Latest Cases - March 2014

Which side were you on last week?

20th March 2014

Good afternoon, friends,

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict….

  • Which side were you on last week?
  • 150 lone nuts singing their hearts out….
  • Has Fred Done a good turn?

Which side were you on last week?

The bookmakers were considered the winners in the battle between backers and layers at last week’s Cheltenham Festival. At least that’s what elements of the sports-betting press have been reporting since the meeting finished on Friday.

So on what evidence is that conclusion based?

  • The record of the race favorites. Just 6 of the jollies in the 27 races run at the meeting justified top spot in the market by actually winning their races. And 16 of the 27 races were won by horses outside the top 3 in the betting.
  • The prices. Fourteen of the races (just over half of the Festival events) were won by horses sent off at double-figure prices. The wins achieved by Hawk High (33s), Western Warhorse (33s), Very Wood (33s) and Lord Windermere (20s) were considered particularly spectacular successes for the bookmaking fraternity. 
  • The outcome of the handicap events. In the really competitive betting heats represented by the handicap races just 3 of the races were won by horses in the top 3 of the betting. In other words 7 of the races were won by horses not popular with large swathes of backers and not producing large liabilities – another great result for the bookies.

Okay, so the popular horses which attract the lion’s share of the public’s betting money didn’t do so well. A lot of races were won by horses not so fancied and not so heavily bet. On the face of it the bookies had the best of it. But is it really as black and white as that?

The outcome of the betting ‘war’ – as presented by the sports-betting press – assumes that there are only ever two sides engaged in the fighting. In that rather simplistic world you are one of two things: you are a bookmaker or you back short-priced horses. And the performance of the short-priced horses dictates whether you won or lost across the 4 days of the meeting.

Now, that’s quite a set of assumptions isn’t it? It’s a set of assumptions that ignores the nuances of market activity as a whole. It’s a set of assumptions that completely ignores the fact that value hunters play a big hand in the market too.

I don’t back short-priced horses. I never have done and I never will do. For me a short-priced horse exists for one reason only – to be opposed. In other words I am a backer of horses but a string of wins for the fancied animals doesn’t do me any good at all. If plenty of favorites win at a meeting I am a guaranteed loser.

Losing favorites don’t necessarily or automatically produce a financial gain for me either – as they do for the bookmakers.

I am a value-hunter. I oppose short-priced horses by backing horses at prices which I consider under-estimate the horse’s true chances of winning. As a value-hunter I don’t automatically win when the favourite gets beaten. But I don’t necessarily lose either….

Last week plenty of favorites got beaten but I finished well ahead on the meeting as a whole – taking just over 30 points worth of profit out of the layers. A sufficient number of the value horses I backed did the business for me.

The bottom-line is that the bookies might well have got the fav-backers beaten last week. But the fav-backers don’t represent the whole of the market – regardless of how the ‘war’ is reported.

If you can’t be a bookie you don’t have to be a fav-backer in order to get along and get a result out of the game. As Tony Blair once contested: there is a third way.

Last week that third way paid dividends at the Festival – but don’t expect to be reading about it in the sports-betting press any time soon.

150 lone nuts singing their hearts out….

I wonder how many of you have had the misfortune in recent times to attend a Manchester United home fixture in a neutral capacity.

I don’t make a habit of it but a couple of years ago I attended a midweek Premiership game between Manchester United and Arsenal.Under the floodlights Old Trafford is a fantastic stadium – quite a bit different to the windswept Britannia Stadium (home of Stoke City) that I am used to and where a man can die of exposure if he’s forgotten to put his vest on.

The place was packed to the rafters – there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. But despite the presence of 75,000 people the stadium was completely devoid of anything resembling atmosphere.

Maybe the people who choose to pledge allegiance to Man United are remarkably dull folk – lacking in charisma or passion? Maybe they’re all just tired after driving up to Manchester from Cornwall or Southampton?Maybe for them going to a Manchester United game is a bit like going to church – a time for introspection and silent weeping?

Who can tell? All I know is that I’ve experienced better atmospheres at non-league grounds.

But if there’s one thing worse than no atmosphere at a football match it has to be the presence of 150 lone nuts dotted around the ground all on a one-man mission to create an ‘atmosphere’ single-handedly.

I use the word ‘atmosphere’ loosely. Because when you’ve got a single Mancunian sitting in the seat behind you singing solo (for singing read out-of-tune shouting at ear-splitting volume) for the whole of the 90 minutes it doesn’t really qualify as ‘atmosphere’ – it’s just an intolerable annoyance.

But behaving like a lunatic seems to be some kind of badge of honor among ‘real’ Manchester United fans. At all points around the ground – if you look closely – you can see one of these social misfits standing proud and alone, eyes glazed over, arms aloft, intoxicated to the point of stupidity, belting out an endless succession of incomprehensible, incoherent ManU-centric songs until their voice-boxes pack up under the strain.

You wonder how these people manage to function in real life…. and perhaps they don’t….

Has Fred Done a good turn?

My Old Trafford memories came to mind again this week when I read that Fred Done – the ‘colorful personality’ behind the BetFred brand – had refunded £200,000 worth of bets to punters who had backed Manchester United to win this season’s Premiership title.

His decision to make the refund followed hard on the heels of United’s recent 3-0 defeat to Liverpool. Asked what exactly had prompted this flashy show of largesse, Done explained: ‘One of the reasons I'm doing this is, and becoming the first bookmaker ever to do so, is because of the way the fans were still singing for their team even though we were losing 3-0….’

It crossed my mind that Fred Done might have found himself at the game sitting in front of the same clown that had been sitting behind me at the Arsenal match. If I’d had £200,000 on me that night I would have happily handed it over for just a few minutes of respite….

But no. It seems Done’s gesture is based on the fact that the good folk who punted United for the title this season never had any chance of collecting a return.‘These loyal fans never had a chance of winning with United. This season the Reds have been useless, hopeless and meaningless.’ For once I find myself in a position where I can’t disagree with Done….

On the face of it Done’s gesture is pretty decent when compared with the manner in which bookmakers generally behave.

Of course, he’s bought himself some goodwill and a stack of PR in the Press with the money. He gets to play the good-hearted benefactor – a role he really knows how to ham up.

And we’ll never know for sure how much it’s really cost him. We only have his word that it’s cost him £200,000 – and you’d have to be a very trusting soul to take that figure at face value.

Nor will we ever know whether or not Done had already neutralized his position by backing United at bigger odds than he layed them over the course of a disastrous season….

But it would churlish in the extreme of me to point these things out.

Let’s just agree to take this good-hearted bookmaker at face-value and applaud him for a magnanimous and sincere gesture designed to alleviate some of the pain suffered by loyal Manchester United fans this season.

I just hope they don’t start singing about it….

I’ll be back with the Verdict next week.

The Judge

P.S. Fred Done has been critical of Manchester United’s current owners in recent times – calling for them to get their chequebooks out and spend money. We wonder whether he is on manoeuvres. Does this long-time fan have ownership ambitions for the club? If he does then it serves to underline an important point for the club’s fan base. If they think this season’s on-field performance is as bad as things can get then they should think again. Things could get a lot worse…. a hell of a lot worse...

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