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Punting Pointers: Trusting Your Eye

Punting Pointers is an eight part series aimed at educating punters to help take their wagering to the next level. Brad Gray sought the insights of five of the most respected industry figures when it comes to punting, form analysis and bookmaking.

  • Trusting Your Eye
  • Barrier Trials
  • Speed Maps
  • Jockeys And Trainers
  • Favourite Types Of Races To Bet In
  • 10 Minutes To Do The Form…
  • Sectionals
  • Parting Advice

How much should a punter trust their eye when assessing form? For Part One, our experts were asked what the right balance of art versus science is. There is more information available to punters than ever before but as you’ll find from the below, the general consensus is that there is still a big edge to be had in backing your own judgement.

Dominic Beirne (@domran)

Numbers will tell you 95 percent of the facts. We’ve relied on data since we’ve been doing form with just pencils and paper and now we’re able to enter and retain information on a computer. However, some of the best judges I know in horse racing know nothing about numbers. They’ve got a great eye, and a great nous, which comes with experience.

One example of using your eye over numbers, or to assist with the numbers, is horses that are up in distance. While there are measures that are indicative of the increase in speed a horse may be able to show as the distance gets longer, watching a horses action late is something you can’t find raw data about so your eye is extremely important as a value add to what the numbers say.

The eye is definitely trained – there’s the 10,000 hour theory. Whether it takes that long I doubt it but the fact remains that practice will perfect what you are looking for. When you think you have found something with your eye you have to be honest about the result and look back and say well I thought my eye told me that horse would not run the extra distance and it didn’t. Why was that? What was it about that last run that misled me? And similarly, what was it that led me to conclude that it would run the distance and it did? There is no use patting yourself on the back. You have to go back over the reason to why you came to that accurate conclusion and cement that into your mind to see if it is a repeatable pattern.

Rob Waterhouse (@RobWaterhouse)

I am a numerate person but I’ve always said that when you watch a race and you see a good horse, it stands out. Even if the numbers aren’t there to back it up. Especially with lightly-raced horses. Gut feel does come into it to some extent. Similarly if you watch a race and the numbers appear to be good, you can often think the race isn’t much good. I think the eye does play a part but having said that I’m a great believer in numbers.

You just develop the eye without really thinking about it, is the long and short of it. It takes experience and from a young age as well. For example, I notice in particular horses that drop at the wither and extend. Horses that have a nice low head carriage. It’s something that comes from experience.

Black Caviar 'dropping at the wither' (the ridge between the shoulder blades)

Nathan Snow (@snowbet)

I am definitely more art than science. You can be 100 percent science and zero percent art and win at the game as well as the other way round and be anywhere in between and still find a way to win. That’s part of the beauty of betting on racing. This data revolution that we are undergoing allows more opportunities and more ways to explore.

The whole thing with trust, and it’s like any sort of relationship, is that it comes from experience. The more familiar you are with something the more you begin to trust it. The human mind is an amazing thing. The subconscious, the way it works, you immerse yourself in a subject and some things automatically sink in and get recalled. The file inside your mind is better than any computer I believe but that’s where the trust comes from.

Early on you don’t want to trust anything. You want to verify everything but when you get experience and become more immersed in it, you can trust yourself more. The way I do the form is knowing the horse as an individual so it’s knowing what suits them, what they are capable of and what scenario will suit them next time – so it’s a lot of gut and intuition.

Pick a region and start small and try to concentrate on each horse, the trainers, the jockeys and their patterns. That’s the best way to approach doing the form I find.

Daniel O’Sullivan (@TRBHorseRacing)

My overriding philosophy would be a balance. I’m quite big on the science side of things – data, ratings, times and sectional measures – and it is the basis of everything I do but then I do believe that there is an art from in applying that to betting. The science is in the assessing of previous performances and the art form is interpreting that for today’s race and to make betting decisions.

When it comes to betting decisions over the years I’ve come to believe that your intuition is very important. You need to have clarity on your strategy and what it is you are trying to do, and the type of scenarios you are looking for, but I think that your instincts in being able to recognise when a situation feels right for betting, and maybe when it doesn’t, is very important. Firstly from a profit perspective but also from a psychological perspective because one of the biggest objectives in being a punter is not only making profitable betting decisions but also making decisions that help you keep a balanced state of mind, so not making decisions that will see you experience more regret than the alternative.

A great example of that is a horse at $1.80 that you really like but you’re unsure about the price and you are toing and froing. Minimising your regret in those situations is important. It’s no good betting because you are simply worried about missing a winner – you’ll kick yourself after the event. It’s not only about using your intuition to make profitable decisions but using it to make decisions that feel right so you can live with the outcome whatever the result is. Especially if it goes against you.

Winx's debut win - what does your eye tell you?

John Walter (@J_Walter23)

I would have started out nearly 100 percent trusting my eye and then when I was working for Zeljko (Ranogajec) it turned around to proving your eye is correct with the data. Wanting to prove what you are seeing has actually happened.

I still use my eye a lot more than I use data but I’ve definitely come around to the science part of it in recent years. It’s a balance but I believe there is more advantage in your eye because so many people get the same sort of data.

I look for a million different things including trying to identify bias and then go back and make sure. Like anything, it has negatives and positives. If something is good to your eye and you go back and it’s horrendous figure-wise you might interrogate it more to see whether there is an edge to be found.

If you’re more focused on a select group of horses – from New South Wales for example, or those that race over a particular distance range – it is much easier to get to know the horses, trainers, jockeys and what they can do with horses. Like barrier trials, there are a lot of different things you can pick up on the vision that a spreadsheet won’t tell you.

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