Your Questions, My Answers

Last week, I invited you to send in your questions. About, about racing, about betting. And you did. In your droves. So today, I've recorded a video to answer them all. It's long - two hours - so underneath the video box is a list of the questions and subject headings, as well as some resources to which I've referred in the recording. I hope you'll find (at least some of) it useful.


p.s. I've also managed to create a podcast version should you prefer to listen to the audio.

n.b. The number before the questions below is the point in the video at which you'll find that answer.

Your Questions

The number before the questions below is the point in the video at which you'll find that answer.

*Race Types and betting*

1:45 - How do you work out handicaps? - Kevin Clarke

Click here for a blog post about how to look at handicap races

22:55 - My Question is I am not sure what I am looking for in looking for winners.  I use first expert to sort out horses that fit the greens this is the dogs. Then I look at pace to see if the selection has the credentials then I go to draw if flat and look at that. Then I pretty much lose the plot what do you look for after this.  Thanks love the videos learnt so much From Geegeez. - John A

27:40 - I am a massive Placepot nut , any advice on this type of bet with regards to Gold would be much appreciated.  What do you think of Colossus Bets which now offer this bet and any advice on the Cash Out option ? - Simon B

How to win the placepot

Geegeez placepot ABCX ticket builder

How to use the ticket builder

36:15 - I wonder if you could come up with a good query tool to able to lay a short price horse successfully.  I do lay, I am down money and I need to turn things around. - Gerry M

- First up I enjoy reading your articles. My question is what feature in geegeez you would use and how would you use it to find small priced lays if that is possible. - Murray S

43:00 - Would you kindly expand on the relative values of Pace in Chase, Hurdles and NH Flat. I'd find that very helpful. Many thanks. - Keith B

Article on pace in 'speed' handicap chases

46:55 - What do you do to improve your strike rate - James T

49:35 - I would like to see more guidance on how you as an expert would go about picking a selection or 2, maybe a guided bet for a Saturday and big meetings. - Steve S

51:25 - Breeding and sales data snippet there is numbers after the stallion name, like 6,7f. What that figure means? What is your personal opinion about a very big break before start? Like over 200 days. I mean in the betting perspective. Is it better to leave those kind of horses without a bet? Thank you for excellent site! - Jussi A

54:15  - Hi Matt, forgive me if I’m wrong but I didn’t notice the ‘bringing it all together’ section on your last web tutorial thingy.  I’ll admit to still struggling with gold as there is so much to look at & whilst i feel like I understand all of the individual components of full form, pace, draw & the reports,  I’m still really struggling to know which ones to give the most weight/credence to & which ones to ignore as obviously they’re all pointing at different horses. If you could show how you sit down & attack a race cold or what starting points you use that lead you to a bet then that would help somewhat I think. I feel like you say ‘that horse could be of interest depending on other factors’ for example but then we didn’t really see you carry on that selection process to the end in any of those web shows. I appreciate you may have reservations about doing that as there’s so many different ways of using gold & you don’t want to ‘prescribe’it to us but I feel, if like me, you’re a new member who has previously tried & failed to make gold work for them, it’s incredibly frustrating to know that the relevant information is in there but i just can’t land on it with any confidence! - Iain M

59:07  - So, all in all, I’m probably in the mode of not being able to see the wood for the trees, almost too much information and not knowing how best to use it.  I’m also probably guilty of looking for big priced winners rather than just winners and of the old fear of missing a winner so backing it regardless. As a rule, I have always been led by Horses for Courses, Ground specialists and runners back to a winning handicap mark and since joining Geegeez I do like the TJ combo. So, I guess this is a very open ended ‘question’ and probably not one you can easily answer, but given all of the above (and below) can you give me a steer to start making this excellent service pay for me a bit better please?  I’m not looking to retire early or win a million, just nice steady returns and a bit of fun along the way. - Lee

*Technology *

1:03:30 - Can you see yourselves developing a geegeez mobile app in the future? Roy N


1:05:15 - First time headgear (report, and QT)

1:07:20 - Is it possible to add to the racecard, a going filter, to see if any of the red/green figures are changed, and the form figures can relate to such an update? Instant expert does show most of this but not if the trainer's or jockeys record without having to use full form screen. - Terry S

1:10:30 - why does the contextual breeding data/trainer data etc update so late in the day before the race?  Before I used Geegeez I used to pick my horses at around 11am (just after declaration) and then place the bets in the evening. My mornings and evenings are busy so this worked best for me. I understand that you obviously wouldn’t change the way you do things just or me, but is it possible for this data to be uploaded earlier in the day? - Tom F

1:12:20 - would it be possible to add in a horses current Official Rating onto Full Form? Just that when you're looking at its past ratings, you need to minimise the window to look at the race card to see its current OR. - Eddie K

1:12:40  - Hi Guys, can I check the previous high /low prices of horses inplay if a particular horse has generally shortened in running - Michael M

*Staking / Tipsters*

1:13:30 - I am really  disappointed with SOTD , I am a yearly subscriber, it is very difficult to get BOG without being gubbed , however I do like you and your apparent honesty that's why I rejoined, but this service Stat Of The Day, leaves a lot to be desired, as I understand SOTD is found using your stats , so what does it say for using your stats. I hope that this does not come across as a knee jerk reaction , but this has been a long time coming, you asked for comments so here is mine ! - David H

1:18:40 - Do you have a forum/ group chat where you and other members send out their selections for the day? - Joe D

1:19:30 - I follow 3 or 4 racing tipsters, all have long term profitable records. However often they will tip different horses in the same race. What strategy should one adopt? Cover all, (split stake or not?) and therefore reduce overall return. Or if they tip same horse, should i increase stake? I would use separate betting banks, but wonder whether better to focus on just one tipster? - David E

1:21:28 - For many years l believed that doubles, trebles etc., were a mugs game and always stuck to win only successfully until l read somewhere that if you knew what you were doing with your selections they could be lucrative so brought this into my betting and found this so far to be true. What is your opinion on this? - Thomas

1:24:35 - I believe that you once wrote that raising stakes during a losing run was better than raising them during a winning run. Is my memory right. If not, what are your thoughts on staking. - Barry C

1:28:30 - When a new service goes live, why do all the tipsters I follow, have to blitz it, day afterday after day? It's blimmin annoying ,and 9times,out of 10, it turns out to be less than useless. But I'm at the stage now, where I am just deleting, and unsubscribing;  so you can guess that I've missed some of the ones that, actually work.  Could you just tell me, are they being paid ,for mentioning that service(which they've said they have proofed for infinity years)??  Actually, my own service is amazing: You'll never get any winners, but at least I'm up front, about it!! - Steven S


1:34:10 - Around the time of Goodwood Matt Chapman suggested that there were several odd SPs. Who determines the SP? Is this something the Bettor's Forum is concerned about. I think most bettors will put up with the occassional horse which wins out of the blue having been well backed. They like the idea of an old fashioned coup landed. The idea that the whole system is skewed against them is a different ball game. - Ben S

1:38:20 - As I consider the going on the day to be very important.Is there a way to get round the lies that most Clerks and the Bha are sending out. All the best and thanks for all the help over the years, - John

1:43:30 - I was told that Sportsbook at Betfair was covering single bets, with a pay out of up to £500.00 without having your account closed, is this really true? If so what about multiples, would they stand a higher amount on these? I am thinking mainly of football bets. By the way who owns Sportsbook or managers it? - Philip P

1:44:30  - Could I ask if you have heard of any bookies who have gubbed or restricted accounts offering reasonable bets on Class 1 or 2 races? - William J

1:46:30  - I have had my account with Skybet restricted although I don't think I have won much from them. Is this common as for the stakes I am using I cannot imagine I am much of a threat. I do only bet a small number of bets per year, maybe 70-80. - Geoff W


1:47:15 - I'd like to be pointed in the right direction regarding using the query tool please. I am sure this is a feature I do not use due to not understanding it - Paul E

1:49:05 - Thanks for being so open with your wealth of knowledge … much appreciated . I am a “systems” man and was just wondering what I should be accepting as a minimum figures for my systems if I would want to make it work on a more professional basis  =  win % /  roi % sp / roi % bfair /  “ a/e “ and or “chi”  ?? (are the last 2 the same ?) - Brian C

1:53:35 - Would it be possible to re-do the QUERY TOOL recording I get the gist of it but your teaching has a lot to be desired. I take you have never taught in a class room as you have no synchronisation what so ever or lesson plan talk about wing and a prayer Or as you put it WINGING IT - Frank R

1:55:15 - I understand A/E and I/V at least in so much as anything over 1 is good. But if A/E is say .81 and I/V is say 1.3 does  that indicate a  negative stat .....I'm presuming that it does. - Mick S

Betting Mastery Video #1: Setting Yourself Up to Succeed

In this first video, I want to talk about the building blocks of success as a bettor on horse racing. It starts more fundamentally than which horse should I back or in which race should I bet, as you'll discover...

The Importance of Pace in ‘Speed’ Handicap Chases

After writing five articles on 5f turf handicaps it seemed sensible, as we were heading into Autumn, that I would start looking at pace in National Hunt racing, writes Dave Renham.

For readers who have not read my pace articles before I will precis what pace in a race means.  When I talk about pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race, and the position horses take early on. has a pace tab for every race and the stats I am sharing with you in this article are based on the site’s pace section data.

The pace data on Geegeez is split into four – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets are the pace scores that are assigned to each section.

For this article I am concentrating on course data and creating pace figures for specific course and distance combinations – my focus for this piece is handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter. In some research 7 or 8 years ago, I noted a bias to front runners in these races – not as strong as some flat race front- running biases, but a bias nonetheless.

The first set of data I wish to share is the overall pace stats for handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter (minimum number of runners in a race 6):

Pace comment Runners Wins SR%
Led 1936 362 18.7
Prominent 4145 608 14.7
Mid Division 1423 144 10.1
Held Up 4459 388 8.7


We can see that horses which led or disputed the lead early have a notably higher strike rate in these handicap chases. Prominent racers have a good looking record too, while hold up horses tend to struggle.

Another way to illustrate the data is through Impact Values – the best explanation of an impact value or (IV) is one I read many years ago in a book by Dr William Quirin, called Winning at the Races. He stated that impact values “are calculated by dividing the percentage of winners with a given characteristic by the percentage of starters with that characteristic. An IV of 1.00 means that horses with a specific characteristic have won no more and no less than their fair share of races”.

To help explain IVs further let us use the ‘led’ stats in this article to illustrate the idea. As can be seen in the table above horses that have led early have won 18.7% of these races.

Summing all of the pace data, there were 1502 winners with a pace score* from a total of 11963 runners with a pace score which gives an overall win percentage of 12.56%.

If we divide 18.7 by 12.56, then, we get the impact value for leaders – this gives us an impact value of 1.49.

*Pace scores are derived from in-running comments. In about 5% of cases it is impossible to discern the early position of a horse from its in-running comment

Here are the impact values for each pace category:

Pace comment Impact Value
Led 1.49
Prominent 1.17
Mid Division 0.81
Held Up 0.69


Using either win percentages or the slightly more sophisticated Impact Values give us the same overall picture: in handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter there is a clear advantage to a more prominent running style – the closer to the lead early, the better.

As when I looked at 5f flat handicap pace data, there are significant differences in the course figures for these contests too with some courses being more suited to early leaders/front runners than others. Here are the courses with the best strike rates (25 front runners minimum):


Course Front Runners Wins SR%
Hexham 68 24 35.3
Taunton 39 13 33.3
Huntingdon 42 13 31.0
Lingfield 32 9 28.1
Wincanton 40 10 25.0
Plumpton 45 11 24.4
Sandown 46 11 23.9
Ludlow 82 19 23.2


For the record, Haydock’s strike rate for front runners was 38.9%, but there were only a handful of races (14). Now let us look at the courses with the best impact values which should give a more accurate measure of front running bias:


Course IV for Front runners
Hexham 2.96
Taunton 2.42
Huntingdon 2.31
Cheltenham 2.29
Lingfield 2.05
Hereford 1.93
Ludlow 1.81
Wincanton 1.80
Carlisle 1.80
Catterick 1.70
Sandown 1.68


The order is similar, but Cheltenham appears in 4th place in this list compared with a lowly 23rd placing on the SR% list. The simple reason for this is that chases of this type at Cheltenham have many more runners on average compared to all other racecourses. This perfectly demonstrates why Impact Values are so important and statistically meaningful.

Hexham’s front running bias is very strong – indeed it should be noted that hold up horses have a dreadful record there winning just 6 of the 56 races from a total of 174 runners (IV 0.29).

At the other end of the scale here are the courses with the poorest stats for early leaders/front runners in handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter:


Course Front Runners Wins SR%
Newcastle 44 6 13.6
Bangor 38 5 13.2
Ayr 55 7 12.7
Musselburgh 25 3 12.0
Southwell 94 11 11.7
Wetherby 50 5 10
Aintree 43 4 9.3
Newbury 40 3 7.5
Ascot 48 2 4.2


Very poor figures on the face of it for Ascot, Aintree and Newbury. Again, though, the impact values will provide a more complete picture. The table below shows courses that have a front runner IV of less than 1.00.


Course IV for Front runners
Newcastle 0.98
Musselburgh 0.96
Ayr 0.91
Southwell 0.91
Aintree 0.90
Wetherby 0.72
Newbury 0.58
Ascot 0.36


It provides further evidence that the Ascot figures for early leaders are indeed very poor, but interestingly hold up horses have not dominated at this course. The impact value for hold up horses at Ascot has been 0.91 – it is prominent runners (horses that track the pace) with an IV of 1.62 that have had most success in such races at Ascot.

This article to date has focused on front runners. Now I want to try and give a more rounded profile for each course. To do this I have created course pace averages as I did in my second article on 5f flat handicaps. I create course pace averages by adding up the Geegeez pace scores of all the winners at a particular course and dividing it by the total number of races. The higher the average score, the more biased the course and distance is to horses that lead or race close to the pace early. Here are the data:


Course Total Races Course Average
Hexham 56 3.18
Taunton 32 3.03
Ludlow 67 3.01
Sandown 32 2.97
Wincanton 30 2.97
Carlisle 36 2.92
Newton Abbot 69 2.86
Huntingdon 32 2.84
Lingfield 24 2.83
Haydock 14 2.79
Hereford 26 2.69
Plumpton 37 2.68
Southwell 64 2.64
Exeter 22 2.64
Leicester 40 2.63
Towcester 47 2.62
Kelso 72 2.60
Perth 32 2.59
Uttoxeter 54 2.59
Sedgefield 80 2.59
Worcester 99 2.59
Ffos Las 18 2.56
Chepstow 45 2.56
Catterick 35 2.54
Stratford 53 2.51
Doncaster 21 2.48
Newcastle 37 2.46
Bangor 30 2.43
Warwick 23 2.39
Cheltenham 35 2.37
Ascot 32 2.34
Wetherby 35 2.34
Market Rasen 12 2.33
Ayr 43 2.33
Aintree 31 2.32
Newbury 31 2.32
Musselburgh 20 2.30
Cartmel 36 2.17


It can be argued that these pace averages give a greater overall pace ‘feel’ to each course – it remains clear though that Hexham and Taunton are two courses where there is a very strong pace bias, early leaders there being more than three times as likely to prevail.

Being able to predict the front runner in handicaps chases of 2m 1½f or shorter at these two courses and, to a lesser degree, at Sandown, Wincanton and Carlisle – should provide a number of value betting opportunities this season. There are other courses that offer a strong edge too, of course, but these stand out particularly.

I hope this article has been of interest and as with most things in life, the more you ‘put in’, the more you tend to ‘get out’. I will personally continue to work hard researching pace angles because it has the potential to really pay dividends.

- Dave Renham

“The Reverse Rule 4” Method

Few things are more frustrating than having a chunky Rule 4 deduction from a good bet, where you didn't even fancy the horse which was withdrawn.

Naturally, the chance of your bet winning is enhanced by the reduced number of rivals, and in any case you might have been wrong not to 'like' the withdrawn horse. But still, it's a situation that is frequently frustrating.

So, in today's video post, I want to highlight a way to put the boot on the other foot.

This strategy is actually about race selection as much as anything, and I know that is an area many readers struggle with - after all, there is rather a lot (ahem) of racing.

Enough with the verbiage and on with the show... click the video below to find out how to put the "Reverse Rule 4" to work for you.





If you have any questions or comments on this, do scribble them below, and I'll try to answer them.


p.s. For those who may be interested, below is the slide deck from the presentation (though most of the value is in the video walkthrough).



Horse Racing Betting 101: Best of Geegeez

Welcome to Horse Racing Betting 101: The Best of

I've written almost two million words here at, and in amongst that vast swarm of verbosity buzzes the occasional outbreak of punting good sense.

If you'd like to read some of the best of them, you can do so by clicking the image below.

Download: Horse Racing Betting 101

Download: Horse Racing Betting 101


Inside, you'll discover:

- My 10 Steps to Better Betting

- 5 Racing Myths Under the Microscope

- Why Contrast is King when Seeking Value

- Why "Any Fool Can Back 30% Winners"

- How to Find Value in Markets

- How to Understand and Exploit the Handicap System for Profit

- The Full Lowdown on Handicap Ratings in UK Horse Racing

- 10 Ways (8 Free) That GeegeezGold Can Help Your Betting



How To Back “Impossible” Handicap Winners

Saint Helena winning wasn't a bit shock

Saint Helena winning wasn't a big shock...

Backing winners is about more than just horse form. As runners get more experience, and become more exposed, so they become more quantifiable in their own right. But for the first part of a horse's career the modus operandi of its trainer is often a more effective barometer of win probability than what a particular beast has achieved on the track.

In a country where 63% of races run under all codes are handicaps (12,615 of 19,969 in 2013 and 2014, up to 16th December) and, moreover one where the paucity of prize money relative to upkeep costs is among the lowest in the world, the ability to handicap a horse to win is almost a prerequisite for any right-thinking customer-facing trainer.

Clearly, the above paragraph won't sit easily in all quarters, but those who drive the race planning agenda - bookmakers, racecourses, the BHA, and the horseman's group - all have their hand on the knife which has carved this route to the winner's enclosure.

Like it or not, handicaps will remain the staple of British racing fare, unless or until an effective claiming system - and attitude to claiming races, and the fact that horses can actually be claimed (*gasp*) from such races - is introduced.

So that leaves us as punters with a choice: we either ignore all but top class races and exposed form handicaps, or we get smart to the rules of the game... and its finest exponents. This post is about bringing the reader up to speed (to some degree, at least) with the latter.

The Circumstances

The first thing to consider are the circumstances under which 'improvement' might be expected. Horses usually graduate to handicap ranks through either maiden races (flat) or novice races (jumps). These races accommodate horses of any and all abilities. So it was that, for example, in Frankel's maiden victory, as well as other Group 1 performers like Nathaniel and Colour Vision, there was also a horse called Castlemorris King.

Castlemorris King has a current flat rating of 66, which is very similar to the initial mark of 60 he was awarded in late September 2010 ahead of his first handicap. In fairness to Castlemorris King, he's a fair hurdling stick - rated 130-odd over obstacles - but he does serve to illustrate the 'all abilities under one race banner' point.

The same is true in novice hurdles, and in subsequent Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby's opening hurdle win a horse called Charles finished last. Charles went on to win a Class 5 handicap hurdle - when rated 90 - while Rock On Ruby achieved a career high rating of 170.

Incidentally, Charles won that event - his only win in a 15 race career - on his first run in a handicap. Which leads me nicely on to the point here...

Horses moving from maiden or novice - in other words, open - company to far more restricted ability races logically have a better chance of winning. If I'm racing against Usain Bolt over 60 metres, I'm going to get beaten out of sight. However, if I'm running in the dad's race at the school sports day, I... well, let's just say I won't get beaten quite so far!

Handicaps group together horses of relatively similar ability. When horses have run twenty times and more, that's easy enough. But when they've had the obligatory three runs in maiden/novice company, it's somewhat more of a jelly-nailing exercise for the assessors.

The issues facing those charged with allocating initial ratings are compounded by the system - a system where, as I've written, keeping at least some of one's ability powder dry is fundamental.

A trainer may disguise a horse's ability by any or all of the following:

- Running it over the wrong trip

- Running it on the wrong ground

- Running it when 85% fit

- Running it with (or without) headgear

- Running in a hotter than average maiden/novice

- Running on an unsatisfactory track

Examples of this happen every day, up and down the country, and it is utterly pointless a) thinking they don't, or b) getting even remotely upset or moralistic about it.


It is a professional game, and a lot of money is at stake even at the grass roots level of the sport. Prize funds that are currently comparable with 2008 against a cost of living now more than 25% dearer do not help the situation.

But let's face it. Even if prize money was twice as much, the game would go on. Maybe there would be less of it; maybe there wouldn't. As trainers and owners playing an expensive game, the job is to be the best you can within the rules of the game. Better yet, within the shaded edges of the rules of the game.

And if you think this is a game reserved for the training Potless Pete's, then consider this esteemed band: Sir Mark Prescott, Luca Cumani, Jonjo O'Neill. An Englishman, an Irishman, and an Italian, all towards the head of their peer group in performance terms, and all dab hands at the handicap plot/blot.

Moreover, they undertake these machinations not for Potless Pete the owner, but for billionaires like JP McManus and Kirsten Rausing.

Why would a billionaire want to land a touch? Maybe to win a few quid - after all, you can never have enough quids - but more likely for the thrill of the sport; for the game.

We as punters need to get over any personal prejudices we have about such behaviour, for two related reasons. Firstly, it's plain stupid to perpetuate a cycle of whinging when the wool has ostensibly been pulled over one's peepers. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, etc.

And secondly, there's gold in them there hills... if we can be arsed to look for it. The good news is that, with a slight shift in focus, it's a lot easier to find a horse about to reveal significant improvement than it is to conjecture about the fractional gains which could make the difference in a field of exposed handicappers.


So let's take a hard look at the players. The guys and girls who know their business, and the parameters within which their business resides, and who do the best for their owners irrespective of the bill-payers' position on the net worth continuum.

I wrote about one such, Jim Best, previously. That post is here. In it, I showed that, far from being unfair to punters, Best is actually giving us highly likely winners if we choose to take them. The details in his approach - late jockey switches and all - are not to all tastes. Frankly, they're not to mine.

But the fact that he's used the EXACT same blueprint SEVEN times - and five times in the past eighteen months - means if we're on the wrong side of that punting fence, it's not sonny Jim's fault.

We live in an information age. If you're reading this, and you still choose to look at the little string of six digits, letters and punctuation points to the left of a horse's name to inform a wagering decision, you have absolutely no right to complain if Jim Best or anyone else bags a winner unbacked by you because you couldn't find a sequence of 1's, 2's and 3's in that sextet of symbolic nothingness.

Sites like and shine a dim light on trainer patterns; while sites like and will blaze the interrogation lamp from time to time. And, as in this post, the good ones do it presciently rather than retrospectively.

This section - entitled  'Who?' - is a tricky one, mainly because, as I've said, any handler worth his/her fee will be capable of identifying opportunities for their owners. However, some are more adept than others, and keeping them on the right side will make you money.

Geegeez Gold, the premium part of this website, is a treasure trove of form shortcuts, one of which is a report called Trainer Handicap First Run (Code). Snappy the title may not be, but this little beauty does what it says, flagging those with excellent recent records when placing a horse in a handicap for the very first time:

An example of the excellent Handicap 1st Time report

An example of the excellent Handicap 1st Time report


When it comes to betting, why whinge when you can win? Isn't there as much joy in unravelling a trainer-based puzzle as there is in untangling a horse form head scratcher?


The most likely time for a horse to show marked improvement is under markedly different conditions. Sounds obvious, right? So why do some of us keep ignoring it?! [Rhetorical. We both know it's because some of us are too lazy to look at the horse with the 000 form until after it's won ;-)].

Right, let's shortcut this.

1. Move from maiden/novice to handicap

Regardless of code - flat or jumps - for most horses outside of the top class, the best chance they will ever have to win a race is their first run in a handicap. That move from open company, against the Frankels and the Rock On Ruby's of their world, to the company of hairy brutes half a rung up the food chain from a Tesco slaughterhouse (figuratively speaking) is a huge opportunity.

Of course, some are simply destined to drop down that half a rung or, more enchantingly, be rehoused as pets. But many will suddenly step forward, in finishing position terms at least.

The easiest way to see if this is 'expected' is to check the racecard (Gold users only, I'm afraid). An HC1 icon indicates first run in a handicap. Clicking the trainer form icon will then display that trainer's record with first time handicap starters in the previous two years:

In depth lowdown on a trainer's first time handicap record right in the racecard

In depth lowdown on a trainer's first time handicap record right in the racecard


2. Step up (or occasionally down) in trip

If Usain Bolt ran over 800 metres, that boy would be puffing out of his pipe on the second lap. He's simply not designed for it. Likewise, if a son of Presenting rocks up in a six furlong sprint, he might just finish before the next race is ready to start. He too is likely not equipped for that sort of a speed test.

There are always genetic exceptions - triple Grand National winner Red Rum won a sprint as a two year old - but one cannot bet too much on such unlikely possibilities.

How can we know if a horse is likely to appreciate a change in trip? Click the TRAINER and SIRE icons on the racecard:

Trainer AND Sire insights on distance movers

Trainer AND Sire insights on distance movers


In the image above, we can see both the trainer's record in the last two years with horses stepping up 25% or more on the flat (we also display the same for jumps horses stepping up 20% or more in trip), and the sire performance in the distance range.

In this example, we see that Kevin Ryan has a 25% strike rate (62.5% in the frame) when stepping horses up markedly in distance. We can also see that the sire, Frozen Power, has an overall two-year win rate of 7.54% (place 24.35%), but this improves to 11.03% win/ 26.62% place wihth middle distance flat horses. As such, Strummer might be expected to go better than a 20/1 shot, all other things being equal.


3. Change in the going

Knee action. You may or may not have heard of it. You may or may not be able to discern it when watching a horse canter to the start. In all honesty, you don't need - or kneed - to know about it. What you do need to know is whether a sire's progeny generally handle any change in underhoof conditions, either quicker or slower. This info can be found in a range of locations, including in Gold's Full Form Filter, my personal favourite (natch).

On the Full Form tab, click the 'Sire' button, and choose the 'Going' filter. Feel free to select a specific race type, periodicity and/or anything else you consider material.

At any rate, a first run in a handicap, especially when it coincides with a first run on significantly different ground than previously encountered, should set the ding-a-lings ringing.


4. Running after a layoff

Now here's a thing. A horse suddenly takes support having been off the track for two or three months. It had three runs close together before the break and they all culminated in duck eggs. How can he possibly win? Well, what if he'd been at the training equivalent of Butlin's around the time of those racecourse spins, and has since had two months hard labour in an equine Gulag? (Again, humour me, it's figurative prose).

Again, Gold's Trainer Snippets have this covered:

Most horses are at their fittest when the money's down. Go figure.


5. Headgear switch

Blinkers on. Blinkers off. Hood on. Visor. Eyeshields. Cheek pieces. If a horse has run a hundred times already - or even a dozen - the application of headgear may generally be seen as a sign of desperation. Unless it's the re-application of headgear, in which case it should be seen as a sign of an expectation of performance in line with the last time the equipment was added/removed.

Take a look at Discoverie's form overall, and then solely with today's headgear (second image below).

Discoverie: All Runs

Discoverie: Today's Headgear only

The hood is good, especially for keen-goers, so if a horse has pulled in those early runs and now gets a hood applied for its first handicap, it gets an extra point from me.


6. Combo la Bombo!

Any of the above is worth a second glance. Any combination of the above is worth a leisurely lingering third glance. Especially if it's 1. with any others.


Who? Part 2: The Specifics

I keep track of certain individuals under certain conditions in the Geegeez Tracker tool.

This is not just a game played by Potless Pete. And, as Jim Best's omission from my own list demonstrates, there are plenty more of these lads and lasses making it pay for those who pay them, and those who pay heed to them. It is your job to seek them out - believe me, once you're tuned it, it's not difficult!


Final Thoughts

We all know it  happens. Some accept handicap 'jobbing' as part of the game, and embrace it within their punting MO. Others resent it, and curse the actors rather than their own simplistic or partial methods when an apparently impossible punt is landed.

With early markets flagging 'springers' and a raft of tools (including our Trainer Handicap First Time report) able to trap similar patterns in trainer behaviour, there really is no excuse - time constraints aside - for allowing what can be very decent betting opportunities to pass you by. Even if you are hamstrung by time, it takes a few seconds to spot a curio in the betting market, and check for material differences in today's race conditions. And no more than 30 seconds to check our report.

Trip, ground, handicap first time, class drop. Easy to spot. If you're looking. But none are in the form string to the left of the nag's name. Readers are encouraged to ask their own questions where time allows. But, as a bare minimum, I hope this article serves to demonstrate that the seemingly esoteric manoeuvres of horsemen and women can be understood - at a high level anyway - and profited from by pretty much all of us.


p.s. If you liked this post, please use the 'share' buttons to tell others. And if you're not yet a Gold subscriber, click here for news on a special trial offer.

How to Bet (and Win) on Exacta

Shedding some light on the exacta...

Shedding some light on the exacta...

In this latest instalment of the Oc-Tote-ber series, let's take a look at the exacta, a bet which requires the player to nominate the first and second placed horses in the correct order. The exacta is a pool bet, which means the dividend is declared by dividing the total number of winning tickets by the total pool of funds, after deductions.

For instance, if £10,000 was bet, and 20% deducted for expenses, the net pool would be £8,000. Supposing there were 80 winning tickets of £1 (£80), the dividend would be £8,000/80 = £100.

The game is to find the 1-2's that pay more than they should, and to leave the 1-2's that pay less than they should. So how exactly (or exacta-ly) do we do that?


How Not To Play The Exacta

Before we get to the good stuff, I'd like to debunk a few myths about exactas. Specifically, I'd like to look at some bad bets.

Bad bet #1: First three in the market combination exacta

The ultimate mug bet in exacta terms, this involves six combinations, all equally staked:

1-2, 1-3, 2-1, 2-3, 3-1, 3-2

Because exactas are 'bets of the people' - that is, there is no bookmaker setting the prices, but rather the people playing the bet set the odds - and most people are either lazy or don't have any sort of opinion on a given race, this is where the vast majority of wagering falls.

This sort of bet can account as much as, or more than, half of the total pool, meaning even if the result is the least likely of the six possible outcomes, it is sure to return a deflated yield.

Apart from operating at the very top of the market, and being deeply unimaginative, it also has no merit over a straight win bet.

Imagine that the average payoff for these six combinations was £15 for a £1 stake. That means a £6 bet covering all six combinations returns £15. That gives average odds of 6/4 on your £6 bet. The favourite could well be a longer price than that on its own, let alone the second or third market choices.

You can also expect to be disappointed with the dividend if the second and third market choices finish 1-2, due to the number of other punters that have taken the same well-worn path to the bet - and then the payout - windows.

Here's the management summary: if you think the top of the market will win a race, either bet a win single on your main fancy (or value fancy)... or pass the race. There is simply no point in making a combination exacta including the first three in the betting, ever.

Bad bet #2: Level staking on combinations

A subtle nuance of bad bet #1 is that all combinations have the same amount of money wagered upon them. That means the 6/4 favourite to beat the 4/1 shot has the same bet stake as the 4/1 to beat the 7/2 second favourite (assuming the top three in the market were 6/4, 7/2 and 4/1). This leads to 'prayer mat punting': hoping that the least likely of the six combinations lands even though... well, even though it's the least likely combination.

That cannot be a sensible way to bet. It is slightly more sophisticated - and commensurately more time-consuming - to stake different combinations to different amounts to ensure a more level payout regardless of which of your six combo's cops. Although this is less 'sexy' and involves less scope for the 'big coup', it is also far more likely to return a profit in the longer term.

Blind combination bets are generally not a great way forward in any case, but if you do have difficulty separating three or more horses, then at least stake them according to the likely payouts to reward yourself equally if you're correct about it being between these x horses.

Bad bet #3: Betting 'All' or most with an outsider you quite fancy

This is the chocolate teapot of wagering approaches: something good (chocolate, or an opinion on a decent priced horse) utilized in a completely useless manner (teapot, or betting with 'all').

By using so many options with your dark horse, you completely dilute the value of the opinion. Far better to bet the horse to win, or maybe even each way, than to make an exacta with all/most of the other runners in the race, and hope to catch a second biggie in the first two for a monster return. This is another prayer mat punt.

Bad bet #4: Leaving out the favourite 'because it's the favourite'

I know people who do this. It's daft. They kick themselves when the favourite, which they feared/respected, finishes second to a decent-priced horse. Dividends for bigger priced nags to beat the jolly are often bigger than they ought to be (assuming the bigger priced horse is lower down the market rank than third or fourth).

If you think the favourite looks solid for the frame, you have two choices:

1. If you have another opinion that could 'make' the bet, then play them together

2. If you don't have another opinion, or you think the 2nd or 3rd market pick could join the jolly, move on to another race

You don't have to bet, and if you don't have two good views, then your bet will probably be misguided (i.e. lose) or return less than it should (i.e. be poor value)


If you recognise any of the above traits in the way you bet exactas, now is a good time to review your approach, and to consider an alternative. Below are some alternative methodologies - or exactologies - that you might want to employ.

How To Play The Exacta

Good bet #1: 'Down market' staggered stake combo

In my examples, I've used starting price notation (6/4, 7/2, etc) to highlight the strength of support for each horse. But with all tote multi-horse or multi-race bets, it helps the player greatly to think less in terms of market price, and more in terms of market rank.

Let's look at a 10/1 shot (industry odds) in two different races.

In race 1, a four horse race, there is a 1/16 favourite, and the 10/1 shot is second choice, with two complete no hopers prices at 66/1 apiece.

In race 2, a nine horse race, there is a 4/1 favourite, five more horses priced between 9/2 and 8/1, our 10/1 shot, a 12/1 and a 20/1 chance.

If you expect the tote prices on those two 10/1 chances to be roughly equivalent, you will be badly wrong. The former is likely be around 5/1 on the 'nanny' (nanny goat = tote), while the latter could be as big as 20/1 depending on how 'obvious' it is in the recent form string.

The difference, as you'll have cottoned onto, is market rank. Industry market rank is much more significant than industry market price when translating to tote bets.

If you take just one thing from this article let it be that. It WILL pay you repeatedly.

So, if you have an opinion that the top two in the betting look a bit questionable, but you can't split the next three (or four), play the combinations... but to varying stakes.

A three horse combination is six bets, four horses will be twelve bets, and five horses will be twenty bets. It can take a bit of time to write the varying staked bets down, but your reward is a consistent (ish) return irrespective of which combination bags gold and silver. An example of how to stake this type of bet is below in good bet #2...

Good bet #2: The quite fancied outsider revisited

As touched on in bad bet #3, if you like an outsider, you need to have at least one other opinion to justify betting it in an exacta. For instance, if you think the favourite is weak, you can play your outsider with some of the other unfavoured runners, staggering your stakes higher to lower as you move away from the top end of the market. Let me show you what I mean.

Suppose you like a 12/1 shot in an eight horse race that bets as follows:

6/4 - 7/2 - 4/1 - 6/1 - 10/1 - 12/1 - 33/1 - 50/1

If your only view is that the 12/1 shot is of interest, then exacta is not the bet. Back it to win, or each way if you like.

However, if you think the 6/4 shot might be unsuited by today's going, or class, or pace set up, or whatever, you now have a chance to back up your primary opinion. In that case, you could for instance play the 12/1 with the 7/2 through to 10/1 chances, as follows:

£5 12/1 to beat 7/2
£4 12/1 to beat 4/1
£3 12/1 to beat 6/1
£1 12/1 to beat 10/1

That's a total stake of £13 optimized to smooth the return if you're right about the 12/1 winning. The key here is that your second opinion - that the favourite is dodgy - offers scope to improve the win price on your fancy. In other words, we're looking to get better than 12/1 for any combination of stake and non-favoured runner.

If fear drives your punting bus, and watching the 6/4 fav (or perhaps worse still, one of the rags) finish second to the 12/1 shot will hurt you, then make a small win bet on it as well.

Always remember that playing more than one combination dilutes your return. As in the bad bet #1 example, a 6 x £1 combination exacta paying £15 is not a 14/1 return, it's a 6/4 return. As obvious as that is, it is amazing how many punters delude themselves that they've made a big score, when all they've done is traded off risk against return, by having more coverage for smaller average odds.

Balance is required here, because the polar opposite - habitually taking a single horse to win over a single other horse for second - is a very narrow prayer mat punt too. Somewhere between death by a single bullet and death by a thousand cuts (or permutations) is a sustainable risk-reward equilibrium. Where that pivot point is will vary according to the race type and the nature and strength of your opinions.

Good bet #3: Staggering stakes to emphasize differing strengths of opinion

In good bet #2 above, the staking is staggered to smooth out the likely returns. That assumes that the player has no specific second opinion. In other words, (s)he feels the 12/1 is a fair bet, and the jolly looks opposable. But (s)he has no view on the remaining runners.

In this strategy, we assume that we have a view that a second runner has a better than implied chance. This might be in place of, or as well as, the view about the weak favourite.

Let's use the market from good bet #2, only this time we'll suppose that we think the 6/1 horse is probably the main danger. Although we don't want to lose the value of our main opinion, the 12/1 shot, we definitely want to emphasize our return if the 6/1 runs second. Our staggered stake might now look more like this:

£4 12/1 to beat 7/2
£2.50 12/1 to beat 4/1
£6 12/1 to beat 6/1
£0.50 12/1 to beat 10/1

We've spent the same £13, but loaded up a bit more on 12/1 to beat 6/1. The flip side is that we'll take less of a return - probably something more in line with the equivalent return for simply backing the 12/1 shot to win - if 12/1 beats one of our other nominees. That being the case, a win bet on the 12/1 with small exacta on 12/1 to beat 6/1 is a highly viable alternative play.

In both #2 and this approach, I've not touched on the prospect of the 12/1 finishing second to one of the other selections. Players wishing to insure for this will double the number of permutations - in this case, from four to eight - and should again look to spread the same (or similar) outlay over the additional combinations.

Thus, in #2 above, we might have £2 on 12/1 to beat 7/2, and £3 on the reverse; £1.50 on 12/1 to beat 4/1, and £2.50 on the reverse; £1.25 on 12/1 to beat 6/1, and £1.75 on the reverse; and, 50p either way on 12/1 and 10/1 being first/second.

In #3 here, we'd look to play up the 12/1-6/1 and 6/1-12/1 combo's, whilst splitting the other stakes accordingly.

As you can see, it quickly becomes easy to spread one's opinions too thinly to justify the play... and that's a good thing, because it forces the bettor to have a second thought about whether or not exacta is the correct conduit for investment.

(Fairly) Good bet #4: 'Two against a few'

This wouldn't be the greatest betting strategy in the world, but it is one that recognises the human failing which is the urge to bet, and embraces it! It's what the excellent 'exotics' writer Steven Crist refers to as "Stupid Exacta Tricks", also known as fun or action bets.

In races where you have a bit of an opinion but nothing strong, and where you consequently want to 'limp in', Crist suggests taking a couple at big prices for which you can make a case, and playing them with two or three or four shorted priced runners, though leaving out the front rank in the market.

Obviously, if you fancy the head of the market, or you can't make any sort of case for the bigger priced nags, then it's pass o'clock. But if you can find a pair of piggie possibles, then a bet like this is a reasonable way to engage the action:

A, B with A, B, C, D, E, F = 10 bets

A, B, C, D, E, F with A, B = 10 bets

These are ten bets each, not twelve, by the way, because A cannot be first and second, and neither can B. Should A beat B, or vice versa, the combination appears on both tickets, making for the happiness of a doubly staked winner.


Tools and Tips

You can play the exacta for both UK and Irish racing with Tote Ireland. And when you open an account they'll give you some free bets and other bonuses. Check this page for details.

Also, both new and existing Irish tote players can have a piece of a £200 syndicate bet, if registered and placing €/£25 worth of bets during Oc-tote-ber and up to/including 9th November.

Join me and other syndicateers by placing your qualifying bet(s) here.


Recommended Reading

Steven Crist's book, Exotic Betting, is about the best on the subject. Whilst it relates to US racing in its examples, the approaches and staking advice are generic, and will help any tote punter improve their seasonal return.

Smarter Bets - The Exacta Way: A Simple Process to Winning on Horse Racing is a newer book, written by Keith Hoffman. It's another American text, available from Amazon UK and, as the name suggests, it focuses specifically on the exacta wager.

What is Pace in Horse Racing? And how to use it.

An example of pace predicting a winner

Another example of pace predicting a winner

There are some racing jurisdictions in the racing world where pace is as fundamental a 'handicapping' tool as you can get. In places like America, even beginner bettors understand the concepts of pace and its likely effect on race outcomes.

Strange, then, that for so long pace has been completely overlooked by UK punters. The main reasons for this are twofold. Or perhaps one-and-a-half-fold, as they're directly connected.

First, there's the almost complete lack of pace data or information. Obviously, this creates a barrier to entry, because any savvy bettor wanting to establish the likely pace scenario in a race has to do all the crunching himself (or herself). It is not a quick or easy task.

And second, related to point one, is the almost blanket lack of understanding around how pace affects the outcome of horse races.

This WILL change in the next few years, as information boundaries are pushed with new racing data publishers challenging the half-asleep establishment content providers. aims to be something of a pioneer in the space and, in today's video post, there is an introduction to the basic concepts of pace, and an example of how pace can be easily assimilated into your betting using the geegeez race cards.

Note, these concepts are not hard to understand, but they are new for most people. In that novelty, some will automatically switch off. Those that embrace the new data are far better armed for the betting battles through the summer particularly. To use a well worn, if unattractive, cliché, having this exclusive information to hand is like taking a gun to a knife fight.

So here's the video. [There's a full screen button in the bottom right corner, which will help].


I hope it mostly made sense, and that you can see the value in the information even if it hasn't automatically registered completely with you.

If you're not already a Gold subscriber - meaning you have access to this valuable information - you can register here.

To upgrade a free account to Gold, click here.

And if you have any questions on the subject of pace, please leave a comment below, and I'll do what I can to answer.

It's nice to have something a bit different to think about, and this pace information is available in very few places currently, so you really do have a head start on almost all punters. Get to grips with it, and use it to your advantage!


How to Prepare for the Cheltenham Festival

Let BSM teach you how to drive Cheltenham profits up.

Let BSM teach you to drive Cheltenham profit up

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!

The Punting Confessional: The Galway Festival

The Galway Festival

The Galway Festival

The Punting Confessional – Monday, July 29th

Many have tried and failed to explain the appeal of the Galway Races to outsiders and many more will try in the next few days. The Irish love a party and quite like racing which just about explains the popularity of the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown, the Punchestown Festival, even the buzz on Irish Derby Day.

But turning out in numbers for quality racehorses is not something we necessarily do as we saw in the relatively poor attendance for Sea The Stars’ sole run as a three-year-old on home soil at Leopardstown and he was one of our own.

Yet at Galway this week we’ll be breaking down the gates to get in to look at horses that struggle to crack a rating of 100 on the flat. So what explains it? Well, firstly there’s the tradition and timing, harking back to the first week in August being the set time for holidays, farmers getting a break between the two cuts of silage and even Gaelic games taking pause.

That’s hardly the way now however as the GAA has one of its biggest weekends of the year over the August Bank Holiday and many of our farmers are now doing pilates and yoga or laying the favourite on Betfair.

Galway of course is the great party city of Ireland – try it if you don’t believe me – and that plays its part and of course so does the drinking; just look at the number of races over the week that are sponsored by drinks companies and hostelries while Galway is just about the only track in the country where you can always get a drink in seconds, no matter the crowd.

Some of the figures quoted by the pubs around the city as to the number of bottles quaffed over the seven days beggar belief; pounds of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon it isn’t.

All this however is wandering off the point, as what we’re really interested in is the meeting from a punting perspective; how is it possible to make the week-long puntathon pay?

First, however, we’ll get the drinking and pacing yourself out of the way. Let’s be clear, only the most hardened teetotaller can go to Galway and not have a drink; it’s akin to going to hairdresser and not getting a haircut. I’m not going to preach about the perils and pleasures of drinking as plenty of other websites do a much better job but we all know that drinking and gambling don’t mix as it can make punters more reckless.

With the idea that you’re going to do at least a bit of socialising over the week, it makes sense to go through the big races in the days before the start of the meeting as the entries are already out. One should also get a sense of the entries in the other races too and know where your horses to follow are down to run. If you’re picking out the right sort of horse anyway – i.e. ones that are underrated by the market and will offer value – you may be able to get away with a bit less study than usual.

Oh and as for anyone who’s planning on doing seven days racing and seven night drinking; nice idea, but it’s next to impossible.

The ground at this year’s meeting – officially on the soft side at the start of the meeting – could make things very interesting. We’ve had lots of fast ground this summer and the form has been holding up well but with the going already on the slow side and plenty more rain forecast, it’s likely to be different terrain at Ballybrit.

This however should be viewed as an opportunity as much as a change as it offers the chance to back some decent priced winners back on their favoured ground. I don’t think going back to last summer’s form is quite necessary however as there was so much soft ground that most of the mud larks got their wins and those races were invariably run at such as slow pace to make the form redundant.

With the big national hunt handicaps, the Plate and the Hurdle, as a rule it is best to give preference to winter form as it is simply contested by a better class of jumper; this is something that is not so important when dealing with lower grade jumps handicaps where the recent is king. With the Plate and Hurdle being so valuable now it makes sense to keep a good national hunt horse back for it and most trainers opt against running their horses in summer jumps races, preferring instead to prep them on the flat (often in staying maidens) if at all.

As such, Galway trials, particularly those for the Plate run at Down Royal, Limerick and Tipperary, are pretty meaningless with many of the horses contesting them not high enough in the weights to get into the main race. All this said, the market is getting pretty wise to this and perhaps the real contrarian approach is the back the summer form at bigger prices.

In-running action at Galway is always interesting and there was a fine piece in the Racing Post last week in which Pat Smullen and Barry Geraghty discussed how best to ride the track. Both talked about the perils of going too soon around Ballybrit which is oft-underrated error as punters seem more drawn to horses being given too much to do whereas in many of those cases hold-up horses are simply hostages to pace and it’s never easy to change a horse’s run-style anyway for those who say they should have made their own pace.

A more cardinal sin is committing too early and you’ll see plenty of that over the week with jockeys making their move coming down the hill about four furlongs from home which when you think about it is really mental; it’s like going on across the top at the Curragh or when leaving the back straight at Leopardstown.

Galway presents a good jumping test between the Easy-Fix obstacles on the hurdles track and the two fences in the dip on the chase course; the chase course would be slightly more galloping than the tighter hurdles and flat tracks. In the main, on good ground I’d like my horses to be close to the pace though that obviously depends on how fast they’re going and a low draw is certainly a help in that regard.

Over the week, you’ll like see plenty of horses double-jobbing and running more than once; Shadow Eile won two of her three starts at the track last year while Pintura built on a second in the Galway Mile to win the big 7f handicap at the weekend. It’s no negative to see a horse running twice in the week, certainly not on the flat or over the shorter jumps trips anyway, and the ones that reappear tend to be those that have already run well and proven they handle the track.

Remember that these are lower class horses we’re dealing with and they can take racing well as they’re not running at Group race speed and owners and trainers are much too fond of cotton wool anyway; punters may be out on their feet by the end of the week but reappearing horses often aren’t.

I’m sick of making a prognosis about Dermot Weld at the meeting as he constantly proves me wrong and every year we have to listen to him talking down his chances at this time and saying that his team isn’t as good as previous years. There might be some truth in it this year however, particularly as his national hunt numbers are well down, but as ever he’ll be strong in maidens as unlike other trainers he tends to keep good horses back for the meeting.

I wouldn’t be in a rush to oppose him in such races but it’s a different story in handicaps which are my bread-and-butter.

In handicaps, I can rarely bring myself to back his horses as you’re often taking 3s about a horse that should be 8s on form and I can’t change my whole value-based punting modus operandi. It could be argued that they are value at the price as they keep winning but I find it hard to change for seven days of the year and will be hoping for a lean time for the Weld handicappers.

With Goodwood overlapping with Galway, it’s hard to keep on top of the racing there too but it could be worthwhile, especially with the Irish horses doing so well in Britain again this year. It’s certainly worth watching out for the raiders at the Sussex track and not just the obvious ones like Dawn Approach.

After the meeting, the first thing to do is rest but don’t forget to set the Sky Box to record the racing as there’ll be plenty of eye-catchers. Racing at Galway always has loads of trouble from traffic to horses getting trapped wide as well as jockeys going for their race too soon.

If we have soft ground, it might be worth noting those that haven’t handled it and similar thoughts apply to the track; it’s a unique venue and not all horses take to it so a bad run may not be as bad as it seems.


How to Bet on Horses in High Summer

Summer Punting

Summer Punting

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, July 24th

We’re in the midst of the best period of weather in many a year, a heat-wave that stands in sharp contrast to the three wet summers prior to this one, and with such temperatures predicted to continue it’s probably worth pointing out a few angles for summer punting; some of these are simple down to the weather while others are more general.

The prevalence of fast ground is an obvious starting point.

At the moment one doesn’t even need to look at weather forecast to ascertain likely going conditions as it’s a generic good-to-firm across the board albeit heavily watered in some cases. Such ground is the natural habitat of flat racers, as the soft is for national hunt horses; the likes of Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and the York Ebor meeting just seem wrong run on a deep surface.

I suspect that fast ground is a more ‘honest’ surface for flat racing and I mean this in terms of pace; there may still be slowly-run races on it but a lot less so than in summer 2012 when seemingly every race was slowly-run as jockeys adjusted to a prolonged period of soft ground by riding their races slower and doing their best to ensure their mounts got home in the conditions.

That led to a host of strange results – I found last summer to be one of my worst periods punting in quite some time and wasn’t alone in this – as it was often a case not of which horse handled the ground best but rather which horse got away with it. In warm conditions then, pace can become a much more useful angle.

All that said, I wouldn’t say no to a blast of rain to shake things up for a few days and give the soft ground horses that have seemingly been out of form (and had their handicap marks drop) a chance of success, and often at big prices. This is vastly different to a prolonged period of deep ground that just plays with the form book and can provide a real edge; it is the very sort of change that is a punter’s friend.

A knock-on effect of fast ground is that some trainers’ horses thrive on it. I’ll return to why this might be with some of the lesser-known national hunt handlers anon but certainly there are a number of mid-level flat trainers that are flying at the moment, notably Ger Lyons, Eddie Lynam and Mick Halford, all of whom have their strings in top-form. It is no coincidence that these are the very trainers that succeed at Dundalk during the winter as their horses are conditioned for a fast surface and/or bred for it and indeed the sort of stock they have simply tends to be fast.

Lyons, for instance, does very well with juveniles who rarely race over further than a mile while Lynam’s record with sprinters is well-recognised through the exploits of Sole Power and the likes by now. Halford is a top trainer of handicappers but most of them seem best around seven furlongs and a mile and like the aforementioned pair he rarely seems to have good stayers, even middle-distance types. All are good yards to follow as they send out reliable horses and have readable methods.

One area where my punting fell down last year was in being distracted by an excellent summer of sport that comprised the Olympics and Euro 2012 and often losing money punting on them. This year’s sport hasn’t been as much of a distraction, mainly because I dislike rugby, golf and cricket and am lukewarm on tennis whereas athletics and football in its various shapes being more to my liking.

This year’s GAA championship has left me rather cold and I’ve taken only a passing interest though shamefully I must admit to being absent for Monaghan’s first Ulster title since 1988; I gave them no chance of beating Donegal so headed for the Curragh instead! But most of all, I’ve avoided having throwaway bets on the big sporting events which has certainly helped.

While I haven’t been mixing it up with punting across different sports, I have been playing a bit on the better summer jumps races as opposed to looking solely at the flat. I’ve been finding the bottom grade stuff on the level a turn-off as many of the runners in such races are inherently unreliable and concentrating instead on the middle-range and up on the flat and the better races over obstacles.

I’ve had some good results in the latter with Rawnaq at Bellewstown an example though the defeat of Supreme Doc at Limerick (traded 1.04 in the run) was hard to take and it is certainly useful to be following the national hunt form to some degree with an eye to the mixed cards at Galway.

The summer jumping scene has proved quite competitive with many races over-subscribed while the flat racing, away from the big meetings, has been lacking in numbers. Certainly there is less Willie Mullins domination over the summer as he tends to put his best horses away for June, July and August and indeed that is true for most of the big yards; the horses they tend to run are ones that struggled to compete over the winter.

This is not the case for the smaller trainers however as they often keep their best horses for the summer, as we saw with the likes of Rebel Fitz in the Galway Hurdle last year, and such runners often offer value in the face of horses from more high-profile yards.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that this is the time of the year when most normal people are taking their holidays and don’t forget to do the same; this is something I have been guilty of in the past, not wanting to miss a meeting at a time when they are coming thick and fast. Breaks can help rejuvenate and being just back from a good holiday I’m mad for some racing. Even mini-breaks, taking a day or two off a week, can help as some cards just look impenetrable.

Some Thoughts on Headgear

A Blinkered Attitude?

A Blinkered Attitude?

The Punting Confessional - Wednesday, July 3rd 2013

With Royal Ascot just gone and on a lesser scale in Ireland the Derby last weekend and Galway to come, headgear seems a topical issue at the moment.

Now there is nothing surer than punters will be up in arms at the very mention of fashion on mainstream television coverage of the big meetings – coverage I might add that is watched by a far wider array of viewers than just the betting public – but perhaps we should become more aware of a fashion that is becoming much more widespread on the actual turf at our racetracks, namely the much increased use of headgear.

Already this year we have had a Derby winner in cheekpieces – the first horse to do so –  and his trainer Aidan O’Brien is at the vanguard of this trend which may ultimately become a culture.

In these islands, a number of different types of headgear can be used. Blinkers are the most obvious and most severe; they aim to reduce visual distraction by focusing a horse’s attention only on that which is in front of them and tend to be used on lazy horses.

The visor is a slightly modified version of blinkers with a slit in the side, they are less severe with cheekpieces even less so. Made of sheepskin, they are more of a concentration aid, used to sharpen an animal up.

The hood is a different piece of kit entirely as it aims at reducing noise rather than vision; in the main it is used on keen horses that tend to get geed up and struggle to settle.

For years, the culture in Europe, including Britain and Ireland, was against headgear. The general perception was that blinkers were a rogue’s badge, an admission from the trainer that the horse was less than genuine, perhaps even a last resort in order to get it to reveal its ability. While it was one thing to use them on a lowly handicapper to extract a few pounds of improvement, it was quite another to opt for them on a group horse or stallion prospect.

Even the idea that the progeny of a sire, much less the sire himself, would be in need of an aid was seen as a sign of weakness and breeders would be reluctant to support such a stallion with their mares. In the US however, the culture is totally different. Even a cursory glance at attheraces’ coverage of American racing reveals that half the field often wear some form of aid and Animal Kingdom, the most high-profile American runner in the UK in many a year at Royal Ascot, and Kentucky Derby winner, wore blinkers on every start of his career.

This is changing, however and Aidan O’Brien has been the main catalyst. He has won a Derby with a cheekpieced runner and raced numerous classy types in headgear; over the three days of Derby weekend in Ireland he had 27 runners and 14 of them wore some form of headgear.

He has, with the help of his stable jockey son Joseph, offered numerous public pronouncements on the benefits of headgear, particularly cheekpieces, with barely a mention of the issue of temperament, to such a degree that it could almost be called a PR campaign.

O’Brien is just about the only trainer with the power to change the culture of headgear and while perhaps his whole increased use of aids could be seen as him seeking the next edge it is worth remembering who his paymasters are; if he does not satisfy the greater needs of the Coolmore operation, i.e. profits from the breeding sheds, then he will soon be out of a job.

All of this begs the question: does headgear work? At the risk of copping out totally from an answer, yes and no. We must judge each horse on an individual basis and see how they respond though some overall precepts about trainers are worth developing. Often, a piece of headgear will work just once, and on the second start in them a horse will regress back to its previous form.

When they do work a second time however, you may be onto something as it’s worth considering the animal a new horse, much like one that has changed yards and improved, and often this horse will continue to be priced up on its old form for the next few starts.

This doesn’t however mean that headgear will work forever. The horse may get used to it and become wise to what is going on; what was once a concentration tool is now old hat.

With horses like this however, there is still an edge as one needs to watch out for the reapplication of headgear. In this case, the trainer will note that horse has stopped reacting to the blinkers or cheekpieces and remove them only to reapply them at a later date, likely a race that has been a target or after the horse has dropped in the weights or showed a glimmer of promise. In this situation, a punter can expect improved form.

One such horse I’m waiting for with this angle at the minute is Ucanchoose, an Irish 5f handicapper whose last three wins have come in blinkers but hasn’t worn them since September last year.

On the whole, I don’t think headgear can change a horse’s temperament, particularly those are really recalcitrant. In some cases, blinkers can even exacerbate a horse’s reluctance as was seen at Naas last week when Dermot Weld applied them on a horse called Resolute Response who rivals Charles Byrnes’ Courage for the least-aptly named horse in training.

With a horse with a slight temperament issue or a mere lazy streak, headgear can be the key but some are beyond saving.

It is worth mentioning how the bigger Irish trainers use headgear. With Aidan O’Brien, cheekpieces are a positive and so too, the hood; I still think blinkers are a negative with him and while a trendsetter in this area it will take a while to break this mode of thinking.

With Dermot Weld, blinkers are a plus as he has campaigned even his best horses in them, notably Vinnie Roe, which is something to bear in mind ahead of his annual Galway jamboree. John Oxx on the other hand is an arch-traditionalist; any sort of aid from him is a negative, perhaps even an admission of defeat.


The Punting Confessional: Getting The Basics Right

Getting The Basics Right

Getting The Basics Right

The Punting Confessional , Wednesday, June 19th

Racing is sport of complexities from pace analysis to ratings figures to sectional times and breeding angles and these nuances should be sought out by the punter seeking an edge. One does, however, have to be aware of the folly of over thinking or at least not forgetting the KISS principle, i.e. Keep It Simple Stupid!

The basics of gambling are important and shouldn’t be forgotten in the rush to grasp the difficult concepts mentioned above; avoiding what one might call ‘schoolboy errors’ while perhaps not making you a profitable gambler can at least cut your losses, a lesson I am repeatedly reminded of.

Perhaps the most common ‘schoolboy error’ is failure to check the ground and going updates. I have ranted about the lack of going updates from the racecourses and authorities through other mediums for long enough and to be fair to both groups, in Ireland at least, their communication of this information to punters has improved markedly in the last year.

Morning updates are available through Twitter – both the trade paper The Irish Field (@TheIrishField) and Horse Racing Ireland (@HRI_Racing) have going updates early – and any punter that isn’t on Twitter at this point needs to get their act together as it’s the quickest place to get information. In terms of advance weather forecasts, the HRI’s race administration site ( provides decent predictions, specific to each course, and if you want something more detailed there are plenty of other sites available.

At the risk of sounding like a farmer, is good for forecasts as is while has access to a number of weather stations that register things such as localised rainfall, many of which are close to racecourses. There are similar Twitter feeds and websites that provide such information in the UK.

With changeable weather a fact of life in these islands, as punters we need to be aware that ground can change in a matter of hours as we saw at Fairyhouse last Wednesday; going that was described as good before the first race was yielding to soft by the last. While many bemoan a change in ground, it can also be a big plus as prices that were framed for fast ground can now offer value among horses that may be suited by an ease. Such was the case at Leopardstown last Thursday where good to firm ground became good to yielding in the hours before the off.

This meant that Reply who would have been a strong fancy for the Ballycorus Stakes had his chances ruined as he is dependent on fast ground while the Ballyogan Stakes favourite Tickled Pink was a similar case if not quite so marked; the eventual winner Fiesolana was well-suited by some cut and it also placed a greater emphasis on stamina as she had previously won over a mile. It also made the penultimate handicap more interesting as the two potentially best-treated horses in the field – Bensoon and Dane Street – needed contrasting conditions, the rain swinging the race in favour of the latter.

None of this is to say that the ground should be everything; indeed it is sometimes an overrated factor and it’s worth pointing out that ability, or at least ability relative to mark, remains the most important factor. But not registering what the ground is or how it may have changed is a basic error that should be avoided.

Another mistake one can make involves targets for horses in ante-post races and I got a costly reminder about same when I backed both Olympic Glory and Mars for the Irish 2,000 Guineas on the Tuesday before the race only for neither to turn up, a fact I would have been aware of had I paid closer attention to stable announcements. Nowadays, targets are mainly transparent though some yards are better than others.

Willie Mullins is one I find particularly frustrating with his tendency to hold back on confirmations until the very last minute while Jim Bolger has been known to throw in a volte-face or two. Every now and then one has to take a chance on a big price about a horse and hope it will turn up – just like a few did with Dawn Approach on the exchanges for the St. James’s Palace and it was hardly out of character for the trainer – but in the main it pays to be as certain as one can be that a horse is going to take its chance.

My advice would be read as widely as you can if planning an ante-post bet; search and Twitter and the wider internet. It’s not a bad idea to read the paper Racing Post everyday as not all articles in the print edition make it onto the website though I should follow my own advice here as I’m not a daily reader. Doing so might have prevented me from backing Mars, a bet a felt pretty hard done by given how well he shaped in the Derby on this next starts.

With bookmakers, there is no excuse for anyone not to have an array of online accounts; brand loyalty is a nonsense as by so doing you are playing right into the firms’ hands; they love nothing more than a ‘one bookie’ customer that will take their prices regardless of what may be available with a competitor. And it’s the same with shop punters; Jane in your local betting office may well be ‘a fine bit of stuff’ and very pleasant when you’re backing one but that’s not going to put you in profit.

Top price may be a fiction for the winning punter as bookies are unwilling to lay it but for the beginning punter getting on is not an issue and by always taking the best available price you’ve got some sort of chance if not of becoming profitable then at least of limiting your losses. So take the option of walking across the road or opening another window.

Finally, be wary of night before prices and don’t rush in. While every now and then a price may be completely wrong, the layers at this point are often betting to ludicrous percentages which means there will be bigger prices available the following morning or closer to the off. I find with Irish racing there are certainly fewer moves overnight with more punters seemingly practicing patience in the markets.

Dealing with Non-Triers

The Non-Triers

The Non-Triers

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, June 5th – The Non-Triers

Recent weeks have been black for racing with a high-profile corruption case and the Al Zarooni/Sungate steroid scandal; the latter is certainly the darker cloud at present and there remains a strong suspicion we’re nowhere near the bottom of it yet. This column aims however at the punting angle and I have to admit to being clueless as how to apply anything relating to drugs to playing the horses.

Non-triers are another thing entirely however and I have strong feelings on the issue and how it applies to the average punter; by average punter I mean a punter without access to any sort of inside info.

The verdicts released by the BHA in the aftermath of these corruption cases always make for fascinating reading and one was struck by the amateur nature of the whole Ahern/Clement conspiracy. Though not quite so lax as the methods applied by Andrew Heffernan/Michael Chopra earlier in the year, here was a pair that were in contact via their own mobile phones and were laying horses through their own (or their wife’s ) exchange accounts.

There are those that would say that Betfair and the other exchanges have a lot to answer for and that problems with non-triers increased when punters, and not solely licensed bookmakers, could lay horses to lose. I couldn’t disagree more. Firstly, why is it that just a coterie of high-fliers (bookmakers and their friends) could lay a horse in the past? I’m for equality in all its forms and the exchanges provide a service and saw a niche in the market that was previously unfilled.

One is reminded of the ending of the film Trainspotting where Renton steals the drug money and says that his ‘friend’ Sick-Boy would have done just the same if only he’d thought of it sooner, a sentiment that applies to all the big bookmaking firms in terms of the exchange model. Not only that but the likes of Betfair have provided the BHA with the sort of information into the activities of corrupt individuals that was previously inaccessible.

When going through the details of such cases, one cannot help but feel that there are much more sophisticated operations at work that the authorities are struggling to get to grips with. Surely the real villains at work at a higher level are applying more smoke to their machinations using a complex series of mirrors with mobile phones that leave those at the centre unconnected from the dirty work as well as a host of ghost exchange accounts that cannot be traced back to the main participants?

At the very least, laying all the bets through a single account, often to figures exponentially larger than the average stake on the account, seems amateurish. Though speaking hypothetically, one would like to think that anyone with any more than rudimentary knowledge of how betting markets and ‘getting on’ works would be able to make a better stab at laying non-triers than some of those convicted by the BHA.

Interesting, and frightening, as such speculation may be, the average punter needs to ask: do you want to be dealing with these sorts of crooks? Or would you prefer to back proper trainers and proper owners whose campaigning of horses is largely straight and whose formbook cases you can trust? The corrupt connections are people who would stop at nothing to make a profit and trying to second-guess them is risky in the extreme.

We often hear stories, possibly apocryphal though some ring true, of owners laying a horse out for a touch, missing the price because others punters got on ahead of them, and then stopping the animal because they didn’t get on despite it being initially well-intended.

One of the big problems with the whole spotting of non-triers is that it’s just so intangible; one only needs to look at the BHA’s use of expert witnesses and their study of races to see how difficult it can be to prove that one hasn’t been trying. Recalling the Heffernan/Chopra case from early 2013, it was interesting to note that the panel ‘was not able to say one way or the other’ whether the loss of ground at the start by one of the stopped horses, Wanchai Whisper, was caused by the jockey.

Even in this most open-and-shut of cases, it was hard to call and it is easy to see how difficult it would be to spot, much less prove, that a more sophisticated operation was cheating. Comparing the ride given to a horse on different days, perhaps with a mind to market moves either positive or negative, is one way to go – the panel applied this method with reference to Wanchai Whisper – but it is hardly bombproof.

Picking out one that isn’t ‘off’ is not a task for the beginning punter as there are so many complications. Is a horse being given an easy time because it’s ungenuine and finds little off the bridle? Is it being stopped or simply getting a bad ride? It is worth remembering that many jockeys, even the best, give incompetent rides. And there are so many ways to stiff a horse: go off too hard in front like Ahern; drop one out off a slow pace; use up energy by making a mid-race move; no effort from the saddle; intentionally missing the break; riding into traffic; even changing a horse’s habitual tactics, say by dropping a front-runner out in rear could be enough.

And that’s not even to mention all the stuff that could be happening on the gallops pre-racing as well as the basic things like running a horse over the wrong trip or on the wrong ground.

Gamblers need to ask themselves what sort of punter they are and for the average punter the answer has to be a form-based player who makes up their own mind by whatever means possible. The inside information the normal punter unconnected with a horse can get will invariably be second-, third- or fourth-hand and by this stage it will be largely useless as they’ll have missed the price.

Instead of taking the whole inside information route and buying into every conspiracy theory going, the typical gambler would be better served to dispatch with the paranoia and assume that the game is straight, applying logic to his selections, an issue I’ll explore in more detail below.

The Punting Confessional , Wednesday, June 12th

Last week I looked at some ideas around non-triers and inside information and before exploring the issue further it’s worth mentioning a couple of tweets I received on the subject since. Declan Meagher (@declanmeagher76), an Irish professional gambler, mentioned that it is only the ‘dunces’ who get caught and I can’t think of a better way of describing them.

I also asked Kristian Strangeway (@KoosRacingClub), syndicate manager for Koo’s Racing Club, where he stands on assessing non-triers in his punting and he responded ‘depends on the race type really, but I don’t overly worry about it. If you spot an obvious one they get overbet anyway.’ Short and sweet, but also accurate and I couldn’t agree more.

One of the errors made by punters is to believe that only the insiders can win, that there is some sort of golden circle that have access to the information that will lead to punting nirvana. I’m reminded of a day at the Curragh in August 2011 when I backed a Bill Farrell mare called Sharisse in a six furlong handicap.

The case for the horse was simple: the trainer (at the time underrated by the market but not so much now) loved a winner at the track, the mare won a good handicap over the same course the previous June and was just 7lbs higher, she had shaped well in a listed race last time on her first run of the season. She won and directly after the race I spoke to a punter beside me who had also been cheering her home.

He went on to tell me that he’d backed the horse because Gary O’Brien of attheraces had put it up and O’Brien had access to all the right information because he spent time the sauna of some Kildare hotel with all the jockeys beforehand. Leaving aside any homo-erotic thoughts for a moment, and without wishing to cast any aspersions on O’Brien’s tipping as he’s an excellent judge, this is just the sort of faulty thinking that has punters beaten before they start. While O’Brien may well have access to much more information than the average punter (and there is no way we can ever get that information lest we rise the ranks of the racing media), his presentations on TV and the attheraces website reveal a diligent form student who puts in the work like any other sensible gambler.

Without wishing this to turn into one long anecdotal piece, I’m reminded of a recent Racing UK interview with Alex Ferguson. Apart from all the obvious fawning, the former manager made a great point about what he admired most in trainers of racehorses, their capacity for hard work, pointing out that it is a talent it and of itself that is all too often undervalued in the modern world, something punters would do well to remember.

All this privileging of inside information works off the belief that trainers and connections are all-powerful whereas in reality they’re just as fallible as the rest of us; one only need to look at Aidan O’Brien, widely regarded as the best trainer in these islands, and how he believes that Camelot is the best horse he has ever trained despite all the evidence to the contrary. That’s an extreme example, and one to be taken with a pinch of salt given the bloodstock concerns with the horse, but it shows how even the best can get it badly wrong.

Just because a horse is working well does not mean it will translate to the track and quite often punters are best backing horses that reserve their best for race-day. Even if the horse does produce its best on the day, a better-treated rival from another yard may do the same or any number of other things may go wrong.

One also needs to think about how the market reacts to plot horses and inside information. We have to accept that we don’t know connections’ staking patterns; some may back in the morning, some may wait until the off, some may want €500 on, others €50,000, some may not even want to punt it. A punter can get some sense of how a yard may play the market over time but it is very much a skill for the experienced gambler and even the best market reader is bound to get it wrong plenty of the time.

There is also a herd mentality at play with punters piling into a horse that may not even be fancied (which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be backed by the way) but experience can at least go some way to revealing the difference between meaningful and meaningless market moves.

A lot has been written in the last year or so about how accurate the market has become and that sometimes one would be better having more on a horse when the money comes for it than if not. I can’t help but feel there’s an element of confirmation bias at play, a tendency to favour information that supports their belief, i.e. remembering the gambles that won and ignoring those that lost.

Over time, I can’t see how this approach can pay as you’re backing horses at shorter prices than you think they should be and any sort of sensible value betting approach means one should be having more on a drifter.

In the main, I want to be against gambling yards, stroke horses and dodgy owners. It’s much better to be with proper trainers that a playing with a straight bat and while acknowledging that all yards are to one extent or other gambling yards, there are certainly those that pull strokes more often than others. Such stables often have their charges overbet, whether strongly fancied or not, and I like to be against them as a rule as they often leave the other runners underbet and get beaten often enough to make it pay. These trainers prefer to make the crooked pound over the straight pound but there are many more that opt for the latter approach.

This brings me on to one of my great pet hates in racing, the idea that Irish racing is bent. It’s probably fair to say that this is the perception abroad amongst the betting shop masses and also I might add among bookmakers, who much to my chagrin are reluctant to lay a semi-civilised bet to a form-based Irish punter as they seem to believe it’s all hooky. As someone who watches a lot of Irish racing, nothing could be further from the truth and I feel I have to stand up for it.

Irish racing has excellent prize-money (in contrast to Britain for instance) which maintains a fair level of integrity and while the authorities have been slipshod in their policing of the sport with a number of recent integrity budget cuts, the natural competition between those involved means that it’s pretty straight. Those that point to gambles and touches being landed would do well to remember that it is possible to get an edge on Irish racing because it is not as well-analysed as its English equivalent; there is a smaller pool of horses and fewer punters playing so it is much easier to move a market with little money.

I’ll close with a question that every punter needs to ask themselves: where do you stand morally on non-triers? I find it a difficult one to answer and can’t give a full answer. They’re a fact of life for any racing follower and expecting it to change is foolish. They happen a lot less than people think but it doesn’t make them right. And never forget some perspective, there are a lot worse things going on.

Opposing Bad Favourites

The Power of the Negative

The Power of the Negative

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, May 15th – The Power of the Negative

Probably the best book I’ve read in the past few years had nothing to do with gambling. In ‘The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’, The Guardian’s psychology correspondent Oliver Burkeman dissects what he calls the ‘cult of optimism’ and puts forward the idea that many popular ideas about happiness, success and goals are flawed and indeed aiming for such things can lead to anything but.

For Burkeman, positive thinking is wildly overvalued by modern society, much as things like reputation and jockeys are overrated in betting markets. In place of all this optimism, Burkeman argues in favour of the negative with many fascinating ideas such as awareness of mortality, acceptance of failure, the dangers of goal-setting, non-attachment, imagining worst-case scenarios, stoicism, living in the now and allowing for uncertainty and fear. Some, if not all, of these ideas apply to gambling and this week and next I’ll look at them as well as some of my own thoughts on the power of the negative.

Let’s begin with what my idea of negativity isn’t. It is most certainly not the acceptance by the mug punter (or society at large for that matter) that the bookies always win and there is no such thing as a winning gambler. These are the sentiments of the betting shop loser, the punters who fall into all the stereotypical traps available: they punt only with one bookmaker, having brand loyalty despite a bigger price being available across the road or on another website; they follow stupid systems in the hope of getting rich quick; they believe the hype when a jockey or trainer or some other insider says ‘it’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden or trained’; they love the thrill of inside information and eschew the formbook over the head of it.

Instead, my idea of negative is more like healthy scepticism, perhaps even edging towards cynicism, the cliché about believing little of what you hear and judging with your own eyes has truth in it. I suspect the good punter is the negative punter, the one who sees the glass as half-empty rather than half-full. An outsider might think that racing would be filled with pessimism; most horses never make it to the racetrack, never mind win a race; injuries and setbacks are a feature of the game; at a most basic level, there can only be one winner in a race so most connections leave the track disappointed.

Yet, like the rest of the modern world, the cult of optimism reigns in racing; punters always think the big payday is just around the corner and it’s the same with owners, trainers and jockeys. Perhaps it is living on this dream that sustains them but as a gambler it might be best to think otherwise.

I acknowledge that is it not easy to be a pessimist in racing as optimism is everywhere. One need only open the trade paper or the racing pages of any of the dailies to see that the coverage of the sport is particularly toothless though there are some exceptions. The Monday Jury, where the Racing Post poses questions to jockeys, trainers and analysts in light of what unfolded on track over the previous seven days is a good example; the questions are invariably met with positive responses, with nary a semblance of doubt never mind criticism.

A negative (or perhaps realistic would be a better word) opinion is rarely ventured in racing journalism, and it is easy to see why; the racing correspondent relies on the co-operation of jockeys and trainers for their copy and to criticise would be seen as spitting in the soup. It is similar with jockeys criticising trainers or horses as it is the former upon whom he relies on for employment. All this is understandable – the dole queue is an unpleasant place – but as punters who want to turn a profit or at least grasp what is going on properly, we need to work against it.

Perhaps the best example where optimism overcomes pessimism in a disadvantageous way for punters is the ungenuine horse or, put it succinctly, the dog. Charitable types will say that such an animal doesn’t exist or at worst they are suffering from some sort of physical issue – I hope these forgiving kinds are the same with the people in their lives – but for me there are simply some horses that don’t win as frequently as their form entitles them to.

This is not to say that they don’t win as even a broken clock is right twice a day and sometimes circumstances conspire that a dodge cannot but win; the opposition is useless, they find themselves in front before they know it, the pace collapses. But keeping an eye out for those that show temperament, be it awkward head carriage, tail swishing, hanging, finishing weakly or even a poor win/run ratio is one of the best applications of the value of negativity in racing; such horses invariably run well without winning and take up too much of the market on their starts.

One of the central cogs in Burkeman’s wheel of negativity is certainty, or more accurately, our excessive desire for certainty and security. So much do we long for both these things that we are willing to accept even the illusion of such; his example of airport security as a glorified piece of theatre that is unlikely to protect us from a determined terrorist attack is a master-class in logic. I suspect a similar mind-set is at play when punters love backing horses at short prices; even the language is the same, such runners often described as a ‘certainty.’ This applies across the gambling board from the myth of the Cheltenham banker to putting short-priced runners together in accumulators despite much of the evidence about successful punting suggesting that playing away from the head of the market is the way to go.

Two most successful tipping services around are Pricewise and Hugh Taylor and both excel at the back-end of the market and there is nothing surer that if you back every favourite over time, you will lose in the long-term. No more than in life, there is no security or certainty in gambling and instead of looking for it, we should turn away from it and be willing to take a risk. Fear of failure is something that troubles us all but by acknowledging it and taking the chance anyway we may make a success of it, whatever success may be.


The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, May 22nd – The Power of the Negative (part 2)

If asked who my favourite horse is, I wouldn’t reply Frankel, Sea The Stars or even Wrekin Rock (a Jim Gorman-trained handicapper who landed me a nice few quid at a Curragh May Bank Holiday meeting a few years back; you had to be there). Instead, my all-time great horse is the bad favourite.

A rising tide lifts all boats and having a runner that is too short at the head of the betting can make a number of its rivals overpriced. Punters have to differentiate between a bad favourite in an absolute sense, i.e. one that almost cannot win the race and would need to be a massive price for one to even consider backing it, or one that you have to be against at the price.

We saw a good example of the latter in the shape of Declaration Of War in the Lockinge at the weekend where he was simply too short at 5/4 for what he had achieved on the track; had the same horse been 8/1 off the back of a good reappearance win and quality connections then he likely would have been a strong bet. In terms of absolute bad favourites, one stands out from recent years and that is Wonder Of Wonders in the 2011 Irish Oaks.

Here was a filly that finished second in the Epsom Oaks but had shown attitude in her previous starts and to my eyes there was little chance of her winning as he was going to throw victory in no matter the circumstances, a trait she further revealed next time in the Yorkshire Oaks.

As punters, we need to be careful about becoming too attached to horses and a version of the Buddhist belief of non-attachment is worth applying here; this concept, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a state in which a person overcomes his or her attachment to desire for things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened perspective.’

If we become overly attached to a horse we can follow it off a cliff and hardly allow it run without a bet; instead a preferable situation would be to attach ourselves to the idea of a good bet rather than a good horse.

Having a negative view as a way into a race is a good place to start, whether it is a doubt about a fancied horse’s stamina, ability to handle the ground, form or whatever. We hear trainers – Paul Nicholls being one – talk about silencing the doubters but in truth it is doubt that makes in the odds. Of course, positive angles into races work well too – there are few better approaches than finding a well-handicapped horse as they must go close, all things being equal – but doubting a horse or a form line can provide an edge.

Just because a handicap has been strong down the years does not mean it will be the same this and not all group races are equal; there is a logic to race standardisation where one expects a certain level of performance will be needed for victory but there are times when a race is much worse than it should be. A good recent example of this would be the Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh won by Sruthan in a Racing Post Rating of 108 whereas in reality he probably had to run to little better than 95 to win; it was a listed race in name only.

Another area where punters can utilise the power of the negative is in imagining worst-case scenarios. Again, Burkeman’s The Antidote (as mentioned last week) is informative and his quotation from JK Rowling’s speech on receiving an honorary doctorate from Harvard in June 2008 is illuminating; in it she speaks of benefits of failure and what it can teach us. For her, prior to the success of the Harry Potter books, she was the biggest failure she knew yet she was still alive, in many ways living out the worst-case scenario she had imagined in her youth. The point here is that the worst had happened, all her horrible imaginings realised, but failure hadn’t killed her.

Such an approach needs to be modified for punting – I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to take this as advice to punt you brains out, find yourself in massive debt yet realise you’re still alive – but when gambling it is probably worth realising what one can lose should everything go wrong. A punter doesn’t have to be comfortable with this (no one likes losing) but it should be bearable and if it isn’t then it is time for a rethink. Planning stakes and realising all that can go wrong rather than just pottering along hoping for the best could be a worthwhile exercise.

In terms of the ideal punting mentality, I often think a sort of stoicism, where life’s slings and arrows produce a somewhat indifferent response, comes close to what is needed. This is best exemplified by someone like Hugh Taylor who whenever he is interviewed about the quality or otherwise of his selections The Form Factor, seems never to be excited one way or the other.

If things are going well, he will remind the presenter of the bunch of donkeys he tipped the previous month whereas if results have swung against him, he will talk about sticking to the process that has worked for him in the past. The game is filled with highs and lows and if one allows themselves to get too drawn into one or the other, it can end badly.

The very nature of racing seems concentrated on the future; barely is one race over than everyone wants to know where the horse is going next. So it was with Dawn Approach’s Derby bid after the Guineas and we can spend our lives wishing away the jumps season by giving too much emphasis to the Cheltenham Festival. All anyone has at any time is the moment they are in and this living in the now is certainly an idea that can be applied to racing; perhaps we should enjoy our punting wins as they are and live with the failures rather than trying to move on quickly to the next race.

The now of racing is invariably made up of more mundane racing and instead of spending so much time focussing on the bigger meetings we could be better served by trying to find an edge on the much less analysed day-to-day racing.

Finally, and bizarrely, let’s finish with goals. Modern society is obsessed with goals, with the general tenor of much of ideology behind it preaching that a person cannot get anywhere without goals. The most famous of all studies on the subject is the Harvard Goal Study where a group of students were surveyed about goals they had before leaving college and the small percentage that had written aims ended up achieving much more than the rest of the students put together.

The results of the study are often wheeled out as proof of the benefit of goals but no proof of it was ever found and it likely never happened.

Punters have to be careful with goals, particularly where the goal becomes the only thing; I’m thinking particularly here of profit targets. One has to be wary of achieving a pyrrhic victory in that profits may be realised but the expense may be too great; like a marathon runner who is so dogged in lasting the distance but injures themselves in the process, the punter has to watch the personal cost of aiming for (too much) profit.

Sometimes focussing on the process rather than the outcome is the way to go.