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The Punting Confessional
No Racing, April 1st through 3rd
There was some downtime early this week with no flat racing in Ireland so I used it to set about planning my betting for upcoming flat season; ideally this should have been completed before the first day of the turf season but I had been drawn by the action of Cheltenham and had spent much of my time in early March preparing for the Festival and either way it would be a while before the turf really got up-and-running.
I don’t particularly like this sort of strategic planning which probably makes me like most other punters; I would much prefer to be cracking through races and betting away. It is however a necessary, if boring, part of improving your game and requires not a little soul searching and research but hopefully it will pay off by season’s end. In terms of planning ahead I looked at four important areas of my punting – profit targets, staking, routine and getting on – though I’m sure there are other angles that could be explored.
I began by deciding what sort of profits I wished to achieve over the coming months and to do this I looked at my figures for the past 6 years. Rather than simply pull a figure out of thin air – there is no point in taking a ‘this time next year Rodney, we’ll be millionaires’ approach – I took an average of my profits over the past four years as a guide and decided I wanted to achieve that figure plus 20%.
There were a couple of reasons for this; firstly, I think I’m a better punter now than over those years as I have changed my methods slightly and secondly, during one of those years I was working on a book about the Galway Races that took up a lot of time and meant that my punting suffered. External factors like this can of course affect your betting but it is important not to use them as excuses; in this case however I feel justified in putting some of the blame on another project.
Staking is always an interesting issue and broadly speaking I work off a points-based system that runs from one to six; this means that on horses or races I have a strong view on I will play six times heavier than on one where my opinion is weakest. At any stage, I am unlikely to work on a bank of less than 200 points so my staking is always small relative to my overall bank; I tend to play a lot of races and am more about turnover than selectivity while I also tend to oppose the front end of the market so this gives me the security I feel I need to work best.
I never go all in on a race in terms of my overall betting bank, it’s just not my style and I’m all for punters finding their own individual approach. This method has been a constant for me in recent years but this season I plan to make a change by increasing the size of the point staked by 20%; I have punted to that sort of stake in the past back in 2008 but that was when I was only really playing at weekends whereas now I am punting most days during the flat season. I have a slight concern, as should every punter, about raising the stakes as it can put you out of your comfort zone but I have been there before and I feel it is necessary if I want to achieve my profit targets.
Nor do I want to up the stakes immediately as I often find this period of the season a hard one to make money on; I will probably wait until the beginning of May by which time the form will have settled down.
Broadly speaking, I have good routine going for studying racing that includes two main areas: video reviews of past meetings and form analysis of a specific meeting the day before. I had a tendency last year to let the reviews build up on me and do four or five in a single day but I felt that this was too draining; it takes about ninety minutes to review a meeting and I invariably write about a thousand words on each and it requires quality of attention.
This season I want to do them within 3 days of the meeting itself; I have always been better at working gradually through things rather than cramming at the last minute (again, finding your own punting style is vital here) and I feel that things about that meeting such as the likely pace of each race will be fresh in your mind at this point rather than trying to recall these things two weeks after the event.
Another point I want to include in my betting routine this year is a regular look at the Turf Club excuses (published weekly on their website) and rating updates (on the HRI website, posted on Monday) as they can be an important tool; too often in the past I have taken a piecemeal approach to these areas and need to be more systematic. Given that I tend to do my writing for this site and Betfair on Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesday seems the best day for this.
For any remotely winning punter, getting on is the most frustrating aspect of the modern game; we have more information than we have ever had before (this is not to say we wouldn’t like even more!) but we also have more hassle in getting our bets on. I don’t want to turn this into an anti-bookmaker rant – we all know that they don’t really want to support the opinions of their odds compilers and much less so to anyone who has any clue – as we simply are where we are with this and have to find ways around it.
During the past years, I have played a lot at early prices and used all sorts of chicanery to get on but there is a point where it begins to wear on you and the legwork and otherwise becomes more than a minor irritation. So over this winter, I put some time (ok, a lot of time) into comparing the early prices I took last year with Betfair Starting Price (BSP) and I was surprised to see that the difference between the two, despite all the hassle of getting at early price, was minimal.
I would classify myself as fairly good at reading a market yet much of my trouble was for nought and it is worth remembering that BSP is only one reflection of the market and there can be a lot of fluctuation in these prices in the minutes before the off so in most cases one will be able to get the money one wants on at the right prices. So this season, I intend, where possible, to push my business towards the exchanges to negate much of the hassle of getting on.
This brings up two further issues that I need to be aware of. Firstly, patience will be vital as the real money on Irish racing only comes into the exchange markets in the 15 minutes before the off and it is very hard to watch the price of a horse you fancy collapse in the early markets as you wait for the exchanges; there will however be times when your selection drifts. Secondly, there is the risk of becoming a slave to the machine as it becomes harder to maintain discipline and a slot machine mentality could possibly kick in.
In this regard, it is important to stick to your broad staking plan for the day while still allowing room for flexibility, a pair of issues I hope to return to in the future.