September 4, 2017

A Q and A with John Burke

  1. Hi John and many thanks for joining us this month. First up would you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What attracted you to the world of horse racing?

    Thanks, I am very pleased to be here.

    The first is never an easy question to answer in a couple of sentences.

    I have been a professional punter since 2013 and prior to that I was involved in face to face selling which is completely different to what I do now, where I can go for days without seeing anyone besides my partner. That has been the biggest culture shock. I have always been considered a ‘people person’. One interesting but probably irrelevant fact is that I have a MA in International Politics and began, but didn’t finish, a PhD in British Decolonisation. Maybe I am the only professional horse racing punter with an MA in International Politics?

    My interest in horse racing began with the win of Dawn Run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1986. My dad had a tidy ante-post bet on the mare to win the race and the expectation prior to the race and of course the race itself just ignited what became a passion for the sport.

 

The rest so to speak is history.

 

  1. How would you describe your typical working day?

    Get up at 6:30am and make a coffee. By 7am I am in my office in the spare bedroom and the first thing I do is to look at the BHA website to check the going and weather for the days racing. I then spend the next two hours or so writing my subscribers email.

    After a short break I will spend the next three hours looking at the following days racing, identifying the races I will be looking to have a bet in, studying the form and looking at race replays. After another break for lunch and doing other jobs around the house or garden it’s usually the start of the days racing so time for Racing UK & At The Races, notebook & pen in hand and Befair open on the laptop. I will also spend a couple of hours each evening finalising my bets for the next day’s action. Then it’s a case of rinse and repeat for the next day!

    3. What style of approach do you take to your betting on a personal level? What do you think of staking plans, loss retrieval systems etc.?

    It’s probably obvious to many readers of this magazine but worth reiterating nonetheless, my approach to betting is to take on the favourite. Not every favourite but those ‘false favourites’.

    I am always looking for that elusive bit of value in a race, I say elusive deliberately, as it’s becoming harder to find with betting markets becoming increasingly more efficient. I am a backer not really a layer but I do occasionally dabble on the exchange lay markets as well as an increasing, albeit small, amount of trading in my betting. That said most of my bets remain back bets.

    I am a big fan of level stakes punting and I bet 2% of my original bank with the stakes increasing in line with the bank. As long you have a reasonable strike rate, with reasonable odds then this is still far and away the best staking plan. It may not be for everyone but it suits my betting psychology.

    I think I could write a whole article on the various loss retrieval systems, like the Martingale for example. I think it was Alexander Dumas who said “The martingale is as elusive as the soul” and that just about sums up most loss retrieval strategies. I don’t use them but I have heard of punters who have had some success with them but there not for me. If someone can convince me of their utility I would be interested but they haven’t managed to do it so far.

    4. What traits do you think a good racing tipster should possess and what do you think the average punter is looking for from a tipping service?

    I think there are plenty of attributes needed to be a good racing tipster just like the professional punter but for the sake of brevity I will mention three, in no particular order:

    Hard Work – Most successful tipsters/punters work very hard and will spend many hours analysing the form and their betting They will document everything, bets, wins and losses and they are able to learn from their mistakes and be able understand where they went wrong. The best learn from their mistakes and always remind themselves that there is no such thing as an ‘unlucky bet’.

    Determination – It’s easy to deal with winning streaks. The question is how do you deal with a losing streak? How do you handle seeing you profits start to disappear?

Determination means you don’t give up at the first hurdle, you have to ride the losing streaks and have the desire and ability to see it through!

Intuition – You can learn the mathematics of betting but intuition is something you can’t, you either have it or you don’t. Sometimes you look at a horse race and one horse just jumps out at you, call it a hunch, or intuition, but successful tipsters and punters have it.

If someone is paying for horse racing tips they want to profit from their betting, that’s the bottom line, if they are not making money from the service they will leave.

That said, they also want to know that the tipster they are with knows what he or she is talking about. So besides just putting up the name of the horse I am betting on I also like to give a full analysis of my thought process, which will hopefully help subscribers with their own betting performance.

5. We all know that tipping services of all types can hit losing runs. How do you suggest that punters handle these situations psychologically?

This question links in with what I mentioned earlier. It’s all about the mind-set. Punters have to think like the professional does. It’s not about winners it’s about the return on investment (ROI) and that ROI over a long term. You have to give a tipster at least three months to prove their worth and if you're serious probably a year. Losing streaks are inevitable and they can be long and painful. I always look back to what Hugh Taylor said on the At the Races TV channel; you can find it on YouTube, that if the average price of your bet is 10/1 then losing streaks of 30 bets or more are very common.

As a personal example I had two successive months of losses earlier this year and a few punters who joined the service during that period left. The following month all the losses of the previous two months were wiped out and a nice profit was made by those who stayed. It’s all about long term thinking not short termism, all that matters are my figures at the end of the year.

6. New and old punters alike can struggle to make a success of their betting. If you could give them just one piece of advice to improve their profitability what would it be?

Get the best price on your bets! Look at the odds comparison websites like Oddschecker. You wouldn’t buy a new laptop at the first shop you visit if you could get the same laptop for £100 less at a shop further down the road. Nor should you take the first price you see about your bet. Getting the best odds available is the key to profit from betting on horse racing or any sport for that matter.

7. The racing industry is often criticised for having too many races and poor quality meetings with insufficient prize monies to encourage entries etc. Is there anything that you would like to see changed within the horse racing industry and why?

Horse racing is at a bit of a crossroads. It will never be the mass sport like it was in the 1940s & 1950s and like football is today. It has to accept its future is being a niche sport or it’s doomed to irreversible decline.

How do we get young people interested in the sport to replace those at the older end of the age scale who are dying off, with so many other competing interests?

How do they get the bug for racing like I did and those who read magazines like this? If I had the answers to those key questions I would be running horse racing in this country,

Many racecourses are actually doing a good job with their ladies days, live music nights, etc. and as much as I am not a fan of events like the Shergar Cup they do bring in 30k people, many of whom probably wouldn’t attended a normal meeting at Ascot. So plenty is being done on that front but more can be.

On a more controversial note, I am now in favour of a ban on the whip being used in horse racing. Whatever the wrongs and rights of whip use are it’s all about perception and hitting a horse to encourage it to run faster doesn’t sit easy to a more ‘squeamish’ generation. Why not let all jockeys use spurs after all they can also encourage a horse to go faster? Others will disagree with me but this one action would do more good for the sport from a PR perspective than anything else I can think of.

8. What about the gambling industry, is there anything you like to see changed there? Many website forums are full of criticisms of the bookmakers and their treatment of their customers? Is this something you have an opinion on?

Look at social media and racing forums, you can see this is the biggest talking point amongst punters and it’s one that I can talk about for hours but you will be glad to know I won’t on this occasion.

Closing of betting accounts isn’t really new but stake limitations have become a more disturbing trend. Back in the day bookies would have prided themselves on their willingness to accept a decent bet. Honour and pride were more important to them back then. Today’s bookmakers are merely accountants not bookmakers. The relaxation of betting regulations by the UK government in 2005 meant that high street bookmakers became no more than mini casinos with the introduction of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT’s).

A step in the right direction would be for bookmakers to be obliged, as a requirement of their betting licence, to lay a bet up to a certain amount. There have been good steps in that direction in some states in Australia where punters are able to get bets on up to a certain amount on the day of the race. That needs to happen here and when it does we’ll see the return of a dynamic and thriving horse racing betting market in the UK. Until that day arrives, which will require more not less betting regulation from government, the only option open to winning punters is to bet on the exchanges and look for those that offer the best commission rates.

9. What would you consider to be a highlight of your racing experience to date? Do you have any personal racing / betting experiences which when reflecting back brings a smile, or for that matter any which bring a grimace; you can share with our readers?

Too many of the latter to mention here but they have usually involved not going with my intuition. The wins are always better to chat about and the highlights of those are backing Neptune Collonges, at 50/1 for the 2012 Grand National and what a heart stopping finish it was too. Equally as satisfying was backing a 50/1 winner in My First Blade at Southwell, a track I am not a great fan of betting at. However, the bet I will always remember, was my first ever one it was 20p round robin and two of three horses won. I had now got the horse racing betting bug!

  1. What do you do to relax and unwind? What interests have you outside the world of horse racing?

    I am a big history buff and love visiting cathedrals and ruined castles & abbeys, but probably nothing beats being on sun lounger on some tropical beach, good book in one hand, a cool drink in the other and just doing nothing that’s the ultimate relaxation for me.

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