Deane Lester is one of the very few media personalities whose opinions are widely respected by serious punters. He has a big following from his work with RSN and Sky Channel and is widely respected as one of the best form analysts in the country. He joins us on the Betting 360 podcast as we continue our For and Against series on finding value and managing your betting bank.
- How he relies on both data and years of experience
- Why he dramatically reduces his bets on wet tracks
- How and when he bets to his own rated price
- His best and worst years since he started recording every bet in 2004
Today’s Guest: Deane Lester @defier1 Deane was also a guest on the podcast in 2014 in our finding winners and value episode.
Dave Duffield: G’day Deane, thanks for joining us again on the podcast. It’s an awesome time of the racing year, how’s Spring been for you so far?
Deane Lester: Spring’s been okay. Turnbull Stakes was a bit of a challenge for most, but if you adjusted to the play of the day you probably got it a bit more right but yeah, it’s shaping up well. I think Sydney’s racing last Saturday was as good as it gets and all roads lead to Melbourne now over the next few weeks.
Dave Duffield: Exactly. So I wanted to speak to you in more general terms about how you go about it. We’ve had a series running just to explain that people go about it in very different ways. I’ll start of with data versus gut. Do you use a combination of both or do you lean more one way?
Deane Lester: Very much a combination of both. I like to try to grab information from wherever I can. I’m a lot more into the breakdown of a race using actual figures than I probably was five years ago. I used to have notes about high pressure or low pressure races but with the advent of the sectional times through someone like Vince Accardi you get an actual figure that you can place on a race and I’m using that a lot more. I’ve still got probably the thing that got me into this industry is working before I was in the media is working hands-on with horses for fifteen, twenty years so I wouldn’t want to let that go to waste, that sort of information.
Dave Duffield: If you had to do without one or the other, what would it be?
Deane Lester: I’d go back to looking at the animal, if I had to choose I would go back to what I know about horses and looking at them in the yard because there’s some days there that you go to the races and you’re very confident about a selection and you get very deflated when you see them in the yard, whether they’ve sweated up or they haven’t quite got to the peak that you’ve expected. You can be very disappointed and very rarely do they let you down or run above expectations of what you see in the mounting yard.
Dave Duffield: You have to cover a lot of races for the media work and the other work that you do, but from a betting perspective do you have an interest in a lot of different races or just really load up on a few?
Deane Lester: Through the week I’ll be playing races that I think I can really zero down on and get right. The Saturday’s or the races where you’re probably looking at better quality horses in general, I’m keen to play them. I think the thing that narrows my area of punting down is track conditions. The one thing I have refined in the last ten years is betting less and less on wet tracks; it’s too much guesswork because there’s too big a difference between the way tracks are prepared and what constitutes a wet track. You’ll see a horse with a W next to it’s name and it might have won on a Summer wet track where there was rain but underneath, the ground was still very firm. On a Winter wet track it’s totally different and they just don’t perform. The way I probably narrow down my punting over the last five to ten years is certainly track conditions.
Dave Duffield: Do you have a hard and fast rule about whether it’s a heavy ten or heavy nine when you pull the pin?
Deane Lester: I’m quite happy if the track is at a rating that you expect when you’re doing the form. If you’re putting a lot of hours into it and you’re expecting good … If there’s any deterioration in a track by say a good three to a soft five I just don’t know if, especially if you’re on course, if you have the resources with you to accurately access what’s going to happen. A hard and fast rule for me is if there’s a track downgrade I tend to shut up shop.
Dave Duffield: Just in general terms then, so not specifically on wet tracks, but in general terms how heavily do you penalise backmarkers? Because I know that the speed maps play a pretty big role in what you do?.
Deane Lester: Probably my biggest thing with horses is that they’ve got to have good strength. Often horses that steam home you think they’re strong but they don’t have that capacity to race on the pace so I do penalise them more than I probably ever have. I think races in general I think the punters dissect them a lot more but jockeys probably twenty, twenty-five years ago you had fields that nine times out of ten they were running at a really good speed.
There was too much speed and you’d see horses from the back win a lot. Where now, I just think the way race shapes are put together is a lot more refined and jockeys whether it be over-analysis, tend to maybe go too steady in front or are too scared to make bold moves. We see the hardened and seasoned riders like a Glen Boss or a Jim Cassidy not afraid to make bold moves because they can back what they’ve done for thirty years but I think the younger riders are a little bit apprehensive at making bold moves.
Dave Duffield: Vince spoke a couple of weeks ago about the myth that a really fast pace suits the backmarkers. Do you feel the same way?
Deane Lester: Certainly. There’s a breaking point in a race where the race can break into two and you’ll just see … There’s an example if you go to a race I think it’s late August that Charmed Harmony won at Caufield and when I’ve assessed that race I’ve actually drawn a line at the 800m mark of those in the first group, those in the second group and assessed the second group virtually running against each other because in essence there was no chance that the second group could actually get into the race.
They were too far off the speed and they were already chasing. If you’re on a backmarker, you don’t want that extreme speed you’ve got to get that absolute right speed. The ideal thing for a backmarker which a lot of people wouldn’t get, and I think Vince probably touched on, is a slowing up mid-race where they just track into the race. They keep the momentum going and the leader has to pick up and go again.
Dave Duffield: He did mention that, that’s one of his favourites. You talked about jockeys before, how important are they when you’re doing the form and how much does that vary depending on the shape of the race?
Deane Lester: I’m not so much a person that penalises jockeys in the A-grade sense whether they are in or out of form. I tend to look at the skill set of a jockey; I’ve got my own opinions on what some of the riders can and can’t do, what their strengths and weaknesses are and have the connections actually matched up the best rider for their horse? Sometimes you’ll see an absolute high profile rider and they might not be on the right horse because that might be the one little missing link in their skill set. Whether they’re not good on front runners, or whether they’re not good at settling a horse.
The general public would be thinking, well this is a match made in heaven, we’ve got an in-form horse matched with an A-grade rider, but it mightn’t be the right rider for the horse. That’s a subjective thing but that’s something that I think years of experience have taught me pretty well.
Dave Duffield: What about trainers? You’ve worked closely with a few at times, planning horses preparations and the like. How much did that impact your rated price or whether you want to get involved in a race depending on whether it’s a highly known trainer or a less skilled trainer?
Deane Lester: Look I think if the lesser known trainers if they’ve followed a path that’s logical with a horse and they land in a metropolitan race or they land in the right race, as long as they’ve taken what you can see as a logical path to that race, I don’t penalize that at all. I’m interested in trainers … Trainers are very much creatures of habit; if they’ve won a race doing a certain thing a certain way, they’ll go back to try to strike gold doing the same thing.
There are very much patterns in leading trainers in all different ways. They don’t have the same pattern by any means, but they certainly have patterns. The other thing is form within a stable. I do take that notice of that because you can see when the stables have runs. Now whether that’s because if they’re in form they’ve got three or four in-form horses and they can compare their other horses to those by working with them or what they’re doing and that lifts the level of the stable. It can virtually … If the stable’s having a bad run, maybe their best horses are out of form and they’ve got absolutely nothing to compare with and they’re just probably throwing the horses into races a little bit at will and not necessarily with the right thought process.
Dave Duffield: Are you a big believer in weights?
Deane Lester: I was, very much so when I started doing form assessments. We’re talking twenty-six years ago now, and handicapping wasn’t as refined as it is now and there were glitches in the system. One there was a spread of weights a lot more than there is now and two handicapping, for instance in Victoria, wasn’t centralized it was from district to district so horses could get weighted, especially in the provincials, they could get weighted so differently if you went to the North-East or you went to Gippsland. There were glitches the system then.
Now it’s centralised, now horses have ratings. There’s not many that sneak under the system and it’s more about seeing horses that have got that ability to advance through grades because the handicapper can’t really penalise them too much.
Dave Duffield: I know you look at trials and jump outs, how do you use that as part of doing the form considering on the data side you’ve got something to work with but also you’ve got to rely on your own judgement as well?
Deane Lester: Again, it’s a little bit habitual with trainers. There’s some trainers you see them trial them right up and they know that they’re ready to go. One thing you don’t know in watching a jump out as such is what weight the horse is carried. You can sort of make an assumption if you see a rider that you know the style of, if they’re a heavy weight that the horse might have heavy shoes on.
There’s little bits of information the stables have still got that the punter can’t ascertain just by watching the vision of jump outs. That’s been a good tool in the last two years, the Caufield, Mornington and Flemington trials have come online the jump out that you can watch. More so, you can get a feel for a trainer if they’re priming a horse for a big first up run or they’re just easing them back into their racing campaigns. I like to use them. I like to have a visual of what a horse is doing leading up to a race. If it hasn’t raced for six months, having a vision of its galloping action et cetera two weeks out from a race can only be a bonus.
Dave Duffield: Under what circumstances are you interested in a horses breeding?
Deane Lester: Not much. Once they start producing information data that you can assess them at … The problem the only time I’d have an issue with breeding is if you know of a breed that are a bit temperamental. More temperament than what their capacity is to run a distance because there’s too many horses that defy genetics in that regard. I’d be more interested in horses that I think may be a little bit frail mentally, there’s breeds you can tap into that you can see they just don’t quite go to the next level and that’s the only time I take breeding into account.
Dave Duffield: You mentioned before about the better quality of horses, do you get many betting opportunities for the smaller markets? Whether its provincial or country racing?
Deane Lester: Oh certainly. That’s more … You’re not betting race to race but you’ll scan the fields. There might be one that you know that you’ve assessed in a post race situation that … A race that you’re anticipating will be a good form reference, whether it be because of a fast time or the way the race was run. A horse may drop in grade or it might be the first to come out of that race and it’s at the provincials and so you back your judgement in that a race will be coming along that you think will be a good form race.
You want to get ahead of the curve in that situation, back your judgement and start winning on them and they might appear at the smaller venues. I’m certainly not Monday-Tuesday as forensic as you’d like to be later in the week, but with all the races on you’ve got to draw the line a bit. If a horse has come under the radar, popped up in a race, then you try and break that race down and see if you can get a dollar out of it.
Dave Duffield: In terms of staking, have you or do you ever bet level stakes? Or is it more proportionately?
Deane Lester: I bet mainly to a price that I might assess to, and bet to win to my price to a figure. Not to bet to the market price … As long as there’s an advantage, I’ll be to my prices and say bet to win x amount of dollars off my prices and that’s when you get that bit of overlay as you know. That would probably be my staking plan.
Dave Duffield: Does the staking amount vary depending on your confidence level of the race? Whether there’s enough exposed form for example? So basically does your bet size vary or is it always the same percentage of your bank, according to that rated price that you mentioned?
Deane Lester: Yeah, I think the only time a bet would increase is if I’m reading a track right and I’m getting the play right in that regard. I’m pretty standard with my bet sizes, but if I thought I was getting a track reading right and it mightn’t be evident for a couple of races and you might be ahead of the curve a little bit, I probably tend to back my judgement that I’ve got a track right more than anything.
Dave Duffield: We’ve spoken to some people in the past that incorporate the market price in their staking plan. Do you use any kind of market intelligence or do you just look for those overlays as you mentioned?
Deane Lester: Yeah, pretty much overlays. I think if you’re betting race to race, day to day and something just isn’t right in the market, you’ve got to factor it in whether you’re having a quaddie or a multiple bet or you’ve got one you like in the race and something with no form comes up five or six dollars and you think gee maybe I’ve overlooked this, or I haven’t got the intel that’s made this five or six dollars, you’re probably best to … Whether you have a saving bet on that or incorporate it in some way. That’s when I’d use market intelligence.
Dave Duffield: Would you normally back multiple horses in a race? And or go each way on runners that you like?
Deane Lester: I’m flexible on that. If I think I’ve got a race pretty right and I’ve got one of a reasonable quote then I might back it as the strongest … The two main dangers I might back them to break even so that I don’t lose on the race, or conversely if I’m strong on one I’m happy to bet each way but it’s got to be at a fair advantage.
Dave Duffield: Do you have a preference or a sweet spot in terms of the prices that you’re focused on? Or is it really just wherever the value is you’re happy to play?
Deane Lester: Yeah, pretty much. Again, it comes down to you can do all the pricing you want but you have a gut feel for things that sometimes there’ll be a $3.50 favourite and you’re sort of neutral on it, but then you’ll see $1.80 favuorite that you think well, if you’re going on the amount of times it will win this race out of ten, it could win it more than that percentage and it should be $1.50 or $1.40 I’m happy to take $1.80 if I’m getting that sort of over from the anticipated price that I thought it would be.
Dave Duffield: Do you ever bet during the week for Saturday’s racing? Or is it really just on race day?
Deane Lester: No, I’ll bet early. If it looks as though the variables such as weather and an established track position … I’m quite happy to bet early and see how the market unfolds because there’s certainly with the amount of options with corporate betting and the early fixed odds with the TAB there’s certainly good prices to be had if you think you’ve got the variables right, that there’s not going to be a dramatic change closer to the race.
Dave Duffield: Do you do much Pre-Post or future’s betting a couple of months out from the Cups for example?
Deane Lester: Not the cups, because I just find it too hard to deal with the internationals. I’m interested in the Derby, the Oaks, the Guineas because they are Australian and maybe some New Zealand input but they’re pretty much localised form lines and if you think you might just spot a horse early I’ll have a small interest on a runner and hopefully as long as it’s at big odds, that you’re anticipating it might get to a race like the Derby and that starts your market towards a race like that.
Dave Duffield: For exotics betting do you do quinellas, trifectas and the like? And also you spoke about quaddies before and I know you provide one regularly media wise, it’s a massive betting pool. How do you attack, personally, the exotics?
Deane Lester: Exotic-wise I’m a quaddie player, because I’m sort of trying to assess a race at who’s going to win. I think you’ve got to have a different imagination again with the multiples filling places like trifectas, first fours. You’ve got to know your limitations and it’s something that I have tried and I don’t think I’ve got the imagination as good as some players would have to get trifectas, first fours right. The exotics… I’ll play quaddies and I often play quinellas if I think there’s only two or three chances to try and narrow it down that way. I’ve found trifectas I’ve had a couple of good results but it’s not my strongest point.
Dave Duffield: For your own betting bank, do you revise that or recalculate that on a regular basis?
Deane Lester: I’ve got a record of every bet I have and what sort of bet form it is and that’s why I just mentioned about trifectas, the column wasn’t looking as rosy as it should have in comparison to the amount I’d outlaid in other bet forms. So yes I do, as I said I keep a record of every bet and have a weekly tally of what’s gone on in a week and I keep that as a week-to-week record. I started keeping that in 2004 and that’s what led me to I do it weekly but then I do a monthly total and what I did notice is the Winter months and the wet track months they were just no-go zones. That’s why that’s been phased out of my betting program a little bit.
Dave Duffield: With those results are you focused on the bottom line, being total profit? Or is profit on turnover (as a percentage) a key metric for you?
Deane Lester: I’ve got a figure in my head that I like to try to win every year, knowing how much … My spend has been a slight increase every year over a ten year period but I’ve got a figure in my head that I want to win every year and I try and achieve that. Obviously you try and achieve more but I’ve got a base figure that I try and win every year.
Dave Duffield: Not in dollar terms but in percentage terms, the base figure that you try and win each year what would be the worst year that you’ve had and the best? For example have you had a break even year and a 200% year?
Deane Lester: Yeah, exactly. I had one year in 2011 where I actually had a slight loss on the year which was not the desired result but probably outside influences there probably caused me to not be at my best. Yeah, I’ve had nearly sort of 150-175% years and they’re the golden years. There seems to be about a 45-50% years most years.
Dave Duffield: Excellent. Well I really appreciate you coming on the show, Deane. Keep up the good work and good luck for Spring.
Deane Lester: My pleasure, thank you.
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