Geelong Cup

Not many people can say that they’ve been finding winners at the track since they were ten years old. Cam O’Brien certainly can.

Snaring a win on the Melbourne Cup using his own nous and some stats sparked his interest in racing and it’s only been up from that point on.

Since then he’s gone onto develop his own betting strategies and worked under some of the biggest names in the industry including Mark Read.

Now he’s part of the Champion Bets stable, heading up the Key Bets service.

His love of the Melbourne Cup has continued… he’s found the last three winners of the big race for his Key Bets members, including this year’s winner, Vow And Declare, which is trained by his cousin Danny.

We found out some more about his background and exactly how he goes about generating an edge.

How did you first get involved with punting?

I first got involved with punting as a just-turned 10 year old, when my father took me to the Melbourne Cup.

I invented a simple – well, simple now… it was complex for me at the time! – points system where I gave horses points for things like their track stats, distance stats, overall record, recent form, and it all added up to At Talaq being the winner of the Cup.

Dad put $10 on him for me at 5/1, and the rest is history… with $50 in my pocket after this I was immediately enthralled!

Have you always been involved with racing or have you ever dabbled in sports betting?

I did invent an AFL model a few years ago which I ran for two seasons. I made a profit both seasons but it was time consuming and I haven’t kept it up. I was trying to do too much by including that in my workload, so I let it go.

Plus, I found the nerves of a bet on a football game far harder to handle – they last for several hours, whereas at least a horse race is over quickly one way or the other!

How successful were you when you first started out?

As a ten-year-old? Haha… no, when I first started as a professional analyst for Mark Read I was hit-and-miss as a punter. I lacked discipline and would bet fairly chaotically. Working there brought a change in my attitude that helped me turn the corner.

I would have whatever spare cash I had left from my paypacket on things I really liked, and would generally keep something aside for a quaddie or a treble (we were working in the NT, trebles were all the go up there).

Our offices were at Fannie Bay racetrack in Darwin. We had bookmakers downstairs in “the Laurels” and often an analyst would quietly slip out the door to duck downstairs to the Laurels for a bet, minutes before a race… It wasn’t exactly scientific punting, but I did learn from it.

When did you first feel that you had an edge over the bookies? And what approach did you use?

About twelve years ago when I first began seriously recording and interrogating my methods, and analysing my output against tote and SP. I realised at that time there was edges there if I did the work properly and came up with good figures. That was a turning point for me.

How has your approach to finding winners evolved over time? What sort of process do you use to identify potential runners that look to be value?

My approach to finding winners has always been ratings based, ever since I starting reading Don Scott’s books as a teenager. It evolved from what I would call Don’s more simple weight rating method, to a method that Mark Read developed – time and sectional ratings. Of course they weren’t unique to Mark, but he advanced my knowledge in that area.

By the age of 19 I was already doing time ratings, having read Andy Beyer’s books, and Mark took it to the next stage when sectionals were introduced into the mix. From there, having left working for Mark, I developed my own ratings model and have been improving and refining it ever since.

Unfortunately it can’t be automated… the ratings still require a skilled analyst to work out, based on their class, weight, time and sectionals. I am at the stage now where the ratings are right, and the next evolution for me is “what can I do to add to them”?

Zjelko and other syndicates have all sorts of bonuses and penalties they apply to horses for how lucky or unlucky, suited or unsuited a horse was in a race. That’s something I would like to be able to do too. The problem is it’s quite time consuming. Zjelko and the likes have teams of people to do this work, I do not.

Do you use a purely data driven approach, or video analysis and form or a combination?

Certainly a mix. The rating are a guide, a starting point. It’s what they’ve done in the past, and it’s always the first thing to start with for a horse. After that, though, it is about “colouring in” the horse, which comes from a more in-depth look at its past runs. This is where traditional form analysis and video study come into it.

How would you define your edge now?

My edge comes from two things:

  1. The ratings themselves: it’s vital that I continue to create accurate past performance ratings, as they’re the cornerstone of the method
  2. Solid form analysis: this gets turned into solid markets, and betting the edges that my own price history shows are inherent in those.

What would you suggest to new punters who are looking to try and find an edge in racing?

To read books by successful professional punters of the past. The Don Scott days are gone and his methods likely won’t work now, but his books are still an interesting read.

After that I would say develop a method and begin testing it, with live data. That’s the best way to find the holes in your method, what works, what doesn’t. And DON’T bet too much early on, the worst thing you can do is blow your bank before you’re even off the ground!

Oh, and don’t back too many losers…


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