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Straight from the horse's mouth
David Dorn hedges his bets on a package thafs odds on favourite to win by a nose
I HAVE never seen a poor bookie. I know one whose Mercedes is due for an MOT and another who has had to cut his vacation to only a four week cruise on the QEII, but penniless is a term that cannot be applied to the accountants of the turf. They make their money by allowing ordinary people like you and me to make wagers on the outcome of varying incidents, including the sex of the latest royal baby and all manner of other things.
But the mainstay of their incomes is the loot they pocket from the followers of the sport of kings. Ah yes, the turf accountants of this world absolutely love the casual punter.
The majority of casual punters apply no system to their bets. Some back a nag on the basis of its name. The bookie, however, has a team of folk applying hard-won racing knowledge to the form of each horse in a race, making expert predictions of the outcome. It's on this basis that the odds the punter is quoted are initially arrived at. After that the number of bets for each horse, and their amounts, influence the odds either up or down.
That is the bookie's advantage and why he rarely makes a loss. If the punter had the same! team working for him, the chances of making an inroad into his bookie's profit might well improve.
If you think about it for a nanosecond you might well come to the conclusion that there must be a set of rules that can be applied to the analysis of racing form. If that is the case - and it is - then why not find a way to speed up the acquisition of the analysis skills, then speed up the application of them, put the whole caboosh into a package that anyone can use, call it Pro-Punter and charge about £60 for it? Too late, I'm afraid - it's already been done.
For better or for worse
Having made my contribution toward the odd cruise round the Med for the odd bookie in my time, I was more than happy to take a look at the CPC-owning punter's latest tool for redressing the balance. Redressing the balance? It was going to have to do a lot more than pay for itself to do that.
Rumour has it that all bookies are, shall we say, perturbed at the thought of some high roller who invents or discovers the perfect betting system, so you'd have thought that Pro-Punter would have them shaking in their boots.
Not so. At least the chap who continually makes sure that I don't waste my hard-earned cash on fripperies like booze and fast cars reckons it can only do him good because the "mug punters" will read the reviews, rush out and buy it, and then start contributing to the never-ending pit that seems to be his bank balance.
But Pro-Punter is a very cautious tipster; it tends to advise a no-bet rather more often than Fair Frank Fairclough would like.
Pro-Punter, in its rather nice turf-green packaging, doesn't guarantee dead certs, but it does hold the promise of helping the cautious investor reap a rather larger reward than might otherwise be the case. In effect, the program is a computerised form analyst, giving non-emotional advice on the basis of information supplied to it. In other words, it applies a system, makes a forecast and advises on the prospect of making a profit from an investment.
Just in case you aren't familiar with punter terminology, we don't make bets, we invest in certain animals. We don't see which horse has a name we like, we weigh up the form. And we never lose money - we make a poor investment. Ahem.
The CPC version of Pro-Punter is a development from the early-1987 BBC Micro program, which has shown some quite remarkable statistics since then. Indeed, it is DGA's proud claim that from 22 races, advice from Pro-Punter resulted in 17 winners with a 100 per cent return over stake. The blurb says that you don't have to be an
expert in the turf to use the program because it adjusts automatically to suit the race under analysis.
The best way to put the thing to the test, thought I, was to proof it to myself over a period of weeks, first without risking any money and then, if the dry run proved successful, with a few smallish investments.
The 16-page manual is perfectly adequate for its purpose. The text is well laid out and quite readable, though there are some sections that could do with being couched in slightly less confusing terminology. That means it might be too difficult for some people to read and understand - including me.
Reading through it the first time may take a little doing, but further dips as the program is used makes everything much clearer. Be advised though, you will need to dip into the manual often.
The next step is to gather around you the necessary bits and bobs to make the thing usable - some blank formatted discs, a copy of the Sporting Life or Racing Post - which all households take daily anyway, don't they? - and a supply of cash to invest.
Please, take note of the paragraph in the manual that tells you to use only money that you can afford to lose. Investing in horse racing is at best a risky business and at worst the road to the debtor's prison. If you aren't already hooked, don't start now. Sermon over.
The blank discs are to make your working disc - yes, Pro-Punter is unprotected - and to hold your library files, of which more later.
Making the running
Having made the working copy, the next thing you're going to want to do is try the thing out. If you're anything like me, you'll crash it with a Basic error within two minutes of running it.
The opening screen offers six choices, consisting of input stages one to six, and the results menu. Selecting stage one loads the trainers file. This is where you can maintain a record of the success or otherwise of your favoured trainers.
It was here that I bombed out into Basic. Since it didn't already exist, I selected to update the file and then just pressed Return to see what the error checking was like. The result was Syntax error in 470 rapidly followed by Line does not exist in 0, neither of which exactly filled me with confidence.
Oh well, back to the start. Re-boot and remember not to make any silly mistakes that ought to be error trapped.
This time all went hunky dory, and I managed to get on to input stage two, which covers the recent form of each horse in the race. For anyone unfamiliar with the way the form information is presented in the racing press, this and subsequent input stages may well prove to be the major hurdle.
However, as in all things, practice makes perfect. There is a guide in the manual to the formats used in the two recommended publications. This could be made clearer, but is OK as a starting point. All the input stages are basically a matter of answering the necessary questions - fairly straightforward, if time-consuming.
After about 45 minutes all the data was keyed in and Pro-Punter kicked into analysis mode. A short time later - about four minutes, actually -1 realised that this race wasn't going to make me any money. Pro-Punter in its wisdom decided that although it had identified a possible winner, it was not a good bet. Oops, sorry, not a worthwhile investment.
The manual had warned of occurrences such as this and wisely advises the putative bookie-basher to heed the warning. As it happened, the nag that came out top of the list romped home a good two lengths ahead of the field and could probably have won the race in plaster. But then again, it could easily have fallen at the first.
I'll not go too much further with descriptions of all the menus, instead I'll point out a few of the features and pitfalls I noticed along the way.
Firstly, the saving of trainer tables as library files is likely to be a godsend to the regular punter. I've found that following a specific stable, or a small number of stables, tends to give the
highest return for investments made, so having that information on tap is not only time-saving, but gives a guide to the form for those times when you might not wish to have Pro-Punter's advice. After all, everybody likes to do it off their own bat every so often.
One thing which is missing - left out at the last minute, according to the manual - is a results database, something which might alleviate much of the tedious data entry process and speed up analysing a particular field considerably.
It seems that there were reliability problems, which I assume is a euphemism for "it didn't work". This is a shame, but into each life a little rain must fall. Why it has to fall on the course that I've told Pro-Punter has good going is beyond me.
There may be the possibility of creating library files on individual horses in a subsequent version - the version tested was 1.2 - which would have a similar effect to the above.
The be all and end all of a program such as this is will it make you richer? Well, there has never been a system that would beat all the bookies all of the time. But, to coin a phrase, Pro-Punter will beat some of the bookies all of the time, and all of the bookies some of the time.
If you heed the program's advice and only bet when it tells you to, you won't lose much money. If on the other hand you become impatient with its no-bet forecasts and start backing'the top rated horse in every race you analyse, your hit rate will almost certainly drop.
Either way, Pro-Punter is not a replacement for commonsense when it comes to parting with money. As I said earlier, I wouldn't risk the rent on its advice, no matter how well it had done over a period. By all means rake a small wad together and play the field with that, but don't get the idea that this program is going to make you unbelievably wealthy. There are very few professional gamblers, and none that I know of uses a computer to advise them.
This isn't meant as a criticism of Pro-Punter in any way whatsoever, but as a general warning about all forms of computer assisted gambling. In this case the program lives up to its advertising copy, so I can't knock it, but in many ways it takes the fun out having a flutter. It will probably pay for itself over a season, and it may well help you make a few bob, which is about as good a recommendation as anybody could possibly give.
No doubt the sceptics among you will be wondering how much money Pro-Punter helped me rake in. I'm not going to tell you. Let's just say that my local bookie's son has a 6128, reads ACU, and not all of my investments were made in my own name. Why? Because I don't want to be banned from the betting shop, that's why.
And, Mr Editor sir, that doesn't mean I don't expect to be paid. I You'll get your money, Mr Dorn, once you've coughed up my share of the winnings. Ed).