Diary of a pro punter
An exclusive look at two weeks in the life of a professional horse racing punter
Many a smaller-time punter dreams of one day taking the big step to becoming a professional. The grind, discipline and whole-of-life commitment required in making a genuine fist of it, however, might come as a surprise to those with dollar signs in their eyes. At Punters.com.au, we have for years maintained an ongoing relationship with one of Australia's biggest professional horse racing punters.
Though he was reluctant to publicly reveal his identity, he was more than happy to provide our readers with an exclusive insight into what constitutes the daily reality of professional punting.
His resultant two-week diary sheds light on not only the lifestyle and day-to-day challenges that characterise the job, but also articulates his views on some of professional punting's most critical issues (including ‘getting on' with corporate bookmakers, dealing with losses and varying approaches to form study).
"There are few businesses that can humble you as quickly as professional gambling."
The working week almost always commences on a Tuesday, when I'm generally in the office by 8.00am. (Editor's note: This ‘office' is in fact larger than most houses. It is a lavish three bedroom, two bathroom, $1 million-plus penthouse with rooftop entertaining area and pool.)
Tuesdays are largely set aside for working on what I call “processes”. Today I have a session with my mental conditioning coach to work on mental processes for each betting session.
A quick glance at the form identifies one horse that has come up comfortable overs. Thankfully, Betfair opposes Wodonga Race 3 #7 Way to Win owned by Gerry Harvey. The profit is a tick over $15,000 so it is a good result on a very quiet day.
Wednesday is obviously a busier racing day, so I'm in the office by 7.00am. There is an hour and a half of form completed before heading off for a personal training session to open the lungs, which I find helps me to perform at my best throughout what can be a physically and mentally taxing day.
Back into the office at 10.00am, where I shower and then settle into my chair for the day. I get stuck into another two hours of form before the betting session kicks off.
The day is a winning one, resulting in a $44,805 profit. The best individual result is Snitzel's Jewel, which wins me a touch under $25,000.
Today is a quieter turnover day, as I need to spend some time working with a programmer on a project. On very light turnover, I manage a $28,101 profit, thanks largely to winning $25,860 on Operation Twist.
I post a small losing day of $4,345. I like to take it easier on Fridays to help freshen up for the intensity of Saturdays. A personal training session, lunch with friends - pretty much anything non-racing related!
Liquidity was light so it made it difficult to get on. Between races at Cranbourne that evening I start on the Saturday race form.
I am up at 5.30am to get to my office at 6.00am. From 6.00am until 6.00pm, I literally plan every second. It is high pressure for 12 hours. Six hours of intense form analysis before the betting session kicks off. Every second counts. I maintain pre- and post-session checklists to ensure I keep to a regimented process.
"That is the last work day of the week for me, with the weekly profit being $115,685."
This Saturday I post a solid result of $31,100. That is the last work day of the week for me, with the weekly profit being $115,685 (a good return for me). I complete my usual two-hour or so review of the Saturday races to help identify any areas that I must continue to work on.
I head to Sydney. I like to play some blackjack for some fun so when I travel, I will always stay in a casino. The casinos will - as a general rule - pick up the tab for my expenses (flights, accommodation, drivers, a daily food and beverage allowance etc). Besides, it is just about impossible to find a hotel with Sky and TVN (or even one of them for that matter), and casinos have both.
As I am setting up a ‘blackjack program' at the front desk, in walk two Asian punters with what is clearly a plain-clothes bodyguard, who has a large leather bag in tow. No doubt he would have been carrying a minimum of $200,000 or so in cash. I find how the casinos treat these ‘whales' most interesting, what with the private jets, the private gaming rooms and the rebates offered.
As always - in wagering and in life in general - I think in terms of probabilities and expectations. Playing basic strategy on blackjack, I expect to lose 0.6% on turnover. Therefore, I can estimate how much my play is expected to cost me based on an estimate of the number of hands per hour I play, and my average bet size.
When considering the value of competition play, it works out as cheap entertainment but naturally there can be some swings in the short-term (both positive and negative - I have had my fill-up days on the blackjack tables in the past too).
In any case, I play blackjack with a good friend for a number of hours. I dust off $10,000 and my friend (who is a most successful Sydney based racing professional gambler) dusts off $19,000.
Despite the loss, we enjoy the night, have a few drinks (basically whatever you would like to drink in these rooms so there was plenty of Greg Goose ordered), a nice meal and a good catch up.
This trip is somewhat of a work trip catching up with a range of racing and wagering people. Predominately this trip is to work with a Sydney based statistician on a wagering project.
Of course, Sunday through to Tuesday are almost always my quiet days, or days off entirely. Monday is just about always a day off, unless it is a public holiday (with the associated higher-turnover race meetings).
There are few businesses that can humble you as quickly as professional gambling. I am back in the battle seat, but it is a day to forget. I lose $49,566 but more importantly, I handle the day poorly.
"To an extent, I couldn't care less if I lose, on the proviso that I put forward my best possible effort."
To an extent, I couldn't care less if I lose, on the proviso that I put forward my best possible effort. Making the right decisions and maintaining my integrity of effort are far more important than anything else. Regardless of the result, I get filthy when I know I could have done better. I know if I bring my ‘A game' the results will flow in time.
I am preoccupied with a couple of other projects I am working on, so it is a light turnover day only. I lose $11,682.
I am down $19,400 after two races. I then go on to back the impressive winner Furbish at Eagle Farm (only to win $6,000 as I missed the price).
Next up I win $41,555 on Mr Jetset.
Usually I wouldn't be able to back a horse to win anything like that on a Friday meeting (despite it being a mid-week metropolitan meeting). However, I caught a break with the Damian Browne ridden Glendara being truckloaded. I had the horse marked an $8 chance so was wrapped to see it backed into around the $3 mark at the jump. This enabled me to get a good bet on Mr Jetset with the totes and Betfair holding up well.
There wasn't a great deal in it for the rest of the day ending up with a profit of $22,878. Friday evening is spent on the form for Saturday.
As usual, I am in the office at 6am ready for a big day. These carnival meetings are so important as liquidity is good: I can win or lose up to $200,000 over the day.
Midweek meetings I basically bet whatever I can get on at a price that I consider value. Saturdays, in particular carnival days, I definitely don't reach the betting limits.
I post a $62,582 loss for the day. I wouldn't have much idea how I am going throughout the course of a day - it is only when all bets go into my spreadsheet after the betting session that I discover what the profit or loss was.
It could have been worse... I backed a number of horses in Sydney to win around $50,000, which is a strong bet for me.
"I can't control the results; I can only control my play and the quality of my decisions."
In my review process after the day's betting session, I couldn't have been more pleased with how I handled the day, despite my losses. I can't control the results; I can only control my play and the quality of my decisions.
I think it is part of adopting a professional approach: there are a number of ‘full-time' punters but few true ‘professionals' in Australia. I find there isn't a lot of room in this business for ego stroking. I think many are too busy chest-beating rather than working.
My total loss for the week is $100,952.
To relax after a high-pressure day, I get on a plane to Sydney to catch up with some racing folk. I return home the following morning a touch dusty, but all too ready for another week in battle with the bookies. For the past fortnight I am just about even but there have undoubtedly been some significant bankroll fluctuations in those 14 days.
Pro punter on:
One of the problems with quiet days is that even if you find a winner and make a profit, it generally results in an account closure or restriction. It is a catch 22. Therefore, wagering options are few.
For most professionals, the backbone of their ‘outs' are Betfair, the totes, on track bookies, topsport.com.au and Tatts.
As a tip, topsport.com.au take all the professional action in Australia, so it is definitely worth paying careful attention to the movement in their prices against the market. That can give you valuable insight into which horses the professionals are playing, and how hard they're playing them.
Naturally it is deeply concerning that practices such as account restrictions and closures have infiltrated Australia wagering. For me the most pressing ramifications for racing coming out of these practices are the inevitable integrity issues that are just around the corner. As punters can't get bets on with corporates, they will turn to SP bookmakers or overseas operators. Of course there is also a real threat to racing funding moving forward, but that is an argument for another day.
I use a range of models combined with manual form, which is how I am able to knock over the form reasonably quick. Many of my handicapping processes are automated.
I am one of the few punters who doesn't start crunching the Saturday form until very late in the week. My reasoning being twofold - firstly, I am generally too focused on the races on the day throughout the week to concentrate on the Saturday races.
Secondly, I just can't really get on. If I take early overs, that inevitably results in my accounts being banned or restricted, so it is altogether counterproductive. I figure I am better off leaving the prices, hoping they hold until Saturday where limits are greater so I can get on a larger bet spread amongst bookies.
"Putting a loss into perspective is very much contingent on how you view your money. "
- Dealing with losses
Putting a loss into perspective is very much contingent on how you view your money. For me, I mentally segregate funds into “personal money” and “business money”.
In this business, money is inventory. If I lose 100k for example, the thought doesn't enter my mind as to what I could have done with that money. It is inventory for the business to use; it isn't there to be spent (until of course you mentally move it into use as personal funds).
Contrary to what most would believe, the wagering business for me is incredibly safe. Naturally my bet sizes are tiny against bankroll. Variance can be calculated and planned for. This business is insulated from external economic factors; I have full control.
- Staying ahead of the game
I always have a range of handicapping projects on the go all with the view of achieving constant improvement. The greatest predictor of long-term success in this business is the level of effort put towards getting better. Anyone can win over a short period of time - one or two years. Winning over ten plus years is the challenge, as the markets are constantly changing, with edges disappearing and then reappearing elsewhere. You have to be constantly working to stay one step ahead of the market.
I think when assessing jockeys, too many punters privilege jockey tactics over balance and rhythm. Based on the latter criteria, I consider Damian Browne to clearly be one of the best jockeys in Australia. Unfortunately, however, I suspect Damian is a solid evens chance to retire not long after Buffering does. He just about always rides in pain - I doubt his body can hold up too much longer to the rigours of race riding.
It took me some time to work out Darren Weir. Until recently, I found him the most difficult to read. When the form dictates his horses to run well and are hard in the market, beware! The opposite is true. Look as a positive his runners coming off flat runs (especially if the horse is 22 to say 36 days since last run). Analysing trainers throughout Australia by betting patterns has Weir being one of the most interesting.