Keep an eye out for bookie incentives for opening accounts – particularly when big meetings are on. Free bets, concessions, match-bets, special offers abound.
Check the small print of your credit card – some providers have begun charging a fee for online betting transactions.
If you do fall foul of the above ‘take on’, ring the customer service line and plead ignorance – you’ll probably get the fee refunded (I did!) – but only once.
Use close family members who never bet and have no interest in it to get more than one go at concession offers.
Consult websites like to keep tabs on special offers.
Don’t be afraid to follow your heart as well as your head. The idea of backing a horse because you want it to win rather than because you think it will win is derided by “serious” punters. But when you do win there is an extra lustre. Your soul is replenished, as well as your pocket. I backed Uncle Ernie, 20-1 winner of the 1997 Grand Annual at Cheltenham, because he was one of my favourite chasers, and because a few weeks earlier he had licked me when I visited Jimmy Fitzgerald’s Malton yard to pay my respects.
If you think you might back a horse but are in two minds about whether to have the bet or not, make the bet. I have never got over changing my mind about I Cried For You, just before the 2001 Cambridgeshire. As I waited for the bookmaker to answer the phone I overheard the Channel 4 Racing pundits sowing seeds of doubt regarding whether James Given’s gelding, a proven sevenfurlong horse, would stay the nine-furlong trip. I put down the phone without making the bet, and the form book tells how I Cried For You “was travelling embarrassingly easily entering the Dip and found plenty under pressure” before running out the easy winner at 33-1. Sheer agony. I decided there and then that the pain of backing a loser is as nothing to the torture of missing a good winner.
Read the Damon Runyon story “A Nice Price”, in which the gambler Sam the Gonoph learns that one bookmaker is quoting Yale at 1-3 to win the annual rowing race against Harvard: “I do not know anything about boat races,” Sam says, “and the Yales may figure as you say, but nothing between human beings is one to three. In fact,” Sam the Gonoph says, “I long ago come to the conclusion that all life is six to five against.” Sam’s observation that all life is 6-5 against is one of the most famous of betting quotes (right up there with the psychiatrist friend of Jeffrey Bernard who described betting as “collecting injustices”), but for a punter the insight that nothing between human beings is 1-3 can prove profitable when scanning the sports betting pages. Liverpool v. Barnsley and Barnsley v. Chelsea in the 2008 F.A. Cup come readily to mind as examples.
Politics can prove a wonderful betting medium – not because rank outsiders often win a political contest, but because by their very nature political fortunes flip-flop, and you can regularly manoeuvre yourself into the joyous position of having backed each of two at odds against. The trick is being able to detect a change in the political weather and strike at the optimum time. A week before the 1992 general election one bookmaker had Neil Kinnock-led Labour at 1-4, with John Major’s Conservatives on 5-2. With two days to go a Kinnock victory looked even more certain, and the same firm went 1-6 Labour, 7-2 Conservatives. Those with their ears to the ground sensed a late swing to the Tories in the wake of Labour’s notorious Sheffield rally, and many political savants made a killing by lumping on before the bookmakers got the message.
When betting on a horse race, always check the Tote price of your fancy before making the bet. Cases abound where the joy of backing a long-priced winner is shattered by the realization that a simple glance at the Tote odds might have brought a much bigger return. Imagine this: you’re at Cheltenham in March 2008 and you fancy a small flutter on Mister McGoldrick for the Racing Post Plate; you have a tenner with a course bookmaker at 66-1, which turns out to be Mister McGoldrick’s starting price; he wins unchallenged; you’re on Cloud Nine as you trouser the £670 – then plummet through the cloud when you see that the Tote win return is £147, or 146-1, fully 80 points – 80 points! – better than SP.
Always give due consideration to a horse which has won the race in question before, whatever his recent form – and especially if the race has an unusual feature. For example, the Gold Cup at Ascot is the only top-flight contest of the Flat season in Britain run over 2½ miles, and given its extreme long distance it is no surprise that the race has produced plenty of dual winners and, in the great Sagaro and Yeats, two triple winners. Royal Rebel, 8-1 winner of the Gold Cup in 2001, seemed to have lost his form on the runup to the following year’s renewal, but there was obviously something about this eccentric contest which brought out the best in him, and he beat the great Vinnie Roe a neck at 16-1.

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