Losing lots of money is never much fun but, in all experiences, there are usually lessons to learn and how you bounce back from set-backs is what shapes the future.
In this article I’m briefly going back in time to talk about how one bad experience helped shape my future as a horse racing fan and what I’ve learnt along the way.
I discuss my first foray into betting on horses, my greed, naivety, the pain, annoyance, and the losses. How this experience kick started my journey as a horse racing super fan and punter, transforming my life and giving me the opportunity to add to the enjoyment of other racings fans.
There are three key ingredients I think are essential to getting the most out of this sport, both to enjoy it recreationally but also to give us the best chance of being in the 2-3% of racing bettors who win money long term.
I’ll explore ‘why horseracing?’, ‘mindset’ and ‘specialisation’.
Hopefully I say something of interest that’s useful for you moving forwards.
I’m not here to gloat about how I now win thousands every year better, because I don’t! But from where I was, it’s been some journey, and hopefully by sharing some of my thoughts I can add to your experience of this great game.
So, how did I lose £2650 following a tipster I hear you ask, and more importantly, why was it the best thing that ever happened to me?
Back in 2007 I was a naïve first year student at The University of Liverpool. Great days. I’d stay in the city for a further thirteen years before heading back to Suffolk.
That October I headed to Aintree’s Old Roan Chase day, the first proper race meeting I can remember ever attending. I hadn’t any interest in racing before this visit but in time it would transform my life and is why I’m here writing today.
Armed with a £10 student ticket, which included a pint of Carling (yes, I know), I set about the day with no clue what I was doing.
This would be the meeting where Monet’s Garden beat a 6yo Kauto Star, which didn’t mean much to me at the time of course.
There was something about this first race experience that grabbed me. But not in the way the sport has now.
Initially I was just betting focussed and, eager to win lots of money in no time at all, I was happy to pay someone to tell me what to bet on. Easy.
To cut a long story short I found a tipster service online, was sent a glossy brochure, signed up and dived in at £20 per point.
I would receive tips via text, place the bet, and watch the winnings pile up.
Surely it would only be a matter of time before the money started pouring in?
Sadly, that wasn’t to be! Who knew?!
I never thought they’d burn through the recommended 100 point bank over an 8 month period. But they did. (there’s a lesson there, always prepare for the bank to be lost and set stakes accordingly!)
I saw it out to the bitter end, forever living in hope they’d turn it around.
They’d tip a winner and I’d hope for a winning spree, which never came. We have all been there at one point or another no doubt.
To this day I still don’t know if it was a con, they were just not very good, or had a very sticky run.
What with the cost of the service I had successfully blitzed through two overdrafts and a bursary. (the service cost £650, which I didn’t know was value or not at the time, it was a ‘premium’ service after all! Ahem. It turns out this was rather expensive. Silly boy).
My idea of ‘investing’ by betting on horses and following a ‘proven winner’ hadn’t quite gone to plan.
Still, what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger and it’s all about how you bounce back. A proper job that summer, after my first year at university, would help alleviate some of the financial pain.
I’m sure many of you will be reading this having lost chunks following a ‘tipster’ but hopefully you were more sensible than I was.
Why then was this experience, and loss, the best thing that ever happened to me?
As my university year of losing on the horses/this tipster progressed, it dawned on me that I didn’t have a clue about why horse X was winning, how to read a race card, what to look for or much else besides really.
I was clueless. And I didn’t really like it.
Being spoon-fed horses to back by someone else, when I didn’t really know what was happening myself, wasn’t that much fun.
It wasn’t scratching my curiosity itch and it was lazy.
And by the time summer rolled around, I thought surely, I could do a better job than said ‘tipster’, who’d just lost me 100 points in no time.
Without this experience I don’t think I’d be a racing fan, or certainly not as much as I am now. Had said tipster been successful I may have forever relied on someone else all the time, or had it only been a so-so experience, I may have got bored and moved on to something else, without thinking I could do better, or wanting to understand ‘why’.
It kick started a new journey, one that’s led me to having a genuine affection for and fascination with, the greatest of sports – the horses, the trainers, the drama, the people, the puzzle.
I decided to educate myself properly, finding now trusted blogs, resources and some decent books – Nick Mordin’s ‘Betting For A Living’ was the first purchased, a cracker.
I tried to absorb as much as I could and to get myself to a level where I could read a race and place a bet, forecasting what I expected to happen when the flag was dropped, or the stalls flew open. I tried to explain every result in my head, to learn, and go again. It’s very much trial and error, especially at the beginning.
And here I am, thirteen years later. Talking to you today, enjoying the sport like never before.
I’ve a successful little racing blog, racingtoprofit.co.uk , a members’ club with an engaged community of racing fans, all trying to better ourselves, find more winners and have plenty of fun along the way. A daily one stop shop for tips, trainer stats, trends, ‘starting point’s, entertainment and engagement.
I’ve been lucky to own small shares in a couple of multiple winners, including 2020s Summer Plate winner, Really Super. And I’ve just launched the brand new ‘Racing To Profit Syndicate’ with a couple of horses at Amy Murphy’s in Newmarket, which sold out all 40 shares in 36 hours. Exciting times.
Back in the summer of 2008 I didn’t think horse racing was the greatest sport in the world, and nor did I think it would become such a big part of my life.
But it has, and I’ve learnt plenty along the way. While we are always learning in this game, there are three key ingredients that I think are key to getting the most out of this sport, while giving ourselves the best chance of profit long term.
I thought I’d share them with you, see if they resonate and maybe even help in your own ‘racing’ journey. Of course, you may think I’m talking utter nonsense!
I really do think the more engaged we become, the better this sport gets. I’ve never had so many emotional highs as I have in the last two or three years.
A simple question but one that’s worth asking of ourselves as the answer does impact the approach, we all take and the type of racing rollercoaster we decide to ride. After all, there are many other sports we could immerse ourselves in or bet on.
My answer to that question back in October 2007 was ‘money’ & ‘betting’ – to my eyes it looked like betting on horses was a relatively ‘easy’ way to win money. Cheering the odd winner was fun of course but the initial drive was very much about winning lots of money and that impacted my approach, and initial stupidity.
Not knowing anything about the sport and being rather impatient at the time, I was happy to pay someone else to tell me what to bet on.
But, when you’re losing, and you’ve no interest in the sport as a whole or you’re not wondering ‘why’ one horse wins on the day and another doesn’t, it isn’t much fun.
Well, I personally didn’t find it much fun or that stimulating.
My ‘why horseracing’ answer is now a bit more complex I suppose.
But at its heart I genuinely enjoy solving the puzzle. I get a real buzz from being right and my betting bank growing over time, even for what is relatively small stakes. Maybe I’m just strange but my initial buzz isn’t from winning a certain amount of money.
I also get a real thrill from making my blog readers happy and adding to their enjoyment of this wonderful sport. Whether that’s because they’ve followed one of my ‘tips’, read my previews and backed something else to win (that happens plenty!) or using my other daily stats snippets, pointers, trends posts and ‘through the cards’ to help solve their own puzzle and back their own winners.
If you are ‘the’ horse racing fan that everyone calls on, you may get the same buzz when tipping a winner to your friends or family who are off to the races, or who ‘just’ want the winner of The Grand National.
I also have an appreciation for horses, their majesty and power. As well as the skill and dedication of the trainers and their staff.
It’s a game for the dreamers and there are so many stories. We become attached to some horses, wanting them to do well, regardless of any betting element. The same with some trainers maybe, and jockeys. It is these emotions which enrich our experience.
Some of the best days I’ve had in this sport have been at the races cheering home horses I’ve had small shares in. It’s hard to explain how exhilarating this experience is, especially when shared with new racing friends.
I now get a buzz from the sport most days, one way or the other, and there’s always something to look forward to in the days ahead.
My point here I suppose is that your ‘why’ can determine your approach to the sport, what bits you enjoy and how you engage with it.
Maybe you have a ‘stocks and shares’ mindset, or a ‘traders’ mindset, where it is all about the money and racing is your vehicle for achieving those goals. This may mean you very much are focussed on just following tipsters, of which there are plenty of good ones around.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It was my mindset at the start but such a ‘transactional’ approach just doesn’t satisfy me these days and I very much view it as a hobby I’m willing to spend money on. And for me there’s no hobby like it.
So, spend a few minutes answering your ‘why’.
Depending on your answer may impact on how you budget, whether you should just be following tipsters, whether you enjoy solving the puzzle yourself, a mix of both, whether you invest in superb racing tools to help you find more winners, or whether it’s trips to the races that are your buzz, or indeed owning a share in a racehorse.
There are so many different avenues in which to enjoy this sport.
But, if ultimately, it’s only about the betting profit and loss and nothing else, eventually I think you’ll be turned off, get bored, and will be looking elsewhere for ways to make money. But that may just be me.
I’m no psychologist and have no plans on getting technical with this point, even if I had the knowledge to do so.
Our racing mindset is linked to the discussion above about ‘why’, especially when it comes to money. It could be racing is your main hobby, or one of them, that you set a budget for each year, including betting. And if it goes, it goes.
You’ve had a load of fun along the way, enjoying the aspects of the sport unique to you – puzzle solving, going racing, owning shares, following a tipster and so on.
There is nothing wrong with that. Life is for living after all.
There’s the more serious pursuit of trying to win money in the long term and betting an amount in time that would lead to winnings making a difference to your life – whether buying that share in the racehorse you’ve always dreamt off, a family holiday, a hot tub, fancy meals out or some pleasant bottles of wine. You name it, we all like a bit of extra cash for some of the finer things in life, and while the betting is but one element for me, which impacts my enjoyment, it is a long term benefit of puzzle solving.
At numerous times since 2007 I’ve had the wrong mindset. And I occasionally slip into the wrong sort of thinking, even now. That’s just the nature of the beast, I think.
But I have learnt a few things along the way, that have helped me get the most from this game.
Losing is normal, and to be expected
I know that sounds obvious but losing runs are normal and plenty of racing fans are ill prepared for them, not least mentally. Backing more losers than winners is normal. It is all about the long term, while trying to enjoy the journey.
There isn’t a decent ‘tipster’ around I know who doesn’t have hefty losing run. All have had long term success over numerous years backing horses to win, but everyone suffers from painful losing runs.
It’s the maths, it’s variance, it’s unavoidable.
Losing runs of 30+ can and will happen plenty. Draw downs, from the highest point in your betting bank to the lowest, of 50-80 points will happen.
Sometimes these bad runs occur back to back, broken by the odd winner in between. This can be painful, but you must fight on through. Even 100 point banks can go. Sometimes the losing runs are even worse.
If you like picking your own horses it does help if you’re confident in your method, and you know its just a matter of time. But taking one or two days away from the horses can help especially when in a rut.
If you’re following a tipping service, having confidence in their long term results & methods helps of course.
But ultimately, if we know these bad losing runs are normal and will happen at some point, we must prepare for them.
You ideally don’t go steaming in betting £20 per point like I did back in 2007, blasting through a 100 point betting bank. I bet more than I should have then, greed getting in the way.
If it means we should start betting £1s or 2s, so be it.
I’m sure the main reason only 2-3% win backing horses long term is because many haven’t prepared for the losers. Or realise quite how hard this game is. I certainly didn’t at the start.
I’m sorry if that sounds like I’m teaching you to suck eggs, but the reality is that if we can get to a point where the amount we are betting rarely crosses our mind (because ultimately it’s budgeted for and in a worse case we can afford to lose it) and where we know long losing runs are unavoidable, it makes the game that much more enjoyable – even more so if you get pleasure from those elements related to the ‘why’ above – it’s those emotional highs and drive to solve the puzzle that sustain me during the rough patches.
Patience is important in this game also.
I wanted to win big and win quickly and it ended in tears. Unadvisable.
It takes time to a) get ‘good’ at puzzle solving and b) the betting bank to grow sustainably.
That’s why it’s important to enjoy ‘the journey’ with whatever aspect of the sport gives you a buzz, or it may well be the whole package.
Not losing uncomfortable chunks of money in a relatively short space of time is always good for the mindset.
After my initial foray betting bigger stakes than I should have, I reverted to betting in £2s and then £5s for a few years.
Doing so gave me the breathing space to explore all of the above, and to realise that I enjoyed solving the puzzle and being right, however much I had bet.
Many will stay betting those amounts as it’s their comfort level, which is superb. This sport is there to be enjoyed, day to day, week to week, and you must find a way forward that allows you to do that.
Winning isn’t easy, in fact it’s bloody hard. That’s part of the challenge of course and why some of us keep coming back.
Embrace the challenge! It makes success so much more satisfying.
I suppose this final point is for those of you who may wish to improve your skills, to become even better at ‘solving the puzzle’. And even more so if you’re pushed for time.
Or you may be where I was in the middle of 2008, when deciding to take the puzzle solving aspect more seriously, but not really having a clue where to begin.
This is a daunting sport in which to try and master. We will never truly master it of course but we can acquire, and work on, a set of skills that makes it so much more fulfilling.
And with that in mind I would recommend specialising, at least initially.
We all have pressures on our time, and it could be you don’t have long at all in which to study racing.
Most days in the UK it can be hard to know where to look. Meeting after meeting. We can spread ourselves too thin, cut corners, miss things, fail more than we should, or just not bother at all.
I wish I had specialised early on, at least to give me added focus.
There are so many parts of racing that you could specialise in.
Obviously, there are different codes and within these different distances, classes, handicaps (and within this, different age specifications and so on), non-handicaps, group/graded races, maidens, bumpers and so on.
You could focus on something within that list.
Maybe a group of tracks, trainers or even jockeys.
There are so many options. But by specialising it gives us a certain focus each day, or week. We can build our skills and get to know certain horses, courses, the people involved.
As an example, you could focus on 4YO+ flat handicaps, 7f-10f, at turning tracks, where horses go around a bend and the start/pace/draw plays an important role, as can the jockeys.
Or you may prefer 5-6f races on straight tracks, taking the time to get to know the attributes required to do well in such conditions. You could just focus on the better class of animal, class 3 and above, or become a specialist at the lower end, class 5 and 6.
As I said, so many possibilities and I haven’t even mentioned the jumps yet.
My own specialism is now national hunt races over 3 miles or further, mainly handicap chases, class 3 and above.
This focus allows me to really get stuck in and to improve my knowledge – race reading, the horses (including for the notebook), the trainers, the unique demands of the courses, what’s required and when.
I particularly like staying chases because of the importance of pace & race position, and predicting who will lead, who will follow, who can really jump under pressure.
I’ve shared this stat before on these pages I think, a few months back, but 64% of all handicap chases are won by horses who either lead or race prominently – that can give focus, with those stats improving at certain courses, and not so good at others.
I simply don’t have enough time to be a jack of all trades, as in this game I’ve found you can quickly become a master of none! (I’ve been there, and it isn’t much fun)
Maybe you’re short for time also but still wouldn’t mind becoming your own expert? Or you like the idea of improving, or you’re starting out.
I’d ponder specialising to start with, and then from there you can branch out. But at the same time, you will have built up your general race reading/analysis skills, while having an area to focus on through the week and when you’re pushed for time. There are some great free resources around also that can help, including my blog maybe! : ) And indeed this very magazine you’re reading.
With any luck I’ve said something in this article which resonates and that may help you attack this great sport of horse racing with a smile and get as much enjoyment from it as I now do. As a recreational punter and racing fan, there’s so much to be explored and we get the chance to be regularly entertained. It doesn’t get much better.
Thanks for reading,