Peter Thomas had an article in the Racing Post recently which had a general mocking outlook upon racing systems and those that pursue them. This is the same guy who in a previous articles some years ago described Nick Mordin as mad as a box of frogs or words to that effect. What struck me about the recent article


was firstly, why the hell am I reading the RP, a rag who’s biased reporting has resulted in me not picking it up in quite a number of years but more importantly I was struck how little the author seemed to know about systems. I come across this quite a lot, if a person does not understand something they decide not to increase their understanding but instead justify it by arguing for its worthlessness. Psychologist will have a term for this but it escapes me at the moment.

Do betting systems work and even if they don’t is pursuing them a worthwhile task?. The last part of that sentence might seem to demand an obvious NO!, but I will endeavor to convince you otherwise. Let us start with the first part of the question, are there any successful systems?. We must first define a system. My definition would be a set of rules which if followed to the letter by a number of people would result in all coming to the same decision or selection. Those rules may be simple or perhaps complicated but whichever they may be you and I would end up with the same selections if executed with the same data at the same time. They do not have to produce one bet per race or even one bet in all races but they must produce a profit long term and here is the important bit which Mr Thomas must have overlooked. That profit can be to any pre determined available price including Betfair SP although that price cannot be determined with hindsight.

Nick Mordin, the doyen of system writing, was himself collared on track by Big Mac’ some years ago as Nick promoted his book ‘Winning Without Thinking’. Mac eventually tried to get him to to admit that winning systems were really a myth and asked him to declare one on TV if such a thing did exist. Nick suggested backing all female jocks on the all weather as the betting public were still treating them as grossly inferior to male jockeys and hence sending their mounts of at inflated prices. This was true at the time (I have not checked recently) and is a good example of how being aware or even anticipating a system before it unfolds can be profitable but equally one must be aware of its potential shelf life.

There are benefits to system development beyond the uncovering of a successful system, one of which is the journey itself. Analysing data from a system perspective is a great introductory way to get a feel for the terrain you face as a punter. The amount of loss you need to overcome in order to become profitable and more importantly what factors move you closer even if in isolation or combination they do not quite achieve long term profit. The study will give you a greater feel for the biggest hurdle all punters have to overcome, namely variance. In other words the kind of winning and losing periods once can expect to experience even with a decent looking system.

Personally I stated off analysing systems before moving onto more advanced methods such as Machine Learning. I spent many hours back in the 1980’s in Colingdale Newspaper library pouring over back copies of the Sporting Life to produce a system that was doomed to mediocrity. I remember thinking with my Computer skills if I could only get hold of electronic data. The guys at RSB in the mid 1990’s did exactly that and system investigation moved on for Joe System.

Systems do work, they work in the sense that there are rule based methodical betting methods that produce consistent profits and they work because they give people a valuable apprenticeship in understanding data. Of course there are good and bad methods to developing systems as there are with other more sophisticated approaches but do not be put off the journey by a doubting Thomas.