What makes a good bet? Obviously, after the event, any winner is ostensibly a good bet, but many winners are still more 'lucky' than 'good'. In this post, I want to share an approach to finding good bets which has served me very well down the years, and which has been built right into the geegeez.co.uk racecards.
The Contrast Principle
You may or may not be familiar with the contrast principle, which has many applications. It is used in art, in design and in selling. What the contrast principle seeks to do is to emphasize something in relation to its surrounding environment.
So, for example, in design, the contrast principle generally uses a vibrant colour as a background for a silhouetted figure or object. Here's an example of contrast principle in design from one of the biggest marketing companies on the planet.
Note how the black silhouette in the foreground stands out against the green backdrop; and, of course, note how the white product - an iPod - stands out against both.
Each element is easily recognisable from the others.
Now take a look at the second image, where the contrast is progressively less distinct.
Whilst the top statement is clearly visible, the middle one is tough to read, and the bottom one is very difficult to make out.
At this stage you would be forgiven for wondering what all this has to do with the price of fish. Or, more pertinently still, with the pursuit of good bets. So let's zone back into the betting angle, the scene having been set.
Good horses do not automatically make good bets
The first challenge we as punters face is identifying the right races in which to wager. Every day, bookmakers will feature one or more races, with enhanced odds or place terms or other concessions.
There is, naturally, a reason they're prepared to do that. And the reason is that finding winners in such races is generally bloody hard! Despite such races often being the highest quality events of the day, with the deepest level of competition, they do not offer bettors any kind of natural edge.
That's because the relative ability range is normally quite tight: put another way, many of the horses will be in form, come from top stables, have scope to improve, and so on. The horse player consequently has to assimilate the known - form in the book, trainer form, etc - with the unknown - how much more a horse may be able to produce in this race.
That's a trappy old conundrum and, whilst one may occasionally have a strong view not already echoed by the market, such opportunities are rare.
It's all about good races (which is to say, bad races)
Good races, as opposed to good horses, are what make for good bets. And such good races are very often bad races. Eh?! OK, let's get to the rub. My point is this. Good races in which to bet are those where one horse, or in certain circumstances more than one, stand out but are overlooked by the market. For my preferred approach, such races generally share a set of characteristics, as follows:
- Comprised entirely of exposed horses, none of which can be expected to leap forward to a career high today
- Small fields of ten or less runners
- A questionable favourite being asked to do something it has either not previously attempted, or has previously failed at
Let's look at each of these in turn.
First, we want races where pretty much all of the evidence exists in the form book. Older horse handicaps, claiming races, and the like work very well for these sort of purposes.
Secondly, it pays to find races where there is a manageable number of runners. That leads to less 'luck in running' sob stories, and less chances for a fairly well treated rival to usurp our fancy.
And thirdly, crucially, we need another animal in the race to exaggerate the price of our horse. These obvious types are almost always overbet and, in the competitive market space, that means support for one horse leads to resistance for most of the rest. Or, in plain terms, bigger prices for most of the rest.
How to find a bet - finding one to be against
In order to find good bets that meet the approach outlined above, we need to be doing something the market is not doing. In order to do that, we need to know what the market is doing.
Here's a caricature of market behaviour in two sentences:
1. Once a horse starts to become well backed, a snowball effect often transpires where brainless punters are keen to be on 'the gamble' irrespective of the price being offered and, therefore, the value proposition
2. A horse that won last time or, better still, that was considered unlucky in running last time, is almost always overbet.
So, if we can find a horse that either won the last day or has been touted as an 'unlucky loser', we may well have a falsely framed market. Last time out winners win their next start approximately one in six times. Which is to say they don't win their next start five times out of six. Obviously, not all last time out winners are equal, but as a general principle, this still works.
It's my opinion that the market over-reacts - often significantly - to recent form. It does this seemingly regardless of any material changes in the conditions of today's event in comparison with those of recent performances from the entries.
Let's take an example from yesterday.
Annaluna was running in a seven runner mares' handicap hurdle at Chepstow and opened up 13/8 favourite on the back of a last day win, her first for two years over hurdles. She was backed in to 5/4 at the off. This despite her previous soft ground form reading 63344, and despite three of those runs being when priced at 10/3 or shorter, two of them as favourite.
With 26 runs to her name already, Annaluna was unlikely to improve this time and, at the price, was a very poor value proposition. Annaluna finished fifth of seven.
I backed the winner in this race, an unexposed type from a team who do well with horses having their first runs in handicap hurdles. This was a bet made possible by what I perceived to be a terribly short priced favourite. (Note, it wasn't necessarily a good bet as the market drift suggested I'd got it wrong!)
How to find a bet - finding one to be with
Unless you're a layer, it's all well and good finding a questionable horse at the top of the market, but we still need to find one to bet against it. And here's where the contrast principle kicks in. We're looking for a horse whose recent form is probably not at the level of those who make the market, but who has 'back class' - and excuses!
The most important factor for me is the strength of a horse's historical form profile. That, allied to its price, determines how many excuses I am prepared to make for ostensibly poor (or genuinely poor!) performances since previous highs.
It's easier to grasp this with an example, so let's take a convenient one from, again, yesterday. The 2.05 at Market Rasen was a handicap hurdle where the least exposed horse in the field had had fourteen runs already. In other words, none of the five was likely to leap forward on their known level of ability. A good starting point.
It also featured a horse which had been plunged upon: Home Run was having his first start since March and was backed into 13/8 favouritism for a respected trainer - David Pipe - who was also in form. But Home Run, whilst liking soft ground (three wins from six previously), had failed to win in seven prior attempts in Class 2 company. And here he was, a 13/8 shot, on his 24th career start. This was looking promising.
But then I needed to find one to be with. Enter Master Of The Hall. Here was a horse - now ten - who, in his day, had won a Listed chase at Aintree, the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, and a Class 2 chase at Kelso. He'd achieved those victories on ground ranging from heavy to good, and all four of his chase wins had been within a quarter mile of three miles - today's trip - and with between three and five rivals.
Moreover, in the hurdles sphere, Master Of The Hall had won two races in 2014, both at Market Rasen. Indeed, since mid-May, he'd run five times at Rasen with form figures of 21312.
So what price do you think Master Of The Hall was sent off here? 9/2? 6/1? How about 25/1?
Remember what I wrote about excuses at the top of this section? The striking thing about Master Of The Hall is that we didn't even have to make any excuses for him. In his previous three runs, he'd won over course and distance (albeit in Class 4), finished a close second, and then fell when disputing in the latter part of the race last time. Hardly a string of duck eggs, is it?
[It should be said that Home Run was going well when falling late in the race, but Master Of The Hall ran on right to the line, and there's no saying Home Run - not always the strongest finisher - would have seen his job out had he remained upright].
The hard way to do this, and the easy way
As with most things in life, there's a hard way to find bets like these... and there's an easy way.
The hard way is to use a racing form database, or perhaps Racing Post online (forget about the newspaper, complete waste of time for betting purposes, and I absolutely genuinely mean that. I pity people trying to win at betting on horses who are exclusively using the Racing Post newspaper), and to trawl through the form of each horse individually to find a horse with back class, and an acceptable number of excuses.
Just finding a horse with the right profile would involve sifting through every runner in every race, or at least the majority subset without recent form.
And then there's the easy way.
Geegeez Gold has a daily report called The Shortlist. It looks a bit like this.
The Shortlist condenses the best 'profile fit' horses against the conditions of the race in which they're running in today (and tomorrow).
Note the 'line of green' for Master Of The Hall at the very top of the report, and his score of 15 on the right hand side (click any image in this post to open it full size in another window).
Also note that there were no other entries on The Shortlist for his race, the 2.05 Market Rasen. This is really important from the perspective of the contrast principle I've alluded to already. Clicking on the race time takes users directly to the Instant Expert grid, a visual form profile for all of the runners in the race in a single view, and from which The Shortlist is derived.
Here's the Instant Expert for the 2.05 Market Rasen yesterday:
See how not only did Master Of The Hall have the full 'green carpet', implying a royal betting opportunity, but his form profile was in stark contrast to the red and occasional amber of his rivals, all of whom had multiple knocks against at least one of yesterday's core conditions.
Bets like these, at these sorts of prices, come along once or twice a week. They obviously don't all win. If they did, I'd be writing this as part of my retirement keynote speech from a beach in Barbados (or, more likely, San Diego). But 25/1 winners with blatant credentials do come along a number of times a year. And shorter priced horses - though still value propositions in the context of their races - crop up daily.
Gold subscribers can get The Shortlist every day from the Report Selector dropdown:
If you're not a Gold subscriber, you'll still be able to see The Shortlist report on Tuesdays, though you won't be able to look at the Instant Expert grids to compare and contrast.
You do however have access to Instant Expert grids on Thursdays - so you could have manually found Master Of The Hall yesterday - and can very quickly spot possible 'of interest' horses. By "very quickly", I mean within three minutes for a day when there are four meetings.
This is just one of the amazing winner-finding features of Geegeez Gold, where we do things a bit differently and, I like to think, a bit better. Stat of the Day is the first port of call for most Gold subscribers, and that one a day tipping service has bagged a whopping 96.43 points profit to the end of October, with just one losing month.
That's an average of 9.643 points per month profit which, even at £3 a point, would more than cover the cost of subscribing.
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