Gold, Punting Sense, and Mirth

'Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, etc. And in this post, I come bearing gifts. Taking my cue from the three kings in the nativity story, there will be Gold (natch!), punting sense, and mirth.


Our flagship service, Geegeez Gold, is now fully https after a few teething issues the last couple of days. Thank you for your forbearance with that, and I'm really sorry if you had to experience a few irritations during that process.

Everything is now even more secure going forward, and we will be further enhancing the Gold feature set in the New Year with some exciting upgrades.

As always, they are being designed with speed and ease of use in mind; and we have some interesting innovations that I've not seen anywhere else, so hopefully those will be fun and - more importantly - open up new windows of insight across the form study vista. More in January...

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Punting sense: Reverse Handicapping

Intro: Screw The Trendy Kids; and Be Wrong More Often

There is a growing perception among the 'trendy kids' on twitter and the like that celebrating the backing of a good winner after the race is to be frowned upon, maybe even lampooned. I do not share that view. We all know life is hard enough without some smart arse pissing on your chips when you've had the ability/good luck to land on a nice price. So I say carry on celebrating... but please, no BOOMs, OK? 😉

Anyway, what has that to do with anything? This post is called 'Reverse Handicapping' for a reason, so let me get to it.

We all spend time, to varying degrees, before a race finding our selection. The smart ones spend time before that finding races which lend themselves to justifying the subsequent form study time investment - not all races do, right?

In a majority of cases, assuming you don't habitually back odds on shots to the exclusion of all longer-priced propositions, you will be wrong. So will I. Indeed, in my case, as someone who bets at average odds around 13/2, I'm wrong the vast majority of the time.

But that's not the point is it? The point is to make it count sufficiently when we are right to pay for all the losers and leave enough on the table for beer and chips. So if I average five losers for every 13/2 winner, and I have 600 bets in a year, I will return 750 and a profit of 150 points, or 25%.

In this fictional example I am backing 83% losers. Five out of every six bets are beaten. And it doesn't matter a jot, because the winners are covering the deficit with a healthy dollop of jam on top.

So the first thing to say is, allow yourself to back losers. Be comfortable with that. Not too comfortable, of course, but know that the route to profit is generally found buried beneath a bramble bush of beaten beasts.

In the above example, the true average odds of the backed horses should have been 5/1. That they averaged out at six-and-a-half-to-one relates that they were value plays, something we can only generally know with hindsight and once a body of evidence upon which to judge the value case has accrued.

So far so intangible, so let's attempt to nail this to the floor. How do we get better at spotting value?


How do we get better at spotting value?

When I worked as a software project manager back in the day, one of the buzz concepts was CI: Continuous Improvement. Like most management 'disciplines', and especially project management, CI was a cottage industry (there's another CI!) built around CS, common sense. That's not to be confused with BS, which was at least equally prevalent...!

Continuous improvement should be ubiquitous in our endeavours. In everything we do, we should strive to better ourselves. In relationships, in work, in our hobbies, and so on. You don't need me to tell you that.

But in order to measure improvement, we have to review two things: what we thought would happen, and what actually happened. When betting on horses, we have to compare our knowledge and awareness of the horse we backed (what we thought would - actually, could at the right price - happen) in the race that we backed it, and the result (what actually happened).

To do this we need three things:

  1. A desire to understand, and evolve our punting ability
  2. Experience to see what was right and wrong about a given wager/value opinion
  3. Enough information to justify the initial view, and also to understand the outcome

When I started out betting on horses, I very soon got over the "they're all cheating" malaise that afflicts lazy punters. To be clear, some do cheat, but our job is to understand those operating within the shaded areas and to deploy that comprehension for our own advantage. We do that not by 'inside information' or anything surreptitious (real word) or skulduggerous (made up word), but by observation.

Ultimately, where experience is in short supply or, as in my case, the brain regularly fails, data - especially when it is presented as knowledge - saves the day.


What is reverse handicapping?

These are the keys to reverse handicapping, a simple process predicated on reviewing one's bets against the actual outcome of the race and asking questions of oneself.

Not all losers are bad bets. In fact, if you're about halfway decent at punting, about half of your losers will be good bets where you didn't get paid. Let me say that again, in a slightly different frame: most halfway decent punters will have more losing good bets than winning ones.

As I am fond of saying - ad nauseum to regular readers - any horse can win any race. Once you grasp that wholeheartedly, it comes down to whether the horse is more or less likely to win than his odds imply.

It is not then about backing the most likely winner, necessarily. It is not then about backing the best horse in the race, necessarily. It is about consistently backing the horse (or horses) whose true chance of winning is most favourably misaligned with the available odds.

The more you look at races that have been run; the more you commit to continuous improvement; the more you scrutinize your own selection rationale, the better you will get at punting on horses (or, indeed, at whatever activity in which you have committed to improve).



At this stage, my point is still rather general and theoretical. So let's take a look at some of yesterday's more unpredictable results - ostensibly at least - and see if they could have been backed and, separately, whether they represented value. Before that, though, one from the olden days...

Example 1: Foinavon 100/1

An apposite example from yesteryear, on the day after Foinavon's jockey, John Buckingham's passing is that horse's 1967 Grand National victory. Foinavon won at odds of 100/1, exclusively because of a pile up at the fence which now bears his name. He was a total no-hoper and should likely have been nearer 1000/1 - indeed, if Betfair existed then, I'm certain he would have been available for the max.

But a 'black swan' event, a totally unpredictable outcome half a rung down from an act of deus, bequeathed upon him an unimpeded passage not permitted to any of his rivals. He won because of that. In spite of him winning, and in spite of his apparently huge odds, he was rubbish value.

Takeaway: Big odds do not generally a value bet make


Example 2: Barton Gift 28/1

While we're on the subject of gifts, was Barton a gift from the layers? Or an ungettable rag? Before I answer that, let me say that I did not have a bet yesterday, so I did not back any of these horses and nor did I back any losers against them.

To Barton Gift, who was running in a marathon handicap chase. He was already a course and distance winner, had a win record over fences of better than 26%, won in better class/over a similar marathon trip three starts back, and had prevailed twice beyond three miles on the soft side of good in his last six starts.


Against that, he had been well beaten on his first two starts this season, and he was five pounds higher than his last winning mark (114 vs 109), but he should surely never have been 28/1.

If reading the form isn't really your thing - i.e. you don't really qualify under point 2. above - which horse or horses would you have wanted to side with based on the following? Consider their 'form fit' and their odds...

Looking at the prices and the form profiles, Barton Gift was over-priced.

Indeed, Steve flagged the same thing in his Race of the Day post which happened to look at this race.

Oh, and look, there's 28/1 Barton Gft on The Shortlist report, one of only four horses nominated on there yesterday:


So yes, this horse absolutely could have been backed. And he was terrific value after just two excusable defeats since his last marathon outing, a win.

Takeaway: Don't be put off by the price if the form is there, especially if recent reversals can be legitimately excused.


Example 3: Tellovoi 16/1

In this Class 4 mile race on the all weather at Chelmsford, Tellovoi was winning for the first time in twelve starts, and for the first time on the all-weather for almost three years. I can tell you now that I would not have backed this horse. But I can see how he won here.

Firstly, Tellovoi has plenty of 'back class'. He was rated as high as 93 on the all-weather in April 2014. Since then he's had a couple of trainer changes, and has largely run over inadequate distances. The key to this chap though is the pace of the race. Tellovoi wants to be on the speed. In three of his previous four starts he raced at Newcastle, a track that is shaping up to suit closers down its interminable straight mile.

Here at Chelmsford, where pace is favoured - especially uncontested pace, things were more agreeable. So too was a draw in stall two. As we can see from the below, he was the clear pace angle on a track where that was advantageous.


So today was the day when the cards fell kindly for Tellovoi and his connections. This is one of those races where, if I had have had a bet, I doubt I would have backed the winner.

But, importantly, reviewing the outcome afterwards would have - has - reinforced my understanding that an uncontested lead on this pace-favouring course/distance combination is a powerful thing.

Was Tellovoi value? Not for me. He was probably a fair price, based on the shape of the race, but he has had a few other setups that ought to have suited since last he won, and he's failed to get the result.

Takeaway: You can't get them all right, but there is almost always a case to be made for the winner, and a lesson to be learned for the future.


Example 4: Arize 12/1

I love this filly. She's so game. I would have bet her had I taken a look at the cards yesterday. Virtually guaranteed the lead, she was a winner here under similar circumstances just three starts back. In between times she was forced to do too much to get her way on the front, and capitulated as most need-the-lead sorts do under such pressure. Also note that Arize had the highest speed rating (SR) in this field and had every chance of running her 'blaze, hang tough, then fade' fractions to replicate it.


Watching the race back, it's fair to say that Tegara was unlucky - undone somewhat by her inexperience, and perhaps by being such a big girl around these relatively tight turns - but the fact remains she's 0 from 2 in handicaps now and has only got her head in front once in five starts. Odds-on about that type is something I want to oppose habitually.

Arize was great value, and has now won two of her last four, both here, both from the front, both with uncontested leads, and both at prices (50/1 (!), and 12/1 here).

Takeaway: ALWAYS consider the pace set up. Any horse with an uncontested lead at a course/distance which favours pace is dangerous in handicap company.


Example 5: Master Of Heaven 7/2

It's all been a bit retrospectively rose-tinted to this point, so I wanted to consider a shorter priced horse whose value case could readily be argued against but who won anyway.

Jim Boyle's Master Of Heaven was very well backed in a poor race (Class 7) where he had stall one. Having shown a little more dash in his previous two races, he might have been expected to optimize the advantage of his inside berth. But he was far from the only pace angle in the race, even if the most obvious pressers were drawn very wide:

Master Of Heaven was a 13-race maiden coming into this, and had been beaten twenty lengths on his most recent start, over most of half a mile further than he raced today. He had been beaten only six lengths on his sole previous try at the course and distance, and that was off a rating nine pounds higher than here.

The reality is that plenty of people expected him to improve, or run to his best form - whichever it was - but I cannot touch horses like this with a bargepole. Nor indeed, generally, races like this.

Had someone put a gun to my head and forced me to bet, I'd have played White Dog, who had the pace to lay up and bits and bobs of form. He finished nowhere, having failed to defy a ten month layoff.

Takeaway: One of the greatest things about racing is that, unlike in poker, we don't have to ante up for every heat before deciding if we want to play. We can just skip to the races where we think we have a good 'hand' and leave the rest alone.

Summary: So what?

If we want to be better value judges, and give ourselves a genuine chance of turning a profit from betting horses, we have to learn from our victories, but especially our defeats (seeing as they will happen far more often).

There are takeaways from all races, even if occasionally it will be, "I have no clue how that horse won, and moreover my horse ran like stink because, with hindsight, my reasons for picking him were flawed."

If we understand why the reasons were flawed - perhaps (most likely) it was poor race selection, maybe we misjudged the pace setup, possibly we excused runs that we shouldn't really have forgiven (at the price) - then that experience goes in the bank and iterates our ability to gauge value for the next time. And so it goes on.

This process of 'reverse handicapping' WILL make you a better punter. It's an important process, a key stage in taking accountability for your betting, and might be something to which you'll commit yourself (if you don't do it already) in 2017.

Good luck!


Mirth: Merry Christmas from Geegeez (and good ol' Chinelope)

MERRY CHRISTMAS from all of the team:

Me (Matt Bisogno), Chris Worrall (Stat of the Day, Head of Reviews, right hand honcho), Nige Keeling (daily news), Mal Boyle (Placepot Pointers), Tony Keenan (Irish views), Tony Stafford (Monday Musing), Steven Oliver (Race of the Day, soshul meejah, support), Andy Newton (Saturday TV Trends), and the entire service review team.

Not forgetting our awesome website developers, Nige D and Paul C; and Peter May's marvellous speed ratings.

A big thank you from me to them, and to YOU, without whom none of this is possible.

Merry Christmas!

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15 replies
  1. guy weaver
    guy weaver says:

    Excellent thought provoking article Matt! I certainly don’t tend to review losing bets as often as I should, preferring to focus on celebrating the winners.
    Enjoy the Christmas festivities and thanks to all the team at Geegeez for a brilliant service this year and looking forward to another profitable year in 2017!

  2. RonCombo
    RonCombo says:

    That is a really interesting and refreshing read Matt. Thank you. And “buried beneath a bramble bush of beaten beasts” takes alliterating to quite another level – happy Christmas to all the geegeez team!

  3. Richard
    Richard says:

    …and a VERY Happy Christmas to you and the team too, dear Matt. I WAS on Tellovoi yesterday, my only bet of the day (didn’t have time to stay in front of the laptop for long…Christmas is too busy!) but I reached it by a different route and only by using the Full Form analysis. I (quite quickly) run through with the menu set to “Trainer”, selecting the Race Type and Handicap or Non- handicap in “Race/Form Characteristics” (A/W & HCAP in this case) for the LAST 4 horses in the betting. “Data range” set to 5 years. Then switching from “All” to “Course”, in “Course Characteristics” (does the Win and EW % INCREASE?). similarly in “Race conditions” switch from “All” to “Jockey” (does the Win and EW % INCREASE? The Guest/Costello combination have a good strike rate). Result is value bets (yes, I accept I lose a lot but at 16/1 (BF27.5), am I bovvered?!) and fun. Best wishes to all Geegeez subscribers who share in the best racing information website bar none! Happy Christmas one and all.

  4. Kenneth Brehaut
    Kenneth Brehaut says:

    I backed Barton Gift AND Hartforth on Wednesday because of the Shortlist and race of the Day features , I only bet 10p ew singles but using those 2 features along with Stat of the Day and Pace my average is around 68% and usually at prices of around an average 9/1.
    May not get mega rich with my stakes but it DOES a nice top up on my meagre pension.

  5. john frisby
    john frisby says:

    very good read yesterday i kept coming back to barton gift put it in a 50p ew patent 2/1 4/1 28/1 £7 stake return £474

  6. Tony
    Tony says:

    My worst trait is not being able to stomach backing losers. So, even after following a successful certain method of form selection, once I have half a dozen losers I get disheartened and start trying something else, or look for other angles. Whilst I carry on like this I have no chance of being in profit long term. I know this but it’s good to see it written down here and explained in a better way than I could fathom, so thanks for that. Must be more disciplined. After all, even backing at the head of the market will have losing runs of at least six so either way I’m due to be frustrated. It’s always interesting that every naps league or tipping table I’ve ever seen is won by the guy or girl who has a lower strike rate, maybe as low as 15% or less yet manages to bag a few longer priced winners during the course of the season meaning the ones selecting the favourites or near favourites have absolutely no chance of selecting enough winners to stay with him/her. And of course on the exchanges you’re even more well rewarded. Given the near perfect book on Betfair and Betdaq you are just as likely to lose or win, long term, backing outsiders or favourites. The “favourite/longshot” bias doesn’t exist. And, thinking about it, being a £10 punter like me, I much more enjoy the excitement and anticipation of watching my 16/1 selection load into the stalls in a sprint handicap rather that my tenner riding on the back of a Nicholls overbet novice chaser lining up at 11/10.

  7. Nigel
    Nigel says:

    Good blog as always, Matt. Just to add that at this quiet time of year* I try to ‘audit’ my methods and bets and see how I can improve in the future. This can entail a lot of boring data collection but I do enjoy the analysis part and it usually shines light on some element or other. Merry Christmas to all at Geegeez and, of course, to fellow members. *It’s quiet for me right now because my last audit showed that I had made no significant profit over the last three national hunt seasons despite a huge investment of time. I am now doing a bit on the all weather for the first winter ever, but on a much less labour-intensive level

  8. sondrio2
    sondrio2 says:

    Nice post as usual Matt, merry xmas to everyone at geegeez and to all your families, lets hope for a profitable and peaceful new year.

  9. Vince
    Vince says:

    A brilliant brilliant read as ever Matt, so well written but also rammed full of sage advice. All the best to you and your family over the festive period

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