The SBC Interviews: Hugh Taylor

Hugh Taylor is a name that strikes fear into many a horse racing odds compiler and he is without doubt one of the most renowned names in the tipping world. His betting record via At The Races is second to none and his tips quite literally can turn betting markets upside down within minutes. When he speaks, people listen and we are delighted to be able to share an exclusive interview with Hugh himself, courtesy of the Smartersig service.

This interview was originally posted on the blog back in February 2011, but such has been the interest in it since then, we thought it well worth re-posting.

The Newmarket Wizards – Hugh Taylor

It has been a while since the last inclusion in the Newmarket Wizards collection. Results on the At The Races web site however prompted me to get in touch with ex Smartie and now resident tipster at ATR, Hugh Taylor. Hugh could be described as the Pricewise of ATR, tipping value horses via the web site at around 10.00am every day. Giving daily tips means his tipping profile quickly builds up and his prowess can be checked via a past results section on the site.

We met up on a Wednesday evening in his hometown at the Kings Head pub. Having two pubs of that name almost resulted in us sitting quietly drinking our pints some 2 miles part but thankfully an early arrival by me allowed enough time to spot my mistake. A good job too, because a thoroughly enjoyable evening was had. Hugh is a very open and honest kind of guy and hopefully that comes across in these notes. As before, if you have any questions for Hugh then email them to me before the 16th of December and I will forward them to Hugh to add to the QA’s below.

Q – How did you first get involved in racing and betting?

A – From the age of about five I was taken racing at various Yorkshire courses by an elderly family friend, who obviously liked a bet. I can remember being asked by him to follow a bearded chap in order to see what he was backing. This turned out to be Phil Bull; I thought he looked like Fagin from Oliver Twist but I probably looked like the Artful Dodger myself, trailing him round whilst trying to look innocent.  I spent a lot of my childhood Saturdays in the 1970s at the Yorkshire courses, and my interest really picked up again after University when I took a job close to Lingfield racetrack.

Q – What other jobs have you been involved in and how did the ATR connection evolve?

A – After University I worked in a large residential school for children with epilepsy, and was in charge of one of the residential units there for 12 years. The school was close to Lingfield racecourse and I was a regular visitor there on my days off. The draw bias at Lingfield was very strong at the time and this was when I realised that having an edge was the key criteria to successful betting. By my mid-thirties I had decided that I was ready for a career change (residential social work is really a young person’s job in my opinion). I had already written one or two articles as a hobby and put in aspeculative application when I noticed an advert for content writers for the newly-formed Arena Online. I was slightly surprised to get the job and fortunately Arena Online became significant partners in Attheraces version one, and I was given the opportunity to write my own column on the website and make quite a few appearances on the channel.

When attheraces #1 folded, I was lucky enough to be offered the job as agent for Kerrin McEvoy, who had just been appointed as Godolphin’s number two UK jockey. The job interview for this post was fairly startling – they flew me out to Dubai and shortly after my interview with Simon Crisford at Al Quoz had started, Sheikh Mohammed unexpectedly walked into Simon’s office and proceeded to hold court, which was fascinating. I continued to do occasional freelance work for at the races #2 and also for the Racing Post during the winter, and then when Kerrin returned to Australia to become Darley’s number one jockey, I was offered the full-time post as the atr website’s lead tipster.

Q – How would you describe your early punting career and your progress through to profitable betting?.

A – It was lucky that Lingfield was my local track, because after recognising the draw bias there, which was probably underestimated at the time (late 1980s), I found it relatively easy to make money there almost from the start. It’s probably true to say that I did not do so well at other tracks but overall I was doing okay. The Lingfield experience taught me that you have to find an angle that is not fully factored into the betting market. I also came to a very early conclusion that I found it easier finding overpriced horses amongst the bigger prices than the shorter ones (which doesn’t mean that short-priced horses can’t be value too, of course, just that I wasn’t so good at finding those types of bets).

Q – What were the pivotal influences over the years that transformed your betting?.

A -I would describe it as a gradual process; certain books had a little influence but watching races was and remains the biggest education. The importance of knowing something the market doesn’t was quickly at the forefront of my mind. I remember having worked out within a few months of starting betting that having as many accounts as possible and searching for the best prices was common sense, and I remember being a bit disappointed when Mark Coton’s Pricewise feature started in the Racing Post, as I was already in the habit of sifting through the adverts on Teletext and in the Post/Life to work out which bookmakers I would be ringing up and obviously it made it that bit harder to get the early prices; I’m fully aware that nowadays people sometimes end up cursing me for the same reasons. Price is everything in betting.

Q – Do you think the media helps or hinders the punter. Who would you recommend reading or listening to?.

A – The racing media gets plenty of criticism, and a lot of it is deserved, but there are some very good people too. I’m impressed by people like Richard Hoiles and John Hunt who are not only high-class commentators but also excellent presenters/interviewers and clearly have a passion for the game. There are certainly plenty of people on TV who are far more charismatic in front of a camera than I am, that’s for sure. In terms of books, I think Alan Potts’ two publications were both full of sense, and some of the American authors can be helpful if you can adapt their thinking to British racing. A lot of people seem to regard Timeform as outdated these days but personally I still find them a very useful tool.

Q – Your ATR tipping page has developed quite a following. Are there any development plans for this?.

A – The website editor Matthew Taylor, who has been tremendously supportive towards me, initially wanted me to provide tips overnight or at least by 9am to enable as many people as possible to read them before work etc, but within a very short period of time the impact of the selections on the market meant we had to wait until around 10.00am to enable readers to at least have a range of early prices to have a crack at; Matthew is very realistic and fully agreed with this. However we are fully aware that readers have major problems getting on at the price advised and there is little sign of any bookmaker offering to guarantee prices to any degree whatsoever. We have had a few discussions about how to improve the service and these are ongoing. One thing I would say is that since day one I have tried to make the column more than just a series of tips; the reasoning behind every selection has always been given and I have tried to provide as wide a variety of angles as possible, as not every punter is interested in being spoon-fed tips, and when I listen to people talking about their bets, it’s how they reach their selections that I find more interesting than the selections themselves.

Q – Do you manage to get on with your bets?.

A – It’s tough. I have umpteen accounts but a great number of them are now unusable. Unfortunately this is nothing unusual nowadays and having accounts closed (or as tends to happen more often, restricted) is no longer the badge of honour that it was ten or twenty years ago, as any half-successful punter will be aware. There are a handful of firms that will still lay me a respectable bet but I’m never quite sure which of them are just doing it because it’s useful to them to know what I’m backing as soon as possible; they will have learned by now that I don’t back my selections until they are online anyway. It does make me laugh when people suggest that I back my selections before they go online to arb them back; I’ve never arbed any of my selections, and if I was backing them before they went online, you’d soon know, because the prices would be gone. Anyone who keeps a close eye on the column will be able to tell you that the prices do go very fast – often in seconds – but they go after the column is online, not before; we have three different guys who upload the column and I can guarantee they don’t back them before it goes online, either.

Q – Is there any danger that the last 9 months represent an over- performance on your part?

A – It’s hard to answer this because it’s the first time I have been paid to give my full attention to full-time tipping. I think it’s a case of so far, so good given that every month since I started in March has been profitable to advised stakes (and I take on board the problems of getting on), though realistically that can’t go on forever – I can promise you I’ve had plenty of losing months over my betting lifetime – and long losing runs are inevitable for punters/tipsters going for bigger-priced horses

Q – From a betting point of view do you prefer Flat, AW, NH chasers, NH hurdles?

A – I love National Hunt racing as a spectacle but from a betting point of view I feel I have more betting angles relating to the flat, probably because that’s where my attention has been focussed over the last five years.

Q – Describe a typical day from a betting / race analysis point of view

A – By 8am I am in my office starting to finalise my selections although I will have done the groundwork, often pricing up a selection of races, the previous day. I do think it’s important to assess a race before you have seen any betting forecasts; I think it’s very hard to be objective about value when you are aware of likely prices before you start to look at the form. If I am appearing on TV then I usually pre-write the column the night before with a variety of possible selections and then narrow it down when prices start to become apparent in the morning, as I have to leave relatively early to get to the studios in London from my home in Guildford and time is very tight – I usually have a variety of horses on the day that I think might be overpriced. Of course, there are occasions when the price I envisaged does not materialise and then the column needs a quick rewrite. Once the column and selections have been forwarded I begin the process of looking at the next day. I am really lucky to be doing something for a living that I genuinely enjoy. It’s not really about the money or the winnings but the kick of finding those overpriced horses.

Q – Is there a particular starting point that shapes your approach to analysing a race?.

A – It’s usually the tape first. I have a DVD recorder with a 400GB hard drive that can hold most of a flat season. I record every Flat meeting (and an increasing number of NH ones) and try to watch every race, looking for horses that have run better than their bare form suggests. I use one of the many email horse alert services that are available nowadays to help me keep track of my notes – I have well over 200 noted horses at present – and these often form the starting point of my analysis. I couple this with angles that, in my opinion, the market might be underestimating such as pace, track bias or a particular trainer’s performance with a category of horse. In a ten-runner race I would probably scrutinise the past video performance of maybe eight of the runners, and then price them up.

Q – Do you keep negative notes or alerts i.e. horses to appose

A – No, not really, obviously finding a bad favourite can help with finding value in the same race but I’d rather concentrate on the horses that I think are likely to be overpriced.

Q – Any advice on coping with the inevitable losing run?.

A – It is the hardest thing to handle with betting and probably the single reason why most punters shy away from bigger-priced runners. Most big-priced runners are actually underpriced in relative terms compared to market leaders – for instance, 33-1 shots have only won 1.6% of their races in Britain since 2000, which means the average 33-1 shot is nearer a 66-1 shot. This makes finding the overpriced ones even harder but you simply have to take the long-term view, and not all 33-1 shots are the same!

Q – What form do your actual bets take e.g. straight win, EW, exotic, in running, trading ?.

A – I generally find that win only is more profitable for me although I do some EW where its advantageous e.g. 16+ runner handicaps. I generally don’t get involved with in- running betting simply because I’m not good enough at it, the emphasis on making swift decisions doesn’t suit me.

Q – Are you obliged to tip every day?.

A – Yes I am contracted to supply a tipping column every day (holidays excepted, obviously).

Q – Have R4’s been applied to your web site bet history?

A – Yes, I try to be quite careful about that side of things though it can be difficult to be precise when a selection was advised at a price offered by several different firms. I even take care not to register prices that might have disappeared between me posting the column and its first show on the web site. To be honest I only originally kept records for my own information as I don’t think anybody involved with the website quite expected the level of interest the column has attracted; we only started publishing the records because we got lots of requests to do so.

Q – What are the betting tools that you utilise to analyse a race?.

A – Video, Timeform and Raceform Interactive. I’m no technical wizard by any means but I think I know how to get the best out of the tools I do use. The internet is obviously useful for searching for weather details, trainer comments and of course the horse alerts.

Q – Faced with a punter who does not lose too much, wanting to break into long term profitable betting, what advice would you give?.

A – Find an angle that the market does not take fully into account. Try to think in terms of the market rather than winner-finding, even if that seems an alien concept at first. If form rather than statistics is your main angle, try and watch as many races as you can – there are numerous online race replay services that can allow you to scrutinize past races. You have to come to a race knowing something about a horse or horses that the market is not fully aware of, and it’s tough to do that just from reading the form book without making your own interpretations.

Q – Going back to the oddsline creation process, tell me a little about how you set about this task.

A – No real secrets here, I’ll have a look at each horse in turn in racecard order to get a flavour of the race , then go through them again and try and put a price on them. The first few times you go through this you’ll need an odds-to-percentages converter but after a while you should be hitting close to a 100% book without too much difficulty. I’m not convinced you can use ratings as a shortcut to an oddsline, though – you have to be able to make a thorough assessment of everything that impacts on a horse’s chance. For instance, if you don’t have a grasp of which trainers often significantly improve a newly-acquired horse, you could end up putting a 3-1 shot in at 20-1, which renders your tissue useless.

Q What role does statistical analysis play in your selection process?

Done correctly, statistical analysis simply provides proof rather than conjecture, and protects us from the limitations of our own experience. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for making glib statements about, say, trainers’ records in a particular environment based on one’s own limited observations when databases can provide the truth of the matter. What I would say is that an understanding of the use of statistics can become much more powerful when married to an understanding of racing and how betting markets work. For instance, it would be a pointless exercise running a search to find out how well horses with the saddlecloth number 6 perform in handicap chases, or how horses with number 11 do in maidens – but the performance of horses wearing number 1 in Flat claimers is a very valid search, yet you wouldn’t know to search that out, or why the positive results are relevant, without a knowledge of how claimers work and what motivates trainers to allocate the weight their horse is given.

I’m rather fortunate in that most of the statistical analysis that has previously  been used in the mainstream media has been pretty much garbage (“seven of the last ten favourites won this race” etc); most members of Smartersig would be far more sophisticated than me in this field but I’d like to think I have a reasonable grasp of what sort of analysis is relevant.

Q – How difficult is it to balance the demands of punting and pundit work with the rest of your life?.

A – I am married with two young children, and apart from half an hour to finalise my Sunday selections from the shortlist I reached the previous day, I spend Sundays with the family, with the DVD recorder running of course. The days when I travel into the studio obviously impact on the amount of research and race-watching I can do, the journey is fragmented into a number of short train/tube journeys, none of which allow any meaningful amount of time to get some work done. There are never enough hours in the week, but I can’t complain.

Q – What are your ambitions in life generally and specifically racing/betting?.

A – I don’t think I’m as motivated by money as a lot of people seem to be – it’s more important to have a job that I enjoy and it’s just as important to me that people find my work interesting. My family is the most important thing to me, and I’m just very lucky that I have a job which I love that allows me to work from home and see plenty of them.