Horse racing

I’ve never got into horse racing, as I usually couldn’t tell a [insert name of some type of horse] from [insert another].

I know so little about it that I’m not tempted.

But I am fascinated by the complexity of betting on horse races. Terms like “I’ll have an each-way trixie and a lucky 31, all at SP.” And the bookie knows exactly how many horses names will be called (at least five and at most eight) and within minutes nearly 100 bet calculations will be made.

As I was sitting in a betting shop watching some cricket, I decided to try out an idea I’ve had about the way people bet.

I knew nothing at all about any of the horses, or the jockeys, or the trainers. I made no allowances for the race course, the horses recent performances [“form”], or racing conditions.

All I cared about was how many places would be paid out for an each way bet. Just a warning for Americans, you don’t use the same terms as in the UK or Ireland, so what we call a “place” isn’t the same as what you think it means.

I sat through five races and despite misgivings about one of them (too many horses ranked very close together), I duly picked and wrote down my choices. I did NOT however, go to a cashier and place any of these.

The Curragh (a race course in Ireland), the 4.15pm race. The payout for each way was 1/4 odds for either first or second. In the 4.45pm race at the same venue, the each way was 1/4 odds for the first three to finish.

Leicester (in the East Midlands of England), the 4.25pm race. One fifth odds for the first three to cross the line.

Downpatrick (which I assumed to be in Ireland), the 4.30pm race. Again one fifth odds for the first three.

Windsor the 4.40pm race, one quarter odds for the first two.

My picks were Hamza at 6/1, Brazen at 10/1, Ironmill Lad at 8/1, Understory at 5/1 and Sassaway at 8/1.

I chose them with the following principles: how many places were there? Take the horse that has odds putting it closest outside the each way places. So in my first race where the first two would pay out, Hamza was the third favourite. In a couple of races there was a cluster of choices on the same odds (Ironmill Lad’s race for example). There I picked the one that was drifting out. That means the horse the punters were moving their money AWAY from. This worked brilliantly with Sassaway but failed with Ironmill Lad. Where it looked like the odds might be getting shorter (say they were 8/1 but had been 9/1 earlier) I would “take the price”, otherwise I was taking “SP” (the price quoted as the race started).

My choice of bet was an “each way Lucky 31”. I would have put £1 on each selection, which would have cost me £62.

The fun is that this would have automatically selected for me the following combinations:

Five singles:

Hamza to finish first or second.

Brazen to finish first, second or third.

Ironmill Lad to finish first, second or third.

Understory to finish first or second.

Sassaway to finish first, second or third.

Ten doubles:

Hamza and Brazen.

Hamza and Ironmill Lad.

Hamza and Understory.

Hamza and Sassaway.

Brazen and Ironmill Lad.

Brazen and Understory.

Brazen and Sassaway.

Ironmill Lad and Understory.

Ironmill Lad and Sassaway.

Understory and Sassaway.

Ten trebles:

Every possible combination of three of the five horses.

Five fourfold accumulators:

Every possible combination of four of the five horses.

Finally, a fivefold accumulator: all five selections to win or place.

I was effectively making 62 selections (31 bets with either a win or a place) and there were 13 possible winning results for me. In three races, I was winning if my pick finished in the top three. In the other two races, a top-two finish would be needed. I had thirteen possible chances of winning something.

Hamza finished second. Brazen won. Ironmill Lad was in the top two for a long time but didn’t finish in the first five. Understory looked good for most of his race but was well beaten, with a top jockey (who I would have backed if I’d done any kind of research) winning by some distance. Sassaway won well.

If I’d put £10 on each to win, I’d have spent £50 and got £190 back, a profit of 280%.

My Lucky 31 going £1 each way would have cost £62. I would have got £250 back, a profit of 303.2%.

I’m not tempted, but I can see how it might be compelling. And I admit I would have been pretty excited while the races were running.

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