Forget old wives’ tales, home-spun wisdom and the advice of cabbies, says Tony Paley. If you really want to know how to punt on horses, you should engrave these 37 Commandments on tablets of stone and carry them with you wherever you go. Not literally, of course – that would be impractical.
Rules. Mavericks and misfits might not like to admit it, but it’s especially true in gambling that some solid guidelines are a major help in formulating a strategy to beat the bookies.
There’s no short cut to making money backing horses. The bookmakers work full-time at getting money from punters, so backers shouldn’t expect to have to do anything different.
Victor Chandler, for instance, not only has a form expert but a speed ratings buff, a breeding analyst and a man whose job it is to collate inside information.
Punters need to take their betting just as seriously, but if they take the following 37 Commandments on board, they will give themselves a much better chance of getting in front and staying there.
The first question to ask when you want a bet is: ‘How will this race be run?’ And the second: ‘Will it suit the horse I am interested in backing?’
Watch as many horse races as possible. Even if the over-excitable Mark Johnson or the almost terminally bored Graham Goode is commentating.
Look at every horse in the race, not just the one you’ve backed.
Concentrate virtually without exception on the better class of animals in the higher-grade races.
Cram as much form study in as time will allow.
When you find a horse ‘coming to the boil’ and running into form, back on a winnable rating, stick with it. It will almost certainly pay its way in time.
The going and the draw are the two most important variables in determining the outcome of any horse race.
If there are doubts about the going, draw bias, the price or any other highly important variable, wait till the very last minute until having a bet.
Keep your pockets sewn up when the ground is officially heavy.
The influence of weight is vastly overrated. In the majority of cases, horses will not reverse the form, no matter how favourably off they are in terms of the weights.
Only forgive a horse an ‘unlucky-in-running’ run once. The vast majority who repeat the offence will repeatedly find trouble.
Follow horses that travel well in races and/or have demonstrated a turn of foot in a truly run race.
The Ei Ei Memorial Rule. Favour horses with a willingness to win.
Never ever back a horse in a major handicap first time out, unless it is trained by Sir Mark Prescott.
Look, look and look again at the stats history of the big races, but use them intelligently. Buffoons on television telling us that no horse above draw 9 can win the Magnet Cup should remember that this is only true when the ground isn’t on the soft side of good. That’s a fact.
Be wary of each-way betting. In the long run, you’re almost certainly going to win more having all-win bets of £50 than £25 each-way. And, anyway, if you’re dithering about dabbling each-way because you’re unsure if your horse will win, why are you having a bet?
It’s the Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot, the Derby, the Grand National. You don’t have to bet.
Concentrate at specialist courses like Brighton or Goodwood on horses that have demonstrated an ability to perform at those tracks, or have so much in hand their relative inability to do so won’t matter.
Study courses until you can study them no longer. Take on board the fact that Ascot’s short straight requires different qualities in a horse than York or Newbury’s galloping terrains.
Seven furlongs is a specialist distance. End of story.
In sprints, concentrate solely on horses in form.
Cut out and keep the entries for big races. They are stuffed with clues about what trainers expect and, even more crucially, know about the horses in their charge.
Similarly, read and keep all the stable interviews with trainers. They will often give information about going and distance preferences for their horses.
Don’t pay over the odds for tips. There is enough quality information around for the cost of a newspaper. Graham Wheldon’s Sprintline column (Racing & Football Outlook), Andrew Barr’s Mark Your Card feature (Racing Post Weekender), The Guardian’s inside info Horse Sense column on Saturdays and Malcolm Heyhoe’s internet tipping service (gg.com) are all highly recommended.
The number of race meetings is set to continue growing at an alarming rate. Have an area you can specialise in, whether it be Group races, sprints or middle-distance handicaps.
Think like a bookmaker. Compile your own betting forecast, but above all, be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you would really offer those odds if you were a layer.
The following books are a must for any serious punter’s library: Nick Mordin, Betting For A Living; Alan Potts, Against The Crowd; Mark Coton, Value Betting. The best volume to start with is the Racing Post’s Definitive Guide To Betting On Horses.
Open up accounts with as many bookmakers as you can, in order to take advantage of the best prices available.
Get access to the net and use the free Racing Post form at racingpost.co.uk. The races are laid out in a line-byline format, which is much easier to use and far more useful than the form in the newspaper version.
Subscribe to a form book. The official Raceform version, Timeform’s Perspectives and Superform are all more than adequate. Stick with the one that suits you.
Put a bank together that you’re comfortable with, and have a staking plan sorted out that suits your particular style of betting.
If you’re at the track, don’t go for a drink before the race, watch the horses going down to the start. You’ll learn an awful lot about what sort of horses are suited to different types of ground and what plus and minus points to look for in a horse just prior to running.
Don’t believe all the recent press about ignoring the effect of the draw. Stalls positions are often crucial to the outcome of a race, especially in the big handicaps. This is even true of the long-distance races like the Tote Ebor at York, the Cesarewitch at Newmarket and the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot. You’ll find Graham Wheldon’s detailed analysis of draw biases in the Racing Post Definitive Guide book (see the 27th Commandment) or at the front of the official Form Book.
Big-name jockeys invariably win big races. Be wary of backing runners in the major races with lesser-known or inexperienced riders on board.
Have your biggest bets in a period, normally between June and September, when the ground remains fairly constant.
Never underestimate the psychology and emotion involved in gambling. If your mood swings are extreme, you’ll find it difficult to survive the inevitable losing runs.
Go to the paddock. Learn the different types of physique and the good and bad signs displayed by horses before the race. Nick Mordin’s book The Winning Look covers all the bases.