Originally featured on racing.com.
The Trevor Lawson story is testament to the fact that you don’t need a background in racing or a lifetime love of the sport to carve out a career in wagering. It should also serve as inspiration to anyone out there thinking of pursuing the racing dream that it’s never too late to try.
Racing wasn’t a part of Lawson’s life growing up. Golf was his passion from about the age of 14 and he showed great natural talent so followed the golfing dream for a few years. He was good enough to win several pro-ams, but never quite good enough to take the next step.
His first job after leaving school was as a trainee pro at Long Island Golf Club in Frankston. This is where he was first exposed to the world of gambling. Like most golf clubs at the time, there was an SP bookie behind the bar, and he would do a roaring trade on Saturdays.
This was a losing proposition for Lawson, who like most recreational punters, was just doing it as a hobby and for the enjoyment. Luckily for Lawson, there was also plenty of betting done on the golf course. He would happily play members or guests for his weekly wage or more per game and this would prove a handy source of income.
He would go along with his boss to the dogs or trots at night, bet on the horses in the day and gamble on golf. He had well and truly been bitten by the bug. Towards the end of his 16 years as a golf pro, he began to ponder what was next after golf without many other qualifications.
His trips to race meetings became more frequent and he started to become friendly with a very smart punter that was involved with one of the leading punting syndicates at the time. He would become somewhat of a mentor to Lawson over the next few years.
Through meeting him, Lawson’s ‘eyes would be opened’ to a new way of doing things. The syndicate was one of the most successful in Australia and operated by using one of very few computer databases dedicated to racing at the time.
It was a similar style system to what Don Scott had written about and Lawson would soon read about. Each horse would be given a weight rating for each run based off numerous factors.
This appealed to Lawson, as he’d always had an analytic, structured way of approaching things, and he could see how lucrative it could be through the success of this syndicate.
He would start to compile his own ratings, but his database was a collection of years’ worth of Sportsmans and racebooks that would have his notes and figures scribbled down in them.
He started working with another professional punter and would learn as much as he could from him and others. He would take what he learned and refine how he would come up with his own ratings and after two years felt confident enough to go out and give it a try on his own.
He purchased the Southcoast database and would put all his notes, video comments and ratings into there. The final rating for a horse’s run was in kilograms, which could also be represented as lengths.
Lawson has a thorough process when going about giving a numerical value to each runner. It starts with a number that is generated using the horse’s beaten margin. A figure for the weight is given based off a scaled compression of the weights carried. A figure for the class of the race (that is being constantly refined) is then adjusted for the early pace in the race.
The horse’s position in the run is then given a bonus or penalty depending on how suited it was to this early pace. The video comments also get broken down to a numerical value in kilograms.
All of these steps and many other factors go into giving a horse a rating. Quantifying these factors, and the different ways you could go about it and then weighting them accordingly is the true skill in rating a horse and one that Lawson has spent the past 15 years honing.
When it is time to do the form for a race, the base number that is selected for each runner is then adjusted for numerous more factors. It is done by giving a bonus or penalty (in kilograms) for every variable that Lawson considers important in a race.
The map and what sort of run each horse will get is the first thing that gets taken into account. Along with this a rating for the jockey is given significant weighting. A top jockey such as a Bowman or Williams could get a bonus of approximately 1.5kg and the lesser jockeys could get a penalty of up to 3-4 kg, which gives an indication of just how important the jockey riding is to Lawson.
The other major influence on his rating comes from something that Lawson considers one of his main edges over the marketplace in his years in wagering. He is a huge believer in track bias and the affect it has on the outcome of races, and believes it is underplayed in the market.
This was one of the key lessons learnt from his mentor, who was among the first to try to mathematically account for bias in racing. Lawson, or someone he trusts, will walk every track the day before any meeting he bets on. Not many people do it, and it is a real skill in itself for those that do actually take the time to do it.
Sometimes, it’s just for ‘peace of mind’ he says, as historical records can give a good indication of bias, but ‘it gives you confidence when you can confirm it by walking the track prior’.
Other times, however, by walking regularly, he can be the first to pick up on any potential change in pattern that may occur.
Lawson isn’t a believer in adjusting during the day. If he gets the call wrong on the track and how it will play, he would rather ‘stop and say I was wrong and be done for the day’.
“There are plenty of other days to bet on. It’s just one meeting amongst many,” he said.
Other factors that get a bonus or penalty include a possible improvement early in a preparation or being suited – or not – to going up or back in distance. Lawson is also a big believer in horses and trainers tending to follow patterns in their preparations. If a horse has improved significantly third-up at its past two campaigns, then Lawson will factor in a likely improvement to its next third-up run.
Once he is happy with the weight rating he has given each horse, Lawson then goes about turning this rating into a price to 90 per cent. He has different algorithms that compress the rating at differing ratios, depending on the type of race and size of the field.
“A horse that is rated three lengths behind the top horse in a weight-for-age race with a small field, should be priced much longer than a horse with a similar rating in a bigger field with more variables,” Lawson said.
Even though manual adjustments are made to the rating along each step of the process, the fact that the final price is generated automatically is something Lawson considers to be an edge when it comes to his wagering.
He said: “It stops you being clouded with horses. Once I have given it the rating and all the bonuses I can and the price comes out at $3, I just can’t take $2.50.
“It helps me to find a lot of false favourites.”
After he has his prices it’s time to bet. The type of the race means little (other than avoiding 2YO races with limited public information). It’s all about the size of the overlay on his ratings compared to what’s available.
He generally backs anywhere up to seven runners in a race and is happy to take down to $2.50 for his bracket of runners per race. Some runners will be bigger winners than others and some will be just to break square on the race. He finds that backing multiple runners in a race like this allows him to reduce the variance.
The art of taking the best possible price has become much harder in the current landscape. Previously the betting ring at the track was the one and only marketplace. It was easy to know the familiar faces and know when a betting move was occurring and secure top odds.
Now with the marketplace being online, so many moves happen anonymously and it’s hard to tell the right bets from the wrong bets.
“Nowadays a horse can be $17 into $16 with five minutes to go and you take the $17 and by jump time it’s 30s. That was unheard of a few years ago,” he said.
Totes used to provide some sort of guide to impending moves, but that too is long gone.
“Now it’s just about trying to predict what price the big syndicates have things marked, as they control the market,” said Lawson.
“Betfair can provide a guide, but a lot of dummies are thrown. The same goes for post-9am bets. The real, sustained moves start occurring from 11am and continue throughout the afternoon.”
Lawson has been supplying close friends with his prices for a number of years. The fact that six different people can receive the same set of ratings and produce six completely different sets of results never ceases to amaze him and reinforces that along with the skill of doing the form, gambling is a separate skill unto itself and needs to be worked on accordingly.
More recently, Lawson has been selling his ratings successfully on a commercial basis via championbets.com.au.
“It has no impact on the market, and it’s nice to have something constant coming into the bank account at the end of each month,” he said.
When asked to give some advice to anyone trying to make their way in wagering, he said: “Sometimes you just gotta stay in the game. Never be embarrassed by how small you have to bet during a bad run so you can be around for the good runs when they come.”
And ‘you have to speculate to accumulate’!
You can follow Nathan on Twitter @snowbet.
Nathan was a fan favourite in his time at Champion Bets, backing plenty of winners for members of his Snowy’s Bets service over three years.
Since then, Mark Rhoden has taken the reigns and is doing just the same for members of NSW Winners.
Over $11,500 profit since September 2017 and there are no signs of slowing down – get on board today.