Finding An Angle For Your Systems

So you want to research your own racing systems eh? Great! But… where to start?

The good news is that there are loads (and loads) of start points, and if you watch, listen or read about horse racing, you’ll see plenty of ideas.

To start the ball rolling then, what about taking an existing product or service, and thinking ‘I could do that better’?

This is exactly how I started. There was a product called Trainer Trends. I bought this product because I was interested in the idea that certain trainers did well with their runners at certain tracks.

It did ok – about broke even, maybe lost a few quid – and I thought I’d have a go at doing it better.

Next I invested £400 in a copy of a truly amazing piece of software called Racing Systems Builder, and started cranking the numbers. [Side note: RSB is currently off the market].

So, like I say, an existing product that you think can be improved is a really good way to find an angle. Another big upside to such an approach is that you know it’s got potential, because there’s already been someone selling it!

Smartersig is another place from which to get ideas. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a thought-provoking monthly publication. I don’t always agree with the logic behind the articles, but there’s no doubt there are some excellent angles in there from month to month.

For instance, in the May edition, there’s an article about 2nd time out 2yo’s. I know from my own research how much the benefit of a run helps 2yo’s, and its definitely an angle that could be played into a winning system.

In fact, there are lots of possible 2yo angles – perhaps including trainers to follow; sires who excel with juveniles, etc.

Hunches can be good too… if you know about racing. Personally, I like contrarian thinking. In other words, if we accept that the odds on offer on most horses are not the ‘true probability’ of that horse winning, then there must be some horses who are sent off at longer odds than they should be.

What I mean by this is that the odds of a horse are dictated by how many people back it and for how much money. The market is actually a pretty fair guide to a horse’s chance, but it does often get it wrong.

In fact, given that the favourite wins roughly 1 in 3 races, the market gets it wrong two-thirds of the time.

Our job is to find an angle that the majority of the betting public overlooks. Some examples here are those stopwatch merchants, who keep speed ratings for horses.

I know that on the all weather especially it is possible to come out well in front using speed ratings, and I did this about ten years ago with some success.

All weather lends itself especially to this sort of approach because of the consistency of each track – not in relation to the other tracks, but to itself. I mean, they never move the running rails so the race distance is always the same; the going is pretty much always standard; horses generally run up to a similar level of form time and time again.

Of course, between the tracks, there are huge differences, and this is something you can still exploit. For instance, a horse who ran well at Lingfield last time out is likely to go off favourite or a short price if it runs at Southwell next time.

But actually, following those placed at Lingfield last time when they race at Southwell next time would lose you around a quarter of your money.

This is based, I believe, on the perception that a good all weather performance at Lingfield equates to a good all weather performance at Southwell. Not true.

Very different tracks with very different demands on a horse.

So hunches can be very powerful.

If you read racing books, you’ll get tons of ideas. And if you don’t read them, you should! It’s your business now… 😉

For instance, these are the chapter headings from Nick Mordin’s excellent ‘Betting for a Living’:

– Who is the fastest horse? (speed ratings)
– Who will lead? (pace ratings)
– Is it an all weather race? (why different horses win on AW)
– Where is your horse drawn? (the effects of the draw)
– Can your horse go the distance? (evaluating stamina – breeding is a definite angle for a product or service!)
– What does your horse look like? (paddock inspection explained)
– Is the horse outclassed? (how to assess and assign class)
– What does the trainer say? (the importance of trainer comments)
– Is the horse fit? (applying different standards to different horses)
– Should I take account of weight carried? (why variations in weight have little effect, at least according to Mordin)
– How should I bet? (staking)
– How and when to use a system?
– What performance pattern does the horse fit? (assessing patterns)
– What about the jockey? (analysing jockey stats)

And that’s just one book written by one bloke! Can you see how easy it is to find an angle yet? Have any of you suddenly picked up on an idea or two there?

Another way to find an angle is to look at the form. Personally, this is not a favourite of mine, as I don’t read the form as well as many other people.

But some shrewdies can look at a sequence of results, and see a pattern emerging. For instance, a year or so ago, it became very clear that there was a big advantage to be had by racing from a high starting stall in Kempton races around the top (tighter) turn.

Those who spotted this first made good money arbitrarily (or even better money selectively) backing high draws. You can still make money today if you’re more choosy with the top stalls you side with, but the big edge has gone.

And this is an important point. Trends and biases come and go. Lots of draw trends get washed away from season to season when the ground staff at a given track undertake drainage works, or such like. To stay ahead, you have to keep on top of things. Form analysis would highlight such changes in the bias.

As an example, I think they’ve done something up at Thirsk prior to the start of this season, because the traditional high draw bias in sprints seems to be much less marked than in previous years.

Even if you just watch racing, there are some real ‘judges’ from whom to learn. The guys on Racing UK have really raised the bar on racing broadcasting and well done to them. I have to admit to destesting the likes of Derek ‘Thommo’ Thomson, and that Jim ‘couldn’t call a one horse race’ McGrath. They’re buffoons and they’re of the last age.

It’s time for the Rishi Pasad’s and the Nick Luck’s and the Lydia Hislop’s to take command. I also really enjoy Matt Chapman, but not in a professional way – rather just for the entertainment value. 🙂

But, seriously, listen to Lydia or Nick or Rishi, note how they break down a race, how they eliminate horses on the grounds of fitness, track suitability, form etc. There are tons of ideas in there too.

OK, so we’ve got tons of ideas – now let’s see about testing them out.

There are oodles of places to research systems, some of them free, some of them not.

Researching Systems

Free Options

The free options I know of are as follows:

The Racing Post online (still partly free). The statistics feature is excellent – a quick demo of the stats feature appears in the DVD training, taking a look at trainers (A J Honeyball) and sires (Presenting).

How about Adrian Massey? The ‘Custom Report’ link is the one we’re after, and it’s hidden under ‘Favourites Statistics’, and then ‘Generate Custom Report’.

Again, there’s an example on the DVD’s with [fillies, fav, 7/2 or shorter] and then looking at race class, and last finishing position, and days since last run, and number of races run by horse in last 90 days.

OK, let’s take a look at a website called HorseRaceBase…

David Peat takes us through this in the DVD’s, and shows how immensely powerful it is as a resource, not just for researching systems, but also for looking at individual horse’s profiles.

Professor Peter May’s excellent site is well worth a look – although his products cost a small amount of money, the draw analyser and the NH system builder are very interesting tools. (And yes, if you didn’t know, he is a real professor).

But it’s not just horse racing where you can bring your skills to profitable end. The Football Data website – if you wanted to research a football system or service – is a must. Here, you can download a spreadsheet of data, and play with all sorts of variables. And the data covers all the British leagues, as well as many from Europe (all of which you can bet on these days, of course!)

Paid Options

Of course, if your budget allows, there are some ‘big boy’s toys’ in the premium ranks.

Both Timeform and Raceform have interactive databases that you can interrogate to your heart’s content. Also consider an independent but cheaper version of the computer formbook, called ‘the sportsbook’.

As you probably know, I don’t consider myself a form expert. Rather, I’m a statistical analyst. For that reason, I cannot personally vouch for the interactive form books, except to say that they do offer some highly functional research tools.

My firm preference is for Racing Systems Builder, the tool with which I have researched the vast majority of my online products, especially Trainertrackstats.

Alas, RSB is currently unavailable. I am hoping this may change in the near future.

You will find the below list of books and websites of great help.

Recommended reading:

Anything by Nick Mordin (esp. Winning Without Thinking, and Betting For A Living)

Anything by Alan Potts (esp. Against The Crowd, and The Inside Track)

US Authors, especially:

Andrew Beyer (speed ratings), James Quinn (class), Tom Ainslie (pace), Steve Davidowitz (general), and William Quirin (data analysis in handicapping).

Websites: and (of course!)

Research Websites: (look for ‘Generate Custom Report’ link) (you need to create  a user, and make a donation) (reasonably priced tools and info) (brilliant football resources website)

Premium Options: (Timeform’s interactive formbook) (independent formbook) (excellent systems research tool – unfortunately currently unavailable)



6 Responses to “Finding An Angle For Your Systems”
  1. Paul says:

    Great advice Matt – having that list in one place is very handy!

    ~ Paul

  2. Bernard Gaughran says:

    Has anyone found a place on the Internet that has saved the Racing Post ‘favorite’ information for every race? I contacted Racing Post and they do not provide this information once the race has ran. This is a huge pity because I am a software developer and I am trying to ‘automate’ the back testing of some racing systems that I have bought. However, without that information, I cannot back test it because the Racing Post ‘favorite’ information is one of the key rules.

    • Paul says:

      I know Matt replied via email earlier Bernard, but I’ll think about this later too. RSB allows you to run queries based on RP favourite, but even that’s lost it’s effectiveness lately because what’s published in the newspaper is very often different than what’s in the (much more accurate) online version. I’m a bit busy at the moment, but will check into it later for you…

    • Paul says:

      Bernard, just to clarify, do you need the actual data for this? If so, I think you might struggle. I wonder how RSB are getting it? The RP must license it surely, because (I think) other newspapers use their odds too.

  3. Bernard Gaughran says:

    I need the actual historical race by race RP favorite data. This information is only available online on the R.P. site for today’s race. They don’t publish the historical data. And yes, I would love to know how RBS get it. Can anyone find out?

    • Paul says:

      You know what Bernard… it wouldn’t surprise me if someone collates the info for RSB manually. That maybe sounds a bit silly, but really, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Try sending them an email to ask about that. I’d be interested to know too.

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