THE ART OF WINNER-FINDING
FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS ARTICLE, we are going to assume you are able to do as the above title suggests – namely, find winners. Anyone able to identify potential value bets must accept that backing losers, and plenty of them, comes with the territory. Losers are a given for any punter. The art is to filter them out where possible and to reduce their impact where not.
You achieve this by examining and re-examining the thought process that led to making a certain selection. A lengthy checklist exists that resembles the sort you see on an MOT form. Most of its contents can be eliminated without reference to a formbook or any other publication. Once you find your rhythm and become conversant with form and horses in a way you possibly never thought possible, it is amazing how much knowledge you retain. Do not get cocky though; relying on what you think is a fact regarding a horse can be costly. At the risk of repeating myself, always check the trip of a race. It is so easy to assume a race, like the Portland Handicap at Doncaster for example, is over six furlongs, when in fact is it is run over an extended five. Such a situation can sabotage the best thought out plans. Some courses run races over odd trips: 1m 3f, nine furlongs, an extended mile-and-three-quarter are examples. Then there is the plain mistake made in the complete heat of battle when, excited by the discovery of a possible winner, you will falsely assume a race is run over a certain trip, only to discover that it is over ten furlongs instead of twelve, or five instead of six. This may seem like an elementary mistake, but believe me it is easy to make, particularly when horses tend to interchange over these sorts of distances. When seeing a field that looks as if it belongs over one trip, it is natural to assume that is the distance in question.
Be wary of the weight-for-age scale that can often make a horse look better treated than it is. In addition, it is amazing how easy it is to overlook a penalty in a Group race.
Apart from these seemingly obvious gaffs, others are correspondingly easy to make. Put aside your exuberance when you think you have smoked out a potential winner and take the time to look again, just to ensure you have not overlooked an essential point.
Once you have made what is hopefully a credible selection, the next process is to decide what to do with it. Now, I am likely to lose some of you here because I am not an each-way punter. Colleagues castigate me for this. I know many who often back and lay horses in the place market on Betfair. Laying horses for a place is a different matter but I have no interest in backing them under such a basis. Actually, in this year’s Gold Cup I backed Denman to win and laid Kauto Star for a place. This was on the assumption that Denman might have either put Kauto Star on the floor, or outstayed him to such a degree he finished legless. It turned out well but, had Denman lost leaving the prize to runner-up Kauto Star, I would have been in trouble. Backing twice in a race is dangerous and not a practice I would advocate, although I often do back one and lay against it. I have been caught a couple of times, losing on the horse I backed and paying out on the winner which I laid. It is not a good idea for those of a nervous disposition.
Each-way betting is an obvious way of protecting your stake. Two things I should like to add. Firstly, ask most people what the place odds for a 10/1 chance at one-fifth the odds is and they will tell you 10 divided by 5, or 2/1. Wrong! Those odds only apply if the horse wins. If it finishes second, you are paid 2/1 less your win stake; therefore £100 each-way on a 10/1 shot that is placed returns you £300 for a stake of £200. I make that a 2/1 ON shot! Protecting your stake is prudent and punters would do well to give themselves as many chances of winning or not losing as possible. But to my mind, each-way betting is not necessarily the insurance policy that provides protection for your money. Each-way doubles can be fine, as can each-way trebles; but an each-way single is not as clever as it looks.
If you have identified a prospective winner and it is your only selection of the day, there are other options open to you. Firstly, you can just go for broke and back it to win. You are only risking half your stake as the win part of the bet is unaffected, and you can always use the place part for another bet on another day. I would always prefer to have two win bets rather than one each-way wager. Do not forget, if you are unsure about your selection to the extent you wish to cover it with a place bet, perhaps you should rethink. On the other hand, you can always have another win bet in the race in question to cover your stake. You can also do as I suggested on the exchanges, but when you get it wrong, it will smart so it is not a decision to take lightly.
If you fancy two horses on the day, now you can dispense with all thoughts of an each-way single. Always examine what it the most likely scenario in your opinion. If you fancy one horse strongly and one less so but intend to back it, you could consider any one of several alternatives. Have a single bet on your main contender. Have a small covering bet on your second selection and have a small each-way double the two. If you take this line, do not increase your overall stake. If it was your intention to place £50 each-way on your main selection, then you have earmarked a stake of £100 to play with. Instead of risking £50 each-way, you could stake £65 win. Assuming the price of your other selection is somewhere in the region of 5/1, have £15 win on that and a £10 each-way double the two. Now you have four ways to win or cover all or part of your risk. Let us examine them in turn starting with the least likely, which is the win double. Okay, you are possibly throwing away £10 on the win part of the double, but should they both oblige it is a bonus. The place part of the double is your next piece of insurance. Assuming the horses concerned are at least 5/1, you have negated the win part of the transaction by the fact that the cumulative odds of the places roll up. Two places at 5/1 at a fifth the odds equate to a 3/1 winning bet or, taking your stake into account, even-money. So even a £10 place double returns £40 – knocking a hole in your losses if everything else falls apart.
The two win singles speak for themselves. If the main bet wins, instead of having only £50 at win odds, now you have £65. The forfeited place part of the bet is incidental. Place odds are for insurance purposes only.
Many each-way bets in competitive races are not the cast-iron propositions they appear. If a horse is ridden to win a race, it can often fail to place because it has given its all in a valiant attempt to succeed; whereas those that have not been seriously put into the contest can often poach a place from exhausted rivals. Each-way betting is at its most effective when thieving, especially when the favourite is a short price. Obtaining such bets for serious money is difficult and will not endear you to layers that, like it or not, you need if you wish to be accommodated in the future.
Like boxers, punters should strive to protect themselves at all times. Yes, I know it is a line from Million Dollar Baby, but I cannot always be original and it is appropriate. When you win, the game is easy. Name the right ones and you cannot go wrong. But always take into account that the converse can be the case. As a punter, always assume the worst even though homework pays off and you know what you are doing. Never forget that once the stalls open or the tapes fly up, events are out of your hands. That is when 6/4 chances can become 6/1 chances in seconds.
Note From Bob
One of the things I love about Spy is he has strong views. That’s essential in the team of advisors you consult with and whose opinions you value enough to want to. There’s no point in consulting every day with people who hold the same view as you do. All you do is reinforce that view and it can become a bit “Emporors New Clothes”
We disagree on each way betting. We’ve always disagreed and had many lively discussions on the subject. I’m an inveterate each way punter and yet there are many situtaions when i’ve bet each and made a mistake. Spy is right to point out for example that horses ridden to win sometimes fade badly precisely because they’ve given their all. He will rarely bet each way and I will almost always. We both win so does it matter? There are as many winning approaches to this game as there ae types of races to specialise in.
So if you have a confidant who has a winning formula respect his view even if you don’t agree with them. I learn a lot from our discussions precisely because we don’t always agree! It’s the discussion the disagreeing stimulates that can unearth some wonderful betting opportunities you may have overlooked on your own.