The Punting Confessional: it’s good to talk!

Tipperary, May 3rd

Clichés on communication abound: ‘it’s good to talk’, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, ‘two heads are better than one.’ Like most clichés, time has eroded much of their meaning but it is important to remember that they have more than a grain of truth to them and the value of talk should not be underestimated by punters.

Gambling can be the loneliest of interests; at best, it is looked down upon by society, at worst, participants are scorned as irresolute addicts with nothing else in their lives. Trying to talk a normal person about your punting, by which I mean someone who doesn’t gamble or at least doesn’t gamble seriously, is a waste of time and many simply don’t believe there is any such thing as a profitable gambler; the cliché ‘you never see a poor bookie’ is often accepted as read.

Winning punters are of course a subset of the group and a small one at that; the nature of the game – bookmakers factoring in a profit margin that should ensure they win long-term – means that successful gamblers are rare. And finding one you can talk to about your punting can be a godsend as you may as well tell the sun not to shine as speak to a non-gambler about how well you played yet failed to win, how brilliantly you read the market or how you were beaten by an unforeseen lack of pace or draw bias. Punters are the only people who really understand punters and winning punters are the only ones that understand each other.

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I am fortunate in that I have another winning punter with whom I am in contact on an almost daily basis and it certainly lightens the load of gambling seriously. We would speak before every Irish meeting and run through our thoughts on the card but as with so many of our conversations in the past, our chat last Wednesday ahead of the Tipperary meeting on Thursday spread out into wider issues of gambling and where we are going with it.

There are however important ground rules to our discussions. We won’t speak about a race before both of us has been through it in detail lest one of us influence the other before we have formulated our thoughts.

I think this idea of working in a vacuum is vital in punting and ignoring outside influences is something that can be applied even you don’t have another punter to speak to; one should avoid looking at tissue prices or reading influential thinkers like Hugh Taylor or Tom Segal before studying a race. This applies to both individual races and meetings we have been reviewing with the idea behind it being that what one of us will miss, the other will pick up on and it is hoped that it is not a case of fools seldom differing.

We tend to strike a balance between offering constructive criticism and giving confidence boosts depending on how things are going. During losing runs, the latter dominates but we also tend to question what we are doing quite regularly whether it is the type of horses we are backing or a broader issue within our methods. For instance, I might question his having too many balls in the air, playing in too many markets, pre-race and in-race as well as in pool bets, while he may knock my lack of thoroughness in form study, often beginning with the line ‘did you not see the way horse X did something?’

I may advise him on the importance of having a routine and quiet space to set about going through a race whereas he may remind me to forgive a poor run when the price is right. These are just examples and the roles could easily be reversed in different circumstances but the important thing is that we are unafraid to challenge each other and don’t simply agree for the sake of it; doubt is a crucial characteristic of any good punter.

One of the best things about having a good punting friend is that you can help clarify each other’s thinking and pick holes in each other’s theories. Vague ideas tend not to be stood for and when you have to justify your thinking to someone other than yourself it makes you work through it properly. I am thinking here of two horses I have mentioned in my reviews on lately. I wrote about how Solent Ridge may well be a fast turf horse that needs firm in the going and doesn’t seem effective on the all-weather at Dundalk but I have been told by my colleague that in reality the polytrack there is very similar to quick turf and there shouldn’t be much of a difference; Solent Ridge may just be an inconsistent sort.

Another horse I wrote up recently is Inishmot Duchess who seems to peak on her second start of the year, having run both her best races at that stage of her last two seasons. Again, this is a vague theory and while the idea that a horse may need an outing is valid, the fact that they only peak on their second start is not as factors such as form, conditions and handicap mark are more important.

When working with another punter, it is probably a good idea to deal with someone who has a somewhat different skill set; you probably don’t want to be polar opposites or you’ll never agree on anything but it is a good idea to have alternative views on things. A lot of this comes down to individual learning styles; my friend is a very visual person with an almost photographic memory of how a race unfolded whereas I am trying to improve in that area; I am much more textual and am better at reading the market and compiling tissue prices and putting a figure on the chances of a horse doing something.

Indeed, it is probably fair to day that I have changed my punting modus operandi somewhat since working with another. Having initially been a trends devotee (hence my Twitter tag @RacingTrends which I just haven’t been bothered to change) I have moved on to a point where my analysis of racing is made up of form, video and pace which has certainly been a progression; I feel I understand racing much better and have made more money using these tools so something must be going right. Trends were something of a safety blanket, offering the security of numbers, but in reality are a mostly an ineffective tool that suffer from small sample sizes.

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