Professional Punter

I felt I knew professional punter Daniel O’Sullivan, but I’d not met him before this interview for Betfair. I’d pictured someone younger – not that he’s old!

Perhaps it was because I’d read some of his ‘stuff’ on the Betfair site and elsewhere on-line or that his voice was familiar having heard him, from time to time, on radio.

It probably stuck because a lot of what he says and writes is sensible and educative and this intelligence is happily shared. I can’t imagine this happened years ago but it may have done. The immediacy of the web and social media makes the exchange of ideas so much more accessible.

There’s a little element of the punting evangelist about him. While all the while focusing on generating his own income from various punting related endeavours he is a positive publicist for the game with a solid media and social media profile.

“I see the twitter stuff and all on-line postings as contributing strongly to maintaining levels of interest in racing and even wooing some newcomers. The race clubs don’t do enough in my view.

Racing and punting is a data driven game in a data driven era and I think the audience is more inclined to grow these days via on-line interaction than physically attending the races,” O’Sullivan said.

If he has a recurring pitch then it is certainly education – much of which is freely shared on The Hub and some offered at a modest fee via and TRB (The Rating Bureau), the success of which is ably judged by the longevity of the services offered.

“There is a narrow margin between smart and average punters,’ says O’Sullivan, “so any improvement gained educating yourself can be a significant plus. You’re always picking up stuff in this game and I’d say more than half, perhaps 65%, of the equation in punting successfully is stuff other than the form.

“You can be brilliant at doing the form but that will get you nowhere if you’re a terrible punter.”

The 'Science' of The Form

Nevertheless the form remains the key and obvious starting point and even its most rudimentary analysis is what usually seduces most when it comes to racing. That was the case with O’Sullivan.

“I went to the races one day and that was that. I was about 20. I’m analytically minded so I was immediately intrigued and then absorbed. I read all of Don Scott’s books; read everything I could; and before too long I had piles of “Sportsman” in the corner.

“I started to bet the ‘overs’ as Scott prescribed and might have had two bets a day but I was also watching guys betting in big numbers and seemingly winning and I thought ‘they’re not smarter than me’ so I kept working at it and began to focus on times and sectionals after reading Andy Beyer and the like,” he said.

Like all successful form punters, O’Sullivan acknowledges that you need an ‘edge’ or area of particular focus. One of his is the concentration on identifying, say, a stakes class horse before everybody else has.

O’Sullivan’s approach is ratings driven but not exclusive to that. “There is a science to analysing the form but there’s also instinct and intuition which makes it perhaps as much an art form as it is science. We take a scientific approach but it’s not a precise science,’ he said.

The science, in his case, will include doing the ratings – with an emphasis on times and sectionals – for 50 meetings per week. While he concedes it’s not exact, it’s more exact than most with temperature, wind speed and rainfall (on the day) and track bias all factored in.

His approach resonates as there is, to be frank, no element of ‘bull’ and limited use of jargon; plus there is an acknowledgment of the subjective and intuitive factors which others I fancy delude themselves that they’ve eliminated. There is an acknowledgement that everything is fluid; that we don’t believe everything we read, not even all of the Don Scott preaching’s.

An Uncomplicated Betting Strategy

“It’s win only and one horse a race 95 per cent of the time. Unless you are a very astute form and market judge, having a default strategy of backing more than one horse a race usually means you end up taking insurance on horses you are worried about beating you, that aren’t in fact genuine value… all you are doing is diluting your overall edge.

“If you can’t make money win betting, you won’t make money in any other sphere. The multis are traps and exotics will likely send you broke or destroy your confidence or both either through inefficient level staking or the significantly longer losing runs that come with a typically lower strike rate, even if you have a winning edge.

O’Sullivan, who employs a ‘quite deliberate’ staking strategy, says he respects the ‘intelligence’ provided by the Betfair market but sees it’s ‘price advantage’ as more critical. “See price, like price, take price is my motto. Sometimes you’ll be shafted but, in the long run, you’re better not to worry about drifts or conspiracy theories,’ he said.

As to the actual form approach and O’Sullivan says ‘run style’ is probably the number one key. “The simple truth is that the majority of races are won by horses settling handy to the pace,’ he said.

But, having said that, he notes the punter should never be ‘put off’ by just one factor in the equation.

“It’s almost always more profitable to be counter-intuitive….backing the horse who hasn’t won at the distance, off a wide barrier or a horse yet to prove himself at a particular track.’’

O’Sullivan, whose racing-punting pursuit has been full-time since 2004, is confident in the integrity of horse racing. “Pretty solid most of the time. Most inquiries are handled well and it’s not common for me to watch a race which I think is a bit dubious’’ he said.

Daniel’s ‘Betsmart Racing Education Series’ for Betfair clients can be found here.

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