How to Bet
In this important post, I outline ten points that will make you win more money more often with your betting. Even if you think you know all of this, it may pay to review this as a refresher. Smart punters are always learning and re-learning.
So, without any more ado, here are my top ten tips for becoming a better bettor.
10. Keep Records
Yes, I know it's boring. But seriously, these days, it is very easy to keep records, especially if you have online accounts (because they keep the record for you).
But keeping records is simply an exercise in administration if you don't regularly review those records. Look specifically at where you're winning money. Is there a pattern there? Perhaps you have a stronger handle in sprint races, or novice hurdles. Whatever. Pay attention to where your strengths lie, and focus more on that.
Obviously, the converse is true. If you can't help but bet on the biggest races (Group races and huge field handicaps), and you discover you haven't backed a winner in these race types for six months, stop!
Or, and this is my preferred approach, keep a small 'action bets' pot, which is separate from your main punting pot. That way, you can still get involved in the races where you probably shouldn't (from a financial perspective), but want to from an entertainment perspective.
Let's always remember the value of small stakes betting for FUN. I know it has become somewhat 'shouted out' by the make money mob and the materialism of our current social malaise (don't get me started!), but readers of geegeez remain predominantly recreational bettors and the content here is designed to fully support that.
Nevertheless, that doesn't excuse you from keeping - and inspecting - your records! 😉
9. Never Chase Losses
Yes, yes. I know you know. But you still do it, don't you?! Me too, from time to time.
There is a fundamental flaw in the human psyche that needs us to be right. That, on a subconscious level at least, is one of the main reasons we bet. And it can be expensive.
Have you ever spent a period of time studying for a race, before placing your bet on the horse you've determined looks 'nailed on', only to see it unluckily fall at the last, get beaten on the run-in, never quite make it under a lambastable jockey, etc.?
It happens often, right? And the way we deal with such reversals of fortune will ultimately define the success or failure we have in the long term.
Because the problem with chasing is it's irrational, and it happens when you're in a bad place mentally. You spent an hour going through that race where the gods mocked you, and you lost twenty quid when you should have won two hundred. So what happens next?
The scenario that I remember from my ugly past - which still gets replayed roughly once every four months - is that I see a race going off in about five minutes time, I rush to the paper on the wall (or the internet race card), and I inspect the race conditions and the form of the favourite.
If the favourite looks good, I bet it. With more money than I backed the selection I took much more time over, which finished unluckily. That selection where I'd looked at all the other horses in the race, and made a clear case for my pick, and against his opposition.
Here I am saying, 'the favourite looks like he has a favourite's chance, so I will throw money at him and hope he bails me out'.
'Hope betting'. That is expensive. When that 'jolly' gets beaten, perhaps in a close finish (30% of favourites win, but 62% place), you may feel doubly hard done to.
Obviously now the spiral is gaining downward momentum, and control is lost. The wallet opens and the next favourite is backed on little more than a whim. Soon enough, the last tenner in the purse is being lobbed at a greyhound - a bloody greyhound! - to nick back a few more punting chips with which to attempt to steal parity.
You walk out of the betting shop a hundred and fifty quid down. Or five hundred. Or a tenner. It doesn't matter really. That's a question of the scale of your betting. But the point is universal.
You feel terrible. Forget the money. If you're lucky enough to be able to afford to lose that amount (which we all should be, but this is not a time of rational thinking generally), you will still be kicking yourself at the stupidity of it.
So here's the deal: although I titled this one as 'never chase losses', I fully appreciate that this sort of monastic discipline is beyond most people - certainly beyond me - and I want to make these pointers actionable.
When you next encounter the ugliness of the above, 'wipe your mouth'. Accept it. Commit to not doing it again, at least not in the near future. Do NOT repeat the scenario on the next payday, Saturday, whenever is your punting day.
If a reversal like this keeps you straight for three to four months, as it generally does for me, then it is simply a self-levied 'stupid tax' on our entertainment, and our longer term quest to win a few quid.
Shit happens. But it shouldn't happen every week!
8. Don't Pay Too Much Attention to 'Stable Whispers'
We'd all love to believe that there exists a mythical shortcut to betting fortunes - and what more attractive fortune is there than one accrued from gambling - as a consequence of insider dealing. Stable whispers. Job horses. Plots.
First up, let's be clear. They do happen.
Second, let's be realistic. With all due respect, unless you're paying serious money, why the hell would anyone tell you?!
But we're weak. And we're fundamentally lazy. We want to believe that the bloke in the pub knows something. Or that the 'tipster with connections' is letting us in on a coup. Who wouldn't like a few friends like that?
Alas, nine times out of ten (stat made up on the spot to illustrate the point) the horse is beaten, or wins at far too short a price to offer a profit in the long term.
The problem with stable whispers is that they, like my out of control 'alter ego' in #9 above, only focus on the form credentials of one animal in a race. Dobbin may well have been 'lined up' for this event. He might even be 'catching pigeons' on the gallops. Plus myriad other banal cliches to exhort the virtues of one amongst a number of beasts facing the starter.
Yes, the problem is that this solipsistic (there, I've said it!) contention is akin to walking around with your hands over your eyes like a three year old and believing that because you can't see anyone else, there's nobody else there.
It. Is. Not. That. Simple.
Nor should it be. Where's the fun in that? Win and you want more. A dirty addiction; a filthy affliction, wedded to someone else's knowledge of one animal in a race. Lose, and you need a scapegoat. (Clearly, it should be you. But if your blind faith in others is such, then you're hardly likely to see your own reflection when it comes to the mirror of the post mortem...)
OK, too much sermonising there. The point is simple. If you already did your research and came up with a horse in a race, and then someone said it was fancied by the stable, great. Even if they fancy something against your selection, you might review the merit of that horse based on the form in the book (or however you choose your horses).
But taking one person's word for a single horse in a race about which you have no other opinion is irresponsible, and you ought not to do it. Next!
7. Watch More Racing.
All right, if listening to whispers is irresponsible, then how can we seize the ownership of our punting ways. Firstly, watch more racing. And watch it with your peripheral vision set to 'widescreen'.
What I mean by that is that betting is inevitably a pursuit of self-interest. We want to be right. We want to win money. As a consequence, why on earth would we watch any other nag but the one that could gloriously validate our pre-race assertions during the contest?
Er, because we probably will want to have another bet in the future... Again, flippancy aside, only one horse wins a race (apart from dead heats of course), and only one in six last time out winners follow up in their next race (stat not made up, but based on all UK winning horses in the last eight years).
So if you want to know about a horse's winning chance, in five out of six instances you'll need to look beyond the most obvious.
There are lots of ways to watch racing these days. The bookie, for sure. Some pubs show ATR and RUK, the industry channels. And ATR is free to many people with a digital telly. Subscription to RacingPost.com will give you a lot of races as well. And sportinglife.com will give you access to some races.
attheraces.com will also allow you to review past races for free.
There is then no excuse for not watching more racing. Aside from finding the time to do it. If time is precious, then you'll likely have to accept that there is limited utility in this entire post, because pretty much all of the points here require a time for knowledge transaction.
[Incidentally, time is a curious construct, which seems to expand or contract in direct and inverse proportion to our needs for it! But it can be tamed, and previously lost hours reclaimed, with a bit of desire and a clear action plan.]
When time is of the essence, your records inspection will support you in identifying where best to focus your attention in the limited window available to you. If you have an 'eye' for sprints, watch sprints. Look for troubled runs, or poor piloting. Look for potentially unfit horses who ran well and then may have 'blown up' due to lack of match fitness.
Some of these pointers you will find in the form book. But you'll see much more if you watch races, even if you're relatively inexperienced.
And, trust me on this if you don't already know, the satisfaction of finding an unheralded winner in this way smashes the living daylights out of receiving a 'hot tip'.
6. Don't Bet Outsiders.
Again, I know this may be draining all the fun out of betting on horses, but here is a sobering fact:
In UK racing since the start of 2009, just 1.75% of all races have been won by a horse starting at 20/1 or bigger. And those horses account for a bigger amount of lost betting points than all lower priced horses put together (roughly 35,000 compared with roughly 31,500).
That's a quite staggering stat to my eye.
Generally speaking, big priced horses are big prices for a reason. Lack of talent, maybe. Lack of form. Or unsuitability of conditions are three obvious reasons.
Trying to be clever is the best thing you can possibly do when betting. But we have to acknowledge the time and the place for contrarian thinking.
This is the logical slot for my 'wisdom of the crowds' reference... this has been discussed in great detail by far, far more erudite and intelligent bods than me, but in essence what we're saying here is that if three people have to guess the number of sweeties in a jar, they could be miles away from the actual number, when their guesses are averaged out.
But if three thousand people estimate the number of sweeties in that jar, and their guesses are averaged, there's a pretty strong probability that the mean average will be very close to the actual number. [You can read more about the wisdom of the crowds here.]
In betting terms, this means that a bookmaker may open his book with a horse at say 8/1, but it will take very little time for the crowd to 'assist' the bookie in moving the horse's odds far closer to the true price. This might mean it shortens or lengthens, but generally it will move. By off time, the market will have a very solid idea of who should win, and the likelihood thereupon.
And we can see the effectiveness of this collective betting wisdom by looking at the patterns of market rank (i.e. favourite, second favourite, third favourite, etc) and market odds.
This table, taken from horseracebase.com, shows the direct correlation between odds and win strike rate (and, actually, also losses).
|A) Less than 1/2||1042||766||74%||-30.71|
|B) Btw 1/2 & 10/11||3291||1757||53%||-265.05|
|C) Btw Evens & 6/4||5017||2096||42%||-282.66|
|D) Btw 13/8 & 9/4||10883||3377||31%||-890.79|
|E) Btw 5/2 & 4/1||32822||7006||21%||-3144.8|
|F) Btw 9/2 & 6/1||31966||4509||14%||-4170|
|G) Btw 13/2 & 8/1||34509||3559||10%||-4799|
|H) Btw 17/2 & 12/1||41145||2964||7%||-7356.5|
|I) Btw 14/1 & 20/1||47408||2116||4%||-10788|
|J) Btw 22/1 & 40/1||41723||842||2%||-16591|
|K) 50-1 or above||30667||181||1%||-18633|
And this one illustrates the market rank principle in the same way:
Again, we can see the direct relationship between market rank and win strike rate.
This is why I, and many others who are generally shrewder than me, look for a 'sweet spot' in the market. This is somewhere between the 'blindingly obvious' of short priced favourites, and the 'blind pin-sticking' of backing 20/1 and longer shots habitually.
A couple of important caveats to this are as follows:
1. If you identify a horse in the morning that you genuinely believe has been wrongly priced, then that's fair game. You will know by race time whether you were right to do this. If the horse has contracted into the 'money zone' (18/1 or shorter), well done, and good luck. If the horses are the same price or longer pretty much as often as you bet them, you may need to re-evaluate your technique.
2. If you identify a horse in an ante-post market that you genuinely believe has been wrongly priced, then that too is fair game. Again, you'll know by race time whether you made a smart call or not. And again, too many bad calls means it's time to get the metaphorical drains up and review the proverbial plumbing of your picking processes.
Either way, if your horse starts at 20/1+, you now know your chances of collecting!
5. Systemites Need Logic and Discipline!
Few things polarise thinking in betting circles as much as the use of betting systems. Here, I'm not talking about staking plans but rather mechanical rules-based selection techniques.
For instance, 'bet grey horses on a Wednesday when there's an 'E' in the month'. (I have deliberately used the most preposterous example I could think of).
When systems fail to be profitable, it is generally to do with one or both of the two main components involved in their operation: the system, and the user!
Let's look at that in more detail.
Firstly, the system. If you've been around racing for any length of time, you will probably have a pretty good 'bullshit detector', both when it comes to sales materials and system rules.
I've left the 'how to spot a scam artist' element for another day, because this is about you and me and how we can bet better.
So, the system. Use this as a rough framework through which to run a possible system, either devised by you, or bought by you.
1. Does the system have a vast number of rules?
Most of the best systems I've used are based on simplicity and strong (but often contrarian) logic. Every rule a system employs takes it a step further away from the most logical premise of all: a horse, in a race.
I'm extremely loathe to put a precise number for the rules threshold as that will be arbitrary, and in some cases fewer would be better, while other will demand deeper drilling and more rules.
Generally speaking though, more than five or six rules is probably whittling down to a statistically unrepresentative sample size. (However, to further complicate matters, experienced judges can still create micro-systems in very small pools of data, when they use a portfolio approach).
2. Are the system rules based on logic?
I saw a system recently that said, 'bet in all months except December'. When I asked why not December, I was told matter-of-factly that the system wasn't profitable in December.
In case you didn't know this already, the fact that a part of a variable (e.g. a month in a year, a going type, a race course) is not profitable is no reason in or of itself to exclude it. Equally, the fact that a part of a variable is profitable is no reason to include it.
It is the logic that underpins the rule that determines whether or not it should be included. Let's use a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean:
- Firstly, suppose I'm looking at a turf flat system which relies on the fitness of horses as its rationale. In this case, I might well be justified in excluding the month of April (the first full month of the flat turf season). Further, I might be justified in excluding a horse's first run of the season. Both of these exclusions would generally support the underlying rationale of my system, which is to bet fit horses, defined as those who were not having their first run of the season and in any case were running later than April.
- Secondly, let's say I was looking at the performance of highly weighted handicap chasers, based on the going conditions. Suppose I had a nice correlation of profit to loss based on going, from firm through to heavy. But suppose within that, the 'good to firm' category showed a loss whilst the 'firm' and 'good' categories (the neighbouring descriptions) were profitable.
There could be no conceivable logical reason to exclude races on 'good to firm' from my calculations. And, if the profile was sound enough, I'd proceed despite what looks to me like an anomaly. In other words, I can't explain why I'd exclude it, so I'll assume that in the future races run on that going description will conform to the general trend of races run of quicker surfaces.
These examples aren't brilliant in truth, but I hope you catch the general drift of what to look out for, and how to stop yourself from 'convenience fitting' (which I much prefer to the much misused 'back-fitting', a valid technique used by the likes of weather forecasters, insurance underwriters, and, gulp, system developers. Here's a Wiki definition of back-fitting).
Now let's look at the system operator, i.e. you or me!
Ask yourself some questions here. When a system says, 'I advise a bank of x points', do you start with a bank of x points? When a system advocates paper trading (as I always do) through all or part of the refund period, do you do that? If you are creating a system, and it suffers a losing run, are you likely to go back and 'tinker' with the rules?
If you don't use the recommended bank, or paper trade, or stick to your rules, fair enough. But you need to know that it may not be the system that is at fault... especially if it is grounded on the principles of sound logic espoused in the first part of this point.
As a user of one or more systems, we have a responsibility to be clinical in our trialing and / or betting approach. Like stable whispers, systems can be a bit too sterile for some tastes, and it can be argued that they take the magic out of the selection process.
However, for others, the narrowing of the selection process to a (hopefully) proven set of parameters is a joy, and the identification of those picks a happy moment in the daily routine.
Either way, a system user must either 'buy into' the logic of the system, or not. These days, when I see a system I can generally tell if it has merit or not by cursory inspection. After that, if I'm not sure, I'll use a database to interrogate certain rules to see if they make some sort of sense.
If I decide to incorporate a system into my portfolio, then I stick by it for a reasonable period. A reasonable period is three months at least (although it varies, depending on the number and price of selections).
Too many people lurch from one system to the next after a few losers, whining that the product doesn't work. If you're one of these, then forgive me, but how do you know if it works or not?!
In point of fact, there are stacks of betting system review sites out there these days, many of them reputable. Of course, we still do some reviewing here on geegeez. But most of the betting system reviews are now carried out on www.onlinebettingexposed.com or www.onlineracingreview.com, both of which are within the geegeez portfolio.
These are reliable sites, where products are trialed for sixty days, and a view offered not just on their profitability but also their ease of use, volatility and various other factors that influence the usability of a system.
So, no excuses, the evidence is there, and one needs to take personal responsibility for how and when systems are used. 🙂
4. Good Runs and Bad Runs.
I can't remember where I first read this, but it has always stuck with me, and I want you to try to remember it. I'll explain why in a minute.
"After a good run, expect a bad run. After a bad run, expect a good run"
Everything is cyclical: good times, bad times; night, day; yin, yang; blah, blah.
So here's your problem: you receive yet another email declaring that System A or Tipster B has been on the most rip-roaring tsunami of winners that you surely must be a mug not to pay up and join up.
Well, er, no actually. What should you expect to happen? "After a good run, expect a bad run."
I don't need to tell you that nobody is infallible, and alchemy was proven to be bunk in the middle ages when they were not very good at science.
If someone is telling you they've found a stack of winners... heck, even if you actually believe them!... the inevitability of a losing run in the near future is set in stone.
Let me put this another way: "After a bad run, expect a good run"
It is the most contrarian logic, maybe, but if one of the systems in my backing portfolio (note, I wouldn't do this with a laying system) has a losing run, I often increase my stakes.
Why? Because I know that if a system has made it into the portfolio, then I have confidence in the underlying logic. I also know something of the likely length of losing runs, based on the average odds and such like. So I know when to turn the taps on a little, and by how much.
This is the case with my own Winning Trainers (aka Dirty Two Dozen) as I write (22nd December). It's on a losing run of 43. FORTY-THREE.
But that was after a period when it had four winning months and is still over 110 points up since going live at the start of August. And, as these runs are wont to do, I - and other Winning Trainers users - have suffered second places at 8/1, 11/1, 17/2, 11/1, and 16/1 in those 43 losers. Bummer. But that's life.
I've increased my stakes for the second time in this run, and am looking forward to the inevitability that 'after a bad run, expect a good run'.
May I suggest that the next time an email or mailing piece tells you of a phenomenal run, you consider what I've written here.
Oh, and if you want to, you can read more about Winning Trainers here.
3. Tipsters and Shysters
Tipsters. The very word sends shudders down my spine. I know a fair bit about racing, and I write a fair few pieces on here (and elsewhere) which conclude with a selection. But I am not a tipster. I'm much more of a systemite, I'd say.
The problem with tipsters in the main - though there are exceptions, some of them notably good - is that you don't actually know if they're any better at picking horses than you!
Another problem with tipsters is that many followers of tipsters want winners not profit. As long as the follower in question recognises that, there's no problem at all.
What I mean is that 'Honest 'Arry' could give five winning tips from seven in a week, but still lose money if they were all odds on, some of them heavily.
Now if 'Honest 'Arry' has a track record that is both in the public domain and has shown 'imself to be profitable, then all well and good. Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and all that; good runs and bad runs.
But if 'Arry's trick is to make people think they're winning because of the number of winning selections, then we have a problem. This happens more than you might imagine.
We need value in our winners. What is value? Well, aside from being another article entirely, it is this: a sufficient return to both justify and pay for all of the losers and leave a little bit besides.
This, I'm afraid, will often require the user of tipsters to keep records (gasp, again). But the bookie accounts will show the tale of the tape (recorded messages).
Now, don't get me wrong. Whilst I'm personally not a fan of tipsters (I prefer to back my own judgment, for better or worse), there are some good ones. Tom Segal (Pricewise in the Racing Post) is the most everyman affordable and effective tipster I know.
For a couple of quid a day, you can get real insights. I remember recently on the amazing 'Champions Day' card at Ascot, he put up two horses in the closing 30 runner apprentice handicap (amazing Champions Day, bar that), and they finished first and third. The winner, Edinburgh Knight, was 18/1 and the third was 12's, having been heavily backed.
Gavin's brother Gary is a notable tipster of sprint handicappers at huge prices. They don't win often, but when they do, they pay for the losers and leave a lit bit extra besides. That's value. And he's been doing it for the twenty years I've known him. He's just a judge of these things.
So yes, you can find the occasional top tipster. But look for clearly documented evidence that they are who they say they are, and they have tipped who they say they've tipped. Again, OBE and ORR have tipster reviews which you can trust as coming from the geegeez stable of reviews.
Me? Like I said, I prefer to pick 'em myself, though I will often look to see what Tom Segal or Gary have put up (and they'll generally make my placepot perms at least!)
2. Be Selective!
It is impossible to win every race. Duh! But if you're the type who sits in a shop backing from race to race, or sits at home doing the same, here are some interesting pointers.
The top tipster in the Newspaper Challenge this year is Rob Wright of The Times, with an excellent 26% strike rate and a loss of 6.22% of all stakes invested. Across 8673 picks, that's pretty good going.
But blindly backing favourites this year would have yielded a 35% strike rate (more winning favourites this year than usual), and a loss of 7.01%
'Favourites' sits second in the newspaper challenge behind Rob Wright, with all other 'paper tipsters lower down.
However, if we look at the national newspaper 'nap' selections, we get a very different story.
There are fully seventeen newspaper tipsters in profit with their naps. The pick of the pickers is currently Blackpool Gazette's Steve Simpson, who is over 31 points in front.
My point here is that selectivity is much more likely to lead to profit than trying to bet every race.
If you must bet every day, no problem. Have that 'action bet' sub-bank ready. It makes sense that if you're following a system you trust, or you fancy one, you should be having a bigger bet than if you just want to have a wager.
There's nothing at all wrong with 'just wanting to have a wager'. I do most days. But I might have a tenner (or a fiver) on a 6/1 shot. Or I might even have two quid on a longer priced thing, for an interest. This is different from when I fancy something, and the stakes reflect that.
The numbers in the stakes above are unimportant. Some bet more, some less. The material point is that when betting for fun, use smaller stakes.
When betting based on a view, bet your normal stake. And be selective.
1. Commit to Learning
What a boring number one point, eh? Well, yes and no. It depends how you think about it really. For me, watching racing presented by intelligent people (I'm afraid you'll need a satellite dish or digibox for that, in the UK at least), is instructive.
Reading blogs - maybe even this blog - can be helpful. Reading books too.
It doesn't really matter how you learn best, whether it's the spoken or written word, TV, internet or a book or newspaper. What matters is that you understand that if you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting.
As cheesy and hackneyed as that maxim is, it is also true. So commit to learn more about horse racing and betting. Understand how the betting market works, and the different routes into it (ante post, morning prices, best odds guaranteed, exchanges, arbitrage, laying, tote, indices).
Learn more about trainers to follow. Look at how class affects performance. And pace. And fitness. And speed. And jockeyship. And trip. And so on and so on.
It is as impossible to know everything as it is not to learn anything when you commit to the subject matter. For me, this is a lifelong journey, irrespective of whether I get to continue writing here or not. I'll never lose my love for racing, and betting, and my thirst for knowledge remains as unslaked now as it was the first time I ever watched a race.
I have more books to read on the subject than there is time available (currently on Michael Pizzola's 'Handicapping Magic', a rare out of print US text written about ten years ago; and Racing Post's 500 Greatest Gambles, a bit of light entertainment with some interesting historical snippets that I'll drop into the blog from time to time), but that's ok. I'll get to them... probably. 😉
The other side of the coin, for more experienced racing bettors, is research. Who says you can only consume the work of others? The internet has both made huge quantities of data readily available, and made everybody a potential publisher.
This is how I got to jack in the day job and indulge my passion. And it's how I've ended up writing 5000 words here, when I only planned for about 1500...!
But this is not about me. It's about you: about you being a better bettor.
If just one or two of the points above resonate with you, and you vow to work on those elements, you'll have more fun, win more money, and feel more in control of your racing and wagering experiences. Surely, that can't be a bad thing!
Please re-tweet, like/share, or otherwise spread the love in this post if you think it worthy of such actions. Thanks in advance. 🙂
p.s. if you'd like to publish this post on your own blog, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now then, Geegeez will be taking a few days off between now and Boxing Day, so let me take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas. In fact, I conscripted some help from my good friend, Chinelope, to spread a giggle with those wishes. Enjoy the very short video below, have a great festive period, and I'll be back in a few days.