When Is It Time to Pull the Plug on a Betting System?

For an increasing number of horse racing punters, the betting system is king. The trouble with monarchs is that they can be deposed – sometimes brutally. If you rely too heavily on a system, it could very well turn out that it is your own bank account that ends up dead in the water (not the mention the danger you’ll be in when your partner finds out)!


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If you look closely at the various betting systems I’ve discussed in our strategy section, you will notice few of them offer consistent profits over three years or longer. It would not be all that difficult to create a betting system that works wonders for six months or so only to see it crumble into dust over the longer term.

There are specific reasons why rigid betting systems tend not to pan out over the longer term. If you focus on trainers, for example, those trainers may change their methods and begin specializing in a different racing format.

Even the courses themselves can change to throw off a system. Back in 2011, the British Horseracing Authority decided to change stall numbers so that #1 is always by the inside rail. Just imagine the havoc that change caused for horseplayers who blindly followed a system influenced by positioning.

We have seen the closure of Great Leighs racecourse, only for it to be resurrected as Chelmsford City. Newcastle recently introduced All-Weather racing. In essence, there is a myriad of changes that can take place which torpedoes your system.

For example, John Gosden used to have an excellent record with 2yo horses. For five consecutive years, he would have earned you a profit but in 2017 and 2018, he has performed poorly and backing his 2yos would result in a loss. His strike rate hasn’t fallen much at all. It is simply a case of the market catching up.

The opposite is also possible. Trainers can suddenly find their niche and produce winner after winner over a certain distance or at a specific racecourse. Ralph Beckett excels on every All-Weather surface but once again, how long before the market catches up?

The Birth of the Magic System

Let’s face it, the majority of horse racing punters at least occasionally dream of devising a betting system that finally takes everything away from the bookmaker. Devising your own system takes significant time and effort, which is why so many people are willing to pay money for tipping services or strategy guides.

The trouble with these “magic” systems is that the vast majority only work for a short time before hitting the skids. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry can try to sell a system on the basis that it has provided a £4,000 profit based on £100 stakes over the last three months.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, there are many reasons why a system wins, then suddenly loses. The trouble is, the seller of the system has no idea when the gravy train will stop rolling.

I know of a specific website that accepts systems with only a few weeks’ worth of proof. Most experts in statistical analysis will tell you that a couple of hundred bets isn’t a large enough sample size. Yet there are systems making money (for the sellers) off the back of 200 bets!

Here’s another thing to consider: Why would anyone sell a truly profitable system? You are lucky to get 25% of the sales of your system (unless you do all marketing etc. by yourself) and few systems sell more than a couple of hundred copies. In other words, you are selling off a winning system for £500 or less a lot of the time.

All it takes is perhaps 50-100 people to use your system to ensure it becomes unprofitable! Why? Because the more people that bet on a single horse, the more liability a bookmaker has which means it is forced to slash the odds. Ultimately, your selections no longer carry the value they need to make you a profit.

The quickness with which an influx of punters can throw off a system is easy to underestimate. Keep in mind that many systems are so rigid that only a handful of races and horses ending up meeting the criteria. It doesn’t take too many punters to rush in and drive the odds down. This is equally true whether we’re talking about fixed-odds betting or parimutuel pools.

My System is Losing: When Should I Dump It?

Despite the well-known pitfalls of rigid betting systems, some punters will inevitably create their own systems so here’s some advice on whether it is time to close the book on it. First and foremost, make sure you don’t panic when your system churns out loser after loser (which it will). It is all too easy to dump the system way too early only to regret it later.

You have a couple of options. First of all, you can check the ROI of your system and cross-reference it against likely maximum losing streaks. Using John Gosden’s record with 2yos as an example, his record from 2012-2016 looked like this:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (Betfair)
83318522.21%16.65%

There was even a slight SP profit! If you were able to back his 2yo horses early in the morning using a website’s Best Odds Guaranteed (BOG) feature, your profit would probably be even higher. Using £10 stakes, your profit over the five-year spell would have been £1380.67 on Betfair. 2016 was an exceptional year but all five years offered a profit.

With a strike rate of 22%, you could expect a losing streak to hit at least 25 bets, if not more. If you experience two or more such runs in close succession, it may be wise to think of abandoning the system. As it happened, Gosden had a 20-bet losing streak and a 21-bet losing streak during the five-year spell. There were 13 other incidences of 10+ bet losing streaks, against four cases of four consecutive wins.

In the last couple of years, there is no question that the market caught up. Here is his performance since the beginning of 2017:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
37475%20.05%-11.30%

The strike rate has dropped noticeably, and your losses would be severe. In fact, backing his horses to £10 level stakes on the exchange would result in a loss of £422.70. If you used SP odds, your losses would be £771.40.

Gosden has suffered a 24-bet losing streak and four other streaks of 10+ losses. He also has not had a sequence of more than three wins in a row.

It is easy to be wise after the event because we know that Gosden’s 2yos are no longer a good betting angle. However, you should focus on the value index if you have access to this information. Also known as the A/E, the value index is a measure of whether a statistic is being over or under bet. Anything above 1.00 is poor value, everything above is good value.

In Gosden’s case, his A/E figures were never that great, but they reached 1.00 in 2015 and 1.04 in 2016. Since then, the value has plummeted to 0.86 in 2017 and 0.82 in 2018. This further confirms the notion that Gosden’s entries are overbet.

Final Thoughts on Abandoning a Betting System

A wise punter will “paper trade” his system before committing serious funds. When you eventually use real money, make sure you commit to betting Flat Stakes. Also, use as few criteria as possible. Our example, John Gosden trained 2yo horses, is simple and clean.

As for when to pull the plug, I’m afraid that is up to you. Realistically, you should give any system a full calendar year to showcase whether it is a success or a failure. However, you can also set a betting bank of say, 100 units, and if it goes down to zero, it is almost certainly a bust assuming you are using flat stakes.

I also recommend checking out monthly and quarterly figures as horse racing is such a seasonal sport. Maybe your system does well in Spring but falters in the Summer. Check it out next year to see if the same trends hold.

Finally, it may not be necessary to abandon your system completely. Perhaps a few tweaks can set you back on the road to making money. For example, in the Gosden system above, adding races with 1-10 runners resulted in a profit of 5.14% in 2017 and 2018, albeit with a slight loss in 2018.

When you also added in non-favourites in races with 10 or fewer runners, it resulted in a profit of 33% in 2017 but a slight loss in 2018. It was also noticeable that the A/E fell from 1.09 in 2017 to 0.83 in 2018, a clear sign that once again, the market has caught up with this possible system.

The bad news is that horse racing changes so much that a winning strategy can become a money pit in the blink of an eye. The good news is that there are so many possible angles that finding several replacement systems is a distinct possibility. In the end, you have to continue to work hard to stay one step ahead of the bookies.