Robbie Waterhouse barely needs an introduction. As well as his own career as a bookmaker he is the son of a legendary bookie, is married to one of Australia’s greatest ever trainers and is the father of the CEO of one of Australia’s biggest corporate bookmakers. So there’s plenty to learn from someone with decades of experience in the racing industry. RobWaterhouse Punting Insights

  • Why the basics of form study have remained the same throughout his career
  • The relative importance of various form factors such as sectionals, speed maps, weight, jockeys and trainers.
  • Why he doesn’t watch race replays himself but does employ a consultant to do so
  • The best advice he can give to aspiring punters including recommended reading

Today’s Guest: Rob Waterhouse

Dave Duffield: Hi, Rob. Thanks for joining us today. I want to have a chat about quite a few things, so we’ll get stuck into it right away. In terms of doing the form, are you more from the data and analytical side or is it gut instinct and experience?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, I’m very old fashioned the way I do the form, a la Don Scott. It’s the way I’ve always done it, and the way my father did it. So I’m very much a fundamental analyst, I suppose.

Dave Duffield: And so as new information comes along, how do you try to incorporate that into the way you do the form?

Rob Waterhouse: I’m not sure what you mean by new information. I suppose rider changes, of course you have to make the adjustments and gear changes you have to make adjustments. But I deliberately don’t look at what anyone else thinks or what the markets are, virtually until I go to the races.

Dave Duffield: By new information I just mean, technological advancements. It might be speed ratings, sectional data that you can get now, anything like that.

Rob Waterhouse: I’ve always kept time ratings as well as class ratings, and I’ve always kept speed ratings. I sort of regard that as being a fairly normal thing to do, rather than the modern-day thing. For 30 years I’ve kept those three sets of ratings.

Dave Duffield: Quite a few people I’ve spoken to over the years have had to evolve the way they do the form. You haven’t had to make wholesale changes in recent times?

Rob Waterhouse: If I looked back to what I was doing 30 years ago, I don’t think it’s changed much at all. Perhaps I think some factors are a bit less important than they used to be; other factors are a bit more important. I think I’ve been pretty constant in the way I’ve done it.

Dave Duffield: Okay. I’d like to run through a few of those factors then.

Dave Duffield: Sectionals on their own, how important are they in the form that you do?

Rob Waterhouse: I find them of little use to me. I know some people love sectional times, but if the overall race time is slow and the sectional is fast, I think it’s of little use. If the sectional is fast and the overall time is fast, that’s a good horse. I think the overall time is much more important than the sectional.

Dave Duffield: What about the speed maps themselves? From Gai’s perspective, I know she likes them to be up on the speed. Are you the same from a punting or bookmaking perspective?

Rob Waterhouse: I think all analysts and all punters love their horses to be near the lead. The horse that leads wins 25% of races. The closer you are to the lead in a race the more chance you have of winning.

Dave Duffield: How much does that vary by track and just by race shape, say for example if there looks to be a hot speed?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, it does vary by track. At the long straight at Flemington, leaders have less chance than they do at say Moonee Valley. The point is this: you get a better price in the long straight for the leader at Flemington and a much worse price at Moonee Valley. From a punter’s point of view, the advantage is always to be on the horse near the pace.

Dave Duffield: Trainers? What importance do they play when, I mean obviously you’re looking at the horse, but when you’re trying to assess the trainer as well how much does that affect your rated price?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, I suppose what I’d say first of all is that trainer changes are of great importance and I think that the horses being trained by a trainer, it only works … There’s only an advantage, a small advantage when the horse is lightly raced. I think the better trainer gets more out of the horse more quickly than the lesser trainer, but once they’re an exposed horse I don’t think it makes any difference.

Dave Duffield: Do you look closely at trainer tendencies, whether they’re likely to have them ready first up or whether they’re coming off no trials, one trial, two trials?

Rob Waterhouse: There’s no doubt that some trainers are better at getting horses ready fresh and other trainers aren’t, and that does play a part. I’m very conscious of looking at first-up horses, as to who the trainer is.

Dave Duffield: Speaking of speed maps and trainers, along with that there’s also the jockey who plays a pretty important role. Once again, when you’re doing the form is that jockey ratings, or is it really based on watching a number of videos, or how do you do it?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, there’s no doubt that the better jockeys win more races than the worse jockeys, but the market does take it into account perhaps even more than it’s entitled to be. I think the jockeys are a little bit overplayed by the public, and I find myself betting against some of the better riders and hoping for the less fashionable riders.

Dave Duffield: Even in the bigger races, or are you just talking about the standard races?

Rob Waterhouse: No, even the bigger races. I think they occupy too large a part of the market.

Dave Duffield: Speaking of being overplayed, inside barriers can often be the same way. How do you assess them?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, I have strange views in regard to barriers. I think people worry too much about barriers.

Dave Duffield: When one’s drawn outside, and there’s been a couple of well-known cases of that, you’re not concerned?

Rob Waterhouse: Not concerned at all, and especially if they have a bit of pace, I think it’s of little worry, little concern.

Dave Duffield: Weight. It seems as though in recent times people have downplayed the importance of weight. How do you assess it?

Rob Waterhouse: I always marvel, people keep telling me that weight is of little importance, but when the weight-for-age races come around all those people disappear and don’t seem to be having a bet. Of course there’s a huge swing in the betting market, because of the level weights. Weights obviously play a huge part. I think it’s interesting that the same people say weight is of no importance, now they’ve raised the top weights to 61 in New South Wales those same people are complaining of the weight being too much. Look, weight most certainly plays a part, a lot more than most punters say it does, but I don’t see it being an overriding factor.

Dave Duffield: Do you treat weight differently by, say, sprint distance to a staying race?

Rob Waterhouse: Yes, of course.

Dave Duffield: Or by 57 to 58 is a big difference to 60 to 61?

Rob Waterhouse: No, I don’t think there’s a difference between 60 and 61 as compared 58 to 57, but there is a difference of course that the longer the race is the heavier the weight is.

Dave Duffield: What about SP profiles? I think you’ve spoken about that a few times, looking at what the horse’s starting price was from its recent runs. Does that still play a part in what you do?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, if you look at all the factors that are available to someone doing the form, I think the starting price last start is possibly the most important thing. There’s a lot of information contained in that price. If a horse starts at a short price and runs poorly, the question for the form analyst then is to say should you be making it off where it ran, or should you be making off its SP, or somewhere in between? Only by answering that question to yourself can you get an idea as to what chance the horse has today.

Dave Duffield: What about from the other side? What about if a horse is a surprise winner at 50/1? Does that mean that you downgrade that performance in some way?

Rob Waterhouse: If the horse has had 25 starts and is a surprise winner at 50/1, you’re entitled to look at the form and say, “Look, I suspect this is a very suspect race and something is strange about this race,” but if it’s the first starter and it wins at 50/1, you just say that it’s been underestimated by the betting public and it should never have been 50/1.

Dave Duffield: Barrier trials have been more heavily scrutinized and publicised in recent times. Has that affected the way they incorporated into the market?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, it’s funny, Gai likes to win her barrier trials and other trainers don’t like to win their barrier trials. Barrier trials have always played a big part in working out the chances of first starters. I don’t think it’s changed much over the years. I think perhaps more horses try now in barrier trials than used to. That’s perhaps the biggest difference.

Dave Duffield: How do you handle betting on wet tracks?

Rob Waterhouse: Wet tracks are problematical. I suppose the first thing I could say is there’s sort of a concertina effect where favourites should be a bit longer and outsiders should be a bit shorter. Obviously, experience in wet is of great importance. I’d guess if I were to say, it’s better to run a bit poorly on a wet track than to have had no experience at all on a wet track. I think horses learn to handle going.

Dave Duffield: That’s a very, very quick snapshot of some of the form factors, but then post-race I’d imagine you do quite a bit of work on the reviews and replays?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, I don’t watch the replays, I suppose because I find them a bit boring. I do employ someone who gives me a report of every race everywhere, which is great. It’s hard to make any money betting off what you see on videos. I think it’s so over-fished. I think that the market is right on to everything that was in the video last week.

Dave Duffield: Is it true that in the past you used to price them up post-race though?

Rob Waterhouse: Yes, we most certainly did. We priced everything up.

Dave Duffield: Do you still do that now?

Rob Waterhouse: Yeah. Dave Duffield: Can you just explain how that works?

Rob Waterhouse: The analyst that does this bit of work for me, I ask him rather than actually write a detailed comment, in most cases to say if that race were re-run again what price would you mark each horse?

Dave Duffield: That’s not a concept that most punters would use. What goes into that revised rated price for that run, considering the race has been run?

Rob Waterhouse: I suppose it’s like this. Occasionally we’ve had in the past a race that’s been declared a no-race for whatever reason and they’ve run the race again after the last race. With the benefit of actually seeing what happened in the first race, you would have an idea what the betting should be in the re-run of the race. I’m saying if the race were re-run, having seen the race run today, what would it be tomorrow that same race? The horse that perhaps started even-money favourite and won the previous time, you’d say would actually be a bit longer than that and be 6/4. The horse that started 50/1 and ran a flashing third you may say obviously that horse should only be an eight to 10-to-1 chance. I think one of the problems with doing comments is it’s easy to find an excuse for every horse in the race and saying nice things about it, whereas if you’re actually doing a market to 100 percent there’s nowhere to hide and you find that it’s easy to feel what’s actually being meant.

Dave Duffield: That’s interesting. The person that you employ to do those replays, does he watch the race… Like if there’s eight starters, does he watch that race eight times?

Rob Waterhouse: At least eight times.

Dave Duffield: So, although you’re not doing the replays yourself, he’s very thorough?

Rob Waterhouse: Very thorough. I must say, having said that, it’s hard to make any money out of it. Replays are very well dissected in Australia.

Dave Duffield: That’s the form side of things. From the betting, whether it’s your own betting, or from the bookmaking side of things, do you find that the successful people are betting to their own rated prices? Have you ever come across anyone that’s level staking? How do you find the more successful types?

Rob Waterhouse: I suppose the most successful people are the people who are disciplined. As you would have heard people speak of, I think the Kelly Criterion is the key to successful punting, which basically just means you have a good staking plan.

Dave Duffield: The returns there, basically, the bigger the margin that you have…?

Rob Waterhouse: Yeah, the more you should be betting.

Dave Duffield: Okay, and that’s the way you approach it as well?

Rob Waterhouse: Absolutely. I approached it that way before I ever heard of Kelly, but that’s the right way to approach it. I think most successful gamblers, they’re very aware of that concept.

Dave Duffield: You, like most other people, price up a race before you’ve even looked at a market, or you don’t really want to be aware of what the market is. Then if you get to the race day and there’s a massive discrepancy in your rated price and the market price, do you ever go over the form again and look to reassess, or you basically back your own judgement every time?

Rob Waterhouse: No, I want to work out where I’ve made a mistake, or decide that the market’s made a mistake.

Dave Duffield: Does that happen often?

Rob Waterhouse: Both things happen. The market often is wrong and I often recognise that I’m wrong, and I suppose sometimes I think the market is wrong but the market is right.

Dave Duffield: In terms of from a punting perspective, do you think there’s more value for a Saturday race during the week with people betting early or late and basically on course?

Rob Waterhouse: Look, the on-course market is fantastic as a punter because we bet to losing figures every race. It’s the best opportunity for any punter. Having said that, I’m sure that if I looked at the prices on a Wednesday I’d find mistakes and win at it. It’s just that’s impossible to back a horse with the corporates to win very much at all and I’d have a big influence on the market, so I really don’t think about it.

Dave Duffield: The more successful guys that you’ve handled, from the bookmaking days, would they have many common traits, similarities amongst their different approaches, or is each one quite unique?

Rob Waterhouse: I think the most successful punters are quite disciplined. Obviously the Bartholomew brothers have been the stars for the last 10 years or so, and they’re both very disciplined punters.

Dave Duffield: So they do the work, they trust their own prices and then they back accordingly, but without ever getting involved in the variance, whether that’s positive or negative?

Rob Waterhouse: The big problem is there’s always a tendency if you’re losing, to chase, and if you’re winning to bet smaller. The discipline part is just treat every race on its merits. That’s what they most certainly do.

Dave Duffield: What are your thoughts on each-way betting?

Rob Waterhouse: Each-way betting is instinct in the old-fashioned way of a quarter of the odds the place. It was a big advantage in certain races to the punter and a big advantage in certain races to the bookmaker. I regard myself as being a place specialist, and bet aggressive prices every race for the place. I sort of like it as a bookmaker, to be betting for a place. I suppose what I’d say is I used to say when there was a quarter of the odds the place, each-way betting, the successful punters betting each way would win less than they’d win if they bet straight out all the time. The losing punters would lose less than they’d normally use by betting each way. In other words, it tempered their results down in both directions.

Dave Duffield: Earlier you mentioned that the on-course bookies bet to losing figures each race. How would you describe the current state of on-course bookmaking, and then also, you’ve probably got some valuable insight through Tom, corporate bookmakers as well.

Rob Waterhouse: The ring in Sydney and Melbourne is very aggressive and very competitive, and we bet better prices than what’s on the official flucs board all the time, and every race we bet to losing figures. It’s a great opportunity for punters. As regards to the corporates, the corporates, because of the tax structure, are only interested in high volumes, small turnover punters, and they don’t want big players betting with them. They just can’t afford them, because the tax structure is too high.

Dave Duffield: Do you see an obvious solution to that? Because that is a common complaint from many of my clients, just not being able to get a bet on and the frustration there.

Rob Waterhouse: The problem is it’s not the bookmaker’s fault, it’s the high tax rates. To the bookmaker’s point of view, I think they regard racing as being their shop window and they try and encourage their clients to bet on the sports where there’s no tax. There’s the problem, that racing is becoming but a shop window and the bookmakers are wanting their customers to bet on other things. A bit like hotels. Every hotel has a pub TAB, but they’d actually rather the punters bet on the poker machines than on the pub TAB.

Dave Duffield: Just to finish up then, we have quite a few people coming through, I suppose you’d say the younger demographic, 18 to 25 or even under 30 or so. What advice would you give a younger punter who’s enthusiastic and willing to put in a bit of effort? Where should they focus their efforts do you think?

Rob Waterhouse: I think they should read the Don Scott book or books, first of all, and there are other books that are also very good. I think you’ve actually got to have a bit of understanding before you can start to do the form effectively.

Dave Duffield: I was just interested that Don Scott, what would that be 30 years ago now, so that still holds up today you feel?

Rob Waterhouse: It does, because it’s an overall say rather than one aspect or different aspects. There are lots of books that have been written since then on various aspects of doing the form, but they usually just cover one part, whether it’s pace or times. Whereas Don covered everything quite succinctly, and also covered staking, which I think is a very important part that’s often neglected.

Dave Duffield: I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people reaching out now and going to Amazon and looking up the old Don Scott books. What would be the best book since? Because like I said, it has been a long time since those.

Rob Waterhouse: William Querin wrote a great book, an American book called Winning At The Races, but it’s probably out of print. Look, there’s so many of them and I feel reluctant to pick out one rather than another. I think it’s true that Don’s got his head and shoulders above the rest.

Dave Duffield: Well I’m sure there’s some guys doing their research now. I really appreciate you coming on the show, Rob. I’m sure it’s been insightful for everyone. All the best for 2016.

Rob Waterhouse: Thank you.

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