Incomplete information....

Last Updated: 09.01.2019

Wednesday, 9th January 2019

Incomplete information….

I read somewhere that losing feels twice as bad as winning feels good....

I’m not sure how true that is. I think a lot of it depends on your frame of mind at the time....

Maybe losing just feels that much worse when you’re in a difficult mental space to begin with....

Maybe across the years I’ve just gotten used to the experience of losing – and dealing with it. And necessarily so....

  • No big swings....

Playing this game in the way I do means that I am going to be backing plenty of horses that go down....

I’d better get used to it – for my own good....

If I were constantly experiencing extremes of emotions with every contrarian selection I put up – wild-eyed, foam-at-the-mouth, fist-pumping euphoria when I back winners and crushing on-the-floor, in-the-depths lows whenever I put up another big-price loser – I would probably be in the back of a van on my way to the nuthouse having been sectioned....

As it is, on a Saturday afternoon you barely get a flicker out of me – one way or the other. Winners and losers come the same way and I don’t get too worked up about either division....

Don’t get me wrong. I like winners. I’m never happy or completely neutral about losers....

But I’ve learnt to avoid the big swings in mood and emotion. They don’t help. Nobody can live or last in that kind of madhouse....

  • Don’t beat yourself up....

Something else I’ve learnt along the way – don’t beat yourself up when a race goes against you....

Always bear in mind that we live in an imperfect world....

And always remember that, when we bet the races, we are playing a game where the odds are completely stacked against us....

Race-betting is the greatest game in the world. The greatest game ever invented. It is a game I will never tire of. It is a game I will always play....

But it is a game that is hard to win. Few manage it. And that’s so for three reasons....

1. Horse races are outside of what we can control...

2. Luck is a factor we can never legislate for or accurately factor in...

3. We are working with incomplete information to begin with....

  • A game of opinions....

At root, betting the races is a game of opinions. It is me and you against the market....

Forget the bookmaker. The bookie is just the middleman. He facilitates betting for a commission (his over-round profit).

If he’s doing his job right then he has no interest in the outcome of a race. A properly balanced book means he wins whatever the result....

The bookie is not our true adversary. Not in the purest sense. When we bet, we are really betting against (or with) the rest of the money in the market. We are betting against each other. And we do so based-on our respective opinions....

It stands to reason – at least it does to me – that the better-informed opinions have the edge in the market....

Those who know that little bit more are at an advantage over those who know that little bit less....

That makes sense. In all walks of life – not just race-betting....

  • Informed opinions have the edge....

And that’s what I base my approach to race-betting on – being that much better informed than as much as the market as I can manage....

I study - religiously. I read the form – as a matter of course. I watch as many races as I can. I keep my eyes and ears open....

I do a lot of thinking. I crunch a few numbers. I dig in places most people probably are not digging. And if I’m digging with the others, I look to dig a bit deeper....

I want my opinions and angles to be informed opinions and informed angles. That’s how I set my stall out. And the work I do is undertaken with that objective or outcome in mind....

Maybe I succeed. Maybe I don’t. I can certainly – as can everybody – improve. And I will continue to strive to do so....

Say what you like, nobody ever criticised me for a lack of effort or application....

But it doesn’t matter how hard any of us works, when it comes to the racing we are working with incomplete information – and we always will be....

No amount of hard work will overcome that liability...

  • What we know and what we don’t....

Look, when it come to racing there are things we know. Things we know for sure....

For example, Kempton is right-handed. Horse A has been off the track and has not raced competitively for 125 days. Trainer X has not had a winner in 6-weeks and 80% of his runners over that period have finished outside the frame....

Those are facts. We know these things. We can factor them into our deliberations....

Then there are the things we don’t know. The things we know we don’t know....

We don’t know if Horse A is fully fit after his time off the track. His trainer says he is as fit as he can get him at home. But what does that mean? We don’t know. Not for sure....

It’s the same with Trainer X. A couple of his most recent runners made the frame. Does that mean Trainer X is back in form? Has whatever was ailing the yard passed? We don’t know. We cannot be sure....

We must accept that any view we take on these issues is only a view – because we don’t know. But at least we know we don’t know. It is an absence of knowledge we are aware of. And we can work with it on that basis....

  • Where we get into trouble....

Something that can get you into trouble in race-betting – and life – is the stuff you think you know but don’t....

This kind of thing is often an assumption that has somehow been misinterpreted as a fact....

Acting on the former as if it were the latter frequently sees the race-bettor get punished....

‘This is a big-field and there is certain to be massive pace on today....’

‘The far-side is always the place to be on the straight at Ascot.....’

‘Horse B is a world-beater and can’t be beaten....’

A 5yo is not mature enough and will never win this race....’

Word likes ‘’certain’, ‘always’, ‘can’t’ and ‘never’ are great words to hear as a contrarian punter....

They often lead directly to assumptions you can challenge. Punters who rely on statements containing such words – words at extremes – often believe they know something they don’t....

Finally, there is the stuff that you don’t know you don’t know. And this category is immensely troublesome to the punter too....

If there’s something you don’t know you don’t know then you are not aware of it and you cannot factor it into your deliberations. Full stop....

It could be anything. Literally anything....

All I can tell you is that not being aware of it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And, if it is there, then there is every chance it will upend you and reduce your ‘informed’ opinion to so much rubble....

  • A case in point....

We saw an instance of this at work at Sandown on Saturday afternoon in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase Final....

Houblon Des Obeaux won. Fair play. We never knock a horse. Especially not an old-stager that we’ve had the pleasure of watching for years on end – but his victory wasn’t easy to see coming ahead of the race....

Okay, he was running for Venetia Williams – and she’s been going great of late. And okay, he was down to 135 – his lowest-ever mark over fences and 8lb below the mark he’d finished 6th off in the previous season’s renewal of the race....

But, on the other hand, his two runs this term (admittedly on heavy ground) had produced beatings of 29- and 25-lengths....

What I – and many others – didn’t know we didn’t know was that the horse had shown big signs of life back at the yard. After the race, Williams had this to say....

‘I think with these old horses that drop a few pounds here or there is irrelevant, it's more about what frame of mind they're in how happy they are and how the race pans out because they can change the minds. I think that applies to a lot of the horses, but Houblon Des Obeaux was in a good frame of mind coming into it....’

I didn’t and couldn’t know about the horse’s frame of mind. I don’t work with him. I don’t know anybody who does....

What’s more, I didn’t know I didn’t know about this. So, I couldn’t factor it in. I was working in a state of ignorance (we often are).

Somebody knew – the horse saw a lot of money on Saturday leading up to the race....

But I didn’t know. I didn’t know I didn’t know. And I’m not going to beat myself up for it. That’s racing. That’s race-betting....

  • The same thing back in second....

It was the same kind of thing with Theatre Guide back in second....

The runner-up spot kind of fell into his lap. But the fact he was there to take advantage of Buywise’s late exit was something that wouldn’t have been easy to make a case for ahead of the race....

His two performances earlier in the season had seen him beat home just two of 22 rivals. He’d got done 43- and 28-lengths....

Granted, he’d had a 55-day break. But even so, it would have taken a man of great faith to back him. Or a man with some knowledge of what’s going on in Colin Tizzard’s yard....

What most of us didn’t know – and didn’t know we didn’t know – ahead of Saturday’s race is that Theatre Guide (like Houblon Des Obeaux) had got out of bed on the right side....

After the race, Tizzard had this to say....

‘Walking back in with him three or four times this week, he has been bright as a button. He looked a different horse and he just proved that today. He is back in form....’

That’s good to know. It would have been even better to know about it ahead of the race. But as it was, I didn’t know. And I didn’t know I didn’t know....

  • Enjoy it – and you’re always winning....

Like I say, when we bet the races, we are working with incomplete information. All the time. All manner of it too....

It’s not an excuse. It’s just a statement of fact. And it makes the game a real challenge....

I’m not complaining, you understand. I relish the challenge. I love it. And just because the jigsaw is missing pieces doesn’t mean I am not going to try and piece it together. I am....

But when I don’t quite get the full picture or when I interpret what I see incorrectly, I am not going to beat myself up. And I’m not going to fret about it either....

I am working in an imperfect world and trying to predict future events with only incomplete information to work with. Getting it wrong is par for the course....

The trick is to remember that we don’t always get it wrong. We get it right too. At prices. And, over time, we do nicely enough....

We should remember too that it’s just a game. The greatest game ever invented for sure – but just a game....

Strive to get better. Strive to be a better player. Put the hard yards in. Do the spadework. Play to win. But always enjoy it. Always. Win, lose or draw. I know I do....

  • The last word….

That’s all from me for today.

I’ll be back tomorrow.

Until then. Stay tuned.

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd