Horse Racing; Thoroughbred; Tip sheet; Race Track; Sports; Jockey; Analysis; gambling; Betting; Bet site; wager; tote board; racing; horse racing; ponies; pick 6; exacta; supefecta; Del Mar; Canterbury Park; Churchill Downs; Saratoga
Q: How (and when) did you get involved with horse racing?
A: The first time I stepped foot on a track was May 11, 1986. I remember it well because it was the day after prom and the girls in our group had to take the guys somewhere and they decided on Canterbury Downs.  

Q: What kept you interested after that first visit?
A: It just so happened that my girlfriend's grandfather was involved in the game and he had given her dad some books to read. At the time, Canterbury Downs was just a year old and horse racing was new to Minnesota. He loaned me two books, Beyer on Speed and Davidowitz's Betting on Thoroughbreds. 

I went to Shinders (a local bookstore) a couple of days after that first time at the track, and bought a "how to read the racing form" manual and a racing form for the following day. I followed the instructions on reading the form and handicapped the race for the next day. I had to wait until the following day to read the results in the newspaper. I had picked the winner, Pinon Fluke at 9-2. I was hooked.

My dad and I would attend the races together at least a few times per week from 1987 through 1992 (when the track actually shut down).  That is when I really learned the game. 

Q: Did you have any big wins early on?
A: Not really. We had some moments but never got that huge score. We were 5 for 6 on a pick 6 ticket with a 300,000 pool. The race we lost was by a head with a 25-1 longshot (Bold Canadian). 4-5 favorite John Bullit beat him. Most likely would've been the entire pool.

Q: What got you into public handicapping?
A: Back in those early days, I became quite proficient at handicapping and would often lead the handicapping for the pick 6 syndicates my dad was a part of.  I enjoyed digging for unique information and sharing it with people and that stayed with me over the years.

Q: What kind of handicapper are you (speed, class, etc.)?
A: I've actually tested many strategies. I used to create my own Beyer Speed Figures the first few years.  My style now is more art than science. I realize there are many handicappers like to boil it down to a number. I actually try to find the most predominant handicapping angle for a given race and hone in on that. For example, with two-year old maidens, trainer acumen, breeding and workouts are the best road to travel.  In distance grass races, it might be trip handicapping.  A mid-level claiming race might be best served to find the strongest races those in the field came out of (key races).  
Q: How are you different from other public handicappers?
A: I consider myself very different. I rank my objectives in this order when handicapping a card:
1. Identify difficult to find handicapping info
2. Find the live prices in a given race 
3. Pick the winner on top
4. Never be predictable

There are two main types of handicappers. Those that lean heavily to low priced runners and those who shoot for the moon in every race. Neither is reliable. I consider every horse and attempt to find value in the race. However, I am not afraid to land on the favorite if I can't create a strong enough case for a price.  

Q: If you're good, why give your opinions to others?
A: Some people might like to paint as a hobby, I like to create analysis sheets. I am attracted to the data analytics. In addition, my betting isn't great, which is why I don't consult a lot on the wagering side. It's not uncommon for others to profit from my opinions and I don't.  In addition, the writing of my thoughts crystallizes my handicapping and makes me sharper.  But overall I just enjoy the handicapping process and like sharing it with others that may not have the desire to do the digging.

Q: Do you handicap for newbies or season players?
A: A definite lean towards season players but I create the sheet in a way that anyone can augment their own process.  I feel most satisfied when I can identify hidden angles to augment sophisticated players. It's not that I don't value newer players, I just tailor my style towards those that are hardcore players.

Q: What recommendation for someone trying to improve?
A: Read and listen!  There are tons of great books and now with social media all kinds of podcasts and other information out there. There are some excellent players willing to share their thoughts and ideas. Listen to what makes them good and try it out for yourself. Not every strategy works for every person. Be willing to try things and toss them aside if they don't work. I also am a big believer in writing down your thoughts (not surprisingly) because that kind of rote exercise will illuminate what works for you and what doesn't. 

Q: Are you involved with other sports beyond horse racing?
A: Yes, somewhat. I created a major league baseball data sheet on starting pitchers. It basically combines a bunch of advanced metrics, weighting them differently, along with other components like air density, wind, umpire tendencies and ballpark configuration.  The goal is to determine how each starting pitcher is likely to perform.  It's been successful but very time consuming to create. Thus I can be only intermittently involved in that. 

Q: What's with the name "Track Phantom"?
A: It is a combination of a few things. I wanted some anonymity to maintain separation from my "day" job and my "hobby". I was influenced a bit by Dark Star, the late Minnesota personality who was the host on the Canterbury Report in the 1980's, among many other things. The phantom part of the name was intentional. Living in Austin Texas meant I wouldn't meet many of the players who would use my information. To them, I was relatively unknown. The track portion was somewhat obvious.  

Dave Valento
Born: 7/10/68
From: Maplewood, MN
Lives in:  Austin, TX
Relationship: Married
Occupation: Director of Operations, NCR
Started with horse racing: 1986
Started public handicapping:  2003
Started Track Phantom: 2012
Favorite tracks: Del Mar, Oaklawn, Canterbury
Favorite horse: Easy Goer
Favorite race: 1988 Chaucer Cup (below)
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