“Any fool can pick 30% winners”

It CAN Be Done!

It CAN Be Done!

I've been reading a book by a young Irish fellow called Kevin Blake. It's about betting on horses, and specifically it's about how he made over £40,000 from betting on horses this year on Irish flat racing.

The keys, you may not be surprised to learn, were discipline, selectivity, discipline, form study, discipline, specialization, and discipline.

The book, "It Can Be Done", is a good read and it's full of strong insights.

But it might be a bit lacking in fun.

Most pro backers are serious types who spend much of their time studying the form book and video replays to eke out their profit. In fairness to Kevin, he doesn't fit that archetype too snugly.

If that sounds a bit dull, then I have some good news. The book was a catalyst for me taking an early look at my own betting profit and loss for the year (I normally do this at calendar year end), and the results were as pleasant as I expected.

In a nutshell, I'm showing a profit of £6,186 from my betting so far this year on a turnover of almost exactly £20,000. I want you to note two things:

1. I love a bet, and I have lots of action bets, and I have fun with my betting.

2. I do not bet massive amounts, in terms of stake size.

I want to remind readers of my unshakeable contention that betting for fun and profit is possible, and that these two are not mutually exclusive. And I'll share some of the keys to my philosophy, such as it, in this post.

Key Principle #1: Have fun!

Firstly, I do not set profit targets. My target is to have fun. I set enjoyment targets. That doesn't mean I don't want to win. Of course I do. But if winning is at the cost of entertainment, then I might as well get a job. (You know, a proper job, not goofing about on the internet scribbling a few paragraphs about whatever tickles my fancy).

No, it starts with fun. I'll bet almost every day. Some days, especially on Mondays when the racing is generally desperate, I might have one little bet in the afternoon, or do a placepot for a bit of interest while I'm doing whatever else I'm doing.

On Saturdays, I generally don't bet much because racing outside of the festival meetings is never more competitive than it is on a Saturday.

But on Sunday, and from Tuesday to Friday, I take a keener interest in what's happening.

Key Principle #2: Get V-A-L-U-E

If you still don't 'get' this, you're completely and utterly doomed. Betting 3/1 when you could have bet 4/1 is just plain unfettered idiocy. And, forgive me, if you're still doing this, you're either very rich and are keen to become less rich; or you're a plain unfettered idiot.

Look. You cannot can't CANNOT win if you habitually take under the odds about your fancies, no matter how smart you are. (And, in case you didn't get my, ahem, inference in the above, you're not very smart if you habitually take under the odds about your fancies).

geegeez trumpets the best bookmaker offers because the very best chance you have of winning is to avail of any concession you're still qualified so to do.

Let me put it another way, and this is becoming something of a catchphrase for me. Any fool can bet 30% winners.

Just grab a betting slip, or pull up a bookmaker site, and etch onto it/tick the box which says 'Fav'. Simple. Dull. Uninspired. And a little bit sad.

It will also ultimately cause a financial death by a thousand cuts. Slow. Painful. Inexorable.

Now don't get me wrong. There are plenty of occasions when a market leader can be a value bet. But simply backing the 'fav' is a mug's game. It's the ultimate mug's game. And if you do it, you're a mug. Get over it, and try something different. You might surprise yourself.

So what is value? Well, you've heard the coin toss example probably a million times. The problem is not 'what is value?', but rather 'how do I identify value?'

And here's a thing: that's an open book of a question. There is no right answer.

Many people say to quantify value, you must create your own 'tissue', or forecast betting odds. That's all well and good, but on what do you base those odds?

I've done it a few times, and it's an interesting exercise for sure. Comparing your tissue with the actual starting prices will tell you what sort of a handle you have on the market.

But generally, I determine value by feel. If that sounds cheap - perhaps even a cop out - then so be it. The fact is, I don't have all the time in the world to review the racing. I run a business akin to a (very) small iceberg, the main visible element of which is this site.

It takes a lot of maintaining. There are a lot of people involved. I have a young son and a lovely partner with whom I want to spend time. And I like beer. Not as much as I used to, but I still like it.

Time is limited for me, as it is for most other people. But that doesn't mean we can't bet profitably, and enjoy the process as well. Value is key.

Here's a shortcut to finding value

By far the biggest blind spot in the early markets is a recency bias. Specifically, a bad run last time out can double a horse's odds. Take Bobs Worth as an example. He was 5/2 for the Gold Cup before disappointing in the Betfair Chase last weekend. He's now 5/1. Has his chance halved as a result of that seasonal setback? Well, time will tell of course, but to my eye he has so many more positive runs to that one negative effort.

And, here's where the concession thing comes in, if he runs poorly again he might not even go for the Gold Cup. So, backing him at top price with a bookmaker offering non-runner free bet, feels like a smart thing to do. My entire Cheltenham ante-post portfolio so far - which is only about six or seven bets - has been struck with BetVictor, with no bet bigger than the £50 limit on that free bet concession.

Why would I bet anywhere else if they're matching the top price? To do so shows at best a lack of value acumen, and at worst, plain unfettered idiocy. 😉

The point: look beyond a bad run, especially if there's a probable reason for the bad run. Ground, trip, fitness, pace setup, missing the break, whatever. If a horse failed to get his normal luck in running - or ideal race conditions - last time, there's a good chance the market has under-estimated that horse's chance today, assuming race conditions are more in its favour this time.

[Post script: Bobs Worth didn't win the Gold Cup, but he was sent off the 6/4 favourite. 5/1? About a 6/4 shot? Any and every day, please.]

Here's another shortcut to finding value

Check the bookmaker concessions. Check the best odds available. And be sure to bet at the best odds available, and the best concessions. For as long as you can before they close you down.

I've got a good few winning accounts, and a few losing accounts. For whatever reason, I've only got one restricted account. [Update: I've got several more restricted accounts now]

If you don't currently have an account with the firm offering the best price, open an account with them. Here are three reasons why:

1. You'll get the best odds on your fancy today

2. They'll almost certainly give you some free bet bait to sign up (always great when you were going to sign up anyway)

Your first 30 days for just £1

3. Next time they're top price, you won't have to faff about.

And here's a third shortcut to finding value (lesser known)

Look out for tote rollovers. In Britain, these tend to be the exclusive preserve of the relatively high ticket bets, the totejackpot and the Scoop6. But in Ireland, there are frequent rollovers for their jackpot (which consists of just four legs), Pick 6 (which often features a couple of 'gimme' races), and trifecta, which is always on race six, even when that's a seven horse National Hunt Flat race!

There was nothing especially clever in the below winning bets, except that I was smart enough to know that the rollover meant I was getting value:

Tote value, across the Irish Sea

Tote value, across the Irish Sea

A couple of things to note on there.

Firstly, that €120 Pick 6. I would never normally play that Pick 6, because I consider it too hard. But the first race featured a 1/5 shot, which duly won. And the fourth race featured Hurricane Fly - at 1/16! - who scraped home.

Not only that, but Ruby Walsh rode the first FIVE of those six winners, and none was outside of the first two in the betting.

Leg six was a big handicap, which is why I took plenty of bullets (ten). It was won by a 10/1 shot.

The dividend for this most easy of six race accumulators was €648.20. The cumulative odds were just 311/1. More than double the odds. Thank you rollover.

And what about that jackpot there? That was nice, eh? €72 staked and €1,786.80 returned.

Listowel's Harvest meeting, and just races three to six to solve. Aidan O'Brien's 5/1 third choice wins the opening leg; the 9/2 favourite wins leg two, a handicap; Johnny Murtagh trains and rides the 10/1 winner of the penultimate leg; and, clear form pick, Hidden Cyclone takes the final leg at odds of 2/1.

Cumulative odds of 1,088/1, pay out at 1,785.8/1. That time it was due to a jackpot guarantee for the festival meeting.

The image is unedited - those are all of the Irish tote bets I've had since 20th September. (Spot the action bets!)

Be aware of when and where the rollovers are. And if you don't have an Irish tote account, get one!

Key Principle #3: "Let The Bet Make You"

There's an American bloke called Michael Pizzola. He writes about racing, and he lives in Las Vegas, and he lounges in the racebooks (betting shops) there. He writes very, very articulate and compelling books, and some of his core ideas are generic. One I really like is his strap line, "Let The Bet Make You".

What he means is simply that if you don't fancy something in a race, don't have a bet. You don't have to bet. You won't stop breathing if you don't bet. Most days, you won't even have to wait more than ten minutes for another wagering opportunity.

If you really must have a bet when you don't have an opinion, make it a very small bet. When it wins, you can buy a cup of tea and a sticky bun. When it loses, you won't kick yourself too hard.

That's the thing about discipline: it doesn't need to be a straightjacket. It's your leisure pound, and you can spend it as freely as you choose. But once it's spent, it's spent. Unless you backed a winner. Bet more when you have more of a view. But never bet too much.

Key Principle #4: Contrast is Key

Have you seen the Instant Expert reports on this site? You know, the traffic light thingies, with loads of numbers on them. The idea is that they'll help you see, at a glance, horses in a race which are suited by today's going, class, course, distance and field size, and that may be handicapped to win.

The amber and red box outlines are deliberately similar colours, in order to accentuate the dark green boxes which symbolize a positive profile.

The ideal situation is a horse which has a line of dark green in a race where very little else can offer much, if any, of that verdant hue. Here's an example from the day I wrote this post:

Spot the well treated horse...

Spot the well treated horse...

Although Seebright had no form in today's class (normally a key consideration for me), he was strong in all other departments, and within sniffing distance of his last winning mark.

Moreover, his last winning mark was last time out, implying that he's still progressive. And, furthermore, and materially in this race, none of his rivals had previously shown any alacrity in this grade before.

Seebright won at 7/4. I had £20 on him at 9/4 with a Best Odds Guaranteed bookmaker. He was favourite. I backed the favourite. At half a point bigger than his SP, it was a value bet, irrespective of the outcome.

But, despite knowing that Seebright had won his only previous start after a layoff, I didn't especially fancy him - or anything else - this day, and so I bet accordingly. It was, in truth, an interest bet.

My only other bet that day was a £20 double with Seebright and Neptune Equester. The latter was second, albeit beaten half the track. An interest bet loser. No major damage inflicted.

Other days are, obviously, further from the payout window.

Summary

The point of this piece was not to gloat (especially) about winning at betting. After all, there are plenty of people out there with far more to gloat about than me. Rather, what I've tried to outline is a vague blueprint for profitable and enjoyable betting.

Profitable and enjoyable betting.

Those are the cornerstones of what geegeez is about, and it's testament to the approach that our three daily tipping features - Stat of the Day, Double Dutch and The Shortlist - have been profitable to follow since inception.

They all use best odds guaranteed bookmaker offers, and none would be profitable without them (except the top-rated The Shortlist selections - read about their amazing profitability here). The same is true of Tom Segal's excellent Pricewise column. The same is true of Hugh Taylor's excellent value pieces on the ATR site. Higher profile they may be, but the principle is alive and well all over the place, if you care to look, and to act.

Finally, here's the summary of my betting activities, based on a sanitized download of my bank statement (i.e. I removed the occasional non-betting bank transaction - you know, like the mortgage, and the electricity bill).

Betting P&L 2013

Betting P&L 2013

There may be some who don't believe this account to be true, and frankly I've long since grown tired of the bitches and the trolls that hide behind their screens in cyberspace, so I won't be saying anything further than that I can assure you this is the full and complete record of my wagering deposits and withdrawals...

...except that it doesn't include things like the €344 I have in my Irish tote account, or the £700 of unsettled bets I have running on. 😉

Good luck with your betting. First and foremost, enjoy it. And if you've any tips for readers on how to improve their own bottom line or fun factor, leave a comment below, and share your investment advice!

Matt

p.s. Want to know more about Instant Expert? Take a look at this page.

Your first 30 days for just £1
25 replies
  1. Jim Cannon says:

    Matt

    As usual, something to get the little grey cells working – thanks.

    Have recently got back from Wetherby where I had an enjoyable day (although not successful financially) and it was fascinating seeing the value disappear in front of my eyes. There were a number of favourites which were reduced from opening shows and some won, some lost. The interesting thing for me was to see the almost universal change in bookies odds along a row where the direct public bets had little if no impact.

    I think there is a real issue here for the future since it is ridiculous that all of the boards change at the same instance because somebody somewhere has had a bet. A similar problem applies with the Tote where you see odds on a screen a second before the off and they are totally different when returned. The off course market appears to be the real driver of prices on course (you may say it always has been).

    Bottom line is that betting with Best Odds Guaranteed off line is now the value offering – rarely do you get value on a course – huge pity but there it is.

    Sorry for the rambling natur eof this – maybe others will disagree or have some other views.

    Jim

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Very good point Jim. Many on course bookies are now little more than arbers against ‘the machine’ (Betfair). They’re essentially killing themselves to become commission agents, which strikes me as the most gutless, pointless business decision imaginable.

      But then, I’m not a bookie…

      Matt

  2. Martin says:

    Great read Matt!

    Another that I would like to add to your ‘value seekers’ (Tom Segal and Hugh Taylor) would be Nick Pullen’s ‘Juicy Plums’ tips that can be accessed – for free – from his website (http://www.winningraceprofiles.co.uk/juicy-plums.php) on a Friday at 5pm.

    Again the tips are aimed at finding live contenders in big handicap fields at decent odds (usually double digit odds) for a race run on a Saturday. Doesn’t do one every week but most weeks. Certainly worth checking out as is his free newsletter crammed full of pointers for finding winners at decent prices.

    Do like Tom Segal and Hugh Taylor but the problem with their tips is that its incredibly hard to get the prices they give, given that the value disappears very quickly when the ‘stampede’ move in on their respective selections. I suppose in a way they are a victims of their own success.

    Once again a great read…you should write a book on punting Matt.

    Martin

  3. Josh W says:

    hi Matt, very enjoyable read.
    I am continually learning and there are a few things that have improved my betting in last few months and few that i need to improve. The first is specialisation – my enjoyment comes from solving the puzzle so to speak -which means i dont mind spending 30mins/1h or 2h on one race. There are only a few times a week i can do this though. As such I tend just to focus on 3m+ handicap chases. (that doesnt mean i dont bet on others, i do, and i shouldnt!-discipline needs to improve on that front) on the flat i really enjoy the big sprint handicaps, and whether or not it was beginners luck I had a number or 12/1+ winners last season which was satisfying.(in part helped by Ben’s Badly Drawn Horse site!)
    the thing that I am trying to improve and that frustrates me most about my betting is getting the most profit out of horses I really fancy – I will say bet 10 on Balthazar King at 7/1 (his first race of season, went of 7/2) having spent an hour looking at the race and being very confident of a good run – yet a few days later will put 5ew on a race i have spent 5 minutes looking at, that isnt a 3m+ chase, and is probably a novice race where i havent looked through each horses form in depth.
    Still, there is always something we can improve, and nothing beats the feeling of seeing a horse romp home that you have picked out after a few hours ‘work’ that also happens to halve in price.
    I am also getting into profiling – perfect example was Giorgio Quercus at kempton on monday. He had nearly a 100% win/place record going right handed in single figure fields, and he hasnt demonstrated that he stays further than 2m4. he hadnt had those conditions for many many runs, i got some 13/2, he went of 9/2 and won a shade cosily. Again, that is where satisfaction comes from for me -spotting those opportunities.

    but i agree, it is about having fun, however you go about it.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Good stuff, Josh, and yes, there are many ways to skin the cat using a statistical toolkit.

      Regarding staking, that’s another beast again, and I don’t profess to be expert on them. But I do have more on when I fancy one, for better or worse!

      Matt

  4. PeeTee says:

    Very thought provoking. The race analysis is excellent but I cannot work out the order the horses are in. It is not race card order, not alphabetical, not betting order. Can you please enlighten me? Thanks, Paul.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      I’m afraid I can’t, PeeTee! What I can tell you is that clicking on any column heading will sort it by your selection/click.

      Best,
      Matt

  5. gta247 says:

    Hi Matt,
    the race Analysis is working pretty well. Backed Makhzoon in the 12.15 Wetherby yesterday solely on the Green / Amber rating and it came in comfortably at 14/1.
    I went £2/win / £8place on Betfair for a nice £116.66p profit after 5% commission.
    Very Nice thank you.
    Gta247… Jack S.

  6. Ian says:

    One point of note, you mentioned that you place your ante post bets with bet victor? For someone who is supposed to be so knowledgeable how can you bet with betvictor when they close peoples accs very quickly? My acc was closed with them years ago and even friends have also lost their accs. in fact its the same with most bookies especially the likes of Sid james and £3.65

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Ian

      It’s nothing to do with being knowledgeable. I was able to get my biggest bet ever on with them earlier in the year, and I’ve never been knocked back. As I say in my piece, for whatever reason, I only have one restricted account, and I have plenty of winning accounts.

      If you’ve been restricted, that’s hard luck, and you have to move on to the next best concession, and so on. Nobody said it was a gravy train!!!

      Matt

  7. Locker Dave says:

    A great read Matt and you make some very interesting and good points. I to get Nick Pullens Juicy Plums selections which have been very profitable throughout the season. Also John Williams all weather systems which is starting to kick in a few winners. The best though is your racing analysis and the sooner we can fix my problem the better it gave a 14/1 winner on Sunday and then bang problems ever since.
    Regards

    David Walker

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Dave

      Can you please try to access things again today? Your IP has been whitelisted now. Can you email me with an update on how you get on?

      Thanks a lot,
      Matt

  8. trophyman says:

    Thankou Matt for an entertaining piece. I am looking for a book to read that might improve my betting knowledge- would you recommend ‘It can be done’ or any book you may have come across that has helped you personally. I only bet on exchanges and that is something I feel I ought to change with the bookies offers now available. I am disciplined in the summer as I only bet on 2 yo old maiden races as I have a system I devised form reading a book on 2y olds. It is very profitable but wouldn’t be suitable for marketing. I use the ‘Hot Hurdlers’ system in the winter with a s/r of 50% for the last three years I have used it. But like everyone else I cant resist the afternoon racing when I am home and often waste money on frivolous bets in running etc-so I need some discipline!!! JP

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi JP

      Recommending a book is not a straightforward task. It depends on what you want to understand better/learn more about.

      If it’s a starter overview, then a book like ‘Against The Crowd’ has stood the test of time. You can probably get it cheaply on Amazon or eBay.

      Matt

  9. Mike Oliver says:

    Finding value iis difficult Matt – here’s a less than perfect way I sometimes use.

    The most important thing to note is that 90% of races are won by horses starting at 10/1 or less and that provides us with the starting point of calculating whether the price is value or not. Next we assume that all horses starting at 10/1 or less have an equal chance of winning the race even though we know they haven’t. Finally we work out the value as follows. If there are 3 horses at 10/1 or less and they all have an equal chance of winning, for every 3 races our selection will win once meaning he has a 2/1 chance of winning. Hence in order to achieve value, we will only back him if we can get a price bigger than 2/1. This can be summarised in the following table.

    3 horses at 10/1 or less, then only bet at 5/2 or bigger

    4 horses at 10/1 or less, then only bet at 7/2 or bigger

    5 horses at 10/1 or less, then only bet at 9/2 or bigger

    6 horses at 10/1 or less, then only bet at 11/2 or bigger

    7 horses at 10/1 or less, then only bet at 13/2 or bigger

    8 horses at 10/1 or less, then only bet at 15/2 or bigger

    I also tried to use the Racing Post early prices as my tissue but that did.t work because I ended up mainly backing market drifters.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks for that, Mike. It’s an interesting approach, and will certainly help quantify if the price is right.

      Matt

  10. Bob says:

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your article,a good read. In the past I have taken my betting to seriously. Since joining Geegeez and reading the various reviews and approaches I seem to be more relaxed.

    As there is so much racing I try and concentrate one one or two meetings a day and more specifcally living in Yorkshire I try sticking with the local courses.

    Yesterday at Wetherby the final odds on show on the floor at the off were totally different from the SP’s I dont get it.

    In the 12:15 I had to take the fav on at 4/5 and top weight in softs ground and backed both Neptune Equestor 85/40 and Makhzoom fm 25/1 into 14/1 who cruised in. Nowt else though! Lovely day when you have a winner at the start of the day.
    I have become more relaxed

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      I think relaxation in betting comes from not piling into shorties. Great example from yesterday with Makhzoom, who I know a few people backed (I didn’t!).

      Good stuff!
      Matt

  11. Brian says:

    Good stuff Matt. If I had to back at SP I’d give up! Best odds guaranteed is crucial as far as I’m concerned as are odds comparison sites.

    I’d also like to put in a good word for Nick Pullen. Very good service and a genuine guy. I’ve had a few email exchanges with him, all positive.

    Regarding bookies, everyone has their own story to tell and their own preferred bookie. I’ve had a few restrictions but not all from the usual suspects. Deep down, I think they are all the same and once their traders get a beady eye on your account you’re knackered. Treat them all as adversaries. My pet hate is when racing channels speak to their PR people and ask where the money is going or where the value is. Will you get a genuine reply? If they talk up a horse’s chances i’d lay it!

    The only reason I can think of as to why you’ve only had 1 account restricted is that you have a very successful blog with lots of readers and bookies aren’t keen on bad publicity.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks for your comment, Brian.

      That’s possible, as a reason for me not getting restricted. It’s also possible – though perhaps unlikely – that they know that the more publicly stated selections of mine will receive support and they get an early sight of that. However, I find that, as I say, pretty unlikely.

      Whatever the reason, I suspect I’ve lived a charmed life thus far, and expect it to change at some point in the not too distant future! (Hopefully not as a result of writing this post!)

      Matt

  12. bill brown says:

    Matt,I must have missed the explanation when you added the ratings tabs to your race analysis chart. What do the headings T L D mean and how are they to be interpreted.
    Regards Bill Brown

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Bill

      Sorry, I’ve not made it that clear. I’m going to put ‘tool tips’ on the headings, to save people wondering.

      It’s T – Today’s handicap rating, L – Last winning handicap rating, D – Difference between today and that last winning rating.

      Good question!
      Matt

  13. PaulR says:

    Nice post Matt,
    I really must get round to opening a psuedo BetVic account.
    The Irish tote stuff is interesting – even though I’ve never taken any interest in pool betting (scoop 6 aside)

  14. gaz says:

    i just had my best year betting favourites, strike rate of 39% and a yield of 16%,you do whats best for yourself, and then try to improve on it

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