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John Burke

Cheltenham 2023 day 1 selections

Improve Your Horse Racing Analysis

Horse Racing Analysis – You Only Need to Assess 5 Key Factors to Make Your Selection

I find that a new year is a good time to improve your horse racing analysis and take a look at how your betting methodology is going. Do you need to improve your strategies? Do you need to reassess where things are failing? All questions, as punters we have, to answer at one time or another.

There are plenty of factors or variables to consider when deciding whether to back or lay a horse. Now I am not sure how many there are but the estimates I have seen seem to vary from 17 to 88! Whatever the actual numbers are, we do know that there are too many for the average punter to look into without specialist tools or software. So what we have to try to do is to gather the relevant information, then order it in terms of relevance and importance and then organise the information in such a way that enables us to make winning betting decisions.

The only way that you can make sustainable profit from horse race betting is to put in the ‘hard yards’. Sadly there are no shortcuts that can circumvent the process apart from going through all the key variables that can affect the outcome of a horse race. The big advantage that we punters have over the bookmakers is that we can decide whether we want to bet in a race or not whilst they have to price up every race. This gives us ample scope to find the ‘edge’ over them. It is of course this ‘edge’ that enables us to make money from betting on horse’s long term.

Now it’s impossible to say that a horse is definitely going to win a race but we can use horse racing analysis of key variables to point to the strong probability that the horse will win or be placed in any given race.

In this article I am going to examine which important factors are more relevant than others and whether you need to take into account as many variables as possible or can you do with less. I will begin by looking at information and its impact on betting decision-making.

Can Punters Have too Much Information?

The implicit assumption that is often made is that a lack of information is a major obstacle when it comes to make informed betting decisions.

In recent years, it was announced that race cards will carry a new piece of information on whether a horse had been subject to a wind operation since its last race. At the time this created much debate in the racing press and social media as to how useful information would be to punters given the wide variety wind ops that are carried out on racehorses each year. The general view was that all new knowledge was to be welcomed and the more information that a punter had at his or her disposal should be welcomed.

Now, I am not going to argue that recent wind ops shouldn’t be available to punters, far from it. But will this new extra bit of information lead to punters making more accurate predictions? Not necessarily so. Most of you will be familiar with the term ‘information overload’.

“Information Overload is when you are trying to deal with more information than you are able to process to make sensible decisions. The result is either that you either delay making decisions or that you make the wrong decisions”.*Source:

Horse Racing Analysis – More Means Less!

There are plenty of academic studies from experimental psychologists, mostly North American, using experts in various fields from medicine to weather forecasting that have examined the complex relationship between the amount of information available to the experts, the accuracy of judgments they make based on this information, and the experts' confidence in the accuracy of their judgments.

This research has come up with some interesting results and one of the many study groups used was horse racing handicappers to see how they use information to arrive at decisions.

The study involved used eight experienced handicappers who were shown a list off 88 variables – for example weight carried, the percentage of races in which the horse finished first, second or third during the previous 12 months, the trainer’s record at a particular track and the number of days since the horses last run, etc.

I won’t go too much into the methodology of the study but it’s neatly summarised in Richard J. Heuer Jr “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis” for those of you looking for further reading on the subject.

“Each handicapper was asked to identify, first, what he considered to be the five most important items of information–those he would wish to use to handicap a race if he were limited to only five items of information per horse. Each was then asked to select the 10, 20, and 40 most important variables he would use if limited to those levels of information”.

At this point, the handicappers were given true data (sterilized so that horses and actual races could not be identified) for 40 past races and were asked to rank the top five horses in each race in order of expected finish. Each handicapper was given the data in increments of the 5, 10, 20 and 40 variables he had judged to be most useful. Thus, he predicted each race four times–once with each of the four different levels of information. For each prediction, each handicapper assigned a value from 0 to 100 percent to indicate degree of confidence in the accuracy of his prediction.

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Cheltenham 2023 day 1 selections

Most Profitable Horse Racing System

Updated for 2022

The Importance of a Horse's Consistency

This month’s article looks at the importance of a horse’s consistency when it comes to selecting winning bets. Is winning with consistent horses possible? Read on for my most profitable horse racing system for UK racing. (Below I will share the Dowst method with you which is a consistently profitable horse racing system, read on)

Over the years we punters have the habit of looking at historic systems or methodologies to see if there is any juice within them to help make our betting consistently profitable.

It might be trawling through the racing forums looking at the intricate workings of the like “Flying Dutchman” Van De Wheil or re-reading Peter Braddock’s “Braddock's Complete Guide to Horse Race Selection and Betting” or Nick Mordin’s “Betting For A Living” and “Winning Without Thinking”.

Besides those mentioned above. It’s fair to say the seminal works on betting on horses come from across the Atlantic and the US.

Favourite US Betting On Horses Books

Here are just a few of my personal favourites. Some you will have heard of some will be new to you:

  1. George Elsworth Smith more popularly “Pittsburgh Phil”
  2. Ray Taulbot — The Grandfather of pace handicapping
  3. Huey Mahl – The Godather of pace handicapping. He and Taulbot were major influencers on Howard Sartin.
  4. Howard Sartin – Handicappers in the US seem to either love or hate him. However, there is no doubt about his enduring influence on punters over the atlantic.
  5. Andy Beyer – The man who designed what become known as the Beyer Speed Figure. Probably many of you will know about Beyer.
  6. Steve Davidowitz’s book “Betting Thoroughbreds” which many American punters regard a close as there is to a Bible on horse racing, with his work in track biases, key races and the value of identifying trainer patterns. Davidowitz also influenced Beyer and remains one of the most knowledgeable guys in the business.
  7. Robert Saunders Dowst. Consistent proven horse racing system.

This month’s article looks at the importance of a horse’s consistency when it comes to selecting winning bets. There are two sections.

The first looks at the work of American handicapper Robert Saunders Dowst and test’s whether his theories are still profitable and consistent today.

Proven Horse Racing System

The second section looks at how I use consistency, and a horse’s proven ability under race conditions, in my selection process with two working examples.

Robert Saunders Dowst: Mr Consistency

I first came across Dowst and his writings about 2 years ago. After reading them I was surprised how his theories on handicapping a race were similar to mine although I had not directly read of his work.

Dowst first developed his theories in the 1930’s. Since then his works remain worldwide best-sellers. He’s not without his critic’s though. However, this isn’t the place to look in detail at those controversies. Safe to say his most vocal critics claim much of his work could be subject to back -fitting.

How relevant are Dowst’s theories in the world of 21st century horse race betting and can they inform my consistent horse racing system?

Now some of them can clearly be questioned as racing continues to evolve.

However, there is little doubt in mind that some of his general principles are as sound today as they were in 1936. Indeed, his most famous work “Win, Place, and Show” remains one of the most comprehensive books on all aspects of racing and in my opinion the best when it comes to the psychology of handicapping and betting.

Horses With Consistent Profiles – The Dowst Method?

At its most simplistic the Dowst Method was the contention that horses with consistent profiles win more races than those with poor profiles.

Basically, it was all about how to separate the good horses from bad horses.

Here are the two main principles of his methodology:

  • A horse must have won at least 33% of their career starts
  • A horse must have placed in at least 50% of its starts

He also added in a number of other rules when it came to determining what defined a good horse from a bad one.

Here are a few of them:

  • Don’t bet on slow or heavy tracks.
  • Don’t bet on two-year-olds.
  • No bets on horses aged six and over.
  • No bets on horses with a history of unsoundness.
  • No bet on a horse when it is definitely stepped up in class.

All fairly sound principles although the training of horses in the modern era mean that older horse can remain competitive and consistent.

Whilst the soundness of a horse would preclude Dowst backing horses returning from a long layoff. Well given modern training methods it’s the case that trainers can bring a horse back from an injury to win after a long absence from the racecourse.

Now Dowst’s initial book came out in 1936 to much fanfare and James Quinn writing in his book “The Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping says, “it rang up big profits that year and in the following year”.

However, as Quinn goes onto write, “the bottom fell out of the system when so many people bet the selections that the sheer weight of money took away the profitability”.

So effectively Dowst’s consistent horses’ system became too popular and the betting public bet it out of existence!

I wanted to test Dowst’s theories using

Most Profitable Horse Racing System

Using all the above rules, except the subjective history of unsoundness, which is impossible to quantify and just looking at the 2018 flat season.

We get the following set of results:

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Cheltenham 2023 day 1 selections

1st and 2nd Favourite Horse Racing System

A lot of punters want a simple horse racing system that works and they want to bet favourites.

Favourites are not always the bets value and the prices can get skewed by punters who follow the money, but they do have the benefit of having a high strike rate.

When you're betting for profit a high strike rate is very helpful in maintaining confidence and managing your bank.

In this article John Burke looks at how we can back favourites for profit.

Horse Racing Betting Systems

For regular readers of these articles, you will know that I enjoy looking at horse racing betting systems. However, I haven’t until now looked at how backing favourites can make your betting more profitable.

In this brief article, I will attempt to show how you can have some fun and even more importantly profit from backing favourites in UK horse racing.

Now many punters, myself included, like the idea of taking a punt on a big priced outsider in a race. You feel great when it comes off. All that study of the race and you're one of the few who's managed to pick that big priced winner that no one else has. Therefore, being more adventurous, by backing the outsider, can pay off extremely well. But it doesn’t happen often enough.

Now when it comes to backing favourites, plenty of punters avoid them. You will no doubt have heard or read people say that the tipster or punter, “they only back or tip favourites”. It’s usually said or written with a fair level of scorn too.

However, it shouldn’t be like that because backing the right favourites really is the way to long term profits.

What percentage of favourites win horse races uk

34.4% of favourites have won their race over the last five years.

The table below shows the data for all UK races and the data shows the strike rate and returns for the clear favourite in the Betfair market at the off.

You can see that the strike rate is pretty consistent and that you would have lost a small percentage of your turnover if you had backed them all and slightly less if you had layed them all.

percentage of favourites that win UK horse races, five years data

The Favourite-Longshot Bias Rears Its Head

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HRB Handicap System

Narrowing Down A Big Field Handicap Using Horseracebase

In this article John Burke demonstrates how he uses horseracebase to narrow down big Saturday or festival races, in particular handicaps, to find a manageable group of horses to shortlist “Study the past, if you would divine the future.” Confucius. By looking at the past we can predict the future. Even a Chinese Philosopher was talking about it 2,500 years… Read More »Narrowing Down A Big Field Handicap Using Horseracebase

Fairyhouse Racecourse: Home of the Irish Grand National

Last month, on this tour of Irish Racecourses I was up in the north of Ireland at Downpatrick. This month I’m heading south to Fairyhouse, the home of the Irish Grand National As before, I will begin by looking briefly at the track’s location, history, configuration before highlighting some significant track stats. History and Location Fairyhouse one of Ireland’s best… Read More »Fairyhouse Racecourse: Home of the Irish Grand National