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Four Racing/Betting Books You Should Read

I love both reading and betting so combining the two is time well spent, writes Tony Keenan. More than any other subject, I tend to reread books on racing/betting in the hope that 0n the second or third run-through I will get more out of them. Below are four of my favourite books on the subject and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below or on Twitter @RacingTrends; I’m always on the lookout for the next good one.

 

‘A Fine Place to Daydream’ – Bill Barich

Racing people and writers often exist in a bubble where ways of thinking become ingrained; sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to draw interesting stuff from insiders because they look at things in a different way. Recent interviews on Newstalk with racing figures like Davy Russell and Willie Mullins support this view and Bill Barich is another example.

Barich is an American writer with an interest in the turf if not an obsession and his account of the 2003/4 National Hunt season in Ireland shows what a fresh set of eyes can do for a topic. After landing in the country with his new partner Imelda, the author is drawn into the jumping scene and moves through all the big meetings from October to March, starting at Down Royal for their November meeting onto the Open at Cheltenham and Leopardstown at Christmas, the Thyestes and back to Leopardstown before ultimately finishing up at the Festival.

The book is populated with great characters: Moscow Flyer and Jessica Harrington, Beef Or Salmon and Michael Hourigan, the nascent perennial Champion Trainer Willie Mullins, Tom Costello, Father Breen, Noel O’Brien. In truth, it is all pure nostalgia at this point; written in 2005, before the 12-month Cheltenham news cycle and the arrival of super-trainers, I love – if time permits – to reread it before the Festival if only for the sheer romance of it all.

 

‘Beyer on Speed’ – Andrew Beyer

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You should read anything by Beyer and despite the fact that he hasn’t written a book since 1993, his four efforts – ‘Picking Winners’, ‘My $50,000 Year at the Races’, ‘The Winning Horseplayer’ and ‘Beyer on Speed’ – remain relevant. There is a confidence that borders on arrogance in Beyer’s writing style as he moves from one uncompromising account to another and none of jockeys, trainers or the integrity of the sport are spared. But that self-belief comes from being a long-term winning bettor and basically inventing the modern speed-figure so all is forgiven.

His approach to betting is a mix of objectivity and subjectivity and if you don’t learn something you are probably reading it wrong. Beyer gets across the aspirational side of gambling and the idea that the pursuit of profit is a worthwhile use of your time is never far from his pages. ‘Beyer on Speed’ is my favourite of his canon at present as I’m using times more and more in my betting, but they are all excellent.

 

‘The Undoing Project’ – Michael Lewis

‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahnemann (with more than a nod to the deceased Amos Tversky) is apparently a bible of sorts to many modern professional punters; it might be a must-read but it can be a struggle. If you want to take an easier approach then Lewis’s biography of the two men is a more palatable version and covers many of the main ideas in their fields of behavioural economics and prospect theory.

The opening two chapters barely mention the two Israeli economists however as the focus is on Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets basketball franchise. This is familiar ground for Lewis, author of ‘Moneyball’, and he looks at what mistakes Morey tries to avoid making when evaluating talent which are very similar to the ones we should steer clear of when betting. For instance, Morey has banned comparisons of young prospects to players of the same race by scouts in his organisation which can be applied to racing; all too often we lazily compare horses to other horses that have run in same colours or are with the same trainer. There is also a hilarious description (and a warning against judging too much by appearance) when he tells of how some scouts vastly misjudged the talent level of All-Star Marc Gasol because he had ‘man boobs’ and just didn’t look like a basketball player!

We’re more aware of thinking biases than ever now with ‘recency bias this’ and ‘confirmation bias that’ thrown around everywhere but that doesn’t mean we are a whole lot better at avoiding them. Constant refresher courses on the subject are needed and Lewis’s book is an excellent one.

 

‘Tony10’ – Tony O’Reilly and Declan Lynch

Aside from its subject matter, ‘Tony10’ is a brilliantly written book from outset when Lynch describes O’Reilly’s upbringing in Carlow and how the town revels in its own nondescript nature. After that, it has a three-part structure: O’Reilly’s early life in the provincial town, a period of what could only be described as intense degenerate gambling and finally the time spent in jail and life afterwards. You simply cannot stop reading the middle section as it captures a life spiralling out of control with the ratcheting up of stakes, the betting on obscure sports, the nights spent punting on the computer as O’Reilly’s wife and new-born slept in the next room.

It is a masterpiece of ‘show, don’t tell’ as the reader is allowed to draw their own conclusions about what unfolds in the narrative and while most of this is utterly foreign to people who take gambling seriously and are trying to win, it is an important reminder to be wary of the compulsive streak within most of us. And even if we don’t have such a trait, perhaps we should watch out for it in others.

Lynch himself has been on an interesting journey with gambling, starting out with his 2009 book ‘Free Money: A Gambler’s Quest’, essentially a diary of his own punting, through ‘The Ponzi Man’, a 2016 novel about a pathological gambler whose pyramid scheme has come tumbling down, and now to this. He has become polemical in his anti-gambling stance and while that might be too much at times, there is an argument that Irish society with its outdated gambling laws needed to be given a shake.

Rereading books like these is great fun but it does point to something else: there haven’t been too many good racing/betting books penned in the recent past. I enjoyed Paul Jones’s ‘From Soba to Moldova’ though for more experienced punters it may be considered more refresher course than anything else, carried by the author’s inimitable style. Things have changed so much in the modern betting landscape (or that horrible word ‘space’) with statistical models, account restrictions, automated betting and rapidly moving prices among the issues that deserve a fuller treatment. There is interesting material being covered on YouTube and podcasts with Simon Nott’s interview series and the ‘Business of Betting’ with Jake Williams standing out but there is definitely space for a book or two as well; consider that that the challenge laid down!

- Tony Keenan

p.s. which one (or two) books would you add to this list? And, importantly, why? Leave a comment to help build the bibliography!

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23 replies
  1. Avatar
    Nasher says:

    Harry Findlay – Gambling for Life. Highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in sport and gambling. Top man

    • Avatar
      RomJim says:

      Just read it – very easy read. Interesting to see a very positive view of somebody who was in the headlines a lot but then disappeared from view after his conflict with the authorities.

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    N17 says:

    Gary Wiltshire – Winning it Back. A nice bloke and an entertaining read. If you know someone who has a gambling problem they should read this. Hopefully, it will frighten them off!

    Nigel

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    Scott Ferguson says:

    Kevin Blake – It Can Be Done
    Brendan Moynihan – What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars

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    patony123 says:

    Nick Mordins Betting for a Living which opened my eyes to a more structured way of betting

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    MikeA says:

    Enemy Number One – Patrick Veitch. An interesting read if you are into racing, a man who took obsession in beating the bookies to a new level.

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    suzanne says:

    Four books that completely changed my way of betting we’re Betting For A Living and Winning Without Thinking both by Nick Mordin and The Inside Track And Against The Crowd both by Alan Potts.
    As for enjoyable reads that or betting related
    Enemy Number One by Patrick Veitch
    Cheltenham Et Al by Alistair Down
    From Aintree To York by Stephen Cartmel
    The Perfect Punter by Dave Farrar
    World Of Betting by John McCririck
    Gambling For Life by Harry Findlay
    Winning It Back by Gary Wiltshire
    Elliott’s Sports Analysis Secrets by Keith Elliott

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    patony123 says:

    In Search of The Winning System by our own Peter May. Another tome that opened my eyes to a different approach

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    patony123 says:

    Always Back Winners Stewart Simpson and the creme de la creme Words from the Wise by Fenman

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    Simon Morrison-Peacock says:

    Hi Tony,
    Though I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, Dave Nevison’ “A Bloody Good Winner” is excellent. How he moved from the early days,to city trader,to professional gambler and all that that entails. It’s funny,enlightening and worth the read for the mention of my hometown and his visiting to the excellent and badly missed Teesside Park racecourse. I miss his column in the RFO,I’m sorry but Birchy just doesn’t do it for me.

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    David Jenkins says:

    Addicted To Horseracing: Anatomy of a Small Time Gambler Paperback by Norton Howells

    Found this book by Norton Howells a really enjoyable read, both the personal aspects and the horse racing. Have always been fascinated by people’s stories relating to horse racing having first been introduced to it by a friend when in the Sixth Form back in Wales.

    I did English A Level and the thought that my English teacher backed the horses would have tickled me pink!

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    Frank Haycox says:

    Thoroughbred Cycles by Mark Cramer. Cramer is a brilliant racing/gambling author, who was years ahead of is time

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    Jim says:

    Winners back winners by Clive Holt. It has his famous fine form method but it’s full of common sense. How about Bradocks Giude To The Turf which explains racing very well indeed. Good Luck.

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    Matty Cobb says:

    My 1st ever book on horse racing and betting was Betting for a Living by Nick Mordin. It was a fantastic read and opened my eyes up on how to read a horses form in a methodical way. Loved it. Another book which taught me a lot was by John Gibby and called Betting on Flat Handicaps which over time have been updated ensuring new editions, which was good. I also enjoyed his Well Handicapped Horses. Also It Can be Done by Kevin Blake was an enjoyable read

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    Glenn says:

    Horsetrader is an excellent book….any Coolmore / Ballydoyle fan should read this
    Best racing book is Winsome Wizard of the Turf….impossible to find but absolutely brilliant…short funny fictional racing stories

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    Frederick Leiserson says:

    Nobody mentioned Tom Ainslie complete guide to thoroughbred racing, and I think it’s probably one of the best ever. Also there’s not many better than DAN GEER pro rated long shots.

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