The Cheltenham Festival 2014 is almost upon us and, with the unending bombardment of data, stats, bookie offers, stable whispers, preview nights, and tips (many of them emanating from these virtual pages, it should be added!), it can be hard to see the winning wood from the information overload trees.
So, in this post, I'll outline my 'Driving to Cheltenham Profits with BSM' methodology. It's nothing to do with a certain car training school, but everything to do with a three step process to keep yourself honest in the midst of what is always a week of frenzied activity.
Now, before I go any further, I should say that if Cheltenham's four day Festival is just another race meeting for you - if you do nothing differently from any other racing day - then fair play, this post will probably have limited utility.
If, however, you take the 27 races which comprise National Hunt's Olympics as a sort of personal, maybe even professional, challenge, then this will hopefully act as a timely aide memoire to retaining sanity, at the very least.
OK, with that said, let me introduce you to the first of my BSM components:
As I've scribbled above, and you probably know, there are 27 races spread across the four days of Cheltenham. From the big fields of unexposed novices to the even bigger fields of wily handicappers - many of whose talent lights have been hidden under various inappropriate engagement bushels for the larger part of the season - the Cheltenham Festival is a minefield for punters.
Consequently, it makes sense to allocate a separate ring-fenced betting pot, specifically for the week. By doing so, you'll be forced to think in terms of four days and 27 races, rather than lurching from race to race, wager to wager.
The nature of the Festival is that a significantly disproportionate amount of the publicity is focused on the first day. It's usually correct to say that Cheltenham Tuesday offers the highest calibre of racing; but that doesn't necessarily translate into it having the best wagering opportunities. Bookies are looking to get online accounts loaded on Day One, so you bet with them subsequently, and the vast majority of the best offers relate to the first day as a result.
But those who burn brightly on Tuesday only to fizzle out by early Thursday face a long walk home, in purely metaphorical terms of course (at least, I hope that's the case!)
So how much are you setting aside to wager across the Festival? And how might you divide that fund over the four days?
If you know you like a couple on Friday, make sure you've either already backed them, or you've left an adequate slice for that purpose. There's little in betting more soul-destroying than doing it in before your main fancy comes along; then limping onto it because you're 'short-stacked'; and seeing it romp home. That's an ugly, and wholly avoidable, scenario.
Finally on Bank, it doesn't make sense, unless you're following a tipping service, to bet level stakes, especially if you're intending - like me - to bet in every race, to some degree or other. Which brings me on to my second element of BSM...
Know your strengths. As trite as that may sound, keep it in mind as the week progresses. What's your wagering / handicapping forte? Are you a judge at picking out 'plot' horses in handicaps? Do you have an all-seeing eye when it comes to Championship races? Can you skilfully infer improvement in novice horses?
Unless you're a full-time pro, the truth is likely to be that you're none of the above. But you will still be more akin to one of those types than the others. As such, it makes sense to focus more of your energies on that which you are most adept, and less on that which you are most inept.
For me, this means a primary focus on the Championship races and some of the novice events, and a cursory review of the handicap form using a few tools and techniques I've developed to shortlist the fields.
Obviously, then, betting one point level stakes across that varied punting panorama is plain daft. I will be wagering in line with the strength of my opinions, and I will live or die (again, metaphorically only!) by those opinions.
That means I will be getting stuck into a couple of Championship events; I will be having a reasonable tickle on some in the novice races; and I'll generally be mucking about in the handicaps, hoping to get lucky at a price (which, of course, is perfectly possible at Cheltenham, where lots of good horses are sent off at a price).
[Note, if you've been following my Cheltenham race previews, you'll know I've hammered one handicapper, though it's not one of the traditional handicap events... Hint: I've only previewed one handicap 😉 ]
So, what are your strengths? Give it a bit of thought if you haven't already, and try to "gear your portfolio" accordingly.
That leads us nicely into the final third of my punting triptych (good horse, she was)...
Incorporating pieces of both Bank and Strengths, Mindset is crucial when betting, especially when we're exposed to the searing heat of a furnace of fetlocks and fancies for four full days.
It's always interesting to note the reactions of big punters - those whose responses can be publicly viewed, anyway - like JP McManus. They seem to maintain a Kipling-esque stoicism, greeting "those two impostors" of Triumph and Disaster even-handedly.
Of course, inside, they're probably cartwheeling or crying. But managing those emotions is the key to not losing - or gaining - too much confidence.
The thing with a meeting like Cheltenham is that plenty of winners are sent off at 12/1, 14/1, 16/1 and bigger. If your modus operandi is, like mine, to be frequently involved at that sort of price, then - even if you're very good - you'll incur longish losing sequences.
It is of paramount importance to remember that this is par for the course, and to continue to trust yourself. The worst thing bettors can do if they have an overall knack of finding enough nice-priced winners to pay for the losers and manage some bunce left over, is to chase the top of the market in the hope of clawing things back.
Firstly, it's not a part of the market for which you'll have the same 'value barometer'. And secondly, even when you do catch a winner - or even two - it's unlikely to return the fund to parity.
What we're actually doing when we adopt this approach is seeking comfort in correctness: a little ego stroke and reassurance when the winners have absented themselves. Always keep in mind one of the maxims of geegeez in times like this:
"What do you really want? Winners? Or profit?"
Finding winners at Cheltenham is bloody hard. But if you're safe in the knowledge that when they're unearthed, they generally pay for a lot of losers, then you're ahead of the pack mentally. Don't give in to self-doubt. After all, if you've set aside a bank and you've still got some of it to tickle the Grand Annual, the final race of 27, you've done well, win, lose or draw.
And keep in mind another geegeez maxim too:
"If it's not fun, we might as well go and get a job"
The most important aspect of mindset - even if you're a professional - is to enjoy Cheltenham's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
It's going to be great!!! 🙂
p.s. here's Rudyard with a poem so utterly magnificent it's been confined to cliché in pieces such as this. But if ever a man captured the very essence of what it is to engage in the betting battle at Cheltenham, it was - unwittingly - the fellow whose namesake baked exceedingly good cakes.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!