There’s one question I’ve been most asked more than any other over the last 30-plus years as a pro punter: “How do you make it pay?”
The simple answer to this is that I only ever bet at what I consider to be value odds. However, the explanation behind this answer is more complex.
Value is a term that’s thrown around in the betting media every day of the week. But there are very few pundits or commentators who attempt to follow up that assertion with a reasoned explanation as to why a particular price does indeed represent value.
Value can only occur when the odds the bookmaker is offering differ from the actual chance of a selection. To successfully identify this, you need to have a greater understanding of the event than the bookmaker and be able to correctly evaluate the chance of not just one selection but every other selection in the event.
In simple terms, on the toss of a coin there is a 50 per cent (evens) chance of it landing on heads. With only two possible outcomes we can therefore assume that landing on tails must also be a 50 per cent (evens) chance.
The odds on a toss of a coin or a card game are objectively proven so unfortunately we can’t take advantage of bookmaker errors.
However, the odds on the outcome of a sports event are subjective. That is why it is possible to win if we can identify when the odds being offered to us are incorrect.
How do we identify incorrect odds?
Back in the late 1980s, when I started to bet professionally, information was fairly thin on the ground. Some of the big races were shown on BBC or ITV and there was a little coverage from the national daily newspapers, but The Sporting Life, Timeform and Raceform were the main providers of information (the Racing Post had just started publishing).
There was no access to previous race videos and if you wanted accurate race times you had to use your own stopwatch. Facts and figures that are openly available for everyone today regarding trainers, jockeys, draw bias and up-to-date going reports back then would only be known by a few regular and experienced racegoers.
Other than the major meetings, the market for each race wasn’t formed until after the previous race had finished. The prices that the bookmakers ‘chalked up’ were taken by and large from the SP forecasts of The Sporting Life’s journalists.
I was going racing virtually every day of the week and the knowledge that I gained from being at the track certainly gave me a distinct edge over the bookmakers and also over other punters. Even though the bookmakers would keep a big percentage (overround) for themselves, the mistakes were often significant enough to be able to take advantage of them. You had to know who you could bet with, but at that time the on-course market was pretty strong and I could always find someone to accommodate me.
Today’s landscape is different in the extreme.
There’s so much data readily available that it’s impossible to absorb it all. Whether it’s ratings, sectional timing, pace angle, historical data, videos, market movers . . . everything is covered. The race markets go up the day before and any obvious ricks are quickly ironed out with a few quid bet on the exchange.
With all this information available to punters and bookmakers alike and with the markets being priced up so early, the chances of there being any errors by the time the race starts have diminished.
However, racing does remain a sport of opinion and there will always be ‘value prices’ available. You just have to be disciplined and patient enough to wait for them to appear.
My edge comes from being able to interpret the information available in a different way to the majority.
I have run my own private handicap and ratings system for 26 years and this gives me an advantage in assessing the abilities of horses and the races they have run in compared to the official and commercial ratings that are produced.
To beat the market you have to work harder than everyone else
That means watching and re-watching every race run as well as entering detailed notes and ratings into my database. That’s just for the previous day’s races before I have even begun work on the upcoming meetings.
Early morning starts and late evening finishes are the norm but it is necessary for me to have total confidence in my odds and predictions.
So if you haven’t the time or inclination to work as I do, what are the options?
There have always been systems or methods that have worked over the years. Some are successful, but they usually have a limited lifespan as they get picked up by others and the value quickly drains away.
Reduce the workload by focusing on a specific type of race
It is usually better specialising in a few races or types of races than spreading yourself too thinly, but if you are working in this way you need to be both an enthusiast and have good self-control. At times you will be putting in a lot of work only to come to the same conclusion as the market. Having the discipline in these cases not to convince yourself into placing an overly optimistic bet based on imagined value is crucial.
The ability to price up a race is the other essential ingredient
Being an expert on the form is only a part of the package. You then need to be able to convert a horse’s theoretical chance into odds. If you can do all this with a good degree of accuracy then today’s betting world brings a much greater variety of markets and ways to bet than ever before.
Previously, the only way you could lay a bet was to take out a licence in order to purchase a betting shop. You couldn’t even become an on-course bookmaker without meeting the hereditary requirements. Now you can lay as many horses, football teams, golfers or athletes as you like, not only before the event but during it as well, all at the click of a button.
Crucially, the only way you can profit in the long term in any of these markets is to gain the knowledge and know how to get an edge over the competition.
Likewise, if the people in any betting market have an edge over you it will become costly quickly.
For example, betting in running is popular for many sitting at home watching sports. However, battling with professionals who are specialising in this market, using superior technology and who are at the stadium or racetrack in order to pick up a few seconds’ advantage is not a profitable play and therefore something I avoid even when I have picked up something from video analysis which would appear to be useful.
There are no easy options
The question you need to ask yourself is: “What am I looking to get out of racing?”
If it’s the spectacle of the sport itself, then that’s great.
If you like to have a few quid on a horse you fancy, then fine.
If you’re looking to seriously make it pay, then you have to put in the work.
RACING POST – August 2022