Royal Ascot 23-6-23 Shaquille and Oisin Murphy win the Commonwealth Cup (Group 1) for owners Hughes/Rawlings/O'Shaughnessy and trainer Julie Camacho (left) Photo Healy Racing /

Taking on the World at Royal Ascot

There are plenty of ways to wager the Royal meeting. With bookmakers offering 'happy hour' enhanced odds, significant extended places each way, and a top hat-ful of specials and concessions, shopping around the firms is an obvious place to start. In his excellent Money Without Work series on geegeez, pro player Russ Clarke outlined the maths associated with bookie concessions and this is a must read for anyone even faintly serious about trying to come out in front. The series is here, and of specific relevance are parts 4 and 5; if you've not read those, go ahead and do that now - I'll wait 😉

That, of course, is if you can still get on with the bookies. Restrictions, the bane of millions of regular racing bettors, mean that such offers are a frustrating cocked snook: "I have thee not, and yet I see thee still".

Alternatives to traditional bookmakers

Happily, Royal Ascot is a meeting of global importance which bestows upon it more wagering pounds and dollars - Hong Kong, Australian, United States and other brands - than any other meeting in the British calendar. The eyes and wallets of the world are trained on these five days and that presents rare opportunity. Liquidity in UK racing markets is an ongoing challenge: the sharks have decimated the little fish on betting exchanges, and the dear old nanny goat (tote) continues to suffer from a historic lack of investment and promotion under previous stewardships. But both fight back during Royal Ascot week.

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On Betfair, top sporting events bring far greater liquidity: backers and layers alike are prepared to risk more capital when they believe the playing field is even. So the exchanges are unquestionably a value option during a meeting like this, especially for win only players.

Keeping an eye on three price lists at once is not for everyone, but it can be a rewarding practice. In reality, of course, it is unlikely that starting price will be the best of the trio of SP, exchange SP and tote return; so unless you've played early with the Best Odds Guaranteed concession it's going to be a straight shoot out between 'the machine' and the nanny.

Their respective markets will be capitalised differently meaning different horses will be better or worse value in each. Here's why. Betfair, the major exchange player (though certainly not the only one in Royal Ascot week), does not allow the world to bet into a single win pool. So it is that UK and Irish punters will bet into one instance, and some overseas jurisdictions will bet into another: each will return a different SP for the race. Materially, plenty of geographies will be unable to (legally) bet on an exchange at all.

Tote / World Pool

Meanwhile, tote offers us World Pool. In partnership with a majority of the biggest international racing countries, including the aforementioned Hong Kong (whose ball it is that everyone plays with), Australia, US, Japan and on, World Pool means millions of quids and bucks and yens and euros are wagered into a single pot.

What that means is that there are blind spots in the markets. Much of the World Pool liquidity emanates from Hong Kong where, it's fair to say, they like a bet. But, as infrequent players on UK gee-gees, the general level of familiarity is commensurately sketchy. I hark back to some formative Saturday mornings punting Turffontein in South Africa, which typically meant no more form study than establishing which unknown equine Piere 'Striker' Strydom was aboard. He may have been the best rider (and he may not), but who knows what chance he had in any given race? I just didn't know about any of the other blokes (as it would have virtually exclusively been back then).

So it is with overseas punters in World Pool. It's a crying shame that there are relatively few international runners at the meeting this year because, as with Brits backing Brits at the Breeders', parochial punters are of the same stripe the world over. Hong Kong'ers will play HK runners, Aussies will back their Bruces and Sheilas, and our American cousins want to wager Wesley. That's human nature. And it is opportunity knocking.

I've managed to get hold of some great insights on last year's World Pool that reveal some of those trainers and jockeys which are overbet, and those which are underbet. More importantly, the logic around them is bombproof: overseas punters bet who they know. Duh.

So, even without Frankie Dettori or a proper away team in 2024, we still have to play Ryan Moore and William Buick, Neil Callan and Silvestre de Sousa, Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand, as well as most likely Oisin Murphy, with caution on World Pool. The exchange will be a better option. Why? Ryan and William are the best known Euro jocks (and ride first string for the best known training and ownership firms); Callan and SdS were household names around Sha Tin and the Valley of Happy (at least in punting households) when plying their trade there; and Hollie and Tom have been highly successful in HK and Aus. Oisin has strong connections with Japan.

But, away from the international glare, prospects are rosy. The likes of Hayley Turner, Colin Keane, Billy Lee, Wayne Lordan, Kevin Stott, Kieran Shoemark, Clifford Lee, and Richard Kingscote... and, candidly, most of the very good 'stay at home' domestics... will be underbet on World Pool.

The same is true with trainers. Aidan O'Brien, Charlie Appleby, Dermot Weld, and Andrew Balding are no-no's. Big yesses are Eve Johnson Houghton, Jane Chapple-Hyam, George Boughey, and perhaps more surprisingly, the likes of Sir Michael Stoute, William Haggas and Willie Mullins. Loads of our big guns hiding in plain sight from overseas bettors.


How to play?

The easiest way to play this is to compare prices on horses you fancy (or on horses you don't, actually) between exchange and World Pool, and bet where the offer is healthiest. One of the great things about the World Pool is that it is far less susceptible to late price collapses; you'll still see instances of dividends being lower than the last 'show' before the off but it's rarely the deep frustration it can be in the tote payout queue on a rainy December evening at Southwell. A runner showing 12.0 as they enter the stalls is unlikely to return shorter than 10.5, say. If the last bookie show is 15/2 and the exchange shows 9.6, World Pool is the place to play.

It's not impossible that you could make underround books from this sort of cross-referenced cherry picking; or at least fashion a good edge from hedging the top of the market. If you're that way inclined. Me? I'm not especially that way inclined, but I do like an exotic... what about playing combinations of the fancied horses with lesser known connections in the exacta and trifecta pools? Sure, this is a feast and famine existence, but if you hit one you'll likely be dining very well. And it will foot the bill for a lot of near misses and complete blowouts.



Win Pools

Let's take a couple of examples from last year, starting with the Queen Anne, arguably a bad example because the winner, 33/1 Triple Time, was not an easy one to find, here in Blighty at least. His Betfair SP was 36.45, about 10% better but pretty unsexy given his 'double carpet' starting price. On the tote, he paid £35.05, also pretty unattractive in terms of uplift against SP. But closer inspection reveals he was ridden by Neil Callan, one of the great 'clock' riders in Britain (and, day to day, just about the single most underrated in my view). Callan's ability was/is not lost on Hong Kong players whose wagering respect for him is greater than ours, a fact reflected in that return.

Compare that with the opening race on the Saturday, the Chesham Stakes, won by Snellen. Ridden by Gary Carroll and trained by Gavin Cromwell, names far from the overseas radar, he returned 12/1 at SP, 13.88 BSP, and £14.30 on World Pool. That was followed by the Jersey Stakes where Aidan O'Brien's second string, Ace Of Kings, ridden by Wayne Lordan, was a 22/1 scorer. He paid 34 on the exchange and £34.70 on World Pool, a 50% bonus against SP.

Exacta / Trifecta

In truth, it will often be the case that the best value close to the off is with the exchange if you're playing in the win markets. But what about the exacta/trifecta options? In these pools, which are not generally available on exchanges but compete directly with bookmaker-derived computer straight forecast (CSF) and tricast offerings, we have the chance to multiply lesser known connections. Again, a couple of examples will help.

In the Copper Horse Stakes, the closing 1m6f handicap on the 2023 Tuesday, Willie Mullins saddled a 1-2 with the even money favourite obliging ahead of his 5/1 stablemate. Even though this pair was ridden by Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori, essentially the two highest profile jockeys at the meeting, the World Pool exacta paid £15.20 against a miserly CSF of £6.11. That would have been one of the easier 14/1 shots we'll ever have the chance to find.

At the other end of the feasibility spectrum, we had the Norfolk Stakes on Thursday where 150/1 Valiant Force beat 66/1 Malc. What chance in the Norfolk? Norfolk and chance! Anyhoo, someone somewhere copped it (my mate Gavin Priestley who, after flagging 33/1 Bradsell for geegeez readers last year, will be contributing again here for Royal Ascot, also put up Valiant Force on his trends service!), and the CSF paid £3478.24. Decent and well earned. But the World Pool exacta came in at a mouth-watering £5369.60. ¡Ay, caramba!

Below is the full CSF/exacta 'tale of the tape' from last year's Royal meeting. I've rounded the computer straight forecast (CSF) and exacta dividends to the nearest pound, and in the final column have displayed a ratio of exacta to CSF. For example, in the Queen Anne, the opening race on Tuesday, the Exacta (313) paid 2.63 times as much as the CSF (119). Most  notably, from 35 races, only three paid more on the bookie version of the 1-2 bet. And the average uplift was around 77% in favour of the World Pool exacta. I'll be playing these next week. It won't be easy but there's enough reward to justify the risk...


You can read much more about the general appeal of exacta over CSF in a two-part article, part 1 of which is here. Part 2 is here.

Multi-Race Action

The placepot (find a placed horse in the first six races) and jackpot (find the first six winners) bets are not part of World Pool per se, but the place variant is an extremely liquid pool during Royal Ascot. Indeed, last year at the meeting the placepot pool was greater than half a million pounds on each of the five days. Dividends ranged from a relatively paltry £93.70 on Tuesday to an impossible-sounding £36,284.30 on Saturday. In the middle, on Gold Cup day, there was a gettable £1,244.80 payout.

A lot of my personal play will be in the multi-race pools, mainly placepot but the Tuesday card can often lend itself to a bold jackpot tilt. Of course, I'll be using Tix, the staking optimisation tool I built with my good friend Nigel Dove (who also built much of the geegeez racecard and form tool ecosystem).

With Tix you choose a unit stake, budget and the pool you want to play (Ascot placepot for example).


Then you pick your horses in each leg, adding them to either A, B or C ('A' being your strong fancies, 'B' warm fancies, and 'C' dark horses). You can have just 'A' picks if you like, and/or any combination of A's, B's and C's across the six legs.


Once you've done that, it's on to the TICKETS tab to decide which combo's you're playing and whether you want any multipliers. I almost always set mine up like this:


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When you're happy with everything, hit PLACE ALL BETS (or you can place tickets individually).

You can then review your placed bets and download them to a spreadsheet from the BETS tab:


Tix is a free tool, and winning tickets receive a 5% bonus payout. So if you're due £100 back, you'll get £105 into your tote account for bets placed through Tix.

There's much more information here and you can put Tix to work for you here.


Closing Thoughts

It's often said about betting that you one needs to choose one's battles; but it is also essential to opt for the right battlefield to optimise winning chances. You don't need me to tell you that finding winners at Royal Ascot is difficult; it's one of the great wagering challenges of the year where good work on Tuesday afternoon can be a distant memory by Saturday evening, and vice versa. Every return counts, so it's crucial to get as much back in odds/dividend terms as possible (what you get back is directly proportionate to what you stake and that is of no consequence here).

Sadly, optimising returns, for many punters, is an epic fail. And, at the end of the day, or of a meeting like Royal Ascot, or of your punting accounting period, it can comfortably be the difference between winning and losing.

In that somewhat preachy (sorry) spirit:

- if you can get concessions with traditional bookmakers, DO!
- win dividends are typically best on the exchanges
- exacta and trifecta dividends are generally MILES better with World Pool
- certain jockeys and trainers - those known to overseas punters - are 'caution advised' in the pools

Bring it on!

p.s. Don't forget to check out Tix, not just for the big meetings but for jackpot, placepot, quadpot, Placepot7 and Scoop6 bets, too. Start betting smarter with Tix here >

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