My betting learning journey began in the winter of 1982, and until that point I had never really watched a horse race apart from the Grand National from the glory days of Red Rum.
An October Saturday saw me having lunch at my friend Richard's home and, as usual, Grandstand was on in the background. Football Focus had just finished and racing from Newbury was under way.
Suddenly, Richard was dancing round the room having placed £1 at 7/2 on the winner of the race - I had no idea that he liked betting on anything, let alone horses! However, the return of £3.50 profit did interest me, and so my journey began.
I put aside £50 for betting and started reading as much as I could on horse racing and started placing £0.10 Yankee bets with tax paid on (9% betting tax in those days, of course).
The only place to bet in those days outside of the racecourse was the betting shop, which was a whole different world to the fancy shops around the high street today. Most bookmakers were situated in side streets or beside pubs and had blacked out windows or no windows at all.
When you entered the mysterious world, you were met by a foggy mix of cigarette smoke and body odour. There were no TV screens and commentary was relayed over a speaker, while results were marked up on a results board by an ancient chap wearing a peaked cap, long before today's retro Peaky Blinders fashion reached racing. Much more fun than the sparsely populated, technology-led places today.
I have continued to learn and read as much as I can about racing around the world. I only started making a profit in 1986 and have done so every year since, despite account closures and restrictions.
I have built various systems, but always paper test them before putting any money on, and I would suggest you do that for a minimum of three months (six months is better), as that will save you money in the long term
Some basic betting guidelines
Some of my betting rules are outline below, although you do need to keep evolving to survive, so nothing is ever set in stone.
1. Keep records of all bets and regularly review results to analyse where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Then cut out the weaknesses, which could be certain courses, certain trainers, distances etc.
- I have a record of every bet I have made since I started at 18 (now approaching 59) and I still evaluate at the end of each season and adjust accordingly
2. It is vital to set up a separate betting bank (made up of money you can afford to lose!) to keep it separate from your everyday funds.
- I work with level stakes as a % of my bank which increase bets on a good run and reduces stakes on a bad run
3. Make your own betting exclusion list and stick to it - for example, I do not bet in the following types of race:
- Below Class 2 (form is generally more consistent in better races)
- Amateur, claimer, maiden, 2-year-olds until at least September (imagine toddlers trying to run 100m and trying to pick the winner!)
- Small field races can be run at a false pace, so tend to go for races with more than six runners
Studying the form
4. When analysing races, I use an algorithm-based spreadsheet to create unique ratings for each horse and the top three rated have a great record. However, I do not rely on ratings alone and form analysis is the main component of my betting.
- I look for trainers and jockeys in form (+15% strike rate in last two weeks)
- Horses with a recent run less than 28 days on flat and 35 days over jumps (but also look for horses that have proven they can win after a long break)
- Be wary of horses going up in both class and weight as most struggle and conversely look for horses which are dropping in those categories
- I like horses that you are not asking to do anything different - have won on going, class, course etc
- I also use trends analysis and there are several sites giving those historic trends for free and this can narrow the field down to just a few runners which in big field handicaps can be a major timesaver
Betting discipline is crucial
I always set a value price for a horse and stick to it, and I never even look at prices until I have analysed the race.
I also never bet below 2/1 as I set one point as a threat and another for the field, from where I add additional points if there is a doubt about form and another for each rival that I think is threat.
That gives me a price which I am willing to accept and even if half a point below that I will not bet - this is where mental discipline comes in.
Regardless of your experience and how much work you put in, you will inevitably have losing runs. Everyone does, and when one comes along it is vital to not chase losses.
In fact, with a losing run I ease back on the throttle, as I know long term I will make money, so mentally no need to panic.
The key to betting, as I mentioned above, is to keep evolving and not to stay stuck in a rut - think Madonna and David Bowie - keep changing to stay at the top!