For most of my life the sport of horse racing has not meant much to me. I’d never followed it. Never been interested in it. Never had a bet on any horse ever. Couldn’t name any horse and the only race I’d heard of was the Grand National. To me it seemed a bit foolish. People risk money on how fast an animal may be able to run? Why risk it? And how is it entertaining? Plus it has always seemed a bit cruel to me. Though I imagine the horses are treated well they seem to get spanked and run ragged and you hear of the unlucky ones that fall and are “destroyed”. Football, tennis and the occasional boxing match does it for me. Horse racing is for the wealthy and also for the gamblers.
Then what happened? A good friend of mine called Marc started paying some attention to this sport and would talk to me about it. A lot of it went over my head but the odd phrase would stick and intrigue me. There was talk of a novice horse that was set to run in a big race. The horse was called Min and this was easy to remember. It was unheard of and mostly under the radar at first but people in the know had heard of it and had money on it. Every time I heard about this Min it seemed more people in the World believed in this horse and the odds of it winning were getting shorter as it appeared more likely to happen. The fact you could have a bet on something when its price was 25-1 and then see the odds slowly come down to 3-1 over the months must be quite pleasing. It got my attention definitely. Who were these original people that knew about this horse? Are there people out there just looking at a novice horse stroll around the stable and see some potential there? I knew nothing and came up with my own stories. The owner that bought Min saw something and he only buys the best. The trainer had a reputation. I never even knew that the trainer of a horse was as important as it is. I literally knew nothing. And with my 0% knowledge I’d booked a ticket with a group of dudes to go to spend a day at Cheltenham Festival 2016. It sounded like a great day out. The people going knew about horses and could advise me what to bet on. It’s all just a bit of fun and I was never going to risk much. If I lost then whatever and if I won some money then that’s even more fun. So the trip was booked and nearer the time I decided I would have a look at what it was all about.
Marc continued to tell me things over a few pints from time to time. He seemed really interested in this horse racing lark and to be honest I just didn’t get it. He showed me this Min in action. With no effort Min absolutely blew away the horses against it in the race. As I watched Min on YouTube pulling away from the rest I saw a glimpse of what could make this a good sport to follow. People had money on this horse at mad prices like 50-1 when nobody gave a shit about it. And here it was with the World seemingly at its hooves. For every £1 bookies were giving £50!? For this beast!? Bloody hell! I logged into my Bet365 account to have a look. The price for Min was 8-1. Bastard! Why did I not act upon what my friend was saying weeks ago? It was seeming less like a bet and more like an investment opportunity that I had been presented with and decided to pass on. Now the price was 8-1 and that doesn’t seem so enticing and surely the price won’t get shorter. It’s still a novice right? Maybe this thing works like shares and the price will go the opposite way eh? So I leave it. Checked back close to the time when Cheltenham Festival was starting and the godforsaken odds were now 3-1. Why didn’t I put a bet on at 8-1!? Idiot! Haha.
I had to get creative and put a bet on with Min and a small football accumulator. If the football results go right then it’s like better odds on Min. I had to get involved somehow. Also there were other horse’s names that had filtered through to my brain that were worth betting on. Douvan, Annie Power and Faugheen. The prices on all of these horses weren’t great and I’d been told to wait until betting sites have some offers. Fast forward to the first day of Cheltenham. I opened some new betting sites and had some amazing deals. They offer you great prices for the best horses and I guess they hope the horses fail. I put a few bets on and there was potentially crazy money to be won if it went right and I wasn’t even risking much. I woke up on the Tuesday of the festival pretty hungover after two bottles of red wine the night before with a good friend of mine. Felt like crap. But it was a sunny day and there was anticipation in the air. The other dudes had been talking about and looking forward to this day for months. We had a crate of beer and were due to meet up at a house to watch the days racing. Never in my life had I had plans to watch a race and place bets. It was new for me but I was looking forward to it. I liked the way we began the day beforehand. Waking up hungover and early made it feel like a real festival. Like it was Glastonbury or something. Instead of the first band we would look to the first race. I went to Marc’s house with the paper (the bastard Sun of all things). The paper had racing news and a free £1 bet. We watched The Morning Line. Then we headed into town for beer, breakfast and to go to the bookies to put our placepot bets on. I’d never even put a bet on at the bookies before and ridiculously it felt like such a “man” thing to do. We were men as fuck that day. Full English breakfast, beer, bets, horse racing. Next we went round to our friend’s house. Amongst the excitement I’d read more about the racing that day. I knew all the favourites and had plans to bet on every race. I could tell I was getting sucked in. It was down to the occasion and I guess the anticipation of the others was rubbing off on me. If Min wins the race then I win a nice amount of money with the potential for much more if the day’s accumulators win at my lovely enhanced newbie prices. Others in the group had more money at stake and so it must have been a bit nerve wracking for them I would have thought. When it came to tips on who to win the first race many were saying watch out for this prick called Altior who was a real danger at 4-1. Who the fuck was this evil Altior character? There wasn’t supposed to be a villain. Last minute panic caused the majority of us to hedge bets and bet on Altior in case of an upset. There was a great offer to get your money back upto £25 as a free bet if your first race pick didn’t win. £25 on Altior from everyone. Except me who stupidly already had an account with this Skybet website but couldn’t remember the details. It was too late. The horses were off. And in that moment I got it. Something clicked for me. I saw them all running and there was a buzz from it. Money could be won or lost based on this beautiful animal that was bombing around the course. It’s absolute insanity definitely. But there’s something about it. It’s like a combination of a great sporting event mixed in with the lottery except with less to win but with an actual good chance of winning. You find yourself willing your horse on and every hurdle or fence fills you with dread but elation after your horse lands unscathed. By the time Min reached the last hurdle we were all on out feet biting our knuckles, drinks forgotten about. Such drama unfolding right in this very moment. I knew right then I was going to follow this sport more closely. Of course the evil Altior stormed to victory down the final stretch. It had to be that way. Altior pulled some cash away from me but also pulled me into this sport. Min came second. All that build up came to a crescendo in one dramatic moment. The second that Altior won it seemed so much longer than a second. There were people around the country that would have lost thousands there and people that would have won thousands. The boys around me were glad to have put £25 on Altior but the overall feeling was that this was the public versus the bookies and they had taken a 1-0 lead for the day.
The next race was the mighty Douvan. This horse is just ridiculous. The clips I’ve seen of him have shown him win his races with no effort. He seems to always have so much more energy in the tank and maybe has never been pushed to his maximum. He was a dead cert. No way he could fail. And I had a great 4-1 enhanced price bet on him to win. But so far in life I had one experience with horse racing and that was Min. The favourite and the one I backed that had failed to win. And what did I know? Nothing. As Douvan was running around the track I once again realised the insanity of it all. It was just an animal that breathed, ate, slept and crapped. Does it really care how fast it is? Probably not. The horses have no idea that people are betting stupid amounts of money on them. It’s crazy. Doubt filled me. Douvan wasn’t winning. He seemed invincible but it wasn’t to be. It just wasn’t his day either. Like Min he was going to be unluck- oh shit, he’s winnin- shit he’s won! He battered them! Without a care in the world! What a horse. I check my account and there’s a load of lovely profit. Fun and money at the same damn time. Everybody is happy and won some money there. Champagne is passed around. Two very different feelings after two races but it had been much more exciting than watching Louis Van Gaal’s Man United team pass the ball from side to side lately.
The rest of the day was all about free bets from the offers for me. Some won, some didn’t. It was a profitable day and a lot of fun. There were some horses that won that had really cool comeback stories and I was unaware of these. It was pretty cool to see though. Some people in our little group won quite significant amounts and that was awesome. The next day started in a similar fashion which added to the festival feeling. Breakfast, beer, bets, pub. Racing, excitement, winning, losing. It was a whole conversation I’d missed out on previously. It’s nice to get interested in a new sport and realise that these events have been going on for years and will continue to do so. Thursday was the day we went down to Cheltenham to see the races. It was rammed. The atmosphere was amazing. It was St. Patrick’s Day and there was Irish music on and everybody was on the Guinness in the Sun. Everybody seemed to be winning too. Since the bookies took an early 1-0 they had been mostly spanked ever since. I won some and lost some. Had a lovely little accumulator that finished on the Friday but three of them raced and won on the Thursday whilst I was there. Again, some of the lads did really well. It was great to see the jockeys sat upon the horses. In real life both the horses and the fences are bigger than you’d imagine. It must be pretty scary being a jockey. You’re sat high upon a powerful horse and it jumps over 5 foot fences. A fall at that height could be disaster so it takes some balls especially as you could potentially land in front of a stampede. It was a great day at the festival and then we went out in Cheltenham town which was also rammed. It’s a cool town and we had a curry and many beers. It was a bit of a party vibe and already people were signing up verbally to come back next year.
The next day I woke up early and tired. It had been a hectic week off work and it was the last day of the festival. For me it turned out to be the most profitable of the four days racing. It was another day on the beer. And by the time the last race ended I had that end of festival sadness. It had been such fun. It had been the topic of conversation all week as we checked odds and bets and news and tips and form as we watched and drank and cheered. I really never knew I’d even give a shit. But I was hooked. I started looking at the Grand National and started looking at the next day’s racing. To a lesser extent this racing lark happens daily. Some people had such insight when it came to the horses. People knew about form and which horse prefers which ground. Which horse has more potential than it has shown. I want that knowledge! It’s incredible to have a bet on a horse based on something you think could be a crucial factor in the race and see it come true. And it sucks to bet on a horse and then see the odds go crap and then watch as the horse seems disinterested and puts in a poor showing. It’s all a gamble but when controlled it is a lot of fun.
The thing that intrigued me the most was the uncertainty surrounding tips and the odds on horses. This is just really interesting to me. A horse can be a massive favourite and then just before the race everything changes and as the race starts it may only be third or fourth favourite whilst a horse nobody seemed to care about mere minutes ago becomes the new favourite. Just what is that about? Was there something in the air? What changed? It’s like there’s a flutter of chatter…a mild panic…a new hope…a spanner in the works…some crucial piece of information previously overlooked… I’ve seen a horse get tipped and I’ve just looked at it and been confused. Maybe it has been 16-1 say. Then I carry on looking and it’s 14-1. Then 12-1. Then 8-1. Then 7-2. And then it goes off as favourite and wins. It’s impressive. It’s like as the information filtered through to the public the whole market changed accordingly and it can happen really quickly. And it can go the other way too. A favourite just drifts and does nothing in the race. Did somebody at the stable see the horse sneeze or something? Was its piss unusual that morning? Did it refuse to eat its weetabix? Just what the hell happened? Haha. The absolute truth is that the horse is unaware of the expectation it carries unlike the weight it carries. It doesn’t care whether its price gets shorter or drifts it will still do what it would have done. Only our perceptions and predictions change. I guess the deeper you get into that the closer you get to being able to make such informed choices that you could win more than you lose on a regular basis. I tried an experiment the other day based purely on odds. I’d had some reasonable success on betting small amounts on certain horses and I’d noticed that the odds on the winners got shorter. People out there knew things so they bet things and then the bookies knew those same things and reacted. It’s a lot like the stock market in a way. So my experiment was this: I bet a low amount on a horse about to race that I know nothing about. I will read nothing about the race. I’ll know nothing about any of the horses. I won’t look at current favourite. I’ll look at previous odds and current odds and let the market tell me things that I have no way of knowing. If a horse stood out under this condition I’d bet it. I found one such example. The first price it had had was 16-1. The next price it had had was 8-1. Then it seemed to be moving a lot between 8-1 and 5.5-1. There was the experiment. A small bet was placed each way on that one. There was 10 minutes until the race and the price continued to change. It went to 3.5-1 and was joint second favourite. It was close but that horse won. There was a reason it went from 16-1 to 3.5-1 and that was because money was getting thrown at it so the bookmakers reacted. I have no idea why money was being thrown at it. But whoever was putting money on it did know why and that’s all that matters. I don’t really need to know why as long as it works sometimes. Also a lot of it is probably similar to share prices in the fact that little details can set off pessimism. Maybe loads of people bet on a horse because they like the name or colour of it. It probably has the same outcome. The odds get shorter. But not because the horse has woken up the right side of the bed that morning and has the look of a Champion but because a bunch of randomers like the white colour of the horse. I definitely need to look into this more. But I guess that’s what some smart people do. Look at odds and let the people tell you where to put your money. The skill is betting when the price is still good and not when it’s too short to matter. There have been times where I’ve tried this and just as the race is about to start I could cash out right there for profit. That intrigues me a lot. Studying figures is basically what my brain loves to do.
I have so much more to write about horse racing. I could write a whole blog on Douvan where I just throw superlatives at him. There’s the excitement and insanity of the Grand National where I had the absolute outsider in a sweepstake and the thing went and came 3rd against all odds. There’s the fact Aintree was like Cheltenham part 2. There’s more to come in the coming weeks. It is a new hobby of mine and it’s great to know it’s here to stay. There’s also the negative side of things to address at some point. The Vegan part of me (that has been locked away for now) should not enjoy this sport. It can be cruel and the people that want it banned have a point on some level. That’s for another blog though. It’s a grey issue in a grey world. For now I just wanted to get some thoughts out on this topic as it has been a great addition to mundane life over the last few weeks and I look forward to more events in future. Scottish Grand National next!