Where to make a start?
We wrote this article assuming you are either new to the racing game, or have not enjoyed consistent success in your efforts, so apologies if we have pitched it wrong and please bear with us, as the booklet is still a great read and as you know every little bit counts in this game.
So please read on!
If some points seem slightly laboured, please bear in mind that to some readers this is new ground. Nevertheless, even if you are experienced, you wouldn’t be reading this unless you felt that in some ways, your outcomes could be improved. So, consider this article a guide to improving your outcomes.
If you are not already, would you like to be a successful racehorse punter? Or do you really want to be? There’s a huge difference.
In ancient times, a young student went to a venerated master, seeking his guidance and, he said, to learn the truth. The master took him to a river and stepped into it with him. Suddenly, the master plunged the young man beneath the surface, and held him down until the student’s struggles to be free became desperately violent. Eventually, the student broke through the surface and stood gasping for breath. When he asked the master, “What was the purpose of this treatment”, he was told:
“What did you desire the most when I was holding you under?”
The student replied,
“Air of course, Master.”
Said the Master,
” When you desire the truth as strongly as you desired your next breath, you will find it.”
We’re talking degrees of commitment here, and when we do, how accurately we measure that depends on one thing: precision.
If you’re travelling to the next town, knowing approximately how far it is in miles or kilometres is good enough. If you’re an engineer constructing an internal combustion engine, the tolerance for error are measured in micrometres, or the engine simply won’t function. At times, precision is absolutely essential for success!
Precision and Conditioning in racing
As human beings, we have to deal with the fact that we are constantly being conditioned. Conditioned by our environment, by those close to us, by those who govern us, by media … the list goes on.
Conditioning extends into myriad areas of our lives.
People who ignore horse racing do so because they’ve been conditioned to think any number of things: It’s morally wrong to gamble; the industry is corrupt and the average person has no chance of long-term success punting thereon; there are so many variables involved in a race, that even if there were no corruption, consistently selecting winning wagers is a virtually impossible task … and the list goes on…
Others, who choose to punt on horses, have also all been conditioned, often by their past experiences; maybe by media commentators, friends, or a stranger at the racetrack or the local betting outlet. Sadly, perhaps even by a few too many drinks, or the thought of imminent poverty! The percentage of people who punt successfully over time has been estimated to be as low as 1% to 2% of the punting population. This overwhelmingly suggests that the conditioning of the vast majority is seriously deficient. It’s important to realize that if you haven’t had enduring success as a punter in the past, you’re going to have to change some things (maybe a lot of things) in your approach to punting. This means, reconditioning your thinking. After all, if some people – even though very few – can succeed, why not you?
The logical place to answer this question is from within the industry itself
Thoroughbred racing employs many tens of thousands of people in Australia alone: millions around the globe. So it can’t be true that everything about it is so unreliable that no-one can make a go of it, or the industry would either have collapsed decades ago, or simply reverted to the pastime of the super-rich, and those who can afford to run horses for fun (perhaps with some tax perks thrown in by friendly politicians).
Let’s look at the cutting edge of the racing industry. We are referring here to the trainers and the jockeys. These peoples’ livelihoods (and for the jockeys that does literally mean their very lives) depend on them making a career-long sequence of countless correct decisions. Not all consecutively (that would be impossible), but enough of a percentage to ensure that over time, they finish on the plus side of the ledger.
How do they achieve this long-term success? Not all do, of course. Some don’t make it, as in all fields of human endeavour. But it’s a safe assumption that the failure rate is nowhere near that 98% to 99% for punters. There are two (though not only two) vitally important ingredients without which neither a jockey nor a trainer could hope to succeed. Let’s turn to these.
The first is discipline. In whatever field of endeavour, we look at, it is the disciplined person who reaps success … and it is the same in racing.
Horses begin their day before dawn. When in training, they are at the track when it’s still dark. If it’s cold or raining, too bad; there’s a job to be done. After the early morning runs and exercises, then is the time to iron out any problems which might require veterinary attention. And so on during the day; feeding, grooming, there’s a host of things to be attended to by the trainers and handlers. The jockeys are involved in the training runs as well. Their discipline is onerous. They must operate at certain weight levels, and many of them suffer pain, fatigue, stress and other health problems because of these requirements. On the track, they are subject to strict rules governing their behaviour, in efforts to rule out, among other things, possibly succumbing to temptations of corruption. Their very lives are at risk in every race they run. They must confront this constellation of problems with strict discipline every working day if they want to succeed.
As punters, can we seriously expect to enjoy long-term success if we aren’t prepared to exercise some measure of discipline too? Perhaps not as onerous as that just described, but if we think we can just take a casual off-hand attitude to our betting, and expect as good an outcome as those who work so diligently, isn’t it likely we are deceiving ourselves? If you’ve been such a casual or undisciplined punter, then some reconditioning of attitude is almost certainly appropriate. So how do you cultivate this discipline? With our second vitally important ingredient: precision.
Trainers use precise measurements when assessing a horse’s chances for an upcoming race. The times a horse runs in training are measured in 100ths of a second. There are many grades of race in which a horse can be entered. They usually move up and down in grade according to their most recent results, and the machinations of the Handicappers, who decide what weight they must carry in their next event. But the rule isn’t hard and fast. Not so long ago in Australia, a horse won its Maiden (i.e. first) victory in a Group 1 (the highest possible grade) race. Evidence of some astute assessment there! Precision is not perfection; but it makes success far more probable.
Every horse, as a living entity, has a different nature, different preferences for which type of ground it likes to run over, different breeding to indicate what type of distance it should prefer, responds to different exercises in ways that vary from its fellows, and so on. The trainer must assess all these and other variables for every horse under their control. They also must develop relationships with jockeys and try to get the best riders for their animals. Is it likely that the trainer can achieve a positive outcome with a lackadaisical, ‘It’ll be all right on the night’ type of attitude?
Yet observation of many punters would indicate that this is exactly what they expect of their own endeavours. Sometimes punters in a betting shop rush up to the counter with several tickets in hand, even with a series of tickets stuck between their lips, in order to ‘get on’ before the next ‘jump’. It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad, because 98% to 99% of them will lose their money (in the long term).
But there is an upside to this behaviour. We don’t have to beat the bookmaker; only such punters (and they are legion), who fatten the betting pools.
Developing Discipline and Precision
The above commentary is a very brief outline of just some tasks confronting some participants in the racing industry. Yet despite their most diligent efforts, when the starter pops the gates and the horses are off, the single biggest factor influencing the outcome of the race is luck. Of any race, that is. Over time, those participants who expend the most skill and expertise born of discipline and precision, and whose horses possess the most ‘class’ also predominantly born of discipline and precision, are rewarded with the most ‘luck’, and this shows up in the results.
During the race, even the classiest horse and the most skilful jockey can be the victims of all sorts of misfortune. Perhaps, having overcome an unfavourable barrier draw and working their mount into a good position to challenge for the prize at the business end of the event, the jockey is severely blocked by a horse in front suffering an injury (‘breaking down’ or ‘going amiss’), maybe even falling. A delay of even a second, during which the horse must manoeuvre anew, losing momentum, can be fatal to a strong favourite’s chance of even running a place, let alone winning. Nevertheless, luck in racing, as in most things, has a way of evening out over time, and that is why the best prepared and thorough discipline and precision eventually overcome the odds and finish their careers in the higher ranks of the competitors. It has been thus throughout the three hundred-odd years of thoroughbred racing.
So, we see that the most successful operators in racing are those who do the most thorough discipline and precision to eliminate, or at least minimize, the influence of luck, which we can define as ‘unforeseen happenstance’. Note that I said ‘unforeseen’, not ‘unforeseeable’. There is a very important difference in those two concepts. We now turn our attention to this.