I began my journey as a kid going to the TAB with his dad every Saturday. I’d watch in amazement as he and his mates would bet on the next race to jump. It was a hobby, and if they did $50 on a Saturday afternoon, that was ok because they loved it. All I kept thinking about was if there are all these people losing every week, and happy doing so, there has to be some people out there winning.

I read the books of Don Scott, and was captivated by a world where there were ways to win at horse racing. It was actually possible.

It inspired me to think about racing on a deeper level. What really appealed to me was his idea of cataloguing horses individually and keeping as much information on each horse as possible.

So I began armed with nothing more than the Sportsman, a spreadsheet and a VCR. Time constraints meant I only had time to do metro racing in Sydney and every moment of my spare time was spent watching replays, making notes and entering them into a spreadsheet. Initially, I’d put all sorts of stuff in there, but over time I’d only keep what I found became relevant to me. It’s very time consuming, but it doesn’t seem like work when the challenge of solving the puzzle is in front of you.

And like anything in life, the harder you work, the more you will be rewarded.

There is no single recipe for success in this industry.

The common trait that all winning gamblers have is discipline and the ability to find what they do better than the rest of the market and focus on it. Those that are statistically minded gravitate towards generating ratings based off sophisticated computer models. This is what the major syndicates use. They are the major players in most markets. This can be a very successful approach that can allow betting into many more markets than could possibly be done manually and therefore only needs to generate lower profit rates and much higher turnover to be successful. Like every other aspect of this game it can produce limitless possibilities so can never be perfected. There are thousands of variables in racing that can attempt to be quantified, and each one can be weighted differently. It’s the differences here that will lead to success or failure. With huge amounts of data now available, back testing can be helpful, but that’s only a start.

Some people make a living wagering without knowing the form of a single runner. The ability to read a market and which direction the money is going is a skill in itself. In a game of small percentages, that can be crucial.

Others make a living just by looking at the horses in the yard and comparing to the others in the field and to how it looked in previous starts. Getting to know the horses as individuals can be a real edge. This then leads me to how I like to go about things.

By getting to know a region intimately, there can be advantages over the bigger models betting everywhere. Barrier trials are very important in beginning to build a profile of a horse before the rest of the market can. Trainers have patterns on how their horses trial and how much improvement they have come race time, along with their patterns on how their horses improve through a preparation. There are little things like how certain trainers think about barriers and how that can affect their mindset and tactics.

The same goes with jockeys. Some have a tendency to be more positive and up on the pace, while there are others who prefer to take a sit. Each of the tracks have their own little quirks and the more you get to know them, the better off you’ll be. For instance a Randwick heavy track is very different from a Canterbury heavy and different again to Rosehill.

When there is bias during a race meeting, knowing the horses and their patterns can be a huge advantage in being able to adjust before the rest of the market can. Wet tracks and the variables that produces in form, can be another edge for those that specialise. The downside is you have less opportunity to bet, with the form able to be done properly for fewer races.

So you need to win at a higher rate, and be able to sustain a losing run that is longer time wise than someone having many more bets to reduce the variance, but more about that in bankroll management later.

I’ve always found the old saying of ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’ as the perfect way of describing gambling on racing. There are so many ways to win at racing, and it’s all about finding what suits you, your lifestyle, and even your personality.

Some will treat it more like art than science and succeed, others will be more conservative than others and still carve out a good living. You will find your niche after trial and error.

I tend to focus on runners greater than $4, simply because that is where I found I was having the most success and it suited my mental approach to it. Most other professionals focus on runners at the other end of the market.

Next week, we’ll get into a few of the different pieces of the form puzzle that I find important when reviewing a race and for trying to predict what will happen in tomorrow’s race.