Talking Horseracing and betting systems

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reminiscing tale my Grandad’s betting system (System enclosed) and anecdotes from other System players of the past: William Hill, Bill Benton, Dorothy Paget and Conor Murphy.

Talking Horseracing and betting systems 

 

“Betting System working well, Please send more money”

 

My Grandad liked to bet on racehorses as did his dad and a long line of Elliott’s before them. Gambling was in their blood. Tales of betting coups and wows have been past down through generations. life has always revolved around horse racing and betting; betting mainly. From a very young age my Grandad would take me racing at Kempton, Sandown or Windsor. If not we would watch it on the T.V. We would shout the winner home then he would give me a few shillings as my share of his winnings. It was great fun.

My Grandads betting selections would often be decided upon by using one of his systems. His betting system fascinated me. He was always teasing me saying ‘One day this will all be yours my boy’ I had no idea what he was talking about, but played along. Sadly he died of the big C when I was fourteen. My interest in Horseracing still continued, all be it under the radar of my mum. 

In 1979, I had just turned sixteen years old and had started an apprenticeship to be a chef at the Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly, London. I worked split shifts which basically meant I had the afternoons free. In those days caterers were ever Alcoholics, gamblers or workaholics, often all three! It took just over five minutes to walk to our destination; a Mecca betting shop in Shepherds Market, just off Park Lane, London. The shop was full of multicultural punters from all walks of life. The atmosphere was club like – Punter verses bookmaker. A great cheer went up, Lester Piggott had just steered the 2-1 favourite home by a neck! I have to confess L.Piggott didn’t mean a lot to me at the time. Mind you, the name Piggott, certainly meant more to me by the end of the following year, when he managed to win 156 races. I digress. From that day on and throughout my apprenticeship I spent many pleasurable afternoons listening to the Extel race commentaries; hearing tales from my fellow habitués of how they’d nearly backed the latest winner or how they’d nearly not backed a previous loser; studying form and the latest set of odds as the board man chalked up; not to mention finding time to have a bet. I had now gained access to another part of the Horseracing jigsaw. If I wasn’t already, I was now hooked by Horseracing and all the conundrums that came with it. 

In an article on the subject of betting, written at the end of the nineteenth century (1898) the author wrote: “Life on the Turf for those who (bookmakers always excepted) endeavour to make money by it is very much a see-saw; but there are extremely few who go up, up and up, and when they do they seldom go far.” These words still hold true today.

At a time when the poor were existing on wages that could be counted in shillings per week rather than pounds, and women could be employed at a penny an hour in the Welsh coal-mines, Harry Hastings lost more than one hundred thousand pounds in the two-and-a-half minutes in which it took to run the Derby.

Then there was the Peerless Charlie Hannam was by far, the biggest professional punter of his era. “Old English” as he was known, was a gambling genius who knew how to play the bookmakers at their own game. He had an excellent flair for figures and an uncanny calm no matter how badly the day went against him. His knowledge of the racehorse and its characteristics was highly sought after by many of the leading trainers of the time. His biggest gamble was Domaha in the 1938 Cambridgeshire. If Domaha, ridden by Gorden Richards, had won, Hannam would have been set up financially for life. His system was based on what we now call dutching. Backing more than one horse in a race to make a profit. He would often have three or four on his side again the field. After the failed gamble, he departed the racing scene which had graced his presence for over 40 years. Ironically he was owed at least eight times what he had been “knocked” for. When he died he left a fortune of close to £300,000 (about £7,000,000 today), all of which had been accrued from betting on horse racing. Spanning over 40 years.

Alex Bird started betting in the early forties and dominated the ring for thirty years. At his peak he had a turnover of over two million pounds a year. (Equivalent to ten times that figure in today’s money.) He went racing six days a week on the flat – travelling in his private aircraft – and spent the best part of the British winter on exotic holidays in the sun. Alex lived a Champaign lifestyle throughout his life, owned a Rolls Royce; a jet-plain and a fifteenth century mansion in Cheshire; all paid for by betting.

Gone too, possibly forever, were the colourful personalities of the betting fraternity who had shown a willingness to lay thousands of pounds without even a question? Take Walter Beresford, a leading bookmaker between 1900 and 1940, whom, in his time, it is estimated that he had through his hand a sum in the region of over £20’000’000. Today, those figures are unheard of, and that’s without taking into account the inflation factor!

On my eighteenth birthday, my nan handed me an envelope my Grandad had left for me. The envelope housed two hundred pounds in crisp ten pound notes. But it wasn’t the money that interested me. Also in the envelope was a hand written letter and instructions to his Horse racing systems. It also had a letter from Hawthorns turf accountants letting him know in the nicest of manners told him they didn’t want his business anymore. 

The Systems: With both systems it is paramount that you compare the horse's probability of winning against its market price and identifies cases where the market price for a horse is higher than you expectation. If it isn’t then you don’t bet.

 

Flat Racing

 

  1. The horse had won or been placed second in its last run
  2. The Selection has at least 10 in the RP selection box
  3. The Selection is Favourite and the betting forecast in the Racing Post is between 1-2 to 2-1 with the second Favourite forecast at least 3 points bigger
  4. Less than twelve runners in the race
  5. The horse had ran in the last twenty days
  6. The horse was Favourite in at least one of the last three runs
  7. The trainer is in good form with a rating of 50+ in the Racing Post 

 

National Hunt Racing

 

  1. Only bet in Novice hurdle and chase races only
  2. The selection finished Second, third or forth last time out but has won a similar race in its career.
  3. Less than nine runners in the race
  4. The horse was Favourite last time it ran
  5. The Jockey and trainer are top of their game.

 

I have dabbled with my Grandads Systems over the years with some success. Granted there is no sign of me retiring just yet.

Talking of betting systems, Conor Murphy seemed to have the right idea. His was simple really. Get a job in the best National Hunt racing stables in the world. Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows stable in Berkshire. Get to know which horses have an outstanding chance of running at Cheltenham. Put your money where your mouth is and let the trainer do the rest. Three months before the festival he placed his bet. A five horse accumulator. Fifty pound each way at odds of: 6/1 Sprinter Sacre, 12/1 Simonsig, 6/1 Bob's Worth, 8/1 Finian's Rainbow and 10/1 Riverside Theatre. In 2012, Nicky Henderson won seven races at the Cheltenham festival. Conor had five of them. His winnings came to just under three million pounds. His bookmaker had a maximum payout of one million. Still not a bad day at the office. 

In 2001 Bill Benter did what was thought to be impossible. He wrote an algorithm that practically wrote the results of the following days races. Over time he would go on to win in excess of a billion dollars. 

The last horse race in Happy Valley,  Hong Kong had been ran. It Tuesday 6th November 2001 and all the talk in the city was of Hong Kong there was about the biggest jackpot the city had ever seen being won by one ticket holder. Over one hundred million Hong Kong dollars (then about pound £20 million) Bill Better was looking at the winning ticket with satisfaction. For Benter, It wasn’t about the money, it was all about conquering the so called impossible. His story starts back in the nineteen eighties. He had just applied for a job as a night cleaner at McDonald’s when his buddies introduced him to the man who would change his life. Alan Woods was the leader of an Australian card-counting team that had recently arrived in Las Vegas. Woods impressed Benter with his tales of fearlessness, recounting how he’d sneaked past airport security in Manila with $10,000 stuffed into his underwear. Most appealing, he pursued the card counter’s craft with discipline. His team pooled its cash and divided winnings equitably. Having more players reduced the risk of a run of bad luck wiping out one’s bankroll, and the camaraderie offset the solitary nature of the work. Benter joined the squad. Within six weeks, he found himself playing blackjack in Monte Carlo, served by waiters in dinner jackets. He felt like James Bond, and his earnings grew to a rate of about $80,000 a year. They were so successful and the casino bosses saw them off. It became impossible for them to keep playing in Vegas. They needed to find another game. Woods knew there were giant horse betting pools to tap in Asia. He was most interested in Hong Kong’s race courses which was run by the Jockey Club. Happy Valley and Sha Tin, were packed twice a week during a racing season that extended from September to July. Hong Kong’s population was then only about 5.5 million, but it bet more on horses at one meeting than an entire English festival meeting. It was colossal. Benter relished to win big he would need a system that out performed anything available at the time. Benter taught himself advanced statistics and learned to write software on an early PC with a green-and-black screen. Meanwhile, in the fall of 1984, Woods flew to Hong Kong and sent back a stack of yearbooks containing the results of thousands of races. Benter hired two women to key the results into a database by hand so he could spend more time studying regressions and developing code. It took nine months. In September 1985 he flew to Hong Kong with three bulky IBM computers in his checked luggage. Their office was an old desk and a wooden table piled high with racing newspapers. If they went out at all, it was to the McDonald’s down the street. Benter struggled to stay ahead of a statistical phenomenon called gambler’s ruin. It holds that if a player with limited funds keeps betting against an opponent with unlimited funds (that is, a casino, or the betting population of Hong Kong), he will eventually go broke, even if the game is fair. All lucky streaks come to an end, and losing runs are fatal. One approach—familiar to Benter from his blackjack days—was to adapt the work of a gunslinging Texas physicist named John Kelly Jr., who’d studied the problem in the 1950s. Kelly imagined a scenario in which a horse-racing gambler has an edge: a “private wire” of fairly reliable tips. How should he bet? Wager too little, and the advantage is squandered. Too much, and ruin beckons. (Remember, the tips are good but not perfect.) Kelly’s solution was to wager an amount in line with the gambler’s confidence in the tip. If, that is, the model were accurate. By the end of Benter’s first season in Hong Kong, in the summer of 1986, he and Woods had lost $120,000 of their $150,000 stake. Benter flew back to Vegas to beg for investment, unsuccessfully, and Woods went to South Korea to gamble. They met back in Hong Kong in September. Woods had more money than Benter and wanted an 80 percent share. Benter said forget it. They never spoke or worked together again. Benter returned to Las Vegas. His friends wouldn’t stake him at horse racing, but they would at blackjack. He took their money to Atlantic City and spent two years managing a team of card counters, brooding, and working on the racing model in his spare time. In September 1988, having amassed a few hundred thousand dollars, he returned to Hong Kong. Sure enough, using his improved algorithms and the experience he had gained in his previous exploits he began to win regularly. He made just under eight hundred thousand dollars in his first year and the figures and algorithms continued to improve from then on. 

The great late William Hill had a system that enabled him to become the most powerful and prominent bookmaking chain pre-millennium. 

William Hill was born in Birmingham in 1903. During World War One he was a bookmakers runner, collecting bets from local factories. Between 1933 and 1939, Hill has progressed to being a rails bookmaker at the now long gone Northolt Park point to point course. It was there he he began to create a name for himself. He befriended and would do regular business with the intriguing Miss Dorothy Paget. It wasn’t long before their relationship was sparking rumours. Hill’s System at Northolt Park was quite simple: To take as much money as Miss Paget care to bet. She would always bet on her own horses ridden by her jockey Tommy Carey. 

Hill had arranged for Carey to spot her horses from winning when the big bets were on. Which was often enough for Hill to accumulate a small fortune and for Paget to lose one. That said, She could afford to. She had a lot of small fortunes or to be precise one very very large fortune. It wasn’t long before Willian Hill was expanding. He opened plush premises in Jermyn Street, London. By 1941 he had established himself as a leading racecourse bookmaker, laying horses to huge amounts. By then, he had hired Phil Bull to formulate all the ante-post and big meeting tissue prices and as an all-round advisor. By the end of the war, there was a massive betting market with all the black marketeers trying to multiply their ill-gotten gains, and the ex-servicemen merrily punting away their gratuities. William Hill become very wealthy. A true rags to riches tale thanks to a little sculduggery and Dorothy Paget.

Talking of Dorothy Paget, or Miss P as she was known. Throughout the time Hill was climbing ranks, Dorothy had also climbed in the racing circles of the times. She was now one of the leading owners. One story has it that on this particular accusation she had set off for Royal Ascot, buoyed by trainer Fred Darling's glowing reports of Colonel Payne's prospects in the Cork and Orrery Stakes. Colonel Payne was said to be a certainty. Dorothy has one of the biggest bets of her life, She watched Colonel Payne finish well beaten, then rushed into the unsaddling enclosure to confront her trainer. "Where's Mr Darling?" she demanded of jockey Gordon Richards. "I wouldn't be quite sure, Miss Paget," Richards replied, "but I've a pretty shrewd idea he's on the top of the stand, cutting his throat.

As time went on, Miss Paget become more eccentric and tended to sleep during the day. Since she still like to bet, she arranged with William Hill to bet as it were, posthumously, after the racing was over. It was testimony to Paget's honesty, if not to her betting prowess, that the arrangement did more for Hill's bank balance than for Paget's. She bet on a gargantuan scale. At a time when the average price of a house was less than pounds 1,000, Paget regularly bet several houses at a time. Sometimes choosing to strike a bet to win pounds 20,000, she once put pounds 160,000 on a 1-8 shot. Fortunately, it won. Many did not and, in 1948 alone, Paget lost over £100,000, equivalent to about pounds 3 million today. No wonder bookies employed people to stay awake all night just to take Dorothy's calls.

And finally, from that same era, a short tale that made me smile. There was a new Welsh announcer at Chepstow races who was sacked on his first day for informing racegoers over the tannoy: “Attention please! The Stewards have informed me that Miss Dorothy Paget’s Fanny has been scratched in the paddock.”

The news turned the betting market upside down and just minutes before the race a new favourite was installed.  The announcer then came on the tannoy again. “May I have your attention again please!  The Stewards now inform me that to the best of their knowledge and belief, Miss Dorothy Paget’s Fanny has never been entered!” As the saying goes, if it’s not true, it should be!


Submitted: April 13, 2020

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