Cheltenham Preview 2020: Paul Nicholls

On Thursday morning we went to see Paul Nicholls to discuss his team for Cheltenham. Massive thanks to Paul for his hospitality, as we started with a look around the whole yard (and the chance to pat a few horses up close), before regrouping at the front to listen intently and snap off a few photos to boot. 

With a huge string of some of the best horses in the country we were limited to realistic numbers and I leave it up to you to decide if those he paraded are in fact his best chances, but we certainly saw some equine superstars.

Starting at the very top of the tree and the master of Ditcheat seemed delighted with the well-being of Gold Cup hope Clan Des Obeaux. He looked a picture to my eyes and worked well with Frodon at Wincanton according to his handler who also told us:

“Last year, we went from Kempton to the Denman Chase, which was put back a week, and then to Cheltenham. We are coming in with a different preparation this year because we have worked out that he is best when fresh. His best runs have been from Haydock to Kempton last season and then this season from Down Royal to Kempton. He is only eight and is bound to have improved.”

“He is very effective when he is very fit and very fresh – I think he is lethal on those terms. I think he is my best chance of the week.”

Fair to say he seems pretty keen on his chances and at 8/1 I won’t be putting anyone off, though that is three “tips” from trainers already in the last seven days and that’s before I visit Colin Tizzard on Monday!

Politologue and Diamond Dollars were brought out next and both head off for the Champion Chase which may yet be the race of the meeting. Paul pointed out that Politologue was giving Defi Du Seuil weight at Cheltenham in November and that he goes best fresh (hence his break), and in his words”

“He has had a great preparation and it does not matter how much it keeps raining because that will suit him. I think at 33/1 he is a lively outsider in the Champion Chase. He was not beaten far last year and basically jumped the last upsides Altior. He comes right at this time of the year and I was very happy with him this morning.”

Solo caught everybody’s eye next but it has to be added that even his trainer seemed slightly surprised by how easily he won last weekend, despite holding him in the highest regard. That win has seen him become the highest rated novice hurdler in the UK (157) which seems an over the top reaction, but as he is unlikely to be going down the handicap route, who cares?

Described as “…a big tank of a thing who takes loads of work…” he seems sure to keep on improving and, if that is correct, he can win the Triumph Hurdle before moving on to even bigger things over the years ahead, with fences the eventual aim.

Sir Psycho also runs in the Triumph and could well give the stable a one two, but others are worthy of a mention in other contests including Greaneteen, who is rated 150, which Paul seems to think is at the very least a workable mark. Although he thinks he is good enough to run in the Arkle, his mark seems to be swaying connections toward the Grand Annual instead where he looks to have every chance.

Finally, Thyme White heads off to the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and is yet another with a live chance of bringing home the bacon. Paul told us:

“He has a rating of 133 and I think he can do something off that mark. He is progressing and the Boodles is a race we have done well in. I would think this lad will have a leading chance. He is a proper horse who will make a lovely chaser one day.”… and that concludes my stable tours, for now.

Cheltenham Preview 2020: Nicky Henderson

Another year has flown by as we eagerly anticipate the Cheltenham Festival, and that means the obligatory media visits to some of the bigger and more powerful yards for a chat about their charge’s chances.

Monday saw me head on down to the Nicky Henderson stable at Seven Barrows to visit the challengers housed there as Nicky looks to catch or even overtake Willie Mullins as the most successful trainer in Cheltenham history.

After so many years at the top of the game Nicky is very media savvy and he even persuaded the rains to stay away for the majority of the time, as he paraded his horses and then spoke to us about his top prospects.

Others attacked their keyboards within moments of any interviews, with plenty trying to put words in to Nicky’s mouth “Horse X has a great chance in Race Z doesn’t he Nicky?”, which to me defeats the objective, and I prefer to sleep on things and try to read between the lines and even dare to interpret his body language – hence this day late assessment.

Naturally, with one of the largest strings in training, going through all his horses would be unrealistic, and as the handicap ratings aren’t out officially until next week there was little to no point in picking his brains there. That meant we worked through the stable stars instead, though the winds and busy stable schedule meant we only got to see a few of them in person. Enjoy.

First horse out was of course Altior, currently available at odds of 4/1 for the Champion Chase as he looks to win the race for the third year in a row at the age of ten. Nicky basically admitted (with the benefit of hindsight) that running him over two miles five on soft ground against Cyrname first time out for the season was an error, and that it exhausted the horse far more than hoped or expected.

Not seen again between November and February, Nicky insisted we should look on his comfortable if not exciting win at Newbury as his first real race of the season and, if we do, then he ought to improve and go to the Queen Mother with a far better chance than those odds suggest, especially for a horse who has only lost once over fences.

Value for money was the order of the day next with not one but five Champion Hurdle hopefuls paraded for us to admire. Epatante, Pentland Hills, Verdana Blue, Fusil Raffles and Call Me Lord will all run if everything is well and, although Epatante is as short as 11/4, I honestly felt Nicky was leaning towards two others.

His body language suggested Verdana Blue would be the best of them if she gets her ground but one glance out of the window at yet more rain creates an issue there. If the winds come and the going is good to soft or faster, I may well have a saver on her regardless, yet Nicky kept coming back to Pentland Hills. The Triumph Hurdle winner hasn’t been at his best yet this season but has had a small wind op since finishing second at Haydock and at odds of 5/1 I might yet be tempted.

Having sorted both the Champion Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase (I wish it was that easy!) we have the little matter of the Gold Cup on Friday afternoon where Santini seemed in very good sorts…

Second in the RSA Chase last year after a terrible preparation following foot issues and last minute flu vaccinations, Nicky was amazed to see him finish as close as he did (half a length adrift of Topofthegame), and reports that this season has gone pretty much as expected. A winner last time out in the Cotswolds Chase (which was always the plan), he saw off a spot on Bristol De Mai on ground heavier than ideal and, with plenty more to come (Nicky’s words not mine), he looks to have a lively chance of success, though it is a ridiculously competitive renewal.

Running through the others in brief (and not all of them, obviously) and we have to start in race one on day one (the Supreme Novice Hurdle), when Nicky is very keen on the chances of Shishkin who will probably be the only runner for the stable come race day. Nicky said:

“I would like to think that Shishkin is one of our best chances of the week. He is a genuine two miler. The Supreme is a nice race to win if you can because it gets the ball rolling and the pressure off a bit.

“I think Shishkin is very good and in his bumper and novice hurdle, he has looked very efficient. He has got to prove himself yet and this will be a much bigger test, but visually he has been very impressive. He does not seem to lack experience, as he races very professionally, and then you can press a button, which makes life easier for him”.

If that is correct, we could well see a winner on day one to get the ball rolling, though the Irish may well have other ideas!

Others worthy of a mention include Floressa “I think she has a great chance” (Mares Novice Hurdle), Might Bite (Cross Country), and Welsh Saint (10/1) and Diablo de Rouhet each way (25/1) for the Pertemps Final (both considered well handicapped), though any winners at Cheltenham are always welcome as Nicky will happily tell anyone who asks. 

Next week – off to Paul Nicholls weather permitting!

Your weekend away with ISIS

At the weekend you’re going to Aylesbury to watch the inter-species inaugural sprint (ISIS)…

You’ve been looking forward to this for several years after signing up at a weekend away that you can’t remember much about. You’re not going to make your sandwiches yet, otherwise they’ll be stale, but you have a Tupperware container ready and you’ve already booked your seat on the bus.

The race itself will be run over 100 metres on a straight course. There are eight contenders and each will be given a lane which will have a wall along it to avoid the competitors straying into each other’s running space.

Representing mankind we have Les Dennis and he is up against a horse, a greyhound, a worm, a sloth, a leaf, a squirrel and a trout.

We can probably rule a few of these out pretty quickly: the trout is literally a fish out of water; the sloth is likely to sleep through it; the worm isn’t known for his turn of foot, largely because he doesn’t have any.

The leaf is an outsider and may not move, but if there is a big gust of wind in the right direction at the right moment then he could pull off a surprise.

The squirrel isn’t great at going in straight lines and might prefer a zig-zag course, so his best chance may be to distract the greyhound and upset the horse by jumping up on top of the wall. Even if this happens, the bushy-tailed one would still need to resume in the correct direction.

It’s likely to come down to being a contest between the horse and the greyhound, with both having the speed to take this but they’ll each need a good start and to keep focused on the job in hand all the way to the line.

Meanwhile, we have the Dennis…

He plods on reliably. He’s not as quick as the horse or greyhound, even the leaf may outpace him in full flight and the squirrel could have the beating of him on a going day. But, it’s likely that at least several of these opponents will make a mistake and the 65 year-old looks very likely to be in the places and can take advantage if all others under-perform.

At the time of writing, odds don’t seem to be available with the major bookmakers, so it may be worth going into your local shop and asking if they can offer you a price. If you do, please let us know how you get on. While you’re at it, you could also see if there are any old acquaintances in there, and if there is you could ask them if they know anything about the race that you don’t know.

If the odds are as expected, then the Dennis may be worth an each-way punt…

This may be an unusual set-up, but taking into account that three of the eight are unlikely to finish the race, let alone feature in the places, and that the leaf and squirrel are also likely to let us down, it could be the case that our representative only needs to perform to his usual standards to give us a return.

While it can be expected that there will be little value in the win side of the bet, because of how the odds for the place side of an each-way bet are dictated by the odds for the win side (typically ¼ or 1/5 of the odds) this can present opportunities when the odds for the place are hugely out of line with what they should be.

The table below details the standard place terms for horse racing:

1 to 4win only
5 to 721/4
8 or more31/5
12 to 1531/4
15 or more41/4

At first glance it appears that there are some races giving better each-way opportunities than others…

For example, the number of places and the terms are the same whether there are 5 or 7 runners but in a race with only 5 involved there are fewer rivals to beat.

While this is often the case, as we have seen above with Leslie, there are other factors that can make backing each-way more appealing. 

Next week I’ll go into more detail and pick out some occasions when this approach can be beneficial and others when it is less advantageous.

Miles currently runs an excellent racing service and you can give it a try by clicking the link below…


Tell me something I don’t know

  1. Walk into a bookies and find somebody about to make a bet.
  2. Ask them to hand you a copy of the Racing Post, or similar publication. (Chances are they won’t be holding such a paper, so for the purposes of this exercise you may need to take a copy with you, hand it to this person and then ask for it back again.)
  3. Firmly request that they tell you what they are about to bet on.
  4. Look it up in the paper you’ve just been handed and then challenge the unsuspecting bettor to tell you something about their wager that you still don’t know.

If you emerge from this exchange intact, both mentally and physically, then you will probably have very quickly established whether or not the person that you’ve just surprised is, a) violent, b) quite lonely and receptive to any opportunity to talk to someone, and c) likely to be a winning or losing bettor in the long-term, regardless of the success or otherwise of the selection you’ve just discussed.

The reason for this is quite straight-forward – if making a bet without knowing additional information to the masses or the odds compilers then, in turn, it would be illogical to suspect an advantage is held; if there is no forthcoming reason to indicate that the odds are incorrect due to overlooking one or more relevant factors then such an approach will be simply playing (or, perhaps more appropriately, paying) into the bookmakers hands.

For example, if looking to bet in a match involving Tottenham, it could and should be noted that Harry Kane is currently injured. But, you know this, I know this and you can be pretty darn sure Paddy Power and his merry band of odds compilers knows this and it will be factored into the prices. 

However, if you know that your local non-league side, or their opponents, has hit an injury crisis or has a number of key players unavailable then it is likely you have an advantage because you know something relevant and important that most don’t and, significantly, probably hasn’t been considered in the odds…

If you check the odds’ history and find they have remained the same since the news became available then you’ll know you stand in a position of strength.

In the quest for long-term profit, it’s crucial not to be thinking about what is the most likely outcome, but what is more likely to happen than the odds suggest…

If you can find a reason that a horse, team or whatever outcome is more or less likely to prevail than other punters and bookmakers are thinking, then, by knowing such a factor that others haven’t considered, the odds will be in your favour which is the key to sustained profitability.

This doesn’t have to be especially clever or original but it can be helped by remembering the advantage we have against bookmakers: they price everything and therefore have their resources hugely diluted across thousands of events and markets, but we can be selective and by being more focused in one area or in a little niche, we can spot things that may well have been missed.

In the medical world, we may go and see our GP from time to time. These General Practitioners know plenty about a wide range of ailments, especially certain important ones. But, In the case of specific problems we may be moved onto specialists who are more focused in what they consider.

Their knowledge is narrower but deeper and while you would hope your GP has a sound understanding of the entire body, it’s unlikely a foot surgeon often deals with ear complaints, so doesn’t need to be an aural expert and can instead spend their time deepening their knowledge of two of our cheesiest bits.

In this awkward and probably quite unnecessary analogy, the GP is the bookie, having to know enough about every area whereas we can strive to be the foot surgeon, even if we only become experts on toenails…

If we focus ourselves on specific areas we can ignore ears, elbows and Swedish netball because in our area we know more and therefore can have an advantage.

We don’t need to consider anything else – we’re not going to be betting on it – but we can know what we know well and we can know it better than others who take a wider but shallower approach.

Earlier, non-league football was mentioned and concentrating on one league or even one team could be a way to gain enough of a positive edge.

Similarly, there are so many different types of horse race that to have a solid enough understanding of all of them is going to be stretching anybody’s time and memory to an extreme, but these can be broken down into smaller subsets, from sprinters to stayers, trainers to tracks, to give ourselves a reduced amount on which to build our knowledge and understanding.

One niche example is handicaps for amateur riders. The range of experience amongst the jockeys involved can be huge and by focusing on this we can gain the sort of advantage discussed in this article.

In all of these races on the All-Weather since the start of 2015, horses with an SP of 9/1 or shorter, ridden by amateurs with fewer than 30 rides to their name in the preceding two years, have had a strike-rate of 8.65% and backing each would have resulted in a losing Return on Investment (ROI) of 55% to Industry SP and a loss of 50% to Betfair SP.

However, horses in the same price range ridden by more experienced partners with at least 30 rides in the previous two years have a strike-rate of 23.57%, almost three times that of their less experienced colleagues, and would have been profitable to back blindly at both SP and Betfair SP. 

This makes logical sense – it’s to be expected that the more experienced riders have become more skilled and are therefore more successful – which puts substance to the argument beyond the numbers and it seems it’s a factor that the market underestimates.

This is a simple angle that can be used the next time such a race comes up and there are normally a couple a week…

It won’t provide a winner every time, but it may well put the odds in your favour and if a stranger gives you a copy of the Racing Post and then asks for it back again, before running, you’ll be able to tell him or her something he probably didn’t know and if you can pass that test then chances are the bet you’re placing is a good one.

Miles currently runs an excellent racing service and you can give them a try by clicking the link below…


Do you want to be lucky?

In eleven years’ time it will be the 500th anniversary of the game of bingo. That’s a lot of little ducks, shoe buckling and Gerties with hygiene issues.

In 1530 an Italian lottery, Lo Giuoco Lotto Italia, led the way giving players cards from which they had to match their numbers to those pulled out of a sack.

It took the French almost two-and-a-half centuries to realise they were missing out. But, what should their version be called? They put their heads together. They argued, they agreed, they gestured, they argued some more. Some said, ‘mai non,’ some said ‘mai oui,’ and eventually the name ‘Le Lotto’ was decided upon. The shape of the card was also changed, into the one we’re familiar with today.

Thirty years later, the game packed a knapsack and headed for Germany and the UK. The Germans used it as a teaching aid and the Brits attached rhyming phrases to the numbers. Of course we did.

Moving into the 20th century and across to America it went, under the name of Beano. It only became known as Bingo when a toy salesman heard a woman scream it in excitement (not that sort) rather than Beano. Edwin Lowe, the salesman in question, thought it had a better sound and embarked upon the task of mass producing the game. Combining minds with a mathematics professor, Lowe came up with a total of 6000 different cards.

Ninety years later and the name and format remains largely unchanged. Over the years and across the halls there will have been many regarded as ‘good’ bingo players. The best, even. Their reputations precede them and dropped knitting needles follow them.

In truth, beyond the ability to stay awake, hear correctly and cross off the right numbers, they are no better at the pastime than you, I or Les Dennis but reputations can be hard to shake off. Maybe they talked a good game, maybe they carried themselves with a certain swagger, maybe they were just lucky. 

Recently there has been a new variation on the game that has become increasingly popular. It may not seem the same, it may even appear to be a game of skill rather than pure luck, but scratch beneath the surface and several similarities can be found.

Although there is no skill involved in Bingo – your card will hold the same chance of winning as every other card – you know the deal. If there are ten cards involved and you have one of them then you know your chances of winning are one in ten. You will also know the prize (unless it’s a mystery prize, in which case you won’t). 

However, this new game in town allows you to choose your card and it only has one number on it. Some cards are more likely to win than others and you can even do some research to be better able to estimate the chances your card has of winning.

But, you don’t know the prize and these prizes will vary from number to number… 

The most likely winner will normally pay the least amount, occasionally more but not often. Unlikely winners will pay more but you don’t know how much and because you don’t know how much you will win, you also don’t know if you’ve got a good deal or a terrible one in an individual round and even less of an idea over many games. Still, it’s a bit of fun and you might get lucky.

Welcome to Horse Bingo, otherwise known as gambling at Betfair SP. 

Unlike conventional betting when you know the price you are taking and the return should your bet be successful, here you are going into the unknown – the horse that is now 15/1 but it could be 5/1 or 25/1 at the off, or anything in between or beyond. 

Maybe that adds to the excitement? It certainly adds another dimension – not only do you not know if the horse is going to win or not, but now you also have no idea whether you’ll be getting a pleasing or disappointing return. Amazing. As if horse racing wasn’t exciting enough.

Yep, ignore all of those articles you’ve read about getting ‘value’ in your selections. Forget all the examples of a coin flip with tails paying 11/10 and heads 9/10 that show you this makes tails the best bet even though both outcomes have the same chance of happening. Discard any insight detailing why a horse has a better chance of winning than the odds suggest and is therefore backable. Laugh at basic mathematics. Scoff at common sense.

Instead, roll up and bet at Betfair SP hours ahead of time when you have no idea what the price will be.

It doesn’t matter how sound a judge someone is of a race, no-one can know if a good bet is being made without knowing the prices and I’m yet to meet or hear of anyone who can predict starting prices with consistent accuracy.

Good betting relies on the most basic betting and mathematical principle there is – long-term profit only follows if selections are more likely to succeed than the odds imply. This judgement cannot be made without knowing the price. To claim otherwise is as bonkers as boasting to be able to drive faster from one spot to another than everyone else without knowing if you’ll be driving a Ferrari or a milk float.

Hugh Taylor, perhaps the most respected and profitable tipster in the country, sums up the issue quite succinctly: 

“I can’t state strongly enough that punters should always know the odds they are receiving when placing a bet, otherwise the concept of value punting goes out of the window. It makes no sense to assess the likely future profitability of a tipster by a method which is such a hostage to randomness.”

Personally, the only time I would use (or consider using) Betfair SP is if I’m monitoring prices very close to the off because the exchange prices are generally slightly higher than the bookies, especially on bigger prices, and I can actually see what they are.

Of course, bookmaker restrictions are forcing bettors to look at other ways of getting their stakes down and the exchanges are one of those options. But, even here you have the choice of taking (or requesting) current prices or setting an odds limit if using SP rather than simply taking any and every price.

For members of my services who are unable to use early prices with bookmakers, my advice is to check prices in the morning and if the price is acceptable (roughly within 20% or the advised price, but no more) then to get on and if not set-up an odds limit at SP within the same range for those that have shortened and then come back out to an acceptable price again later. If the price has gone and doesn’t return then it needs to be let go because it is no longer a worthwhile bet.

Additionally, Betfair Sportsbook, SkyBet and BetVictor all have guaranteed amounts they will accept on the morning of races even to previously restricted accounts.

Even if accounts are restricted there are ways of getting on most, if not all, of the time… 

If accounts have been gubbed then chances are a degree of success has been achieved previously. It’s worth remembering what brought about that success and if Betfair SP is seen as the answer to restrictions and future investing, it’s highly likely that you’re asking the wrong question.

Miles currently runs an excellent racing service and you can give them a try by clicking the link below…


How to smell lovely

You’ve probably had a busy couple of weeks and may have forgotten that you were recently on the Isle of Wight with Noel Edmunds.

There are three situations here, each giving 10,000 spins and a £1,000 starting bank:

  1. A roulette wheel with the advantage on number 29.
  2. Dice rolls with an advantage on the number 4.
  3. Coin flips with an advantage on tails.

Last time, in case there was any doubt, it was detailed why the focus has to be on the outcome giving an odds advantage in each case. However, despite the opportunity and despite the edge that’s been given, it would still be possible to lose everything and leave with nothing due to poor bank management.

The three different set-ups were chosen because of their similarities to following three different types of tipster, typically betting at different odds. Each should be profitable over time, but each require a different approach, expectations, bank management and mindset.

With double odds paid on number 29, the roulette scenario offers a huge edge. However, there will also be long losing runs…

In 10,000 spins it can be expected that each number will come up around 270 times, but that also means around 9730 spins resulting in a loss. If this happens then the return would be a massive 91.7% ROI and yet the number of those losers is quite intimidating.

This is clearly going to require the bank to be split into many small pieces to survive. At any given point, there is a 76% likelihood that the next ten spins will all lose, a 25% chance the next 50 will only provide losses, a 6% chance that the next 100 will all be unsuccessful and a 1.6% possibility that each and every time for the next 150 attempts the ball will rest somewhere other than our desired groove.

Extended and sizeable downturns are going to happen here and yet the situation has given the bettor a significant edge. If following a tipster – perhaps at these odds it’s most likely to be one specialising in golf or outsiders in horse racing – at some point doubt is surely going to creep in…

After 75 losers in a row would you be rushing to back the 76th? What about the 133rd? Yet, it could well be that this tipster still holds a significant edge and will remain profitable to follow in the long-term.

In this roulette example we know we still have that edge, an advantage that will mean that if we are splitting the bank into small enough pieces to survive possible and probable downturns then we will come out on top. But, when backing someone’s selections we don’t have that categorical proof that there’s such an edge and this uncertainty allows emotion to play a leading hand in our decision making.

It’s easy to look at a small sample of results and conclude that a service or system is going to make a profit or loss but that can often be misleading. If we were to break the 10,000 spins of the roulette wheel down into sections then there would be times of loss and times of profit and yet we know there’s an advantage held.

Before starting with a service or system, we should strive to gain as much information as possible in advance to help us have realistic expectations.

This could include previous results, the quality of reasoning provided and so on. But, one of the biggest clues of what to expect can be gleaned by simply looking at the odds involved and from this gaining an understanding of the likely runs that will follow.

Long losing runs are far less likely with the roll of the dice and the toss of a coin, but then the payouts won’t be as handsome when we do win.

In contrast to the previous example, if we were to keep backing a specific number on the roll of the dice the chance of the next ten bets all resulting in losses is still 16% – far from unlikely but a lot less than the 76% found in roulette. With the coin toss, the chance of ten consecutive losses is 1 in 1024. Obviously, here the losing runs are far shorter and wins more frequent.

However, if making a profit is our goal in betting we shouldn’t necessarily be drawn to those figures regarding the length of losing runs and elevate the shorter streaks of the coin toss above the roll of the dice or the spin of the roulette wheel.

Instead, let’s come at this from a different angle and that is to consider the percentage of the bank that is hit by such runs.

As shown, we are going to need to split the bank used for roulette into many small pieces. With shorter streaks, dividing the same amount to be used for either the dice or coin situations will not need as many pieces (or points or units as they are commonly termed).

By doing this appropriately, the losing runs of the three set-ups will vary in terms of their respective lengths, but not in the severity by which they affect our banks. Similarly, when we do win in each case, we are more equally rewarded because we would be staking far less with roulette than the coin flip, so despite the bigger odds with the former the payouts will be similar to the latter.

The formula for making a profit following a tipster is a simple one:
Tipster with a positive edge + Member with sound bank management = long-term profit

As a punter, our first job is to find such a tipster and many will do this part successfully. However,  a large number who become members of such services will still fail to make a profit due to thinking that’s all they have to do, switching the brain off upon joining, betting the same amount on each selection regardless of the type of service, the odds involved and the recommended bank of points/units recommended.

Because of their failure to adapt they will be unable to cope when the losing run happens and they will lose out.

Don’t fall for this trap. Don’t let Noel put you back in the carpet. Don’t smell of wet dog.

Take ownership of your own bank. Look at the odds involved. Consider what is likely to happen, then bet with suitable amounts to allow you to cope with the sort of ups and downs experienced in your journey across the Solent and if you do this then you’ll give yourself the best chance of smelling lovely.

Miles currently runs an excellent racing service and you can give it a try by clicking the link below…