Zen and the Successful Horseplayer

How to Win and Find Calmness in Horse Wagering

Zen and the Successful Horseplayer will provide the beginner, the advanced, and even the professional horse gambler with specific resources to become a winning player. This book will also demonstrate the applicability of Zen and Eastern philosophy to handicapping, betting, and winning.


  • Learn the basic handicapping skills
  • Learn to be centered in your wagering
  • Learn when you must trust your instincts
  • Learn how to break out of a losing cycle
  • Learn that losing is okay, losses can lead to winning on future days
  • Learn how Zen philosophy can make you a WINNER

amazon book review buttonAmazon Book Reviews
William L. Graul III :  5/5 Stars

November 29, 2014

I enjoyed it. Bought the hard cover, not the kindle. I found it helpful for reviewing and reassessing my handicapping.

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Clarion Review
Zen and the Successful Horseplayer: How to Win and Find Calmness in Horse Wagering
Frederic Donner
Four Stars (out of Five)
Betting on horse races is a huge industry in the United States. Frederic Donner’s Zen and the Successful Horseplayer: How to Win and Find Calmness in Horse Wagering is an entertaining introduction to this popular form of gambling. “The purpose of this book is to make anyone who reads it a more successful horseplayer,” writes Donner. He also intends to expand the reader’s knowledge of Zen philosophy.

In the first part of the book, Donner offers a detailed discussion of handicapping techniques. He begins with an introduction to the Daily Racing Form: “Any serious handicapper knows that without the use of the DRF any likely possibility of winning at the races is minimal.” He goes on to explain other factors in picking a winning horse, ranging from speed numbers to how the horse looks on the track. Some of the author’s observations are helpful and easily comprehended: “As a handicapper, I have found zero correlation between ownership of horses and success on the racetrack.” Other information, such as the discussion of Beyer Speed Figures and the pace of the race, is technical, and requires careful reading and analysis. Unfortunately, after the introductory material, Donner assumes a basic knowledge of horse racing and wagering on the part of the reader that may not be accurate.

In the second part of Zen and the Successful Horseplayer, Donner introduces the reader to basic concepts of Zen. “Zen is traditionally seen as enlightenment or awakening and, finally, as ethics and a means of conducting oneself.” In horse wagering, he explains, it is important to establish a Zen-like center of calmness, humility, and balance—qualities applicable to life in general, he notes. Additionally, the entire book is interspersed with koans, Zen parables, and stories that illustrate the author’s points. Donner’s koans include poetry and quotations from Zen masters, writers, and even comedians such as Steve Martin.

Donner makes a strong case for the connection between Zen and wagering on horses: “Zen is all about seeing what is, not what we want, or what we expect to see.” He explains that Zen stresses a broad view of the world, keeping calm and balanced, and maintaining perspective. Two valuable appendices—one on Zen and Eastern philosophies, the other on horses and horse wagering—provide essential guides for further reading. Thus, the reader expecting to improve his odds at the racetrack is invited to begin a much deeper exploration of
Zen and other philosophies.

While Donner’s writing is clear and well organized, the book’s overall presentation is uninviting. The cover art and interior illustrations are dark. Graphs and pages reproduced from the DRF are often difficult to read.

The author, a special agent with the FBI who specializes in anti-narcotic and counter-terrorism activities, has been betting on horses for more than twenty-five years. It’s a good bet that anyone who reads Zen and the Successful Horseplayer with an open mind may find their life changed by the experience.

~ John Senger

blue ink logoZen and the Successful Horseplayer: How to Win and Find Calmness in Horse Wagering

Frederic Donner
Xlibris, 216 pages, (paperback) $19.99,
(Reviewed: June 2013)

Horse racing is in deep road apples. Track attendance has dwindled, the regular players are an aging bunch and drug scandals have battered the Sport of Kings’ remaining cred. Nails in the coffin? L.A.’s Hollywood Park—where Seabiscuit, Citation and Affirmed once thrilled 25,000 shouting railbirds — will go dark this December after 75 years. Toronto’s Woodbine could follow suit.

In other words, this book has come none too soon. Written by a retired FBI agent with a happy weakness for thoroughbreds, it combines, in an unlikely but entertaining how-to approach, two of the author’s passions: betting the nags and the Way of Zen. Frederic Donner grew up going to Seattle’s Longacres Race Track (now defunct), and after a quarter-century of trying to beat the odds and achieve inner peace, he’s brought what he learned to the present volume.

Sample lessons: If you see the whites of a horse’s eyes in the paddock, don’t fire, because the horse is scared. Always consider a European grass horse on a soft U.S. turf course. Study the Daily Racing Form religiously. Be cool: don’t whine when you lose or gloat when you cash.

And this: race horses, like people, have their own Zen (awakening): that’s why some of them must take the lead, while others run late. As for bipeds with a couple hundred in their pocket, Guru Donner promises: “An enlightenment or awakening will allow us to clearly see through the needless clutter in a race and feel the winner.” Appropriate meditation technique, “centering” the self and a wise betting scheme will do the rest, he seeks to show us, “whether it is the upcoming trifecta or nirvana.”

Most of Donner’s handicapping advice, dispensed in serviceable, gray, textbook prose, is a rehash of old pace, class and trip theories, albeit still useful. Some references are out of date: he writes in the present tense about Bay Meadows Race Track (closed), race riders Pat Day, Eddie Delahoussaye and Jerry Bailey (all retired) and trainer Bobby Frankel (dead). But much of what he says is timeless (he distrusts jockeys; track bias is crucial), and the mystical buoyancy of his Zen-centric views makes this a welcome
addition to any contemplative horseplayer’s bookshelf.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

zen and the successful horseplayer - book cover