Minimizing the Foreseeable

What do we mean by ‘Foreseeable’?

We mentioned earlier that horses are living entities, and also that as humans we are susceptible to conditioning. As a general rule, all living things have patterns of behaviour which they tend to follow. Whether we ascribe this to design by some God, or to evolution, is irrelevant here. It’s enough to know that every living thing, even non-sentient animal life or plants, follows patterns of behaviour to sustain its life. As humans, we have many choices available about which patterns to follow. Once we have followed a pattern for about three weeks, it becomes what we call a habit. If they are challenged, we tend to become defensive about them, because we tell ourselves we are making intelligent and rational decisions concerning our choices of action.

Further, habits make us feel comfortable, giving us a sense of control over our everyday activities. If you doubt this, try acting contrariwise to one of your normal habits. For example, reverse the usual order in which you put on your shoes or underpants, or some other item of clothing. If you always insert your right leg first, it will initially feel mighty strange switching to the left. However, after about three weeks, maybe even less if you’re a particularly adaptive type, it will start to seem ‘normal’ to you. This is a great advantage which we as humans enjoy over other life forms. It largely explains why, for instance, we can’t go into an African jungle and see a crowd of chimpanzees or gorillas cheering on a herd of racing antelope!

Why am I stressing this point? It’s because horses have great difficulty changing their normal habits, compared with humans. Many humans appear to have difficulty changing habits, but this is mainly due to conditioning or the lack of motivation to change. Horses must be trained, cajoled and in many other ways encouraged to change their behaviour, which is why horse training isn’t for everyone.

Now if many adult people have difficulty changing habits, with all the advantages of our vastly superior intelligence, what chance has a horse, with the intelligence level of an average two-year-old human, of doing so? The answer is, very little. A skilful trainer can encourage an animal with pieces of equipment such as blinkers, tongue ties and so forth and a jockey may successfully discourage a horse from cutting across from one side to the other of a racecourse by changing hands with the whip etc, but only so much can be accomplished in these areas.

Once the race is under way, the horse naturally tends to revert to its habitual manner of running. If it likes the ground firm under its feet, it is unlikely that it will suddenly put in a great performance ploughing through a sodden, muddy track. Other horses may like that type of ground, and they often have superior records in the wet than on dry courses. Some horses don’t like running in a crowded mass, and will seek to lead, or if unable to do so, may ‘hang out’ wide, or settle towards the rear of the field and try to win with a powerful sprint in the straight, where there is room to spread out.

The important point here is trainers and jockeys are aware of the Foreseeables and try to compensate for them. If as a punter we don’t, we can hardly be said to be deserving of a successful bet any more than a jockey ignoring them could be said to be deserving of a win. More likely, we could be accused of laziness and wishfully hoping to get ‘something for nothing’. These Foreseeables, then, we want to minimize in order to maximize our chances of winning.

The Foreseeable (please commit this to memory)

This question of horses repeating what they’ve previously done is the punter’s most powerful tool in reaping success. Ironically, repeating what they’ve always done is also the average punter’s greatest weakness. Horses aren’t going to change, but as humans we can.  In fact, if we haven’t enjoyed long-term punting success in the past, we absolutely must.

We do this by finding consistency through precision.

Consistency through Precision

Ask someone “What is the definition of a straight line?” The almost unanimous answer given is “The shortest distance between two points”.

Wrong. It is the path of a moving point which never changes direction. The explanation is that in Geometry a Theorem could be tested by applying its opposite. In other words, the Converse must also be true. Thus, the opposite of the straight line is a curved one, which can be defined as ‘The path of a moving point which is constantly changing direction’. However, to define a curved line as ‘The longest distance between two points’ is obviously incorrect. The difference is subtle, but real.

A bit like Lewis Carroll’s statement in Alice in Wonderland:

“To say that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is not the same as saying ‘I sleep when I breathe’”

When we ask most people “How would you define a Professional, in any field of endeavour?” most will say something like “Someone who does it for money”. This may be the result of professionalism, but to reach that point, someone has to pass through a prior stage. This stage is the elimination, as far as possible, of error. Think about that. Would you want a doctor or lawyer, handling your case, whose primary concern was money? Or would you prefer someone who had assiduously been through a disciplined and precise training and was dedicated to providing the absolute best service of which they were capable? A service which was devoid of error? Which would you regard as a true professional? It takes discipline and precision over a period of time to become a successful professional.

Is it not true that those who pass through the fire of dedicated training and attain a high degree of skill, precision and discipline eventually end up with the money anyway?

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be precise in your thinking and analysis when selecting your bets. There are so many things that can go wrong in a horse race that it is absolutely imperative to eliminate from the equation as many as possible of the ‘Foreseeables’.

Some of these (there are quite a few others) would include:

  • Expecting a horse to change its racing distance too much from its last start, or to a distance over which it has had little or no experience or success.
  • Expecting a horse to have maintained peak fitness over a non-racing period of longer than 2-3 weeks
  • Expecting a horse to race with great success against others of significantly higher class
  • Expecting a horse to carry a significantly greater weight than its last start, or what it has carried before without success, especially in longer events
  • Expecting a horse to make light of a wide barrier draw, especially on tracks with short straights and/or tight bends
  • Expecting a horse to be expertly handled by an Apprentice rider with a high weight allowance (3-4 kg)

What can go wrong?

First, we could bet on the wrong type of races. Second, we could bet on the wrong type of horses. Third, even after all the care we can take, our day could be spoiled by The Unforeseen.

Most punters pick up a form guide, or go into a betting shop, looking for something to bet on. It sounds like a reasonable aim, doesn’t it? But how about instead, looking for all the races and horses that we shouldn’t bet on? Would that not give us a better chance of success? At the very least, we would have far fewer bets, and given the uncertainties of the punt, the worst we could do with such a method is to minimize our losses, if everything went pear-shaped on the day.

Free ourselves from the Foreseeable

We would also be doing the opposite to what the 98-99% of punters do, which since they all end up losing, is surely well worth a try.

We would walk away at the end of the day, completely content that we had done everything in our power to match the precision and discipline shown by our trainers and jockeys in eliminating the Foreseeable for their animals. There is great peace of mind to be had with this approach. Very few feelings are as galling as those occasioned by ignoring a warning sign of a Foreseeable, plonking money on a horse anyway (because we absolutely must have a bet, mustn’t we?), and watching the Foreseeable eventuate. (As we secretly feared it might but were left hoping against hope would not happen).

When we have covered the various Foreseeables, we will see that in many races, what look like good prospects are burdened with one or more of these minus signs. Now it could be that the trainer simply can’t find a better opportunity for their horse than that event at that time. Or it could be that they (probably in conjunction with the owner/s) are content to let these Foreseeables into the picture because they’re looking at a bigger picture in a few weeks’ time, and today’s result isn’t that important to them. If you want to bet despite either of those scenarios, I would suggest that this indicates a lack of precision and/or discipline in your decision-making which will increase your likelihood of losing. It would be certain that you hadn’t done all you could to eliminate error in this case. No doubt, some of these prospects you will pass up, and watch them win or place.

What really counts?

However, in punting (as in Poker), it’s not how many wins you have that determines your future fortune, but how few losses.

On the other hand, when the trainer has ticked all the boxes with his horse, and put a good jockey aboard, there is no way to be more sure that the horse has a good chance to finish in the money. Eliminating as many Foreseeables as possible is as close as we can get to a certainty (which as we all know, doesn’t really exist). When we talk about finishing in the money, we mean running a place, in a race where there are three place dividends paid.

Have you ever seen a TAB or bookmaker advertising Place bets? They seldom even advertise Win bets anymore. No, the adverts are all about Flexi Trifectas, Quadrellas, and Big Sixes these days. Why is that? A little analysis will reveal that the odds of winning these Exotics (as they are called) are bordering on the astronomical, compared with the humble Place bet. If I were a bookmaker, I would certainly want to encourage people to bet on the least likely outcomes. Wouldn’t you? I’d keep very quiet about bets where the punter had the highest chance of success.

The reason that these strategies are adopted by the betting agencies, is that they are well aware that the average punter is motivated by greed, wanting to win a lot for a little, and immediately, too. They have no long-term strategy, minimal patience, and can’t be bothered with or have never considered employing discipline and precision.

There is of course one essential action or factor which is more important than any other in obtaining precision and maintaining discipline. This is absolutely vital, and without it, a punter’s chance of getting ahead in the long term (which is the only term worthy of your consideration), is virtually nil. I refer of course to the keeping of records.