Jay Lietzau has followed racing since the Canterbury Downs days of the ’80s. He has bet on thousands of races and handicapped tens of thousands more. He has participated in Canterbury College and various Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup seminars. This year Jay began to put what he has learned in the pages of the Star Tribune Sports page, selecting contenders and winners in each race, four days a week. Being a public handicapper takes skill and poise while riding the inevitable ups and downs of a race season. Jay took a break from handicapping and race watching to answer a few questions.
Jeff Maday: You’re following in the footsteps of Steve Davidowitz, Sheila Williams, Unowsky, Steve Tall, Kevin Gorg of course did it for a couple of years and then Johnny Love. Is there any pressure? These are some pretty good handicappers especially if you start with Davidowitz who taught us how to handicap.
Jay Lietzau: His [Betting Thoroughbreds] is one of the best books in horseracing there is as far as handicapping so yeah there’s big shoes to fill. It’s been, what, 35 years? And there have only been seven or eight handicappers. It’s a tough job. It’s tough to pick winners. You’ve got to be able to explain your winners. I give people that have done it a lot of credit. It’s like the mail. It never stops. The races keep coming.
JM: It used to be that if you didn’t like what a handicapper was doing you’d have to write a letter.
JL : Right or stop them out here if you happened to see them. I actually have Davidowitz’ autograph from way back when. It’s on a future book sheet.
JM: Now with social media all one does is send out a tweet. Have you had any hecklers?
JL: I’m still kind of building my following so no. But hopefully people are passionate enough that they do start heckling. If you stir a little emotion, if they follow you and they get [upset] that means they are following you. It’ll probably take some time to get to that.
JM: What’s your approach to handicapping? What are you looking to give the people?
JL: I’ve looked at so many races and I do wish I could express this better in this forum. There are three of four races a day that fit my eye and those are the ones that I would bet. Conveying that to the people, I have a Best Bet and I have a Value Play and that’s a couple spots. There are some races where I try to say it’s a wide open affair to try to give people an idea. I start by looking at the race and the after doing this for so many years there are things that just pop out, good factors or bad factors, be it pace, or trainer change or maybe I saw something in the last race. In a race I like I can usually find the winner fairly quickly. I’m not very good at dirt route races for claimers. We run a lot of those and they take me a little longer. I’m trying to find some new angles that work for that. That’s a hard part, trying to find those winners in races that I probably would never look at otherwise.
I keep pretty detailed stats in how I do in each race and I think I had maybe one winner last year in a maiden route so I just didn’t play them and now I need to and that’s been a new experience.
If you look at my suggested pick five ticket, and I only give out three selections in each race, but if I’m going ALL [in a pick five leg] that’s obviously a race I don’t have a strong opinion in. People can figure that out. That’s what I’ve stressed in some of the seminars I’ve done with you. Find the races you like and bet more in those. You don’t have to bet every race the same amount. Find what you’re good at. Focus on those and bet more. You’re going to be better in the long run.
JM: That’s why they made beer. To fill time during the races you don’t like.
JL: Exactly and that’s why they have 45 different kinds.
JM: Are you enjoying it? Is it fun? It’s a job. I know it’s picking horses but you’ve got a deadline to hit and in the newspaper business you have to hit it.
JL: That’s another [challenge]. The two days before. I submitted Thursday’s selections [Tuesday]. If a monsoon comes through and there is a sloppy track or scratches, this and that. That’s probably the hard part because any race that goes from the turf to the dirt I would handicap differently or if there’s two speed horses in a race and one of them scratches that changes things. That’s been the hardest thing to get used to but I do really like it. I hope people start recognizing me and asking me questions as I’d love to promote the sport, Canterbury and the Star Tribune all at the same time.
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JaysPlaysStrib
Find his selections daily at Start Tribune Sports: https://www.startribune.com/canterbury-park-entries-picks-results-and-more/600058089/