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From Soba to Moldvoa

Q and A with Paul Jones of Paul Jones Horse Racing & From Soba to Moldova.

This month we have the first of a two part, in depth interview with Paul Jones of Paul Jones Horse Racing.

Hi Paul and many thanks for joining us this month. First off would you start by telling our readers a little about yourself and your background?

From a career point of view that would be split into four parts; (1) Weatherbys, (2) editor, (3) architect and author of The Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide and (4) my current project of writing and managing betting-related content on which is approaching its third anniversary and keeping me very busy.

Before then, however, I can thank the David Chapman-trained and Dandy Nicholls-ridden Soba as when she won the Stewards’ Cup at 18/1 in 1982, winnings of £1.80 meant a lot to this 12-year-old boy, hence why she features in the title of my new betting angles book ‘From Soba To Moldova’ as she was the horse that started me off down this road. I can still hear Jimmy Lindley now telling the BBC audience that Soba couldn’t win from stall number 1 but all that I could naively see were all the 1s in her recent form figures.

Straight from leaving school I was lucky enough to get a job with nearby Weatherbys, which was perfect being a horse racing nut as a teenager, where I remained for 14 years (1987-2001) in the Racecard, Raceform and Commercial departments, the most fun being part of the Raceform team that edited The Form Book and various other publications. It was like The Bash Street Kids in that office! When I moved onto the commercial department it was Tom Segal that replaced me. I have kept the local paper job advertisement cutting to this day as the job title must have been the most menial in history containing the words trainee, junior and assistant all in the same position! No wonder my starting salary was only £3,300 per annum!

On Course Profits free Horse Racing magazine

Whilst working my notice, I was approached to be the editor of (now called having sold the naming rights for a small fortune) for its launch in 2001 which was the website arm of GG-Media. This was an exciting period based in Lord Hesketh’s Easton Neston Estate incorporating Towcester Racecourse (I went on to become their Master of Ceremonies for four years) given that we were slap bang in the middle of the huge racecourse media rights furore being one of the two rival companies bidding against each other. It was interesting whilst I remained there for a couple of years and I’m glad I did it.

Although I wrote the first of my 16 Cheltenham Festival Betting Guides in 2000, which are still published annually by Weatherbys (and now written by Matt Tombs) that focussed on race trends at the meeting, I don’t think that it was a coincidence that the book really started to take off from 2004 onwards when I could work on it full time throughout the autumn and winter. The most individual sales for one year was 4,200 but, including bulk corporate sales mainly from Paddy Power to give away to selected clients, that can be upped to over 10K. It is my belief that it was those books that were the catalyst that then started the explosion of general trends analysis that followed so I guess they are what I am best known for.

I still provide race trends for for the big festivals and for my website members, though not in the same great detail.

After writing 16 editions of the Cheltenham Guide, I decided that I couldn’t face writing that annual publication for a 17th time so gave Weatherbys plenty of time to find a replacement and proceeded to set the wheels of into motion.

My website launched in the autumn of 2015 covering both racing and sport including regular contributions from guest names whose opinions I respect including Against The Crowd author, Alan Potts.

It was that book that made me first start to think about betting on horse racing in many different ways. Aside from writing ‘From Soba To Moldova’, my website is what I have been concentrating on ever since for my loyal subscriber base, most of which were annual subscribers to the book.

Would you say that you have a ‘typical’ working day and how would you describe it?

Not at all. Certainly not in between May-October as I am much more of a jumps man, though I do enjoy and cover the 30 biggest days on the flat in addition to the summer sport.

Besides, I’m not someone who is good at being bound to a daily routine.

I would, however, have a weekly rather than daily routine for when the jumps season starts in earnest in November until the end of the Punchestown Festival as that is the main focus of as most of my subscribers are jumps fans in the main who used to buy my Cheltenham Guides.

For example,

during the jumps season on Wednesdays I write an ante-post column looking forward to the weekend and on Thursdays, I look at the upcoming sport. Fridays are very busy as I am writing the weekend preview covering around a dozen of the best races before watching the action unfold in the UK on Saturdays (I like to attend the big Saturday race days in the lead up to Christmas) and in Ireland on Sundays.

Monday is the heaviest working day of all though when I write my weekly Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post round up (approx. 8000 words per week which can take up to 12 hours) to go live on Monday at 7.00 p.m.

That particular service of the website went very well this year with Farclas (20/1), Summerville Boy (16/1) and Rathvinden (10/1) being successful double-figure-priced, ante-post recommendations. I tend to take Tuesdays off as my rest day.

What do you think of the world of sports tipping in general and what do you think people are in search of when it comes to their hunt for a successful tipster?

I think that most intelligent punters are first and foremost looking for well-reasoned analysis. I should say though that I don’t see or paint myself as a tipster, rather an analyst. Maybe that’s just the massive snob in me?

There are some good services out there whose style is to just give their selections with a little reasoning solely on that horse but there are others that give their tips with zero reasoning at all into their thinking.

I, on the other hand, cover the race/event as a whole discussing plenty of the contenders and then conclude with a final summary which may or may not give an end recommendation, which is why I see myself more as an analyst.

I give ‘recommendations’ when I feel it is right to do so and I choose that word carefully as what I basically do is act as another view to consider to add to your own thoughts thus providing another information source, just like you might use The Racing Post or similar, rather than saying do this or do that.

Judging by the amount of returning annual members since I first started writing subscription-based previews as a spin-off from my Cheltenham Guides in 2008 that has now developed into my website, it has proven to be a successful business model.

Do you regularly bet yourself? What style of approach do you take to your betting? What do you think of staking plans, loss retrieval systems etc.?

I’d have somewhere in the region of 500-750 bets a year split between horse racing and sport and I’m not ashamed to admit that I am more than happy to take heed of advice of those with a far stronger knowledge than me in various sports, hence why I have experts in their individual fields that cover golf, darts, tennis, cricket and NFL on my website.

In terms of my style of approach to betting, I am of the view that the most successful punters are not favourite backers. “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful” is a Warren Buffett quote that caught my imagination and it is also a very good punting mantra if, like me, you are not one for trying to buy money by backing favourites. I’m not in this game for the short term, which is what favourite backing basically is.

Unless you are an exceptional judge, and I mean truly exceptional, then you won’t win long-term backing favourites as you are basically backing horses/individuals/teams more or less at face-value odds most of the time. You certainly won’t win a big-field poker tournament if you purely play your cards at their face value unles:

(a) you are the recipient of an extended run of incredible starting hands and

(b) then still get lucky and hope those hands hold up as even a pair of aces only wins 72% of the time.

To win a poker tournament, players need to get creative now and again as playing your cards at face value can only see you go so far and that’s how I see gambling in general. Sure, you can chip away and make a small profit if you have an eye for backing ‘the right favourites’ but the no-guts no-glory approach means that you will never win big given the smaller margins involved.

My records tell me for a fact that I am not a good favourite backer as I show overall losses when betting at under 3/1. I fare best when betting at prices ranging between 8/1-16/1 so I now think long and hard whether I want to support a horse even with strong credentials at a relatively short price. I also don’t go hunting for bets, I let them find me. The best bets are those that hit you in the face without having to think about it.

With regards to staking, I dedicated one of the 20 chapters in ‘From Soba To Moldova’ to this crucial element of betting. In a nutshell, the higher-stakes bets should only be struck when we are confident that we have the greatest value or edge rather than any other factor.

I don’t have a staking plan as such but I do think that it’s critical that we get the staking range correct. Aside from our ‘Action Bets’ (my term of preference to ‘fun bets’) which I treat as a totally separate entity so much smaller stakes than my prime bets, my range would not be anywhere near as wide as the vast majority of punters but still enough to give me some flexibility.

If we get the staking wrong, that can be the difference between a winning year and losing year. It’s that important, hence why I don’t like to make my biggest bet (outside of ‘Action Bets’ that I have dedicated a chapter to how to approach) that much bigger than my smallest.

As one American bettor wrote: “If you handicap (American term of picking selections) well and bet poorly, you’ve failed. It’s as useless as crushing your tee shots while three-putting every green.

” There should be flexibility for greater stakes when we have a bigger edge but the idea of having a range of something like a 1-10 points unit stake is plain ridiculous to me as we could have a 20/1 winner and still come out losing on any given day if getting the staking wrong. A 1-5 points’ range seems to be most popular amongst tipping columns but I even think that a range 1-3 is too wide IF you trust your ability to generate level stakes profits. The IF is capitalised as try not to kid yourself on this.

My staking levels are in direct relation to my strengths in the main.

Therefore being aware of my strengths and weaknesses is a big factor in helping determine the size of the stake for any bet.

For example, I know that I fare much the best betting in staying chases so I increase my stake over the average amount for those races but struggle in sprint races on the flat so therefore decrease my stake under the average for those.

It’s all common sense really but how many punters would make a list of the areas in which they fare best and worst, place them side by side, and then alter their stakes accordingly?

When it comes to staying chasers, without wishing to sound arrogant, and believe me I’m just about to fail in that statement, I’d back myself against anybody.

What first attracted you to the world of horse racing and what do you enjoy most about the sport?

Pure greed as a boy to be honest! I’m not one who has ever gone gaga over how beautiful horses are or am that particularly interested in the stories behind them, it was all about trying to win money. I’m far more stimulated by the intellectual challenge of working out the best bets than who wins the award for British Champions Series Top Miler.

Does anyone actually care?

As for what do I enjoy most about the sport, the diversity of British racing is its strength and one day when I am retired and looking for things to occupy me I will finish off attending all the racecourses.

What led you into the world of racing tipsters and what do you feel you can offer racing enthusiasts and punters that other tipsters can’t?

As explained earlier I see myself more as an analyst than a tipster but, as with any individual offering their personal thoughts, the unique selling point has to be myself.

I like to think that subscribers to my books and online services have enjoyed my conversationalist style and also the way I come at things slightly differently including some out-of-the-box thinking that helped me recommend the likes of Rule The World ante-post for the Grand National at 50/1 and Wings Of Eagles who won the Derby at 40/1.

I certainly like to think I go the extra mile in terms of researching and writing content rather than taking short cuts.

I remember writing one very long weekly Cheltenham article but didn’t offer a recommendation after which I then received an email from one member along the lines of “14,000 words for ‘no bet’ takes some doing!”

For the big races I still compile my own race trends and, although this form of analysis has reached a saturation point for some, trends keep being highlighted because they keep working. If they didn’t, then exactly what is the point?

This is something totally lost on those who are against trends and who love to take such delight when finally a strong trend is broken and then conveniently elect to ignore the years and years of what preceded it.

A reply along the lines of “congratulations, you must have won a fortune” usually shuts them up.

As you can tell I still remain defensive whenever trends are attacked as worthless but I am less dependent on them than in the past, mainly because the market has caught up with them due to their increased popularity but I still take on board the stronger trends and the lesser-known trends that are not factored into a horse’s price.

At the end of the day ‘trends’ is just another word for ‘facts’ or ‘data’ and we don’t dismiss those as they are what most bets are factored around i.e. form. Those opposed to trends analysis are usually happy to quote them when it suits their argument though and, as for anyone who lazily uses the brush-off line that “trends are there to be broken”, then I plain find it hard to treat their overall views seriously as that is just another way of saying, umm, I haven’t got an answer to that one so this line will do and hope I get away with it.

We'll have more from Paul next month where he offers up some advice for new and old punters alike and reminisces on past racing moments.

Read part II here


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