Tag Archives: Mel Gee

Interview with an expert: Mel Gee (Part Two)

[Ed Note: This interview took place in 2017. Mel’s service, First Favourite, obviously isn’t running at the moment due to Covid-19 but I’ve kept those questions in as they still offer valuable insight.]

You can read part one of the interview here.

JA: In terms of your strategy particularly, do you have a preference for flat over jumps or maybe even all weather?

MG: I’ve got to say I absolutely love it all. Now, I’ve got this tingle again, I can’t help it, you know, my shoulders are just shivering. I absolutely love it. When I started out getting an interest, it was 1970 so that is Lester Piggott and it’s Nijinsky and I fell in love with the sport, and Lester became my first hero, after John Wayne, and he remained so. And I’m very, very lucky to have met him several times. He is my hero. That was 1970.

The next year was the mighty Mill Reef in 71 and he absolutely rubber stamped, for me, what horse racing is all about. And there’s class, Lester Piggott, Nijinsky, Mill Reef. And then the following year, 1972-73, Henry Cecil was beginning to become something special.

So 20 years before the public cottoned onto him, Henry, later Sir Henry, he became my third hero within the sport and, so because those three are all flat, flat would be my number one…

But I love the festivals, Cheltenham, Aintree, Epsom, Goodwood, York, wherever. I love the festivals and I love seeing class horses running, and it doesn’t happen too often but when it does happen and you see a proper class horse coming into the last furlong, all the jockeys are rowing away except one which is on that one horse that is just a different class. And for me that’s the buzz of horse racing, seeing, I don’t know, seeing a Usain Bolt, a Seb Coe, a Cram, an Ovett, they are just half a notch above everything else. That’s why I love it.

JA: So I guess then you’d say you have a preference for open races over handicaps?

MG: Yes, most certainly. Yes. Handicaps are there… well the basis is that they all finish across the line together. I think it’s an open secret that, perhaps less so in these years but skulduggery can happen. 

There are some great handicappers and they make for some great races, you know, 20, 30 runners in an Ayr Gold Cup, something like that. They’re fantastic races. They are races I would have always betted but today I wouldn’t. I watch them because I love them but I wouldn’t put your pound on. I’d keep it in my pocket and tell you I’m not betting because I know I’m going to lose. But yes, they’re not betting… they’re a bookmakers betting medium. If people can make a profit from them, well done, good luck. I can’t.

JA: In more general terms, what do you make of the world of horse racing at the moment? Do you feel like it’s going in the right direction?

MG: No, I don’t actually. I think there’s far too much racing. I think all the big races, where they’re held, is right but then I think they should structure it to three meetings a day, North, South and the Midlands. 

Fewer races I think would make bigger fields and with respect to owners, trainers and the horses there’d be less dross. Class six handicaps, class seven banded races, when they come on, they are there for one reason and that’s the bookmaker to take your money and they will gladly. And then they will put a sign at the bottom, gamble aware. It’s shameful and something ought to be done about that.

So I think racing has got it wrong at the minute. I think the calendar could be better, keep all the top events but let’s have fewer races, bigger fields. That’s how I see it.

JA: So I’m guessing part of what you’re saying there is bookmakers seem to have too much power and certainly in terms of restrictions that’s something that affects me. Is it something you’ve had issues with?

MG: Yes, it’s issues from all of the major bookmakers with the exception in my case, and I think they should be named, of William Hill and Ladbrokes, but every other bookmaker has either restricted me or closed me, or restricted me that much it might just as well be closed. And the numbers are dozens not one or two.

I can remember when I first started out in racing and I noticed it, I could see that they were spending the money from racing going into hotels, into casinos. And I’m thinking wait a minute, the money is going out the wrong way; you know, the money should be coming back into racing, not going out into other avenues. And it went into other avenues because they could make more money. 

I think that would have been the early 70s which is when I got involved, I saw it then and 50 years later there is now something happening that more of the bookmakers’ money, particularly the offshore interests, is going to stay within racing. It should have been happening back in the 70s but nobody could stand up to the bookmaker or nobody wanted to.

JA: I think in one or two countries now they’re starting to incorporate a rule where bookmakers have to take a certain level of bet. I’m guessing you think that would be a good idea in this country too?

MG: It would be but I think they’re already taking a bet. It happened about ten years ago when they would offer a price on a horse and then they would take it to £20 or £25, which is great for the casual punter or the fun punter but for a professional bettor like myself, £25 or £50 is no good unless there were four or five bookmakers doing it and would take my bet, then that would be different but I think that’s highly unlikely, which is a shame.

JA: We’ll end with a couple more general points… have you got any betting highlights or lowlights in particular from your long period of doing this?

MG: Yes, I have, and I thought about this answer because I think most people like to say oh the day that I won this or the day that I lost that, so I’m going to take you way back to 1974, my first visit to Epsom, the derby won by Snow Knight, 50/1. I’m still waiting for that to come up in a quiz question because I know the answer!

What happened, I had been to the races and I was, in those days, very naive, wet behind the ears, unworldly, but I loved my horse racing and that’s why I’d gone to Epsom.

Leaving the course on the way back to the coach, I met a huddle of people and I thought oh, I’ll have a look at what’s going on. And the huddle was a card game called Find the Lady which I thought oh, what’s that about? So I was sort of three deep then I was two deep and then I was next to the board. What I didn’t know was that most of the people in the huddle all worked together with the man with the cards. I didn’t know that. And the fellow that I stood next to, he reached forward, lifted up one of the three cards and nudged me and said, that one. So I did, I put a fiver on it and lost it.

And he said oh, sorry, he must have switched it. And I said, yes, I wasn’t looking. And he said wait, I’ll do it again, and he did, and so did I, and now I’d lost £10. And I thought, mmm, I need to get out of here and I struggled to get out, away from these people, but they’d done what they set out to do; they got £10 from me.

Now, I don’t know whether you believe in the Almighty but I do. That was a Wednesday. So next day, Thursday, I’ve gone to my Coral bookmaker and I’ve had my normal 10p win, Yankee, four horses. The first three have won and I’m going on a six furlong sprint at Epsom, a horse called Moor Lane and it’s 13/2.  I’ve already got three winners in my Yankee and it won.  So having been, what I thought, fleeced by £10 on Wednesday, I drew £24 on the Thursday and felt very lucky and said thank you Lord.

I don’t do card games now, I don’t do machines, I don’t do poker, I don’t do casino for one reason, I’m going to lose. So I don’t do any… I’ll go and watch them and stand by a table and watch but I won’t, the only time I’ll put a chip on is if you give it to me and it’s your money. So I got a valuable lesson those two days which is trust no-one. So that was an up and a down in those years.

JA: You mentioned there cards etc. Is there anything else in a sporting sense which you will bet on? Do you have any strategies on football, for example, anything like that?

MG: Yes. Once upon a time, and I’m talking year 2000 to 2008, I got a big interest in golf, mainly through Jeremy Chapman in the Racing Post. And then latterly there was a golf form book called Elliot’s Form Book, and between 2000 and 2008 I never lost at golf. I won every single year and got it to a perfection that I was picking up every third week on average and it was fantastic. 

In 2009 Elliot’s golf book ended. So I don’t place golf bets now, only because it was not my choice. It would be someone else’s. But that was golf then.

What I have is a very small tight portfolio. First Favourite is number one and then I have two or three opportunities where you can win money, all on horse racing. The risk is minimal and in some instances nil, but the returns can be quite great.

Where First Favourite is portable, the other three are not. They would be a classroom situation, you would have to learn them, but then the one thing that most people couldn’t do is give time. I would spend an afternoon with one or two or three of these other approaches, which is a word I was introduced to some years ago, whereby if I’m not with First Favourite I can make an income there. But the risk is so small that if it doesn’t come off, the loss is minimal.

JA: To finish, where do you see yourself going in the next five, ten years with First Favourite and also generally?

MG: Well, my immediately plan is to continue to make First Favourite a respected winning service. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got a fantastic clientele today but I would like to grow that because I’d like to continue to share my knowledge and win people some money, get them a return on investment.

I am a great believer in fate. What will be will be. Who knows what will happen? For example, I didn’t know today was going to happen. It came out of the blue. And I think that’s what might happen in the future; someone will read this interview, someone will read my website, someone will talk to someone, mention my name and something could develop from there on in.

What I would love, maybe there would be a collaboration down the road, I don’t know. I think beyond just the betting part, what I would like to do is to create syndicates, small, six, eight, ten syndicates for people who would like to be more involved in owning a horse but find the costs are prohibitive, and I would like to make that affordable to as many people as I could do. But that would take a lot of work, a lot of time and today it’s not going to happen but tomorrow it could be. So that’s something else I would like to look at.

Race days are also something that I thoroughly enjoy because it gives me the opportunity to talk about my passion for horse racing to 50, 60, 70 people, some of whom are like-minded. Some have little interest but may find what I’m saying of interest. So that’s what I’m looking forward to in the future.

Interview with an expert: Mel Gee (Part One)

[Ed Note: This interview took place in 2017. Mel’s service, First Favourite, obviously isn’t running at the moment due to Covid-19 but I’ve kept those questions in as they still offer valuable insight.]

Josh Allen: So, let’s start at the beginning… What attracted you to horse racing and what attracted you to betting on horse racing?

Mel Gee: Originally it would have been my dad back in the days of black and white TV, and I’d probably be three, four, five years old and forever being told shush because my dad’s watching the racing.

My dad was an archetypal mug punter. He didn’t win but always thought he would. So in answer to that question, watching came first and betting came much, much later on. It was easy not to bet in the early days simply because I didn’t have any money, so I found that easy.

So I watched and I watched and I watched and I read as much as I could, mainly newspapers, because for me horse racing was, and the people within horse racing were on a very, very different level from me and I would never be on that level. So I was a watcher and a lover of horse racing.

JA: So obviously at some point you started betting on it. How long would you say it took you before you started to actually turn a profit?

MG: Putting hand on heart to say I’m making my living from betting… approximately 40 years!

That might sound a long apprenticeship and it most certainly was, but back in the day there was no computer. It was hard copy newspapers really and what was available to you was very poor in terms of what we have today…

And of course there is no book written that would truthfully show you how to win consistently and if there is, of all the books that I’ve read, I haven’t found that book yet. We can all back winners and we do. We can do that with your granny’s hat pin if you want. We’ve had systems, hunches, but nothing that would sustain an income.

So when I say 40 years, I went through the ups and the downs of all early punters, not really having a strategy, not really knowing what I’m doing, just having a bet. So you’re never going to win like that. But in those 40 years, in the latter part of those 40 years, I learned why horses might lose and that gives me the edge now to why horses might win.

I would never say this horse won’t win because that’s arrogance and I wouldn’t be arrogant, but knowing why they might lose is a real, real edge. And this might not sound very obvious, and I think it’s quite a simple point, but I now do not look for winners. When I’m looking through a race, I’m not looking to see who will win this race. I’m looking to see am I going to have a bet or not, and that’s quite a subtle difference and it’s a big difference.

Betting is dead easy. Anyone can do that. But to make a consistent profit, that’s the key.

JA: Obviously you talk about the highs and lows and we all certainly make mistakes. Would you say there are any particular mistakes that stand out for you?

MG: Yes, indeed, and making the same mistake is the biggest mistake that I made and I think it’s the mistake that most punters starting out do. You repeat that mistake.

It could be something that’s running on the wrong going, something that’s got a bad draw, you might be backing a horse over fences that is coming off from hurdle racing and vice-versa, going the other way, and they really are minefields. But if you’re in the bookmakers or you’re going through the newspaper, you’ll probably bet on one of those, and it’s those kinds of mistakes that once you’ve lost enough money then you’ll stop making them.

So with me, making mistakes and repeating those mistakes is the biggest mistake, and once you learn that then you’ll stop it. You learn that and then you try to find out why a horse may win or may not win.

JA: So I guess you’d say the key is very much patience and constantly learning. There are no shortcuts.

MG: There are no shortcuts and you have to be patient and you have to instil in yourself disciplines and, it really depends on how far you want to take your racing. Most people are happy to remain as punters and they will remain losing punters…

Yes, they’ll have a winner and we all know, we’ve all been there, once you’ve had a winner you’ve forgotten all your losers but you never really get in front and I think that’s where most people are happy to remain, the once, twice, three times a year punters. They’re happy. They’re perhaps playing with £20, £25, if it’s gone, it’s gone. It doesn’t affect them. But if you want to take the business of horse race betting professionally, you have to stop having fun bets. If you’re losing it’s no fun and they are not fun bets and you have to get beyond that hurdle, for want of a better phrase, of having fun bets. Cut them out.

JA: Bearing all that in mind, what’s the number one piece of advice you would give a new starter?

MG: Don’t bet!

It’s very difficult and I can say that today and understand what it means. If someone had told me that 40 years ago, I would have not taken his advice. I would have bet. So what I would say to a new person is don’t bet.

Practice, practice, practice until you can sustain losses, knowing that the win will come, it will bring back those losses and then you will turn a profit. And you’re into golf so you’ll probably know who I’m talking about, the South African golfer, Gary Player, who said the more I practice, the luckier I get, and it’s so true in horse racing. People say you’re so lucky, you keep winning. Yes, but you didn’t see how I got here, and it’s all about practice.

JA: As well as betting yourself you’ve run successful services. When did the first come about and what made you decide to start running a service?

MG: Well I started on a forum putting up selections back in 2012. It was just something new to me. I’d never been on a forum like that before and I became popular because I was giving them winners and some people were then beginning to follow me. And I think one or two got concerned that I might just stop and move on somewhere and a couple of them said, this information is so good I’d be willing to pay £100 a month. And obviously my ears pricked up and I thought, really?

So I started thinking, I wonder if I could do a service and I thought about it, about the possibilities, and what I thought I needed and what I wanted to be was different.

I wanted to be different from most services that were already out there. And I decided number one would be honesty, and that would be the key to what I did so that if anybody asked me anything today and then asked a similar question later down the line, the answer would be exactly the same. And I kind of thought, through experience, if you’ve got this honesty you’re already set apart from most of the services.

Transparency, that was key, and also accessibility. If people wanted to talk to me through email then I would reply to them out of courtesy as soon as possible. I was always confident, because of the 40 years I’d done, that I could remain profitable and consistently provide the winners. And whoever followed me, I was certain that long term, because long term is so important, that if they followed me long term then they would win with me.

Also, anyone who knows me knows that my sport is horse racing and always has been and I would never knowingly do anything that would bring the sport into disrepute. And so I was quite happy to start a service, keep it clean, keep it honest and then no way would the sport be hurt by me. And that was really what made me say give it a go. So First Favourite was born. I went public as a paying service in 2013, but my own personal betting remained as it was and as it still is.

JA: Obviously running the service is very different to just placing the bets yourself. What do you find are the main challenges from doing that and actually providing information to people?

MG: Well, some days it is a real challenge. Staying honest is okay. I’m happy with that and that’s not a challenge. And I don’t do hype but what I do try to do is convey what is happening each week through a Sunday weekly summary so that my clients know exactly what my thoughts are, what we’re doing, where we are, where we’re going.

Because First Favourite is very selective, we have many no bet days and that in itself brings its own frustration and pressures. It puts pressure on the next selection because if you’ve gone three, four, five, six days with no bet, everyone thinks this one must be going to win. So that’s quite a pressure and I do feel that.

That said, consistently we get a better than 55% strike rate year after year, so my clients expect winners. And should the inevitable happen, which it does, and we have two or three consecutive losses, it’s their money that I’ve lost them and that does bother me…

It’s something I care deeply about. And that turns the pressure up again to quite a degree because I know my clients, they’re expecting me to deliver winners and when I’m not, I feel the hurt. And I lose my money as well. It’s not that I’m asking them to do something that I’m not doing. I’m doing exactly the same.

That said, the client base that I’ve got is fantastic. I’ve got their trust, I’ve got their support and it’s brilliant. I can say I’ve never had a cross word with anyone and I’ve never had to fend off the email of abuse and that’s all credit to them.

Because of the success that they’ve enjoyed with me today, and that’s anybody that’s been with me since March of this year, 2017, back to when I started, 2013, and there’s a lot of them that have been with me for that period, the size of their bets have increased because with winning it increases confidence and they’ve increased their bets.

So I’m aware that when I give a selection there is a lot of money on. But I take that pressure willingly, not gladly because it’s a lot of pressure, but I take it willingly because I knew what I wanted to do when I started out. And the process that I use for First Favourite I know long term will win and so do my clients. And I think that’s why I don’t get any abuse. They expect to have losses but they know long term they’ll get it back and then some.

JA: There’s a bit of a punter cliché that favourites offer no value and you’ve got to bet long shots. So why have you decided to focus on favourites?

MG: That is so true. I think the accepted percentage is something like 31-32% of favourites win, but I’ve hit something like 55% in First Favourite. I don’t know how many thousands of hours that I’ve spent getting to this point, it’s frightening, but I’ve studied, studied and I got good at what I did.

At higher prices good is 18, 20, 23% strike rate, winners to bets. But even with a strike rate around 20%, say, the probability of a long losing run is still there, and the probability around a 20% strike rate is something like 36, 37, 38 losing bets. It’s only a probability but it means it can happen.

When I took the knowledge that I had to get me to that kind of percentage strike rate, I just had one of those what ‘would happen if?’ moments and what I said was, what would happen if I put my strategy, my knowledge to favourites only? And it was like, bingo, there it is. I went from 20% to almost 60% strike rate just by putting it into favourites.

But even with 60% strike rate, as it was, there were a lot of low priced favourites winning so I put a cap at odds of 1/2. The logic there was if you can get 50% return on an investment, that’s pretty damn good. So I capped it at 1/2 and that reduced the strike rate, but only slightly, to around 57% year after year. But I only claim 55% for two reasons; one, if I claim 57% and we hit 56, people can shoot at me. So I only claim 55 and I haven’t dropped below 55. So I’m not a target today to be shot at.

The average winning price is around evens. So the maths are there; long term you can’t lose if you stay with it. If you’re in and out, jumping in and out, altering your stake up and down, up and down, you are likely not to win. But within the members area of First Favourite I have a plan. If you follow that plan, keep to the discipline that I suggest, then you should, we should end up winning. We’re not gambling. We’ve taken the gamble out. We’ve now become investors and that’s how I see First Favourite today.

JA: Within the analysis of favourites, you obviously look at lots of different parameters, suitability on the ground etc. Would you say there’s maybe one or two in particular that really stand out, if you could give a tip to anyone in what to look for in a good favourite?

MG: Yes. For me the number one thing, once you’ve decided I’ll look at this horse, which is a favourite, the number one thing is class. If the horse has the class to win its race that it’s been entered for, that’s the trick or the key. Most of the other things will follow.

If the horse has got the class, particularly if it’s got a shade more class than the others, it will overcome a draw, it will overcome unsuitable going, it will overcome that it’s not at its best distance because of its class. But once I’ve found the horse, once I’ve decided it’s got the class to win, there are many, many other factors that I run through that horse to make sure that it’s going to be a bet rather than my first decision it might win the race. So class is number one but it’s not the be all and end all.

Part two of my interview with Mel will be sent tomorrow, so do keep an eye out for that.