Donn's Articles » Five golden rules

Five golden rules

1. Seek value

It’s all about the odds. It’s the number one rule in betting, and it’s the number one rule at Cheltenham. If you can consistently bet horses at odds that are greater than their true odds, then you should make a profit from your betting. A 6/4 winner is better than a 20/1 loser for sure, but if you back lots of horses at 6/4 who really should be 2/1, then in the long run you will lose. By contrast, if you back lots of horses at 20/1 who really should be 10/1, then in the long run you will win.

Good value doesn’t necessarily mean big prices. It’s a common mis-conception. Would you bet 1/10 that tomorrow is Sunday? Harry Findlay and his disciples have dined out on short prices that should be shorter – Denman in the Hennessy, Federer at Wimbledon. If you can bet a 6/4 shot that really should be an even money shot, then that is a bet that you should have. Conversely, if you continually bet 20/1 shots who should be 50/1 shots, then you will end up in the soup kitchen.

There are those who will tell you that Dunguib is value at 8/11, or that Master Minded is value at 4/5, and good luck to them. Is Master Minded more likely to win than to lose? Perhaps. The value in betting, however, generally lies in going against the crowd. It can be a lonely place, when the masses are celebrating a favourite’s win and offering you a glass of champagne from their magnum when you have bet one or two against him but, in the long run, it can be a profitable way of going on.

It depends what your objective is from your betting: celebrate and commiserate with the masses, or plough a lonely furrow to potential profitability? Of Dunguib, Master Minded, Big Buck’s and Kauto Star, how many do you think will get beaten? The market says that they are all more likely to win than to lose. And listen carefully when Dunguib wins by half the length of the run-in or when Master Minded wins by a fence, you will hear many tell you that he was value at odds-on. Don’t be sucked in, stick to your value strategy, you can’t fit value retrospectively. Just because tails has come up on the toss of a fair coin, it doesn’t mean that it was value at 4/6.

2. Study hard

If you can at all, take the time to study a race in-depth before you have a bet in it. You will see lots of horses running over the course of the week that are available to bet at bigger prices than you have seen about them all season. Try to take a step back and take the time to analyse its chance properly. Maybe set yourself a rule that you will not allow yourself have a bet in a race unless you have spent at least an hour studying it. There is more information around these days than there ever has been, you can go through every line of form of every horse in every race in meticulous detail, you can watch every past race that you want to watch, you can analyse the statistics for every race, so there really is no excuse for not informing yourself properly. All you need to do is make the time to do so.

3. Be selective

That said, it is unlikely that you will have the time to go through every race on every day in fine detail, so choose your battles carefully. One of the main advantages that the bettor has over the bookmaker is that the bettor chooses on what race and on what horse he bets. You don’t have to bet on every race. Even though it is Cheltenham, it is unreasonable to think that you have an angle into every race. If you don’t have the time nor the inclination to go through the form of the Foxhunters’ in detail, forget about it, focus the scarce resource that is your time on the areas in which you think that in-depth analysis will bring clarity of thought, and go and have a cup of tea after the Gold Cup.

If you feel the need to have an interest in every race, instead of having a bet in every race have a fun bet on Barry Geraghty or Davy Russell or Choc Thornton to be leading rider. Of course, Ruby is a deserving favourite, but a 1/2 shot is not a fun bet, and a bet on any of the other three will give you an interest for most of the week at worst. My dad backed Graham Lee at 20/1 to be top jockey in 2005 and had the Festival of his life.

4. Be disciplined

Discipline follows on from selectivity. Choose your races, choose your bets and stick with them and only them. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Say you have decided to have three bets on Tuesday, they have all got beaten and there are still two races left, it’s difficult to keep your hands and your mobile phone in your pocket, sit out the last two races and think about tomorrow. But that’s what you have to do, because there is always a tomorrow. When you come to Friday, and you are staring down the barrel of a losing week, the temptation to try to get it all back on a 16/1 shot in the Grand Annual is colossal. Resist it!

Where’s the logic? You have spent hours poring over the form of the races in which you have bet, you were happy with your bets, you thought you were on at value prices, and you probably were, but it just didn’t happen. The 12/1 shot that you bet, you had him down as an 8/1 shot, but he was still an 8/1 shot, only one in nine of those win, this one didn’t, it didn’t work out, but it was still a good bet. You had decided to leave the Grand Annual alone, too difficult, so why would you have the same bet on a horse in the last, with little or no work done on the race, that you had on a horse that you decided was a bet after investing a couple of hours in the form book? You wouldn’t. It’s difficult, but suffer the loss and wait for Aintree or Punchestown or Uttoxeter on Saturday.

5. Avail of the non-runner-no-bet concession

Most bookmakers are now going non-runner-no-bet for Cheltenham. This is huge. It means that you can bet effectively at ante post prices (okay, so some of them tighten the prices up a little, but they are still not far from genuine ante post prices) safe in the knowledge that you get your money back if the horse you have bet doesn’t run. However, if another horse in the race comes out, there is no Rule 4 deduction. It’s massive.

Again if you can make the time, there is a strong argument for having at least the vast majority of the bets that you intend to have at Cheltenham over the next few days, unless there is a specific reason why you need to wait, like if paddock inspection is going to be key, or if you are afraid that your horse will run even if the ground is unsuitable. You can be sure that there will be high-profile scratchings between now and then, other horses will go the way of Mikael D’Haguenet and Pandorama and Taranis and Mille Chief and, if the horse you have bet is one of them, you will get your money back.

© The Irish Field, 6th March 2010