Some 30 km’s from Casino, in Northern New South Wales, lie’s the quirky art deco country town of Kyogle in the heart of dairy country. On the Richmond River, this small town currently promotes itself as “where the sun spends the winter” which a few places further north would probably challenge. What’s a ten-year-old growing up here to do, you may well ask? Well, when your next-door neighbour is not only the local real estate agent and car dealer but a prominent bookmaker, perhaps fate just takes charge.
That ten-year-old was Marc Lambourne, now in his 50’s, and the journey from his first visit to a race course (aged 11) to today where he is one of the most respected figures on a Sydney racetrack is a compelling one.
Where It All Started
Its difficult to put the different pieces of Marc’s career together but his story is also the story of the changing landscape of the Sydney Betting Ring, the transformation of the Australian horse betting marketplace and how he has constantly been at the cutting edge of so much of what developed. But let’s get back to the kid from Kyogle who developed such a fascination with the form guide he started collecting them and collating all the results whilst listening to the race commentaries on the ABC. “Back then I was trying to make sense of it all and designing systems to pick winners. Keeping all the records I was fascinated by longer price winners.” It was at boarding school that Marc met fellow minded students who knew their stuff and copies of the Sportsman and Racetrack magazine were passed around. Despite being somewhat envious of their racing background – it would be seven years from Marc’s first trip to the track till he would return – those formative years of analysing different systems would be crucial.
Visiting Sydney in his final year of school Marc went off to Warwick Farm (on his own) his first metropolitan meeting. On the same day a young jockey was having his first city ride – Darren Beadman – it would have been interesting to know who was the more excited that day. “I was mesmerised,” Marc said, “It was so lively there with so much action – I loved it.” Determined to pay his way through Uni Marc started clerking, “I began with a local bookie back home and was surprised they didn’t know more, they just put up prices off the show. Sydney was so different – the opportunity to go to the races with serious punters and serious bookies was such a strong allure. To do the form and basically go and do your best. I read Don Scott’s books and there was so much information out there it just opened my eyes to so many different things.”
Looking for a job, Marc landed work with a broken-down bookie – Laurie Neill – in the outer of the away ring; it was a start, and he was soon spotted by well-respected rails bookmaker Jack Muir. “I was sacked six times in three months. He was a cranky loaded bookie from Point Piper, but I think he was the last of the true figures bookies on the rails. A bagman got so angry with him once that he tipped the bag upside down in the betting ring, emptied it and stormed off!”
The Sydney Racing Ring
Marc impressed all and sundry in Sydney, he was mathematical, analytical, articulate and above all smart. In the years that followed he worked with bookmakers Tom Moore and then Peter Todd – focusing on form, betting small, training himself, collecting material and learning the game. He hung out in the Horseman’s Bookshop and became enthralled and addicted to the whole racing/gambling scene.
“I had a lot of money at Uni from working and betting and I wasn’t attending classes. I started writing on punting and became a technician – so to speak – of doing the form.”
“I got to know Ray Hopkins – he was a dasher, an older style player. A really, really, big punter and he asked me to stand up for him as a bookie, so I was well regarded by him and others noticed. This was in the mid 80’s, and clerking was a very good living at that time.”
In 1988, Peter Todd (a rails bookmaker), invited Marc to price markets for him on the Sydney races. Todd decided that he would be the first bookmaker to go up with the prices for the next race. Up his prices would go as soon as they had passed the post on the previous race. “Before each meeting, he would price each race as would I and then he would blend the prices and go up at 115%. It was a huge step.” Basically, Marc became Todd’s apprentice and a very willing one at that. Todd and he were on the outside of the clever money, attempting to put an academic slant on a game built on streetwise cunning.
“We were creating an early algorithm and we got smashed but kept getting up. We were gaining market intelligence though and because the Sydney ring was such a large marketplace we were able to cover the cost of gaining that information.”
It was no secret that the Sydney betting ring of the 80’s was awash with – let’s say – not clean money to put it mildly and it was only a matter of time before the government stepped in. Commonwealth regulations cash transactions meaning less money found its way into the marketplace with the flow on effect impacting the bookmakers. It was an invaluable learning experience for Marc who by now was determined to become a bookmaker himself; his father in law, impressed at how he was progressing, agreed to fund him and Marc kicked off at the provincials. Peter Todd came to work for Marc and continued to mentor him. Bookmaker turnover was falling at this time and to combat this they started to bet off their prices – betting overlays and exploiting value. “Our strategy was to shop well and back overs. We tried not to bet at the pointy end of the market as that was a very scary place back then. 3/1 was as short as we would go we were very rule conscious so if we needed 3/1 that was it. Trying to impose certainty and get control, where every action is a decision, is hard. We were constructing markets and totally price driven.”
Many players from that era say that in the betting ring in those days you could sense the top of the market much easier – if you were fast on your feet you could get set. It was the only marketplace (outside of the network of SP’s) and with no phones or technology in play the experienced punters were hard to beat. Do you miss those days? “Well to be honest I think I handled it badly, perhaps the fear of failure was a factor and I was guilty of being a little scared of making decisions. Part of the game is making mistakes and from that you gain experience.
“The key is not to be error prone as a punter. If you make mistakes you are beatable.”
Take Garry Forrester (a long time Sydney based horse player) he just doesn’t make many mistakes. In the long run, you can’t beat him, and that’s what every punter needs to realise – don’t be error prone.”
The Changing Landscape
It seemed in no time the late 80’s became the late 90’s and the racetrack was no longer the prime marketplace. Mark Read and Darwin and Vanuatu burst onto the Australian punting landscape. There were off track prices and with so much money moving off course information was lost to the betting ring. “The marketplace was very unsure of itself, these were nervous times for the ring. Mark Read really was a pioneer, he was incredible – he paved the way. New technology had access to the marketplace and the potential was there for all to see so in 98/99 I became a full-time punter. I did a hat full taking on Sunline when she won her first Doncaster – bloody 3yo fillies in Doncaster’s!! – and branched out into building a consulting business which led to work with 2KY and the Tab supplying markets and giving what you could term a bookies opinion.”
Marc built up his client base in the 2000’s, with his media work raising his profile, he attracted some heavy hitters that expanded his horizons. The emergence of corporate bookmakers was having a huge impact on the Australian gambling footprint, and Marc was following it closely. “Their model was to chase clients, really they weren’t so much bookmakers as risk management, finding punters and then managing those punters. Playing the heads so to speak.” Two events happened in the early 2000’s that would shape the next phase of Marc’s career. One was in a coffee shop in Bellevue Hill with Terry Griffin and the other would be meeting Rob Waterhouse. Terry was a pioneer in speed mapping races and would go on to work as a form analyst for Racing NSW, before joining one of the largest betting syndicates in Australia. The conversation over a coffee that morning in 2003 was about a new player – BETFAIR.
It was Peter Todd who introduced Marc to Waterhouse when the bookmaker – famously – returned to the track. For those that don’t know the Rob Waterhouse story maybe best to Google it now! “There was an immediate connection, we were kindred spirits. I worked 15 years for Rob. I had access to his markets and assessment’s – it was cutting edge – and I learned a hell of a lot. He was so far ahead of his time.”
“His theories were new but fundamentally simple; focusing on pace runners. To push the market hard on horses you knew would be in a certain position.”
The New Era
Speed maps became a punting tool in the mid 90’s forecasting leaders and analysing which horses would get in or be caught three wide. Waterhouse was light years ahead of the market in this respect and Marc was learning from all the processes being applied. Marc was adding to the skill set taught to him by Peter Todd and had become an expert in the mechanics of the market. “One of the most important lesson’s I learnt from Rob was starting price. It is a key indicator, why was this horse short last time. Could I use a starting price to construct a rating, could I develop a starting price profile to predict a future starting price?”
Theories have always been part of Marc’s punting fabric from betting on Melbourne races as a teenager thinking the wetter tracks would produce more long priced winners to combining the knowledge gained from some of the sharpest brains in the world in assessing his ratings today. But in 2003 Marc knew, when he and Terry Griffin were discussing BETFAIR, the Australian betting marketplace was ready to change forever. Marc from that day at Warwick Farm, giddy with excitement, has witnessed – first hand – the incredible changes that have evolved on the Australian punting scene.
“BETFAIR is the biggest, most dramatic event for horse players bar none.”
“It is the most natural organic way of trading. Its buyers and sellers. In the betting ring bookies would take the smart money and pay them with the mug money and hope they held more mug money than smart money. There’s not much mug money on BETFAIR.”
Marc points out that the corporate bookmakers have found the mug money and are reluctant to take the smart money. That may be a story for another day but its clear that the corporate bookmakers are reluctant to use professionals to set the market. “They want higher margins, they are Public Companies, so I understand that. Old style bookmakers used to respect the professional punter. BETFAIR is a cleaner mechanism its smart money V smart money. BETFAIR SP is the way of the future it gives you an amazing opportunity to get set at around a market of 100%!” Marc is quite vocal of the various attempts to thwart the growth of BETFAIR here in Australia and has made this quite clear on his popular internet show RACING RANT. “It conflicts with the funding model for racing and I don’t want to go into the nitty gritty of it now but the powers that be are palpably wrong here.”
“It’s clear that BETFAIR gives you an insight into the marketplace that was never there before.”
For example, if the market thought a horse was 6/1, BETFAIR can tell you it is really a 10/1 chance. “The transparency is amazing BETFAIR fleshes out the horses that have little chance. Before BETFAIR bookmakers may price a horse short and it might not be exposed as incorrect as it will now. Punting is all about opinion and here we have an aggressive opinion (BETFAIR) which is a great asset to the marketplace.”
Marc has an interesting observation about the on course and off course betting ‘rings’ stating that the off-course ring (the corporates), are like the bad on course bookies he would never bet with, “80% of my business is BETFAIR, the on-course betting ring is OK, but BETFAIR is the key. Yes, it can be a difficult place to play as there are plenty of smarts on BETFAIR but going forward we need to see NSW players get a fair crack from the government. We need as many people to bet on NSW as possible.” New credit restrictions placed on betting will see more money returning on course and combined with the increase in the numbers of big syndicates playing the ‘whole’ (on course and off course) betting ring it looks like new life is being breathed back in to the Australian market. “We should be very grateful to these huge syndicates as they play on such a large scale they are giving the market liquidity. The rise of the syndicates concentrates things in a positive way, though the minnows of the marketplace do feel insecure and I firmly believe that the confidence of the small player is crucial. I’m seeing opportunities that I never saw ten years ago – the marketplace on course may look sparse but there is plenty of action. The bookmakers have been slaves to BETFAIR since it came out and shrewd players will have realised that it is no good following as there is nothing to take advantage of – you must predict which way the ‘Fair will go.”
Marc realises that he has been so lucky to have learned so much – perhaps been taught is the better phrase – from so many smart players and he is keen to pass the baton onto the next generation. It’s vital that punters upskill, my passion is to pass on my knowledge. It’s a must for me to educate as much as I can which is why we have so much free information on our channel. People gave me their time when I was coming through and I want to do the same.”
Ok let’s take advantage of that.
Here’s a 21 – year old with a bank of 10k. What could he do?
“Watch the players. Go on course and watch. Watch as many BETFAIR markets as possible and do that long term.”
Watch what’s behind the market and initially just specialise in market movements. Know your form – watch all the races and trials – concentrate on a marketplace – say Sydney metro and provincial and focus on that. See why the buy and sell is happening on BETFAIR, watch the on-course ring. When you are confident experiment in a tiny way – dip your toe in to learn the lessons. Start small. Learn BETFAIR and watch and understand why the market is moving, and after the results go back and translate what happened. There is so much information available in the wagering world, read and learn. Study – if you are prepared to work hard it will happen but remember you are up against very smart people so you have to be committed to educating yourself constantly.”
And the common mistakes? “Everyone will make mistakes but I will tell you one great mistake so many punters make and that is they bet too early. The temptation for people to bet early is overwhelming. Yes, there might be errors in the market but the costs in the long run of betting too early are staggering. You are giving up so much information that can be gained closer to the race start – so all punters should revaluate when they bet.”
Marc might not be hanging around racing bookshops these days, but he is always still trying to learn and grow. His thirst for knowledge is as strong now as it was as a wide-eyed schoolboy finding his way to Warwick Farm all those years ago. His is a fascinating story and one with many chapters to write I’m sure.