EV or Expected Value is a widely used term in poker terminology to determine if the outcome of a play is +, 0 or – in terms of profitability. This article is aimed for Poker Players who also like to punt on UK and Irish horse racing. It never ceases to amaze me how many good poker players are terrible at betting on horse racing. If they can spend so much time on their poker game then why not also put in the effort when placing a bet to ensure that you have the most +EV decision that you can possibly make with all the information at hand. The title of the post is actually a small bit misleading as I personally believe that all horse racing systems are doomed and the way to consistently profit at betting on horse racing is to have a horse racing method not a system.
The following article will lay the ground work for anyone who wants to start taking their punting to the next level. There is no better satisfaction then spending an hour or two analysing a race and 1 horse just stands head and shoulders above the rest when you compare all the different factors that I will explain below. Of course the toughest part is having the discipline to only wait for when these such occasions occur when placing a bet, and some times, this may mean you do not bet for up to a month. (This may help explain why I moved into playing poker from sports betting as the results of your actions are known instantaneously, and you can play a game anytime of any day). I also think you can compare a MTT player to a professional sports bettor – you can go long periods without a win and then score a few big results and then rinse and repeat and hopefully over the course of the year you will have been profitable.
1. You must specialise. All the most profitable professional sports bettors pick not only 1 sport but only a small niche in that sport. Patrick Veitch, who has won over 10 million punting on horse racing in the UK only bets on UK flat racing. He even has a massive team of researchers who do a lot of the work for him, but he as he also works 18 hours days during the flat season he is naturally burnt out by the end of the season.
For the beginner though, what I mean by specialise is concentrate on an area of horse racing where you can get the most information. Information is power so unless you own a shed load of 2 year old horses or are the nephew of Aidan O Brein, there is no point in specialising in 2 year old horse races as you just wont have enough information to go on. Therefore it makes more sense to specialise on handicap races, where each horse in the race must of least have run 3 times to qualify but mainly are run by the same horses year in, year out until they are retired.
The best races then to specialise in are 4 year old plus handicaps in flat and national hunt racing as you have the most information available and you can start to see patterns in horses and therefore pick out some very +EV selections when you have spotted this pattern and the majority of the racing public haven’t. This is the bread and butter of successful punting, going against the crowd.
Personally I used to specialise in 4 year old plus UK flat handicaps in the summer, and UK and Irish National Hunt handicap chases and hurdles in the Winter.
2. In your specialised area, when you select a race to analyse, you must go through every horse in the race to develop a shortlist. Below are my 5 essential criteria that every horse must have when you are placing a bet.
a) Going – The horse must be proven on going conditions.
b) Distance – The horse must be proven on the trip
c) Course Type – The horse must be proven on similar type of course
d) Fitness – The horse must have shown that it can operate at optimal levels since its last number of days off the track.
e) Class – The horse must have either won at the class he is currently competing in before or else gave a very good showing in a previous race at the similar or higher class level.
Going and Distance
With regard to going and distance and to a lesser extent course type, I will not fully discount a horse who has never raced on the going if he has extremely good sire stats (15% + strike rate) however I would always give precedence to another horse in a race who has won on for example soft going compared to a horse who has never raced on soft but has sire stats of 18% strike rate for soft going conditions.
With distance, I would also use sire stats if a horse is moving up or down in trip by 1 furlong on the flat, and 2 furlongs in national hunt. With experience, you can tell by looking at a race if a horses needs the extra trip or not and the sire stats can be a great way to back up that visual piece of information.
This often overlooked by the general racing public. The best thing about UK and Irish racing is the different types of race courses you will encounter. Cheltenham (left-handed, galloping, undulating and testing track with stiff fences) is totally different to Stratford (left Handed, flat & Sharp) as it is to Sandown (right-handed, galloping, testing track)
A horse who has won twice in Cheltenham will probably never win a race at Stratford and vice versa. Bigger sized horses are more suited to galloping tracks as they can take the turns easier and can maintain a strong galloping pace for longer whereas a smaller sized horse is better suited to sharp tracks (i.e less than 10 furlongs) as most of the running will be going around bends and therefore the bigger horses will not be able to maintain their top galloping speed for long on the stretches.
Also some horses can only run to their best at left handed courses and vice versa. You would actually wonder why trainers persist to run horses which clearly will not win on a certain turning race track, but then you realise by doing this, they will get their Official rating down as horse will appear to be trying but will be hanging left or right the whole way through. You have to be aware that trainers will be trying to manipulate the handicapper a lot of the times in the lower grade races by running horses on unsuitable ground, at the wrong distance, on the wrong course type, or running the horse with a different style during the race all to try and reduce their rating so that they can set up a better chance for themselves to win in the future at a decent price.
I love Cheltenham race meet in March for the simple fact, the course is a stiff testing course which straight away rules out a lot of other horses in the race as they just cant handle it, the grade of racing and pirze money on offer means that everyone is trying to win, and you can nearly always guarantee what the going will be. Therefore if you just use the criteria above and select horses who are proven on the 5 factors (and this applies to the non handicap graded races too, you will see huge profits)
To determine a horses fitness, you must look at its previous patterns of how it performed when it returns after a certain number of days off the track. The beauty of handicap races is you have loads of past information to go on and you can see if a horse is 0-5 when returning after an 80 day lay off, whereas he is 3-2-5 when he returns between 15 and 30 days.
A horses class is often overlooked by the racing public. Statistically horses who are moving up in grade/class do not have a good strike rate, however the public will back it blindly if it sees it has won by 5 lengths in its previous race in a lower grade. Analyse past races to see if a horse has won or come close in the grade of race it is racing in today. You can discount a horse if it has failed 2 times at the grade when having all other conditions to suit except for when it is running for a new stable which has a good record at rejuvenating horses.
Also keep in mind that a horse who has placed in a black type race (i.e grade, 1,2,3) will have a more class than a horse who has a good winning record in Class 2 (B) handicaps, so if it is racing in a Class 2 handicap for the first time, do not discount just because it has never won a race.
3. Once you have created your shortlist based on the above criteria, you can now get down to the real dirty work of finding the eventual winner. Sometimes you might only be left with 1 horse, sometimes with 8, you must then start applying other filters to see if you can narrow down the list more. Sometimes the odds will allow to dutch 3 horses left if you can not narrow it down anymore. Then go for it as it is a plus EV move.
However be aware that every time you discount you must have a very valid reason backed up by a decent sample size. Here’s a list of filters to reduce the shortlist.
Some horses as stated earlier have a bigger frame then others, therefore having top weight doesn’t make much difference to them, whereas the smaller horse will struggle. Again by studying previous races you will spot a pattern
This is the official rating that the horse racing board’s in house handicapper assigns to a horse to determine what weight it should carry in its next horse race. The OR is updated weekly, therefore you sometimes see trainers turn out a horse 3 times in a week to try and take advantage of this before the handicapper reassigns it a higher rating. For an excellent explanation of official hores racing handicapping see this article written by good friend Malcolm Smith over at www.UKhorseracing.co.uk.
After a while, horses will reach their peak and start to hover around a certain OR mark. Therefore it will be unlikely that it will win if its OR mark is higher than its highest winning mark unless the horse is an improving progressive sort. But for older horses, this OR mark becomes more important and can be more relied upon.
Some horses will not race unless they are covered in the pack, other horses need room otherwise they get into trouble during the race. The trick is to identify these type of horses. You will start to spot where some horses only win in races with less than 8 runners, but never figure in races with more than 12. You can safely assume that he needs the perfect ride in a big runner race but more than likely will not get that (This is when you can factor in the Jockeys ability to see if its OK to rule out this horse or not) The field size matters more in National Hunt, as some horses prefer seeing the jumps early/later and as they are pack animals prefer chasing a leader than actually leading
A lot of horses prefer to run in certain times of the year. This could be down to how a trainer prepares the horse over the course of the season and aims it to be at full fitness come March time for example, but other times horses just perform better in certain months. Again by looking at past patterns you will begin to spot these trends.
8 years ago it was a very profitable trend to follow certain trainers at certain race tracks for certain race types. This edge has slowly eroded since the markets have caught on, however it still needs to be factored in when trying to finalise your short list.
Trainer – Jockey combinations
If you try and follow this blindly by backing winning Trainer-Jockey Combos, you will most likely end up with a loss. However it is a good tool to have when you are trying to reduce the shortlist as some stats are just too good to ignore.
This is actually a powerful indicator. However this again doesn’t mean much if the horse doesn’t first qualify for the 5 essential criteria above. Also if you only ever back horses with the top jockeys on board you are forgoing on EV as, the odds will drop on a horse with the likes of Ruby Walsh or Tony McCoy on board, but odds will still remain good on a horse if for example the jockey booking was Graham Lee, who is a very underrated performer. Look back over past races and see how the horse has performed under their guidance before. You will start to see profitable trends and indicators.
There are a few ways to do this. One is manually record stables where horses have been heavily backed and won. Another way is to look at a horses previous wins and see what the average odds were. The lower the winning odds, the bigger chance that the stable money only goes down when the horse has a good chance of winning (Kevin Ryan is an example of a gambling stable). The higher the odds, means the horse has won races that they weren’t fully expecting to win and therefore less likely a gambling stable (Veneita Williams comes to mind here for being an honest stable).
Post Race Comments
This is often overlooked. If you see what trainers, jockeys and owners have said to the press after a horse has won (See the racing post website for all the comments), you can pick up some useful information which can help you lean one way or the other on a selection.
Pace of the race.
To understand the pace of the race you first need to figure out what is each horse’s preferred running style. They can be broken down into front runners, prominent runners, Hold up horses. Here’s is a fantastic article which details the breakdown of winning % of different horses running styles compared to the actual number of race entries of horses with different running styles.
It shows that you should really be concentrating on front running and prominent horses as it accounts for 65% of winners compared to being only 50% of entries in races. Front runners in particular account for 20% of winners even though they only supply 11% of runners in a race.
You can use this to your advantage once you get to know all of the different course types. By backing a front running horse that satisfies the 5 essential criteria on a race course which has a sharp track with a short run in, you have added a few % EV points to your selection.
Another factor here is analysing the previous 3 races the horse has ran in and check out the in running comments. Especially look at the horses who came placed or came outside the top 4 but were close near the end. Keep and eye out for comments like “finished strongly”, “kept on well”, “stayed on well”, “kept on final furlong”and for other tidbits like “hampered” but then “finished strongly”. These can point towards a horse who is on the upward curve and given the perfect conditions in the next race will have a very good chance of winning.
Another thing to factor in is if a race does not have any natural front runners, then the race will not be run at a true pace, therefore could throw up some very unusual results. It may mean that the horse who has the best speed on a flat track will win when it drives all out in the last furlong.
When the pace of the race is guaranteed, the classier horse which satisfies the essential criteria will more often than not win the race.
For 6 years, before getting lured into the world of Online Poker, I punted successfully on horse racing and I used the following resources
Ratings from ukhorseracing.co.uk.
The ratings are based upon advanced pure mathematics but are presented in a an easy to read pdf. The main feature in my view that sets this service apart from a lot of pretenders is the ‘Class’ filter they derive using their mathematical approach. Fantastically accurate for Non Handicap graded races in both National Hunt and Flat racing in the both UK and Irish racing. They also have a great forum where you can exchange ideas with the other members and have recently introduced a Racing Bot where you plug in all your profitable racing systems and sit back and watch.
Stats and ratings from ukracestats.com
I only found this website 4 years into my sports betting career, and it was free for nearly 2 years after that. It is without doubt the biggest time saving tool when it comes to analysing a race using all the criteria and filters I have mentioned above in the article. The only negative is that they only cover UK horse racing.
Racing Post Website- Last year they introduced a subscription service and I suppose it was about time considering all the information that it provides. It is essential for anyone serious about racing. I used it to confirm my findings from the ratings and stats mentioned above.
At The Races Website – Good for watching previous races and offers different race analysis from the Racing Post. As far as I know this is still free.
I hope that after reading the above that you will now not just throw money blindly at the favourite when you have a punt on the horses. Put a bit of time and effort into the selection process and give yourself a +EV chance of winning.