Withholding on Payments of Certain Gambling Winnings regulations for nothing.

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: It’s All New

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