Mark Cruickshank learned about the bookmaking industry from the ground up as the Racing Manager with Betchoice/Unibet and is currently the Betting Product Manager at William Hill. Having worked closely with big betting bookies who have taken on some heavy hitters, Mark has some interesting views to share with punters.
Punting Insights You’ll Find
- Why Mark could never be a pro punter
- What the difference is between a good judge and a good punter
- How to use futures betting to your advantage
- How he uses barrier trials to find blackbookers
- His favourite trainers and jockeys to follow
- Mark Cruickshank @MCruicky
David Duffield: Welcome to the show Mark, thanks for joining us. A lot of the listeners will know your name from the Betchoice and Unibet days. What did you do in your role there because I think you were there for quite a while.
Mark Cruickshank: I was doing some part time stuff for Mark Morrissey and Col Tidy when they first started Betchoice. I was also doing some stuff with TVN doing some producing for them at the time. As soon as Mark and Col opened the doors for betting everyday, fixed-odds and trots and dogs and that sort of stuff, I came on board. Doing a couple of days a week there at Warwick Farm in the old tote building which is a pretty archaic old office. It was an unbelievable experience. To see that business grow from where it did to then Mark and Colin end up selling to Unibet a couple of years ago. It was a really, really exciting time. I learned so much off Mark Morrissey in particular, spending a lot of time with him. He’s one of the … I still regard him as the best form judge I’ve ever seen. Just in terms of everything I’ve learned off him has helped me with punting, also moreso working my way up with him at Betchoice.
David Duffield: What do you think he does differently to the market or to other bookmakers, other punters? What did you learn from Mark Morrissey?
Mark Cruickshank: I just think that … Obviously it became a lot harder for Mark to keep doing the form as the business grew because he was overseeing it as the CEO and founder and all that. Then having to do the day to day dealing, particularly as the business got bigger, dealing with the lawyers and marketing, and all the race field legislation, which is obviously a huge topic and looks like it’s going to continue to be a huge topic going forward. Just in terms of historically, because he learned from Mark Read, where a lot of significant form judges around Australia, and punters, seemed to have learned a lot of stuff from Mark Read. Then also when he was running the stand, the double stand for Bill Hurley, those traditional lead ups to the feature races, which was a specialty of his, just learning little bits and pieces like that, you can’t buy that information. I’ve always said to him, “You should just go back to punting because you’d become one of the best. They wouldn’t know where to look if you got back into it.” I don’t know what his current plans are but there’s not many better judges than him.
David Duffield: I saw an article a while ago that he’d had a long running battle with Sean Bartholomew, did you see much of that first hand?
Mark Cruickshank: Yes, I was obviously there during those times. I get along quite well with Sean, speak to him regularly over the years. I remember when I was a young kid at the races. Dad was a bookmaker and he used to stand on the, up at Randwick at rail stands there, in between Stewie Davidson and Sean Bartholomew. I’ve known Sean for a long time and he certainly … I just saw him recently and he’s still… Not many people have the respects that Sean has, particularly in the marketplace. You might be able to say to yourself that you can defy the market at times but Sean is a huge part of that, particularly the Sydney ring. He certainly is … If he’s backing one and keeps backing one they can turn really significantly. He is a very astute punter, he’s been out a long time.
David Duffield: Two pretty good players going at it head to head. I’ve heerd they’ve had some really good battles over a number of years.
Mark Cruickshank: Yeah, probably frustrated Sean, I think one of the keys points in the article was Mark never bet Sean always what we wanted, but then would let him on some huge bets at time when it suited us. Probably Betchoice, Unibet was a bit different in those days, particularly Betchoice where we would… Particularly for the feature races we’d have a bit of a game plan from the start of the week and it wouldn’t matter who it was. We were happy to bet them, we’d set a price. I think that was probably the real fun of when I was with Mark. If you went to him with a firm view and he supported it in a way we were happy to have a fair crack at horses like in the Derby with It’s A Dundeel in Melbourne I think we put up 2/1 for the whole week and just let all comers on and didn’t turn it off.
I think it ended up getting out to 9/4 on the day, and did probably come back into 7/4 on the day. If you stand your ground in those big races, I mean it’s a lot easier to because you’re going to hold a lot more money, but then when you get to those midweek races where there’s not much room to go it’s probably a different story. Particularly on those big races if you stand your ground and have a bit of a crack. That was probably the whole lot of my time learning off Mark and that sort of thing. If we had a really big opinion of a horse, be it back or lay, we would have a go and let punters on. Rain Affair when it was evens into about $1.60 when I think the Kiwi horse beat Rain Affair off at Warwick Farm.
I think it was the Apollo Stakes maybe, or the Expressway. Things like that stick in your mind because you don’t beat these guys all the time, they’re so, so smart. They do it for a living. People that punt for a living I’m very envious of. I don’t have the ability to do it. I don’t have the patience or the discipline that these guys have. Occasionally when I was doing the bookmaking it was great to get one on your side and particularly with Mark behind you.
David Duffield: You mentioned taking a stand against a horse, a horse like say It’s A Dundeel in the Derby, what are you looking for to go one out and oppose the market and have a big position on a race?
Mark Cruickshank: One of the times it had been with the preparation the horse had. Mark was huge on and that’s something, because I used to do a lot of the feature races there which I still have a bit of a soft spot for, I love looking for value in the future races, particularly the Golden Slipper. Historically if it looked like it had been up for too long that was usually a reason for us to take a lot of horses on. Alternatively if they haven’t had enough runs in their legs we’d be happy to oppose them for a lot as well. Things like that, the historical lead-ups to races were huge for particularly feature races, where you can be standing horses for half a million or a million dollars. That was probably the key factor with us, the preparation leading up. Any hiccup for those sort of races was just an instant negative. Any things that we thought, particularly off last run, if we saw there was a sign of weakness in that run we’d be really, really keen to oppose it in the big race.
David Duffield: You talked about the doubles betting that you guys would be well known for, and that you have a particular fancy for the Golden Slipper. As a punter how do you attack those? There’s a fair percentage to beat but at the same time you can get pretty good odds.
Mark Cruickshank: Yeah, for sure. With the futures, from a personal point of view, obviously I no longer for work for Unibet/Betchoice but as a punter looking at those things I’ve always thought that the closer it gets to final field the less you should be having a bet, unless you know the horse is definitely running in that race. I wouldn’t be taking single figures, nearly never, the closer you to get final field, moreso because of the fact that you’re just putting yourself in such a dangerous position, if something can go wrong when you’ve only got to wait a certain amount of time before the final field and you get your money back if disaster happens. Probably the other big part of that is that you have to remember that the bookies on track on that day haven’t laid the horse, nine times out of 10.
They’re going to be pretty keen to get something out of the horse as well. The percentages in those big races are also pretty strong. The marketplace is very strong as you know, particularly if you’re near Melbourne. The edge isn’t probably is big. The long range ones, particularly the Slipper, I’m pretty obsessed with the barrier trials and have been for quite some time. I’ve always found there was a little edge there for me, particularly in that sort of thing. With the futures, particularly the big races I don’t think you want to be steaming into the favorites when you’ve got so much time before, horses going up seven or eight dollars. Puissance De Lune for a great example was $9 Melbourne Cup favorite after winning the race on the last day of the Carnival. That was just complete madness really.
Then winning first up was into $5.50 we put out a thing betting $12 when there was still quite a while to go. It was over Betfair and that sort of thing and punters still couldn’t get enough out of it. There’s so many things that can go wrong and I really would advise punters steering clear of taking short odds on the futures. If you’ve got an edge, particularly with a horse that you know is running there. That’s probably one thing that with Twitter, things like Racenet, Racing And Sports, if you keep following those news snippets, even listening to people like Ron Dufficy, Deane Lester on the radio you get little hints as to where horses are going. I think that’s probably the biggest advantage you can get with the futures. If you can find a little lead for a horse that’s going there and it’s 80/1 or 50/1 or 40/1, and you like the horse, I think that’s really where your edge lies in the futures.
David Duffield: Do you ever lay back closer to the start? If you’ve backed a horse at say 80/1 and the day of the race it’s 8/1 or 10/1, would you just let it ride or do you lay some of it back?
Mark Cruickshank: It depends the situation, probably. Being not a pro punter like the others who probably let it ride, a lot of them, I tend to just see what position I’m in. Then I’ll maybe save on a few other horses rather than crush. Basically if I’ve had a bet nine times out of 10 I think it’s going to run a very good race so I’d rather hang onto it, but I might save on one or two runners that might have caught my eye closer to the event.
David Duffield: You talked about barrier trials and it can be an edge there. I don’t suppose you’ll give away too much but I know that our own Trial Spy’s had plenty of success. What are you looking for in barrier trials in general terms?
Mark Cruickshank: I love the barrier trials. I used to go out there a fair bit and sit with Mark Shean and learn a few things off him. Also Mo Hartley used to be up there up the top Randwick trials there. They’d all get there and have a little chat and you’d pick up little bits and pieces off them. A lot of the time I love seeing horses trial away from home, for me that’s my number one thing with the trials. It’s very easy for horses to look to trial well at home, but I think the trip away from home and they barrier trial and they can do that well. Peter Snowden made a living out of it for Darley. A lot of the time his good horses would trial away from home first go.
Second go they might come home just to have a really quiet time. I know that Chris Waller seems to follow that trend now, particularly we see his horses trial at Randwick. Guy Walter’s taking a lot of horses to Hawkesbury. It is a little edge and definitely something to follow. I would also caution people looking at the barrier trials to be very wary of horses that trial in fast time that don’t have a really well known trainer and most likely will have a lightweight jockey on board. They might look to smash the clock but there’s a lot of things that are a little bit against that. They’re usually pushed out to line, usually revved up, maybe for sale or maybe trying to impress some owners. And a lightweight jockey is also some that a lot of people tend to because they run fast times in trials.
David Duffield: Working as a bookmaker what did you find to be the main things that really separated winning punters from losing ones? You did mention patience and discipline, which are obvious but also very important. Anything else that you’d think would separate, because you’d see some really successful guys and also probably some mug punters as well.
Mark Cruickshank: Even from a personal point of view looking at them and trying to compare them. As I said earlier I would love to have the discipline to be a professional punter. I think you put that much time into the form, but you might be able to be a great judge. I think there’s a huge difference between being a decent judge and a good punter or a decent punter. Those who make a living out of it to me have discipline, patience, they don’t chase, which is to me obviously, that’s one thing where people seem to, and myself included, you can chase. Also emotion, they don’t tend to let too much emotion get involved. I think… You have bad beats or horses get slaughtered.
They probably should have won, they get carved up in final, they missed the boat behind. It is very tricky. You think in your head you’ve found the right horse, you probably have, it hasn’t won the race. You look at your balance it hasn’t gone up, it’s gone down. I think it is hard to get away from that but the pros seem to be able to do that. They also seem to have in their head that this isn’t the last race so there’s no going to Ascot or going to the meetings where you’re not familiar with and you might be just following bets there, or looking to just try and back a favorite, just salvage something the day. They just seem to be very well set up in terms of, in the morning they probably have certain prices where they want to take. They’ve even got the discipline then to wait for the betting to go up in the ring which probably enables them to get on some more money.
Whereas a lot of smaller punters tend to bet early to try and snap up the big overs. A lot of the time that ends up getting back out because the big money hasn’t gone on during the actual 35 minutes of the on cause fluctuations going up. Probably the other thing they don’t do, they don’t fall into the path of changing bet size too much, it seems to be pretty regular pattern, be it how they bet, what size they bet to, the confidence they have. These are all things that in theory and hindsight seem really easy to do but I think once you’re in battle during a day having a bet it is hard to keep those things in place.
David Duffield: Very true. I wrote an article a while ago because I liked Mike Tyson’s quote. That was, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get hit in the head.” Same with betting.
Mark Cruickshank: No doubt in the world. One thing I have found, towards the end of last year I found that the betting and trading and that sort of stuff is … I think this might sound a bit tacky but I think if you start to enjoy your punting and the form and that sort of challenge again I think that’s actually … When you lose enjoyment of it and lose the fun of it, I know that also sounds a little bit weird, having fun, but I think once it gets out of that level, when it overtakes parts of your life or your mood and that sort of stuff, even your work or whatever I think that’s when you really got to probably assess it and try and scale it back. Whether it be less bets or bringing the bet size down, I think then you can keep enjoying it.
David Duffield: When you’re analysing a race what’s the process and how does it differ, if at all, from when you’re framing a market as opposed to looking to have a bet as a punter?
Mark Cruickshank: I suppose in a previous job I would price every runner Wednesday, Saturday and most likely Thursday as well. Whereas now that I’ve got a new position with a new company I’m not involved in that, I’ve moved away from the bookmaking side of it. There’s little bits of it but most of all I’ve moved away from that. Now I’m looking is it a horse … I’ve got a database of the New South Wales horses. Then I’ve got horses written with comments that are in upcoming races. I’ll go to that race and before looking at the prices I will price that race. I won’t be doing every race, I’d just be looking at races that I was going to have a bet in, with a horse that I’ve found off the trials or off the videos or something just appealed to me about that horse.
Then I’ll price that race going SP’s, the videos, those methods are pretty much … jockey, trainer, do the speed map, it’s pretty common for a lot of people to do that. I’m not big on times and weights which is probably a failing of mine to be truthful. There does seem to be a huge shift towards the times and I know there’s some very successful people that do that. I tend to try and trust my eye with certain horses. But it is something that if I was going to go back into bookmaking, that side of it again, and pricing it for a living I would definitely have to do some work on that to try and catch up to the marketplace with that. Yeah, basically videos, trials, maps, trainers and jockeys are huge for me. If there’s a trainer I don’t like I tend to put the sword through their horse unless it’s done a lot of things to give it a positive. Jockeys it’s pretty much the same. Jockeys that aren’t profitable tend to, if they’re not profitable in a certain period they go in. It’s the same as trainers, that you’ve got to find them when they’re in form and be against them when they’re not in form.
David Duffield: On the trainer and jockey front which ones do you give a big tick to when you’re doing the form?
Mark Cruickshank: I’m an unabashed Peter Snowden fan, seem to love his horses.
David Duffield: Are you following him across now that he’s branching out on his own?
Mark Cruickshank: I’ll possibly give that a little bit of time before I get involved there. I love Guy Walter, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for him. I help him, do a little bit of stuff with Guy for a family association with horses we’ve had with him over the years. I just love talking to him. He’s a horseman. He doesn’t bet he just cares about the horse and winning. I really, really respect Guy for the way he looks after his horses and how he sets them for certain races. Particularly his record with fillies and mares is pretty much second to none. Like to see what he’s done with Streama that she keeps producing at this age. It’s pretty incredible. I really follow him. I like the combination Blake and Guy, they seem to both work well together. I love Jimmy Cassidy when he’s on because there’s not many better than him, in my opinion. Same with Nash and Hughie, when they’re on. They’re pretty much where I’m looking. I seem to avoid Damien Oliver when he comes to Sydney but in Melbourne it’s pretty hard to knock him. They’re the main jockeys I tend to follow, Nash, Hughie, Blake Shinn and Jimmy when they’re at their best.
David Duffield: This won’t be personal, it will be more about profitability, but is there a trainer and a jockey that you’d be looking to lay back in the day?
Mark Cruickshank: I’m still pretty against David Vandyke, I think the marketplace highly overreacts to a lot of his horses. They’re going on old form from 2 years ago when he burst onto the scene. I don’t think his horses represent anywhere near the value that they are marketplace at the moment.
David Duffield: A jockey that you don’t like, that you’re looking to lay anywhere?
Mark Cruickshank: I think there’s a couple but I probably want to get too personal there. There’s certain jockeys to me that seem to reflect… There’s a number of jockeys that seem to get too far back in a lot of races. I’d say most punters would know. Even if they look at Twitter through the day they’d probably know who I’m talking about there because everyone seems to find them on Twitter. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Maybe sometimes it goes too much on Twitter, but I think a lot of the times the punters, they’re the ones that have had the bet, they’re entitled to their opinion. Some people bite back, some of the jockeys have even bought back over the years. I think that’s fine as long as it doesn’t get personal. They’ve got to realize that these people have had a bet on their horse and they don’t think it was a great ride. If they don’t attack their family and it doesn’t get too personal, swearing and that sort of stuff I’m okay with that, they should be able to deal with it. It’s not different to a go guying to the footy and copping a pasting over the sideline.
David Duffield: Just to finish up then tell us what you’re doing at William Hill.
Mark Cruickshank: I’ve just joined William Hill. It’s obviously a big company, doing some stuff with the product development team. Looking at new bet types, current bet types. We’re looking at the marketplace as it is at the moment and a focus on the mobile business. Going forward and creating some new and wonderful features hopefully.
David Duffield: Good stuff. Really appreciate you coming on the show today. I definitely think that the listeners will have learned plenty. Appreciate your time and we’ll catch up with you again later in the year.
Mark Cruickshank: No worries David, hope everyone backs a winner. Cheers.
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