Horse Racing Betting Angles: Part 1, Research Principles

To win at betting on horses, or indeed anything, one needs either to be lucky or to be smart. Ideally, one needs to be both. The best tactic of all is to use smarts to make your own luck, and that is how we'll proceed in this three part series. In this first episode we'll consider the cardinal principles, without which anything that follows will be precarious as a basis for betting decisions.

What is a betting angle?

Let's start at the start, and define what exactly is meant by a betting angle. For me it's a deliberately vague term because I don't want to be reduced to mechanistic wagers spat out by my computer's 'brain', even if whatever comes out is a direct result of what I fed in. I'd rather be advised or reminded of a nugget of information when I'm previewing a particular race.

Put another way, if my research tells me Trainer X has a great record with Jockey Y that will generally not be enough in itself for me to place a bet. But it will encourage me to look more closely at the overall profile of the runner around which Trainer X and Jockey Y are combining.

In other words, I want as many extra pieces of information - snippets which will generally be unknown to the vast majority of punters - as possible when I'm weighing up a race. What I don't want to do is simply back a list of horses generated from my angles.

That is system betting, and it works for a lot of people. If that's you, you will find plenty of utility in this series, but my main focus is on micro-angles which will add a point or two to the case for a given runner without necessarily commending it as a bet.

Betting angles then are snippets of information which can help decipher a race and potentially identify a dollop of otherwise unseen value.

No system or angle is God

Horse races are loose forms of organised chaos. An average of ten large animals, steered by small animals, with each other and/or obstacles in their way: there is plenty of scope for things to go wrong. Unsurprisingly, things frequently do go wrong. Thus the best horse often does not win. Rather, the best suited horse to conditions, or the best placed horse from the break, or the horse that makes the fewest mistakes, usually wins.

These kind of 'chaos variables' are generally not factored in to the price of horses at the top of the market, meaning such horses can not normally be considered value bets. Their chances are well advertised by the good judges in the racing media and the weight of money from lazy punters ensures their followers will eventually suffer death by a thousand poor value betting slip paper cuts. Or something like that.

My point is that we need to build in enough latitude to account for what used to be known in my software development project management days as OSINTOT's ("Oh Sh!t I Never Thought Of That"). Stuff happens, regularly in horse races, and our wagering approach must be sufficiently resilient to handle it.

No system is perfect, no angle immune to the bettors' scourge, variance: again, as I like to say, "after a good run expect a bad run; after a bad run expect a good run". Such is the nature of the beast.

For ultra-contrarians, the best time to get involved with a proven tipster or a solid-looking betting system is in the howling teeth of a downturn; after a bad run expect a good run. But only if you firmly believe in the underlying merit of the approach behind it.

Designer babies

We all want to be beautiful/handsome. And we all want to back big-priced winners on a regular basis. But, sadly, we have to play the hand we're dealt. You might have smouldering Dean Martin looks, but I get reminded more often than I'd like about my better than passing resemblance to Mister Bean. Such is life.

And so it is with betting systems. We hanker after the golden goose, the method that gets all the girls. But that's not what we need. What we need is a steady little portfolio of pointers that keep us honest, content and on the right side of both the bottom line and sanity. That is achievable, sustainable, and far more nourishing than a golden goose. How B-O-R-I-N-G would life be then?

This game is about little fish tasting sweet. It is about the thrill of the chase, about engagement and fun: solving the puzzle lower down the lists where others have fallen into its top of the market traps.

There is no such thing as a golden goose system, thank the deities. But there are myriad in's that offer slivers of value, shards of profitable light, to those who care to seek them out.

This series is for you.

A bit about you

On that point, then, let's talk about you.

One of the best pieces of business advice I ever received was to create customer avatars. A customer avatar is a very specific definition of the core client of a business.

Understanding this has helped geegeez.co.uk to stop focusing on 'all horse racing bettors' and home in on 'horse racing bettors who know they want more information than is available for free elsewhere, and don't mind getting their hands dirty in the quest to find their own value picks'.

That's less catchy, and is a very (VERY!) small subset of 'all horse racing bettors', but I can talk to almost every single one of these guys - you guys - as an equal, and expect that what I say will largely resonate with your own general outlook on the racing and betting game.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Back to you and, specifically, your betting approach. If you've read this far, you almost certainly are interested in finding your own betting angles - the good Lord Sugar knows this introduction has been long enough to disqualify those who are not!

But a betting angle that works for you will not necessarily be the same as one that works for me, or that works for the next reader. Some examples will help.

Betting Angle A has a 3% ROI on more than 10,000 selections. That's 300 points profit. Nice right? Well, maybe.

What if Angle A identifies 40 bets per day? What if the average odds of winners are 25/1?

The downswings with an approach like that could run to many hundreds of points. To operate it profitably would require a very large bank, very small unit stakes (in percentage terms), and titanium sphericals. The profit is attractive to all; the modus operandi suitable for very few.

Let's try another.

Betting Angle B has a 9% ROI. It finds roughly 40 bets a year and has been profitable in four of the last five years. In the other year, it lost 28 points. Could you handle that loss and still retain belief in the angle? You probably could if you were being selective when playing it, and if the 40 bets were in a particular context - for example, early season trainer form.

Whether you could or you couldn't, the key here is that while we may all be similar in terms of our general aspirations from the game, we are all different in how we can scratch that itch.

We have different bankrolls, different appetites to risk, different styles of betting, different amounts of time to invest in finding our bets, and so on.

That diversity is to be celebrated: it ultimately means we'll land on different horses and back winners on different days. It won't stop any of us from being profitable or from enjoying our betting as long as we recognise our own terms of reference before getting stuck in.

It is very well worth taking a few minutes to think about your approach, and how optimal that approach is for you. If you use our Bet Tracker tool, you'll have a better insight than most into the way you bet, what works and what needs more thought.

What to look for in a good system/angle

The first thing to say here is to refer back to the previous section: make sure any angle you identify looks sustainable in terms of the way you play. If you need a winner every third qualifier there is little point in deploying an angle with a 10% strike rate; you'll give up on it after a few losers which, almost inevitably, means before you've made any profit.

If you only want to place one of two bets a day, there is little point in identifying a great angle with an average of six bets a day. You'll immediately feel uncomfortable with the different staking and wagering regimen, and that is not a position of strength from which to enjoy the sport.

Any research you undertake needs to be mindful of how you bet: how often, how risky, and so on.

A good system, then, will speak to you personally in terms of its numbers. It will fit your appetite for risk, volume and available time. If it doesn't, it's only a matter of time before you pull the plug, profitable edge or not.

Aside from the personal elements, there are generic precursors to good angles, too.

LOGIC LOGIC LOGIC

The first, and most crucial, component of angle research is logic. An angle should be explainable in a shortish sentence and, if you were explaining it to a fellow punter, she should not spit out her beer in disgust at the case you make.

It is never enough to reason, "well it's profitable". If you can't explain why it is profitable the approach is very likely built on foundations of sand.

It might be fine to have an angle based around big trainers' performance in Saturday handicaps. But it would never make sense to create an angle around performance on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, for instance. There's simply no underlying logic.

Likewise, trainer angles where there are gaps in the months which qualify make no sense; conversely, however, plenty of trainers have certain parts of the year/season when they're in bloom. As long as there is a consecutive nature to the period, that may well be predicated on the schedule of the yard's year.

Just think 'why' for every variable within your angles. If you can't explain it, you should probably bin it.

Less is (usually) more

The always compelling Tony Keenan wrote about focus for optimal betting decisions in this excellent article. In it, he refers to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin's contention that we should unburden the brain by placing information in the physical world. Keenan talks about 'to do' lists as an example but it is equally true of betting angles: we should move these from our cluttered crania to, well, to a query tool or other aide memoire.

He goes on to reference Levitin's work on something called optimal complexity theory. Here's Tony:

...the idea that too little information is no good but so is too much. This applies with any decision we make, like buying a house or car say. Having too many parameters to consider leads to confusion in decision-making, with humans apparently unable to process more than ten variables for any choice, the optimal number being closer to five.

Betting angles should be simple in the main, predicated on sound logic, and often 'hiding in plain sight'. The more convoluted they are, the more likely the creator has added an extra variable or two to filter out some inconvenient truth. This is a subjective area and one where common sense is our greatest ally. Less is usually more.

Be wary of small sample sizes

The nature of looking at horse racing statistically, which is essentially what angle research boils down to, is that we are invited to make inferences on insignificant sample sizes. The conundrum is thus: too large a sample and the angle is well known and profit gone, too small a sample and the angle is unreliable and may be a fluke.

So what to do? Two things...

1 Seek a happy medium

Somewhere in between those two unsatisfactory sample size groups is a reasonable amount of data and the chance of profit continuing in the short- to medium-term. Where possible, look for as big a sample as you can. An angle with eight winners from ten runners looks fantastic, but how sustainable is that? It's impossible to know on such limited evidence.

One thing we can do in such situations is to widen out the search. For example, if Sire Z's progeny have had eight all-weather sprint winners from ten runners, how does that compare with his turf sprint winners? Or with his all-weather runners overall? We're looking for greater assurance in larger numbers. Chances are we'll still be dealing with relatively small samples, but we'll have a better feel for the sustainability of the micro-micro-sample of ten runs.

2 Proceed with caution

Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you

So sung the immortal Elvis Presley, and he wasn't wrong. Once you've satisfied yourself that there at least might be merit in an angle, go forward carefully. Do not rush in. Only fools rush in.

Such angles are prime contenders to be considered in the context of the race overall rather than bet blind. For instance, a trainer with an excellent record with handicap debutants from a tiny sample: is there anything else about this runner to corroborate its chance? Has it been off for more than a month? Is it stepping up in trip, or down in class? Is there a notable jockey change? Has there been money for the horse?

It doesn't take long in most cases to see whether the qualifier should be a 'proper' bet, an 'action' bet, or a watch and squirm job. (For me, there is no such thing as the last named. I'm either betting to win a few quid, or I'm betting to win a cup of tea and a sticky bun, or I'm not betting and I won't cry if the horse wins).

Profit is not the best measure

Most angle researchers have an unhealthy obsession with the Profit/Loss column. Of course we are trying to secure a positive return, but there are any number of traps for the greedy punter whose alpha and omega is pee and ell.

Harking back to what suits a particular bettor, and mindful of the small sample sizes that often manifest, it may be prudent to focus on each way percentage, percentage of rivals beaten (PRB) or percentage of rivals beaten squared (PRB^2). The last named pair, especially PRB^2, are very interesting metrics that will make their way into Geegeez Gold later in 2020 and I will cover them in greater depth at that time. For now, though, Gold users might look to each way percentage as a way of - somewhat artificially but perfectly legitimately - extending the sample size in question.

In terms of profitability, A/E (Actual vs Expected, more information here) is a solid barometer of ongoing value. It's a simple enough concept, where an A/E of greater than 1.00 is considered a positive, an A/E of less than 1.00 is considered a negative, and the further away from 1.00 the number, the better or worse is the expected merit. The A/E column can be found within Geegeez Gold's Query Tool, a tool that will form the cornerstone of parts two and three in this series.

Review, and Realise

Once you've found your angle(s), stored them, and started to bet them, there are two important 'maintenance' jobs to take on. The first is one of review. No matter how large or small the research sample was, every qualifier thereafter swells the knowledge base. Returning to your set of angles on a regular - maybe quarterly, but it depends how much action an angle throws up - basis is excellent discipline. Don't get too hung up on profit and loss from quarter to quarter, but rather focus on whether the horses looked likely beforehand, took a degree of support, and ran well even if in defeat.

Through this review process we start to realise - make real - the angle. A trainer becomes someone whose methods we get to know; likewise a sire, or a course profile, or whatever. We must make friends with these entities, ask questions of them, become more familiar than the market. This is a lot easier than it might sound, particularly in terms of the early markets, which are heavily focused on 'top down' information such as basic recent form, newspaper tipsters and fashionable trainers and jockeys.

'Bottom up' intel - first start in a handicap, favourable draw/pace, no name trainer with his job jockey, and the like - is factored into the market later. This late intelligence is generally underpinned by people close to yards who want to bet, and they can't get a meaningful bet on until nearer the off time. As angle punters we have to second guess them: we'll generally not nick their price, but can nab a few quid at 'ignorant odds' before the smart money arrives.

More often than this, though, are the occasions when we realise that the first flush of love was misguided; that we rushed in as fools, or maybe merely flirted dangerously with a dataset which failed to substantiate itself for the application of further evidence. Reviewing and rejecting these false dawns (no offence, Dawn, if you're reading!) is as valuable - arguably more valuable - than finding a great angle: the first job is to try not to lose money, the second job is to try to win money.

Nothing Lasts Forever

The final point to make in this overture to Angle Research is that nothing lasts forever. You will know you have found a great angle if the strike rate remains largely the same over time while the profit diminishes to a loss. That is simply a function of market awareness and is the lot of any and all statistical edges.

The game, of course, is to continually reinvent our portfolio.

Every week, month or year, there are new trainers waxing and old trainers waning. Likewise sires and, to a lesser extent, jockeys. Tracks change their drainage and, in so doing, reverse their draw biases. Surfaces get relaid and the front-running bias is mitigated as the kickback to later runners becomes less severe.

It's the circle of life, and all the joy within: there is always something else to learn, to discover, to deploy.

Evolve or die: this is the angle punter's mantra.

*

In part two of this series, which you can review here, I'll introduce you to Query Tool: what it is, where it lives, what it does and how it does it. And in part three, we'll work through a series of examples: micro angles which can be deployed as they are but, importantly, which are singular examples from rich seams whose nuggets are waiting to be extracted by the inquisitive Gold miner! 😉

Check it out here.

Matt

5 replies
  1. waywardlad
    waywardlad says:

    What I do when looking at systems is to try and see if it is profitable a) from a random period, and b) does it fit my betting style. For (a) I look at past results and I compare the average odds of the selections with the average odds of the winners. For me, a system isn’t worth following if you require a 25/1 winner from every 23 wagers to make a profit. And that leads me to (b) betting style. I know it’s not what people want, but I’d rather have 2 winners from every 6 wagers at average odds of 5/2 (1pt profit from every 6pts staked).

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Good advice, Ian, thanks.
      You’re ahead of the game by knowing what works for you; and the point about testing on a subset of data is a really valuable one.

      Matt

      • waywardlad
        waywardlad says:

        Thanks for putting up these discussion points Matt. With having time on our hands, we have the perfect opportunity to do some proper research, and learn about the aspects of horseracing that make it such a compelling medium for some. I’d be happy to contribute to an online chat if you are up for organising one. Ian

  2. davevart
    davevart says:

    What sort of numbers do you start having belief in your results ie. for 80 bets a month what SR, ROI, Chi Scr, Place SR would you want to have betting confidence?

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Dave

      There just isn’t a “one size fits all” answer to this, I’m afraid. As I’ve said above, it very much depends on your own style, appetite to risk etc.

      Strike rate is about your ability to handle a losing run, ROI can be more about turnover and therefore might throw up way more bets than some are comfortable with, and so on.

      In part 3, I’ll share the sorts of numbers I’m comfortable with, but in no way does it constitute advice because, at the risk of murdering the point, everyone is different!

      Matt

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