Well, dear reader, how was it for you? Somewhat belatedly (more of that in due course), I'm going to share my thoughts on a belting week of b's: bloody brilliant and bewilderingly bruising.
I'm not going to wade through the race-by-race, you might be pleased to know, but I do want to share some of the ups and downs of the week, and - in particular - what I consider to be THE most difficult betting lesson to learn. Master this, and you're a pro.
So, that was the week that was. Four days of mainly good weather, bumper crowds, massive fields, upsets galore, and just the three outright winning favourites. A tough week, huh? Or was it?
My ante-post portfolio was looking fairly reasonable coming into the meeting, and during the week pretty much everything I backed got shortened in odds, making me feel snug that I'd 'got the value'. Unfortunately, if the Channel 4 pre-race betting shows were anything to go by, the bookmakers shamed themselves this week by shortening almost every horse in the first eight in the market, in almost every market.
Now I have no empirical evidence to support that notion. I'm confident the info is available online somewhere, but I'm not sure where. Whatever. The point is that the bookmakers, even when they're caning the punters, still can't balance a book between them.
Or maybe there were much better prices available, and we should blame the odds returners at the track. I don't know about that. But I do know that there ended up being only two ways to play. BOG or Betfair. Betfair needs no introduction (I hope, to a learned crowd such as yourselves), but BOG is Best Odds Guaranteed. This means when you bet the horse, and take the price, if the price gets bigger you get the bigger price. If the price gets shorter, you get the odds you took.
Assuming the bookie with BOG had competitive odds on your fancy, which many of them did I'm pleased to report, then you wouldn't have cared about the on course market.
But that's not my point today, it's merely by way of warming me up!
The single most important lesson in betting
My point is this. In last week's marathon 26 race Festival, where I backed two and occasionally three horses per race, I had four winners. The first was a cursory tenner on Menorah because I couldn't back Dunguib at odds on; the second was a more speculative tenner each way on A New Story at 40/1; the third winner kept me waiting until the second race on Thursday, and was Buena Vista (a score at 23.0 on Betfair); and the final winner was Baby Run at 13/2 in the Foxhunters.
Four winners from 26 races, and I made a small loss over the meeting. But here's the rub. I backed ELEVEN second placed horses. Starting with Somersby in the very second race, and hurtling through The Package, Reve De Sivola, Burton Port, Forpadydeplasterer, Notus De La Tour, Al Ferof, Poquelin, Karabak (4th, backed for a place, logical equivalent of second!), Najaf and finally Radium (I also backed Clova Island,who finished third in that one!).
I was grateful that the final ignominy was that I did not back French Opera, game and gallant runner-up in the Grand Annual and, in doing so, putting up the finest weight carrying performance in the race since Edredon Bleu more than a decade ago. That horse went on to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year. Still think you shouldn't have run French Opera in the Arkle now, Nicky?!
But I don't want to bitch here. (That doesn't mean I won't, it means I don't want to!)
My ante-post picks included Albertas Run at 100/1 for the Gold Cup. So he went and won the Ryanair, beating my strong fancy (and commensurate wager), Poquelin convincingly in the process. They included French Opera and Tataniano for the Arkle. The former I've just discussed, and the latter was eventually pulled out of the Grand Annual - I'm sure he would have had a chance in an open Arkle year, certainly better than stable pick, Woolcombe Folly.
They included a triumvirate of top prospects in the Champion Hurdle, all of which are still running. (Well done Binocular, by the way. Awesome performance. I'll want to see you do it again between now and next March before I believe you're the next Istabraq, mind!)
So here's the lesson: there are two parts to betting. The mathematical / financial part, and the psychological / philosophical part.
The first part is easy, indisputable, binary, cut and dried. The horse you backed won (or placed, or whatever you said would happen). Or it didn't.
As a direct result of your precision in the matter at hand, you either got paid, or you didn't. And it is always that way, unless you play the spread markets. But let's focus on fixed odds here for the purpose of Pastor Bisogno's sermon.
The second part to betting is the woolly, ethereal, difficult to quantify part that defines not just minor details like which horse we bet, but much, MUCH more meaty subjects like the very essence of why we bet.
When I surveyed Geegeez readers over a year ago now (must do that again, great fun and extremely enlightening for everyone), the reasons people bet were manifold. In the chart below (which is a bit small to read - click it and it'll open in another window), we can see that 'to win money' was the number one reason for betting. No big surprise.
But what was surprising, to me at least, was the number of other reasons, and the priority order of those reasons, for why people bet.
Looking at the top three priorities (the orange, blue and mauve sections of the bars), we can see that large tracts of the respondents loved watching horse racing, did it as a pastime, or were interested in 'solving the puzzle'.
So that goes some way to addressing the psychology of betting, but it doesn't quite capture the philosophy. And don't worry, I'm not about to wander off on some esoteric 19th century German babble-meister's final hypothesis on the gambling nature of the human condition (although I'm sure you'd all be riveted by that... ahem).
The philosophy of betting comes down to why we do this. Sure, we do it to make money. Making money in betting makes us right. It vindicates us, which makes us feel good. We tell people about our winners but less often about those pesky losers. And, because I bet mainly for fun, I want to be right. I am not a professional gambler, though I have a mindset not a million miles from one.
I look at my 'book' of Cheltenham results, and the human in me (greedy, seeking perfection, unrealistic) was thoroughly pissed off with eleven silver medals. But when that passed (it took a couple of days, when I had other things to think about - see below), I was actually extremely proud of my Cheltenham betting performance.
Sure, I didn't get paid out like I might have. But when you take 26 of the most fiercely competitive races run all year, where every horse is trying for its life (a couple, unfortunately, literally), where virtally every non-Championship race has a capacity field, and the best of the best from both sides of the Irish Sea are giving their all to prevail...
When you take those elements into consideration, you start to build a context for betting success and failure; which is very different from betting profit and loss. In pure terms, and at the margins, betting success equates to betting profit and betting failure equates to betting loss.
But as we understand just what we're trying to achieve here, as the full magnitude of the multi-faceted conundrum becomes apparent, those eleven second places feel good!
Of the 26 mind-bending, mind-boggling, mind-melting puzzles presented for us to solve last week, I got in the first two on fifteen separate occasions.
Considering that the average win odds at the Festival were 13.69/1, and the average win and place odds a staggering 17.24/1, that's some achievement.
Now then, I know it seems wrong to gloat, especially about something so translucent as backing losing 'winners', and that's not my point.
My point, and the lesson, is that you need to know when you're doing it right.
When your collective information-gathering and decision-making patterns lead you, if not to the top of the podium, then at least to the peripheral steps for the anthems, you're doing it right. You won't always get paid for it, but you're definitely doing it right.
It can be really tough to take when you're not getting paid, when you keeping hitting the proverbial crossbar. Second places last Friday on horses at odds of 25/1 and 14/1 were scant consolation for beating off thirty-nine rivals and being vanquished by just one in each race. But, honestly, you've got to have something right in your processes to get that close. Wipe your mouth, get over your frustration, and know you're doing it right.
Recognise that as betting success, and you will be a winner in the long term. Get frustrated, irrational or, worse still, change your betting habits on a whim, and you're destined to be a lifelong contributor to the bookmakers' benevolent fund.
[A quick caveat here. If you follow 'unlucky' horses, who always seem to finish 2nd or 3rd, you're NOT doing it right. Unlucky horses make for unlucky punters, and you never get your recompense. Avoid them. Like the plague.]
There you have it: doing it right doesn't always mean getting paid, and nor does it need to. If your methodology is sound, you should expect to be regularly in the photo finish, without having the rosette pinned to your chest (if you'll pardon the bastardised metaphors).
So, how was Cheltenham for you? Let us all know, either by voting in the box top right (for the easy financial / mathematical part) and/or in the comments below for the more opaque psychological / philosophical part. Were you bludgeoned to death by 26 brutal blunt instrument blows? Or did fate and fancy picking find you a fair fortune? Share your joy and despair with others below!
Finally today, an apology for the delay in posting this. I was planning to do it on Sunday, but got stricken (is that actually a word? Surely struck is fine...) by some sort of *very* nasty bug.
Gavin and I were out drinking and gambling on Friday, and were predictably a tad ropey on Saturday, meaning we missed our intended Winter Derby engagement (where I backed 20/1 third, beaten a length, Pallodio - massive price, got it right again, didn't get paid again).
I was complaining to anyone who would listen (i.e. not Gavin and not the missus) about a stiff neck, and that I was feeling rough. Long and short of it is I didn't get up - apart from about fifty (no exaggeration) trips to the small room next door - until this morning. Didn't eat from 7pm Saturday to 9am Tuesday, ran a temperature of 39.4C on Sunday (which is apparently not good, on any day, let alone Sunday!).
Even Carole, my very own Florence Nightingale, comments on how I wasn't my normal cantankerous self. Fully fifteen hours of stomach cramps punctuated by brief and empty squits yesterday afternoon and last night have now mostly abated, and the world for me is a better place.
I've no clue where all that anatomical angst came from, but I'm glad it's mostly flushed away now. Before the imagery has a chance to flourish in your mind, I just wanted to say that the Geegeez community has a habit of pulling me to my senses, and that is one of it's greatest joys for me.
So it was that as I was wading through my swollen virtual postbag, I came across an email from Tony who is currently undergoing radiotherapy for a tumour and had written to ask me about a betting product, with the above comment almost a throwaway line. My extremely uncomfortable, but mercifully brief, period of bed confinement was suitably positioned, and work resumes as of now.
Get well soon, Tony.
p.s. as I said above,
So, how was Cheltenham for you? Let us all know, either by voting in the box top right (for the easy financial / mathematical part) and/or in the comments below for the more opaque psychological / philosophical part. Were you bludgeoned to death by 26 equine blows? Or did fate and fancy picking find you a fair fortune? Share your joy and despair with others below!