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Monday 17 June 2024

Horse Racing Papers: Remember The Old Sporting Life?

Back in the 1990s my brother and I used to have the Racing Post delivered every day. I’m sure the paperboy must have thought we were a couple of addicts. We must have been 20-years old and our love of horse racing, specifically two-year-old horses racing, was undertaken with professionalism. There wasn’t a horse we could detail its form, a trainer’s name forgotten, an understanding that went beyond our years.

Like a good horse we were precocious.

In those days having access to the Racing Post was cutting edge. It was before computers or smart phones. I remember watching horse racing results on Teletext. I doubt anyone under fifty would even know what it was (it later became redundant with modern technology). The racing publications were the lifeblood for horse racing fans. The daily papers may have detailed horse racing but it didn’t show previous form, the tissue prices were something pulled out of a hat and had no reflection to the starting price and it was like going back to the dark ages. The racing publications changed all that.

The Sporting Life was the first publication of its type. It was the original racing paper and eternally accepted as the best. It had no competition. There may have been The Horse & Hound but that was more about country life and wellington boots. I don’t think it lowered itself to the level of some nag jumping hurdles at Plumpton.

I rarely purchased the Sporting Life. It was a bit before my time. Well, me time of my interest in horse racing. The Racing Post did the job nicely so I wouldn’t purchase its rival unless it had sold out. I remember one occasion going to the races by train. It must have been a day out to Great Yarmouth. I’m not sure if I purchased the Sporting Life or my brother or cousin, Danny. Someone bought it. I was pleased as it was better than the daily papers which I scorned.

However, the killer blow for the Sporting Life wasn’t so much the lack of information but its size. When spread open it seemed to be about a metre wide. Perhaps that is an exaggeration although I don’t think so. It must have been one of the biggest newspaper-style publication in the world. You’d be siting side by side on the train and half of the paper would be on someone else’s lap. You’d say: ‘Can you read that paragraph for me. Or, what is the form of Master Trooper in the last race at Catterick Bridge?’

I think the demise of the Sporting Life was due to its size. If only they had made it smaller like the Racing Post. It was like a big, clumsy dinosaur that couldn’t escape it’s smaller, faster prey. It was only a matter of time before it became extinct. Well, disappeared from the news stands. It remains online, although it isn’t as in depth as the paper (at least I don’t think it is).

The race for victory went to the Racing Post.

When I purchased the Racing Post in those early years it cost £1. I think it is now £2.80. It may be more. These days I try not to buy it using the online app as it’s cheaper and does the job although you need to subscribe to get all the features.

How times have changed.

In the 1990s I felt like a professional gambler going to the races with the paper under my arm.

Now, horse racing punters have a wealth of information at their hands. It is a far cry from the old days.

No wonder the Sporting Life was on borrowed time. It expired.

It was simply too big to handle.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Don’t Be Scared To Take On The Favourite

Are favourites poor value?

The quick answer to the question is yes.

When a bookmaker makes his book, just like the casino’s house edge, they keep a little bit of the pie (so to speak) for themselves. For example, the 2:05 Southwell was won by Deal Maker [3/1] trained by Charlie Johnston. The horse placed second, Violet Love, 11/8f, and Awj finished third, priced 17/2. Clearly, the favourite wasn’t a value bet finishing second. The full result on the Racing Post details the total SP [starting price] 113%. A perfect book would be 100%. If you had bet on all of the horses in this race you would lose 13% of your stake. Like all statistics, a bigger sample of data is needed. Imagine if this race was run 100 times. A bookmaker would be confident, based on luck, winning £130 from each £1000 bet.

There is a different angle to this and that’s related to skill. Unlike the house edge at the casino, which is based on luck, an astute gambler can win and it’s the reason why accounts may be limited or closed.

As a gambler, I would rather oppose the favourite. That is my general answer to the question but clearly each horse needs to be assessed on its merits. Although I wouldn’t bet odds-on. If I miss a winner then I can live with it. The reason being, you have to draw the line somewhere. If you don’t, there is no line and whether you believe it or not that is a mistake.

Gamble with a set of rules and guidelines. They should be imposed by discipline.

My friend Eric Winner said that most favourites need to be priced about 3/1 to break even. Once again, that looks at the whole rather than the individual. You can look at horse racing from every perspective. If you are making money then you have found value. You are correct in your understanding.

However, I look to take on favourites because that’s where the value hides. I’d rather look at the third or fourth favourite with the bookmakers which may be 10/1 (could be much bigger on the exchanges so there is even more value) knowing that I only need one in ten winners to break even.

It pays to go against the crowd when gambling.

How can the majority of people be right? Perhaps that is a ridiculous statement (because at times they are correct). Generally, the collective is wrong. In my opinion, betting odds-on leads to poor value. That wasn’t always the case but it is these days.

Set out your gambling approach.

The reason being, if you aren’t in control of your actions then you may be manipulated by others. It all sounds a bit like cloak and daggers but I’ve seen enough, especially on the betting exchanges, to consider there are some very clever gamblers out there who use psychology as a tool of advantage. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of that because you will lose.

For most punters, the favourite is the start and finish of the gamble. They don’t see or bet beyond it.

I appreciate the favourite may be the horse to beat. I’m certainly not afraid to take it on. In fact, I look forward to the opportunity. If you wouldn’t bet on a short priced favourite then the race is made void by that action. But what happens when the favourite loses? You may be thinking ‘I had my eye on that winner and look at the odds it won!’

The next time you see a favourite, don’t be scared to take it on.

The chances are it’s poor value.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

The Betting 'Elvis Presley' Is Still Alive

I’ve been reading Ron Pollard’s Odds And Sods: My Life in the Betting Business, published in 1991 by Hodder & Stoughton. This biography detailed the career of Pollard in his role as bookmaker’s clerk to William Hill and Ladbrokes odds-maker and PR Director which he did for over 30-years.

Very few people realise that Ladbrokes made a name by tapping into what we would call these days trending topics. If someone asked Ron Pollard for a price on a novel sport, happening, almost anything, he would give the odds. Many of the wagers didn’t return a profit but they were worth their weight in gold as far as publicity was concerned. In fact, it set Ladbrokes apart from the likes of William Hill who stuck with a more traditional approach to betting dogs and horses..

Pollard was the man to go to for quotes. Every Sunday he would wait at home for his phone to ring and talk to all and sundry and give his opinion and betting odds. As he said: ‘Punters loved to bet on anything and everything.’

However, there were one or two regrettable instances where he wished he hadn’t been so quick to offer odds. Perhaps more traditional press knew where to draw the line while others clearly had no limits when it come to poor taste.

On the 16th August 1977, it was announce that Elvis Presley had passed away, aged 42. The world was shocked but so was Pollard when the Sunday Sport, who had recently appeared on the news-stands had the outlandish headline: ‘Was Elvis was still alive?’

Punters were both intrigued and interested in placing their bets.

Holland said managers from several bookmaker shops asking what odds should be offered. He said 1000/1. Sure it would be forgotten within 24-hours.

Clearly, the odds weren’t wrong because Elvis had definitely left the building and pardon the pun (a quote only the Sunday Sport could have stated) he was a dead cert for bookmakers. As Ron said: ‘I could have offered odds of one million to one.’

‘It was a thoroughly tasteless exercise and an admin nightmare as the transactions had to be updated from one year to the next as the bets were still running.’

The Sunday Sport’s continued their interest in the story. It was impossible to stop the story and the betting was so heavy that the odds were cut to 500/1. The money continued and eventually the odds were cut again to 100/1 (quite surreal considering Elvis wasn’t making a return). Ladbrokes had liabilities of £2.5 million.

Pollard said: ‘I still don’t know what possessed me that Monday morning: thoughtlessness or carelessness. Certainly, it was not very clever of me.’

He considered the Sunday Sport ‘plants’ had been betting merely to obtain more publicity for themselves to give some credence to a ludicrous story but in the process giving Ladbrokes unwanted publicity.

I wonder if any of those punters are still holding onto their betting vouchers?

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Ruth Norman: Betting On Little Green Men

I’m not sure whether Ladbrokes have many bets placed on the existence of alien life on Earth but back in the 1970s the bets kept pouring in with over £300,000 wagered in a decade.

This was down the Unarius Group from Califiornia.

The spiritualist group was run by Ruth Norman who contacted Ron Pollard asking if he Ladbrokes would take bets on the arrival of alien life on Earth.

He said: ‘500/1’.

This would be for aliens crashing or landing, dead or alive, within a year of the bet being placed.

At the same time each and every year a cheque for £30,000 would arrive.

The Unarius Group was set up by Ernest Norman in 1954, based in El Cajon a city in San Diego County, California. The Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science are dedicated to helping the evolution of the human race to be free from ‘mental frustrations to enjoy a peaceful life and achieve physic liberation.’

Their membership in unknown.

Mrs Ruth Norman continued the group following the passing of her husband in 1971.

The group proclaimed they had spoken to people from 52 planets. They believed they had found a peaceful solution to world problems and the advancement of medical advancement.

Ron Pollard said: ‘Mrs Norman never struck me as being nuts. We never met but we often spoke on the telephone and had many chats via radio hook-up. I thought she was a very nice lady…’

Norman said she was the reincarnation of Mona Lisa and she was in contact with eminent people who had passed including Winston Churchill, President Kennedy & Calvin Coolidge to name a few. In fact, they recorded the conversations and transcribed them into books which were sold.

The bets continued which saw liabilities of millions of pounds that alien life would be found on Earth.

A few years went past and the bets dwindled.

However, Pollard said to Mrs Norman that if their bet won he would have an alien present the cheque to her for £15 million pounds.

She accepted his promise.

Pollard continued: ‘I asked her when she come to Britain I would meet her at Heathrow and arrange for her to stay at one of our hotels.’

She replied: ‘Don’t be silly! When I arrive I shall be coming in on one of their spacecraft.’

Considering William Hill offered 1000/1 that someone wouldn’t set foot on the moon before 1970 the Uranius still may have their day.

Ruth Norman passed away in 1993, aged 92.

The Unarius Group is still in existence to this day.