The ‘For and Against’ podcast series continues this week with our Trial Spy Dean. It’s been clear already that no two successful punters operate exactly the same way and Dean certainly has a different approach as well as the courage of his convictions.

Punting Insights:

  • How and why his form analysis has changed over the last two years
  • The importance of trainer tendencies and target races
  • Why he looks at sectionals quite differently to most
  • When he uses each-way and exotic bets as part of his staking strategy

Today’s Guest: Dean Trial Spy

Dave Duffield: Good day, Dean and thanks for joining us again. It’s a really good time of the year for racing so I wanted to get you on and continue our For and Against series and run through form, and also staking and money management. We’ll start off with the standard opener and that is are you more of a database person, or gut instinct and years of experience?

Dean: Transformed a bit recently, I was definitely initially more about gut. Certainly with the trial stuff, a lot of it is sort of feel around how they’re looking and how they’re tracking, what the trainers usually do, who’s riding and how they sort of shape up overall to the eye. But obviously using some of the advanced sectional data that comes through more and more, that gives you a real big edge around sort of the sectional times that the horses are capable of running, and how quickly they’ve gone.

That’s a big factor, and I think it depends on your approach. If I’m working sort of on the big races, where trials are of less focus during the spring carnival and group races, iIt’s more gut around the class, and trip handicapping and video work. That sort of thing. When it’s your day to day provincial country races, I’ve only recently this year been heavily data focused, and finding that really successful. I sort of tailor my approach in data compared to sort of gut feel or other analysis based on the types of races I’m analysing.

Dave Duffield: You’ve got a lot more information including sectional data post-trial now, does that mean that you still do the same amount of form pre-trial? Because I know you used to basically treat it like a race in that you would do the form for every runner before you watch the trial.

Dean: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the key to understanding the class of the trial overall, and the horses in it, and trying to get a line on your expectations around where those horses are supposed to finish. Then you can carefully assess, accurately assess the quality of the trial performances compared to other horses. That’s where using your eye and your experience over times because you can have situations where a trial runs a really slow time, but if you’ve got a maiden horse jog trotting up alongside a quality horse whose being hard ridden and its not under any of the pressure, I mean, just because they have gone slow early, that doesn’t show that that horse clearly is a horse that’s going to progress through its classes.

Dave Duffield: So we’ve had people who have been fairly strongly one way or the other, but it sounds like you’re both. Data and data based but also the instinct and experience.

Dean: Yeah, I think it just depends on the situation, for me. I don’t use data very much at all for the big races and yet others do. But I found the data more powerful around the trial times and around the provincial and country circuits.

Dave Duffield: In terms of the races that you focus on, we’ve asked people if their covering almost every race on the card, versus those that like to cherry pick. What’s your approach? Primarily as the Trial Spy analyst.

Dean: It’s definitely cherry picking. Rather than taking 8 races on a card in NSW or Victoria, I might pick one or two races from NSW, one or two from Victoria and one or two from Queensland. It’s really just isolating where those high quality trial performance have been and where they’ve sort of popped up and then assessing whether they’re in the right race.

Dave Duffield: What about state maps, position running, how heavily if at all do you penalise back markers and on the other side do you bonus horses likely get the run of the race, just off the speed?

Dean: You certainly got to give bonuses to on speed horses. That’s just the way that we race in Australia. It’s very hard for backmarkers and you’ve got to take that into consideration. I don’t spend a lot amount of time on speed maps. Back in the days when Domenic Beirne was doing them and nobody else was doing them, fifteen or twenty years ago, there was a massive edge doing speed maps.

But these days, everyone’s doing them. I’ve got a database that does sort of spit out an early speed map and that’s usually enough to give an indication along with the experience of not knowing what the horse is going to be, but you know I tend to work on edges in everything that I do and I don’t think that speed maps are an enormous edge apart from ensuring that on-speed horses are given a reasonable bonus in the knowledge that they’re going to have a pretty safe andsecure run.

Dave Duffield: So it’s important in terms of winning percentage but value wise it’s already baked into the cake?

Dean: Yes.

Dave Duffield: Trainers and jockeys you touched on before, it’s important to understand the various characteristics and traits for the trials and obviously when you’re looking to have bet. You’ve got a black book of triallers you follow very closely and its hard to be removed from that black book, so what role does the trainer and the jockey play?

Dean: The trainer has a big role in terms of firstly whether the horse gets in the black book or not. The trainer’s characteristics and how they usually trial the horses and how well they usually progress. I think there’s certain trainers whose horses trial well, they just don’t live up to that on race day and others who trial ordinarily and then prove a lot on race day. I think the Snowden’s are a good example where the horses can really look average and be scrubbed up and not running great time and they come to races and they improve a lot. It’s about knowing that and also knowing which trainers on the back of the trials are under bet and an over bet. Then trying to manage that and avoid the over bet and trying to focus on those ones that have a really good record. They’re good triallers and that they’ll stay under the market’s guard.

Dave Duffield: Speaking of the market’s guard, it is fair to say you’ve changed your approach over the last couple of years and what worked like two years ago, is far less effective now if you just adopt the exact same approach?

Dean: Yeah, I think there’s certainly a lot more rise on the trials and so your absolute superstar stand out trialler is black booked everywhere and get to the point where they’re overbet. You’ve just got to be a little bit clever around looking at what the market’s likely to miss in terms of how the trainers usually operate. How the jockeys operating, how the horses are likely to be set for and just getting an accurate picture around where the markets likely to be framed and where the horses are likely to run. I’m just being a little bit shrewder about it all because there are a lot more eyes on it and they’re looking for the obvious and so now each case I’m just looking for theless obvious.

Dave Duffield: Barriers, what importance to they play when you’re doing the form?

Dean: I think it’s along the lines of the speed map. If you’ve got a horse drawn wide, you’ve got good speed, they usually get across and you get a good price. We’ve had a lot of horses drift out to big prices and win from wide gates. Its just something that turns your average punter off. If you’ve got confidence that the horse is able to get across without getting too much work and even when they do get off, and put the brakes on it and they can get a couple of cheap sectionals and can run a time, its not much of a detriment. The biggest issue is the horses on a tight track suit who draw wide and have to sit midfield. They’re the ones that generally you need a lot of luck but otherwise, again, I don’t think its edge wise, because the wide barriers give you quite a value anyway.

Dave Duffield: As you said barriers can put the average punter off, weight can definitely do that as well. What role does it play in whether you want to be on a horse or whether you’re happy to wait for the following start?

Dean: It depends a bit on the class on whether the horses can carry weight, but the general rule, the higher the weight, the better value you’re getting. Again, like wide barriers, the market just tends to be a little bit scared. It seems they sort of see that sixty number or that fifty nine number and it often, particularly around the short courses is not much of an issue. Certainly if you’ve got a horse whose got a big weight and with a kind draw and it’s generally on pace, then its not much of an issue. But in a situation where you’ve got a horse with a big weight, wide draw who tends to sit midfield then it can be an issue.

Dave Duffield: Okay, I’ve been asking people about sectional times, you’ve mentioned the role they play in the trials and I know you also use them from the races themselves, is that a different approach though, what you’re looking for in a trial versus race form?

Dean: Yeah, at the end of the day you’re just looking for the horse that has the ability to run a really, really quick sectional. The key component is that that sectional doesn’t need to be at the last two hundred meters of the race. A good sectional from the thousand to the eight hundred or the eight hundred to the six hundred to put themselves in the race. That’s often all you need to win a lot of races in Australia compared to the horse. It was a long way, kind of go in early and then run distance sectionals late but can’t possibly win from where it is, so its really about the horse having that turn of foot and the ability to get itself into a better position that you’re looking for and that’s really the key to sectional data.

Dave Duffield: Wet tracks? Do they excite you or put you off?

Dean: They put me off with the trial stuff for sure because the top class horses and the best horses that have an excellent turn of foot are the ones that struggle on the wet tracks. Its more grinders that do well on the wet tracks, so it can be pretty frustrating during winter when you’ve got really, really top quality horses who you know you are the best in the race and suddenly you get those wet tracks coming and certainly when its dry in the morning and suddenly becomes wet in the afternoon or vice versa, that can be frustrating to handle.

But the general rule, wet tracks are a great opportunity, certain horses that absolutely relish it and certain horses who’ve got great wet track form and sort of hit in when they’ve had a few dry track runs, they can come on a wet track and some of them become bets. As a general rule, I’ve found the dry track trials who perform well, struggle on the wet although interestingly the converse of that isn’t necessarily true. The horse that does a trial on a wet track can go and do that on dry tracks more often than not and can be underbet.

Dave Duffield: Market size and efficiency. Would you typically concentrate on big markets, high volume, low margins or smaller markets where you have more of an edge?

Dean: Definitely the greatest edge is in the smaller markets. It’s a certainly far higher edge there and far higher profit on turnover. The bookies make bigger mistakes and the market makes bigger mistakes because of their lack of information and the lack of focus on those races. Certainly the smaller markets is where the biggest edges and also the counter to that is trying to get a bet on for a decent amount on those smaller markets. But, certainly your dollar goes a lot further with them.

Dave Duffield: Okay, let’s move onto betting and money management. Have you ever been a proponent of betting level stakes or has it always been proportionate?

Dean: I think back when I first started, many, many years ago, it was at a level stakes, I mean when you are testing various things out but you soon move towards the proportional staking. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be having more of something that you think is a two dollar chance than something you think is a ten dollar chance as a result of the proportion of your bank. If you thought you had an edge in a coin toss compared to a dice role, clearly you should be having more, a higher percentage of your bank on the coin toss than the dice roll, simply quite virtually the fact that your standard chance of win is large is sort of …

You want to be having more where your greatest edge is and also where the greatest opportunity to make the most profit is and that’s the key criteria of the Kelly criteria where the bigger edges, the more you bet because, when it comes to betting on racing the profits often come in sort of clumps. In big runs and often when you’ve found those really big opportunities, when they come up, you’ve got to take advantage of.

Dave Duffield: Yeah, so you touched on Kelly criteria there, does your staking vary according to your confidence level?

Dean: Yeah, absolutely. The function of the confidence level combined with the price that you’re getting so that you’re fully maximising your opportunity when the market got up really well. That’s where you can get your really big profits through the years. It is just patiently waiting for the times when the bookies or the market have just made a big mistake.

Dave Duffield: Market intelligence, you might have a horse that’s trialled superbly according to the criteria that you look for, but you don’t know a lot about the other unraced horses or runners that might have only had one or two starts, do you incorporate market intelligence in the way that you’re betting or how you stake those?

Dean: Yeah, it can have an influence. Just having a look at those early markets that have come out a day before and just seeing anyone sort of snipping away. The real market intelligence is in those last five minutes of the race. Those early markets, you’ve got to take some of them at a grain of salt and often it can be, not an enormous amount of money that that’s moving some of those markets and not necessarily smart money either so you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt. There are certain trainers and certain situations where you respect it, and other times where you prepare to ignore it. But it all sort of goes into the pot, certainly when you’ve got a top class trialler in a race where half of them might not be exposed at all.

Dave Duffield: Betting early in the week versus betting late? You can do both, but do you have a preference? Under what circumstances will you do one or the other?

Dean: The bookies make some really big mistakes in the early markets so it gives an opportunity to get some cream out of it then its always worthwhile, given the unfortunate situation we’re in with a number of people getting banned from bookies and the like and the difficulty of getting a bet, I’ve streamlined my services and changed things to try and send the bets out so that everybody can get set at a good price. While I haven’t sort of done too many with the other ones but sometimes there’s still fantastic opportunities.

As a general rule, I think its worthwhile betting either early or really late and certainly with the Trial Spy what we’re starting to see is the market sort of goes in a U shape where there is some good early value and we send some bets out and the value gets crunched in. Then by the time some of the data based guys, they’re still not able to sort of factor the trial form accurately into the markets, they’re betting and the market is bouncing back up. Often it gets to higher prices than what the early prices were because the market down from a hundred and twenty five, a hundred and thirty percent down to that sort of a hundred and ten percent . I think you either want to be betting early or late. You don’t want to be sort of caught in the middle when the market percentages are that high.

Dave Duffield: Speaking of betting early… pre-post or futures betting, most people like to have a little dabble and most do their dough, but you’re one of the few that actually makes really good returns on that. What do you look for and under what circumstances will you take a long range bet?

Dean: Obviously just with the trial stuff, and sort of having a look at a horse and seeing if its really improved or if its doing something that you’re average horse isn’t going to be able to do and are they really going to be able to take that to the group one level with that horse? Zoustar was $16 for the Golden Rose and was tria’ling unbelievably under tight grips running excellent times against Group horses and those are the opportunities really to identify and you can get some fantastic prices. You understand that you don’t want to outlay too much capital because so much can go wrong, but if you can get there early enough, when there’s a really big value about and before people sort of caught wind on the fact that the horses come forward, particularly in those two year old to three year old years or 3yo to 4yo to see if the horses have actually come on, as a lot of them go backwards. That can be where the big edge is in identifying future group one winners.

Dave Duffield: What about favourites versus long shots and we’ve spoken before that there’s an inherent bias there in that favourites tend to be under bet and long shots the other way around, that’s just as an overall group. That’s not to say for every situation. Is it fair to say that a couple years ago, you were more towards the shorter end of the market, but in recent times, just the way the markets gone and you’ve reacted to that, you’ve had to adapt and there are a lot more bigger priced horses that we are on?

Dean: Yeah, definitely the shorter end of the market is pretty tight and the margins are pretty tight and they did ones that were well found and so much can go wrong that now I’m tending to avoid the shorter end of the market now and looking more at sort of value, so more the each way horses and beyond and that sort of where the bigger edges are found. If you can find races where the favourite is overbet, what you find is the other horses can really start off in the early markets as big prices or drift out to big prices as the market just sort of hones in and gets excited on one or two runners. Yeah, that’s definitely where the focus is leaning towards and that’s proven to be where the biggest profit is around where the markets is really getting the horses significantly wrong.

Dave Duffield: When do you bet each way versus straight out?

Dean: It all depends. There are some horses that are sort of enigmas and essentially you just get the impression they are either going to win, or they’re going to run down the track. I’m happy to go straight out on those. But for a lot of what we do, we are usually focusing on only one horse and maybe sometimes two, so you sort of treat the each way almost as a saver essentially rather than backing one horse and sort of saving on two others like some other people might do. It simply is focusing on that horse and being happy to take the place portion as a saver. But even the one by three approach has proven really profitable where you’ve found the horse at value and if it runs a place, you can make a really good profit and if it happens to win then you’ve got some really, really good cream on top and I’m finding that to be a very effective way of betting now.

Dave Duffield: Managing your bank… obviously there’s been some sustained profits, but there’s also been some losing runs, not massive drawdown but everyone has losing runs along the way, do you have a static bank or a dynamic bank that you update now as a percentage on a regular basis?

Dean: I have a dynamic bank that I tend to review quarterly, which I know is a different approach to some people. Part of the reason for that is, the way a lot of people sort of operate in the bigger markets where the edge is small and variance is greater, they tend to have a dynamic bank, day to day to cover the fact that they can have very, very long and large draw downs. We certainly have draw downs and variance no doubt, but they’re significantly smaller than most and I sort of prefer to re-calibrate every quarter simply because if I’ve had a losing period I know that history tells me that just around the corner is usually a significant winning period and I don’t see the sense in reducing my staking as a result of a slightly lower bank at a time when I have the absolute expectation that a winning run is about to come. So I tend to sit back, be patient, take it on a quarter by quarter basis and reassess at that point, drawing the line in the sand, you know rather than doing it day to day when I feel like a turnaround is always going to be just around the corner.

Dean: So to measure your success, are you looking at profit on turnover as a percentage or just profit in terms of dollars on the bottom line?

Dave Duffield: Profit is the be-all and end-all but I’m very conscious when running services. I absolutely want to minimise any sort of bank drawdown or variance where possible. I try and keep that POT percentages as high as possible to minimise the bank. That’s just being strategic. Waiting for the best opportunities and you know just insuring that you’re obviously always in the game and invested so when the winning runs come you are there to fully take advantage of them.

Dean: Sounds like common sense. Appreciate you coming on the show Dean and we’ll leave it there for now. Congratulations on pretty much two and a half years of success and all the best to the rest of 2015.

Dave Duffield: All right, thank you.

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