“Pushing treacle up a hill” is a phrase used regularly in Scotland for a never-ending or hopeless task and betting on sport can often feel like that. There are hundreds of nuances and other elements to each sport – horse racing in particular – and if you ever feel like that you’ve mastered it then it’s got a funny way of reminding you that you haven’t. I’ve been going through one such run at the moment.
One of the first big lessons you learn as a punter is that racing isn’t purely about backing winners. Of course, if you have a steady stream of them coming in you may well be doing the right things, but it’s ultimately about finding an outcome which the market over or under-values and exploiting that edge.
It’s tough to get stand-out value
Knowing that something actually is value is a massive skill in itself and, with ever more efficient markets, you have to balance the line between only being able to get in decent amounts via something like an exchange near the off and the fact that, unless you are unusually skilled, you’ll struggle at that point to beat the market betting late in the day.
A lot of people work off the idea of the “efficient market hypothesis” which, when transcribed to racing, basically suggests that exchange SP is an accurate reflection of a horse’s chance based on available information. That idea is supported by long-term returns on, for example, favourites at Betfair’s starting price who would give you close to a neutral return if backed blindly.
There are issues with this hypothesis, not least the fact that assumes the actors in the market are always acting in a way that is untainted by over-confidence or faults in their reasoning. Bettors are (normally) human after all, and horse racing is a very tricky sport to model.
The other issue I take with it is the often slavish way people adjudge themselves on beating the market. For one thing, it’s a lazy form of self-analysis. Sure, if you’re beating the market by several points regularly, you’re likely doing the right things. But to be truly self-critical you should find the time to do an overall analysis of the circumstances that caused your bet to win or lose and, crucially, to see if that’s something you should have or could have factored in.
The other thing to be wary of when considering the efficient market hypothesis is that little caveat of “available information”. In horse racing, particularly in juvenile or novice races, you’re dealing with the unknowns of unraced animals or the scale to which a horse will progress or regress for their limited track experience. It’s somewhere between very difficult and impossible for the markets to always be efficient in situations like that.
Mike Spence was criticised a year or so back in his Betting People interview for talking about this, but I found his point to be well framed. His argument was that in a race like Frankel’s debut (he was sent off 7/4f) the true chance of something beating him wasn’t the 63% that the pre-race market suggested it was.
Nathaniel, himself a Group 1 winner of course, was backed in from 7/1 to 3/1 in that race before finishing second. In conventional terms, anybody who got the 7/1 about an eventual 3/1 shot would have had a superb bet. In that race, how often would Nathaniel have beaten Frankel had it been simulated 100 times? Once in 20 perhaps, possibly even less. A simplistic “did I beat the market” analysis has its place but, for all the market is a strong guide, it isn’t God and the percentage chance of actual outcomes can’t always be captured by available information prior to the race.
The BetConnect model
All that being said, the bottom line is this: It’s easier to beat the markets before they develop. That point is uncontroversial. The easiest point of all to beat it is at 4.45pm the previous day when Bet365’s traders hold their breath and let their prices go live but life isn’t so simple.
Having spoken with the guys at BetConnect, one of the wish lists of site-users is that they place overnight prices on the site, but you have to be realistic. Those prices can only take very limited stakes, are designed to correct ricks swiftly and without taking on too much liability so that, when stake restrictions are lifted in the mornings, any price which is totally out of sync won’t be exploited too severely.
BetConnect could in theory put prices up overnight but the bookmaker accounts held by punters would be closed too swiftly and there must be a fine balance between giving pros the prices they want and protecting punters on the other side of the aisle.
I’m not here to blow smoke up anybody’s arse but part of the reason (alongside my own financial sustenance, obviously!) I’ve been happy to do these articles is that BetConnect really is a mutually beneficial platform for both punters and pros and I genuinely like their site.
Punters get access to shrewd bets, pros can get those shrewd bets on before the market matures and the juice in the price goes. There’s plenty of value to still be had at 9am and, as somebody who’s been on the losing end of restrictions myself, I’m happy to throw my 83.5kg behind their current #EarlyMarkets campaign. If you want to get a decent sized bet on early, give the site a go.
Another misnomer of a race bet is the conflation of “value” with “big price”. It’s a topic for another day, but favourite/long-shot bias means that, in general terms, there is greater value in backing at the top end of the market than the bottom end.
One such bet comes in the shape of Native River in the Many Clouds Chase. He isn’t always pretty to watch, but his season didn’t go entirely to plan last year and his fourth in the Gold Cup – despite everything going wrong – showed me that he retained all of his ability. One horse who doesn’t look to retain his ability of old is chief market rival Might Bite. He looked a shadow of himself last season and he’d have to be back to near his very best to give Native River a race. The third-in, Black Corton, is an admirable sort but lacks the scope and ability of Native River.
Currently priced around the even money mark, I thought he should be a good deal shorter. Anything bigger than 8/11 is fair.
Un De Sceaux’s price also struck me as too big. He’s one of my favourite horses in training and, because of the structure of distances, he’s probably never been seen at his absolute best. He lacks the tactical speed for a fast 2-miles ala the Champion Chase, the staying prowess for the Ryanair trip. His very best conditions are probably even softer than what he’ll find in the Tingle Creek but that’s more than factored into the price. I had him 3/1 or shorter.
2.40 Aintree. Back Native River at 8/11 or bigger.
3.00 Sandown. Back Un De Sceaux at 100/30 or bigger.
Will Hoffmann writes regular racing previews on a Friday evening for BetConnect. With just 2% commission to pay on stakes once matched, BetConnect is the ideal platform for professional racing punters.