2020 Vision: Some Thoughts on Betting Better

It's the New Year and, depending on your reading of the calendar, a new decade, too. What better time then to commit to self-improvement and renewal? Out with the old and in with the new, resolve strengthened by the turning of the page.

That's the fantasy of a billion beings on Jan 1, only for the reality of the pain of change - in the midst of what are often the coldest, darkest, most financially stretched days of the year - to bite.

But some people do keep to their resolutions, and they do achieve their goals. Size 12, personal best 5k, profitable for the first time, whatever: the secret (such as it is) that separates the achievers from the make-believers is planning and execution.

Talk is cheap, thoughts are free; planning takes time and effort, but also locks in personal commitment.

I wish you whatever you wish yourself in 2020. If a part of it is to improve your betting, maybe you'll find some nutrition in what follows...

1: Understand generally where you are now

Why do you bet? Why do you bet win singles, each way doubles, Lucky 15's, or whatever? How often do you bet? How much? And why do you bet on horses rather than football, tennis, poker, roulette or bingo?

Is it to make a profit? If you're a Gold subscriber (or indeed pay for information from any source), it probably is, to some degree at least. But that's also very likely not the only reason.

From surveying readers on this site over many years, I know that any and all of passing time, solving puzzles/being proved right, and general engagement are common - and perfectly valid - reasons for betting. None of these, however, is specific to betting on horse racing. The same as betting for profit. So there must be more to it. Why racing? Why?

Perhaps it's the regular predictable availability of puzzles/profit opportunities; maybe it's the colour and pageantry; possibly it's the array of data enabling a deeper understanding and a chance of an edge. As with most things in life, it is almost certainly a combination of some or all of these elements.

Understanding ones general relationship with betting on racing is helpful because it finds a place for everything that follows: it offers a global context which, for many/most people, doesn't really have much to do with money at all.

Still, it is a legitimate question to ask oneself: am I betting on racing for profit primarily?

My answer is NO. There are lots of ways I could make a few quid (and a good few more quid than I do from betting on racing) in roughly the same amount of time I invest in looking for horses I like.

I bet primarily for enjoyment - for fun. But I do it with a profit expectation. Betting for fun and profit are not mutually exclusive. And don't let the dry arses tell you otherwise.

If you don't understand the underlying reasons for your racing betting, you may be chasing the wrong objectives and, consequently, a futile or frustrating relationship with the game.

Suggestion #1: Take time to understand the REAL reason(s) you bet on racing


2: Measure where you are now

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it

That quote is credited to Peter Drucker, a management consultant. It could have been uttered by a sports coach, a nutritionist, a headmistress, or a punter. It applies to any pursuit where we have a desire to move towards the right of whichever continuum consumes us.

But here's the tricky bit. What should we measure?

Again, the default is profit and loss, and that of course is something about which we all need a solid understanding. Doubtless these words contain enough pedagogy - pontification, perhaps - without a sermon on responsible gambling. So let us assume that we all understand those boundaries and operate within a range of acceptable loss to profit.

But how much are you losing, or winning? And how accurately do you know this? What is your method of calculation?

For me, I do an annual - six-monthly if I feel it's going especially poorly or well - review of account deposits and withdrawals. This tells me nothing about volume of bets, average stake size, race or bet types in which I excel or fail lamentably; but it gives me the most fundamental financial metric of up/down.

I've shared this info for previous years numerous times in the blog on this site.

Here's my 2019:


That's a good bit better than most years, due almost entirely to a couple of chunky wins in March. [The weird 'pence' figures relate to conversions from euro on Irish tote bets, in case you're wondering]

But note also the 'game of two halves' nature of the year. There is a reason for this, but I won't dwell on it here. Suffice it to say that betting when not in a sound mental state is more likely to lead to losses. On we go...

If I'd not had those spring draws, I'd have won about a grand. But it is important and fair to note that part of my betting approach is to tilt at windmills: to play 'gettable' multi-leg pools where there is the prospect of a disproportionate return on investment. As I've written elsewhere on here before, finding value is often more about fishing in the right (both literal and metaphorical) pools than backing the right horses.

My annual profit target, such as it is, is about £2,500; but really my target is to enjoy the process of finding bets. It's a time-consuming process and the investment of time is far more material than the cash (because the percentage of my time used for betting is more material than the percentage of my funds).

That's a verbose way of saying I have to enjoy it to justify the hours deployed. Maybe you have more time available than me, maybe you have less. Maybe you have more funds available, maybe you have less.

Therein lies the key to measuring success: choose the right metrics for you and measure where you are with them.

Time is always the kingpin metric for me, so if I don't have time I either won't bet or, more likely, I'll only make a casual action play. More on that in due course.

Suggestion #2: Understand your key metric(s) and quantify where you are against it/them as of the end of 2019


3: Pause for breath

There is a temptation at this time of year to decide to do something - lose weight, change job, et cetera - and then charge ahead on this new life-changing trajectory.

Generally speaking, that is probably sub-optimal. Better, once a new objective has been determined, is to establish how to get there. But before that it is good to mull quietly the what and why of the resolution.

For example, it might be perfectly acceptable to lose £1000 over the course of a year betting on a sport in which hundreds of hours of recreational time are enjoyed. After all, that's £20 a week, the price of not much beer and increasingly little caffeine and froth. Of course it would be nice to save the 'bag of sand' but if it involves upsetting the pleasurable equilibrium of perusing form, striking wagers and watching racing, then perhaps it's not a price worth paying.

Decide what is important for you, not what others might tell you is important.

It might be enjoyment before profit.

It might be winners (i.e. being right) before profit.

It might be profit at all costs.

And, again, it very well might be a combination of all three.

Suggestion #3: Before moving forward, take some time to allow your understanding of the current status quo to inform your next move


4: Set up to succeed

If, after pausing for thought, the route forward still looks different from the path hitherto then it is time to take action. Action works best when it is considered, informed and documented. I know, boring, right? All I'm really saying is that we have a better chance of success when we set up to succeed.

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best

This quote, attributed to the German statesman Otto von Bismarck, could easily have supplanted the word 'politics' with 'Betting on horse racing'; but I don't suppose OvB was much of a punter, at least not of equines.

He was, however, a man of action; a man who believed that words were secondary to deeds. We probably all believe that, but we have to live it, too.

Getting back to it, betting on horse racing is the art of the possible, the attainable. It is very often the art of the next best. In other words, forget lottery win utopia (unless you play, and win, the lottery) and instead work on incremental improvement of approach.

For example, if you want to live off betting income but you're currently a losing punter, stage one is to either lose less or break even. It is not to live off betting income.

For example, if you want to look at more than four races a day but only have twenty minutes to do it, be aware that you will have to sacrifice the amount you can discern at the altar of covering much ground.

For example, if you need lots of winners to retain confidence, betting longshots more than occasionally is going to be incompatible.

For example, if you want to take a value betting approach (hint: you should if you want to improve your bottom line), failing to watch racing and/or use the best information sources will make it hard for you to know anything not already completely subsumed within the market.

Suggestion #4: Have time, bank, strategy and tools in place to optimise - and elevate - your desire outcome


5: Review, Review, Review

Your bet just lost. Or won. What now? On to the next one? No, not for the improvers.

Like everything in life, to be better we have to do more of what works and less of what doesn't. And, to do that, we have to understand what works and what doesn't.

A bet is a record of effort expended, of a decision made and, ultimately, of money won or lost. How often do you ask yourself whether the reasons for choosing a particular horse, one component of which should always be price for the value player, proved accurate? How often do you see a horse fail to win for a reason you predicted but which you felt was over-stated in the available odds? Was it then a good bet, or a bad bet?

Which other horse(s) caught your eye during the race? Were any unlucky in running? [NB ignore perennial hard luck horses: they're overbet and don't win nearly enough to legitimise the volume of trackers in which they reside]. What happened at the start of the race? [Plenty of horses cannot win after getting mangled at the start, such unlucky runners almost always missed by the in-running comment writers].

Use a tracker, and add horses - with comments - to it. Or use the notes feature in your chosen form tool.

Here is a snap of my Tracker for those entered in the next few days:


And a Tracker note, complete with dreadful pun for my own later pleasure, displayed when hovering over the gold star on the race in question:


As it turns out, Kraka has run four times since on the all-weather and lucked out hugely with the draw, see the DR column below. Now rated 64, he'll win soon (I hope), though I'd definitely prefer his chance at six furlongs rather than this seven panels affair.


Another great means of improvement is to review your bets as a body of work. I have to say I do not personally do this, mainly because of the time but also because of the nature of my betting (often incompatible with Bet Tracker constraints). Mainly, though, because I can't be bothered. This is what I mean by working within your capabilities. I have to measure all sorts of things for business reasons and, when it comes to my betting, I just want to know my bottom line.

Could I improve if I cut out areas of weakness? Of course! But the opportunity cost - the time spent recording, which could be spent watching races, or with my family, or reading a book, or kicking a ball, or in the pub - is too great for me.

Others will relish the opportunity to dissect their wagers by any number of parameters. Geegeez has a free bet tracker which allows just this. Introduced only last year, it has been wildly popular: the feedback - words - has been effusive and the number of users tracking their bets - actions - has actually taken me a little by surprise. Clearly many have a stronger desire to understand the nuances of their wagering set, and fair play and the best of luck to them. They give themselves every chance.

Here's an example - anonymous - of one Bet Tracker user (a free subscriber as it happens), who has recorded almost 400 bets to date:

By Handicap or Non-Handicap

By Race Distance


Non-Handicaps up to 7 furlongs


Yes, of course it's a tiny sample size and possibly, maybe even probably, just noise. But there's a near 100% chance that this user previously did not know they might be quite good at identifying value in this context...

Suggestion #5: Review what you're doing, not just for signs of improvement but to ensure you're not sterilising something which used to be fun


6: Action vs Fancy: Enjoy the GAME

At the end of the day, the most important thing for me is to enjoy the game. To be involved, through this website, with sponsoring jockeys (David Probert, Callum Rodriguez, Rex Dingle, Mitch Godwin) and a training yard (Anthony Honeyball), and to syndicate racehorses (ten currently, with Anthony, Olly Murphy, Mick Appleby and Wilf Storey) so that other like-minded souls can also get closer to the action, is a genuine 24 carat bona fide 100% pleasure. To call it work is a truly great fortune.

Betting on racing is not incidental to me, but it is a pleasurable pursuit. I bet most days, some days more than others, and sometimes staking more or less.

When I have the time to really get stuck into a card, and I identify a sore thumb of a bet, I will wager accordingly. Never massive but big enough to justify the perceived opportunity.

When I have less time and/or I spot a few of mild interest, I'll have action bets.

I don't want to look at the card for an hour or two and not have a bet. That's what the arid bottoms suggest we do. No ta. If I don't have a strong view, or I think the market about has it, I'll make a cup of tea bet; and if I like more than one I might strike a sticky bun wager as well. But I will be invested in some small way in the outcome.

It is generally obvious whether a horse should be a cup of tea or a Dom Perignon stake; where it isn't, it should probably be somewhere in between erring towards the 'Rosie' urn. For me anyway.

The point: enjoy the ride. Or what is the point?

After all, if it's not fun, we might as well go and get a(nother) job.

Suggestion #6: bet in line with the strength of your fancy (and always in line with your means, obvs). And enjoy it: one day all this might no longer be possible