The Optimist (TO): Welcome to the interview chair Damien. Is this your first time being interviewed?

Damien Whitchurch (DW): It is for PPM. I assume we’re here to talk horses?

TO: Definitely! I thought we might talk about your methods of investment. It’s sometimes difficult for outsiders to do without revealing special techniques and methodologies that they employ in their daily betting habits, but it’s very much easier for Equestrian staff. After all, the fact of the matter is that we spend so much time writing for our large reading public that we’re used to providing easy access theories and ideas. Do you attend the races?

DW: No, not very often any more, basically because whether I’m interested in exotics or single win or place bets, it’s just about certain that I’m going to get a better deal in my own study.

TO: How do you prepare for a meeting?

DW: I have a few good systems and I’m a great believer in staying relatively modern with them. Sometimes conditions change. However, some systems survive the test of time and go right on as brilliantly as ever. I am always on the lookout for new stuff, but the old can be incredibly important. One way of looking at this is to realise that a sound and solid system knowledge is just like any other racing knowledge.

You build and build, adding all the time to your store of understanding and awareness of the whole betting process. People who have been investing on horses for years have built up this battery of information. Well, in the same way, many systems that people swear by are amalgamations, modifications, compilations, composites, call it what you will. They might have five or six fundamental component parts that together make up a beautiful attack weapon against the bookmaker and the TAB.

One of my very best, never published though, is comprised of “the best of”, as I put it. I took five old systems and drew them together, re-researching all the material that had gone into the original concepts. Then I identified which of them still had a real thrust to it, and from that I ended up with a new overall system. When I set it to work on my data base, examining some 10,000 results, it reduced the total selections by about 50 per cent and yet the winners came down by only 10 per cent. That made sense, and I then applied the modern twist. Bingo!

TO: I can see where you’re coming from. But of course you’re not just into systems?

DW: No, and I am very rarely into following them blindly. What I do, and I don’t think it’s unreasonably forward of me to say that I do know what makes things tick when I talk about racing, is to look at system selections in the light of my own views of the race. If the system comes up with something quite outlandish, I tend to use it to compel me to have another very careful look at my own analysis and see if I’m prepared to stick to it.

TO: So, we can expect there are occasions when the system selection will cause you to change your mind?

DW: Absolutely! A good system, generally speaking, doesn’t operate on every race and program, and if it homes in on your race then at least you owe it to the system to have a look why. If it’s a system which has a win strike rate of 25 per cent or even better, and this is the result of a large sample, then the serious punter has to take on board that in his own wildest dreams he’s not going to do much better than that.

As to my own selecting methods, I think I’m a bit of an old stick-in-the-mud in some regards. I like the best jockeys and the best trainers, and I’m edgy about backing horses I don’t know much about. I mean by that, “horses that I don’t know well”. As well as that, you have to toss into the mix any bad barriers, as I just won’t touch them with a bargepole.

TO: So you’re in my camp?

DW: Very much so, on that issue. Of course horses will win from rotten barriers, but I’ll tell you something: it makes the news because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s unusual. And when it does, you won’t find a winner named Damien Whitchurch. I was watching the races a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, and I watched a series of blooming awful rides which I suppose I have to concede were occasioned by the barrier draws, although in a couple of cases I didn’t think there was a great deal of fast thinking involved.

TO: Example? Nothing personal, but I’m sure you can be subtle.

DW: Reichman in the staying race at Flemington was ridden by a jockey who has just been celebrating a massively impressive record for the 2007/2008 season. The horse didn’t exactly draw well, but it didn’t draw the outside fence either. Yet he rode it three and four wide for the entire mile and a half and the poor thing was still giving at the end. Would have won comfortably.

I’m not a jockey, but this bloke is in the top echelon and what’s more, demonstrated this conclusively by winning the next race. On this occasion, however, he really had to do something more than just sit there like Jacky for the whole race!

Another one took place at Rosehill and not more than a short time after that, or maybe just before it. Again we’re not talking about a kid or an inexperienced rider, but the horse had blown in the market because enough smart operators had reasoned it out and figured that King’s Court was going to have a heck of a job to get across from barrier eight (that’s not very wide but it was the widest in the race). I’ve given up trying to double-think these situations. I just don’t consider wide barriers.  For the record, one bloke rode the next winner in Melbourne, and the other bloke rode an incredibly well-timed race for the same trainer to bring a longshot home later on in Sydney.

I imagine that the punters who’d watched the earlier efforts with their hands on their wallets, and useless tickets inside those wallets, might have been a little less than impressed.

But for all that, I’m not a jockey and it’s very easy to be a grandstand or an armchair critic. For all I know, there was very careful planning of all foreseeable possibilities in those earlier races and nothing worked out the way connections hoped. Actually we know that last bit. Of course nothing worked out. The trouble is, it so rarely does when you are stuck with a wide barrier.

Oh that’s another thing. If the system comes up with a horse from a wide barrier, it’s in the same basket. This punter doesn’t want to know.

TO: You’re preaching to the converted here, as you very well know. I’ve never bothered to go through all my old diaries and check up how many races I threw money away on, by backing horses from outside barriers, but I know exactly where you’re coming from. Are there any exceptions?

DW: There would be, or more accurately could be, I suppose, if I ever bet on straight tracks.

TO: Aha! Never?

DW: Not ever. Not like the guy in the musical who “hardly ever” does something, I just decided years ago that I was absolutely certain of losing money on the straight courses. I’m interested in these races, especially races like the Newmarket, and they provide fantastic spectacles, but it’s like betting on jumping races. As if you haven’t got enough to contend with in the racing game, without having to figure out whether or not your selections can jump over a dozen or more barricades stuck between them and the winning post.

Then again, the arguments as to the future of hurdling and steeplechasing continue to fascinate me. And also, I admit openly that I enjoy watching the spectacle, and that in my time in England, as I know you did too, I attended a lot of National Hunt meetings and it was like a different world. A lot of the conditions are primitive and I went for the education, hardly for making money. For that matter, I have no idea how the punters could possibly make money there, unless you stuck strictly to favourites when you thought you were getting a slight edge in the betting.

TO: What about your actual methods of investment back here?

DW: I don’t know anybody at Equestrian who is not in total agreement with me that you have to keep a very rigid record of your activities. Also, I’ve found that all the old temptations can come back to haunt you if you’re betting online, or even with a bookmaker over the telephone from the comfort of your own loungeroom or study.
It floored me to discover that I was still vulnerable after all these years.

When all the new technologies came into play, and then when they were very quickly developed to a level where, only a decade ago, we’d never imagined we could be, well, it was just too easy. I mean, I look on the Internet and I see a horse I have a moderate interest in, I mean as a punter, and I see that it’s maybe $15 when I thought it was going to be about $10, well, the temptation returns.

TO: That’s pretty honest, Damien. Yes, I suspect that it happens to every punter who is prepared to open up and admit to it. I would comment that if that horse wasn’t on your intended betting list at $10, I’d suspect that it still shouldn’t be there at $15. Right?

DW: Absolutely! That comes down to the whole thing about value doesn’t it? A horse is only value if you actually think the thing can win. Naturally, if it’s there at $101 I might risk a dollar, but the temptation really is when it’s just a bit more than I thought it would be. I agree that if I have assessed it at 9/1 it’s got about a 10 per cent chance of winning anyway in my book, and there’s everybody else figuring that it’s got about maybe 7 per cent.

The truth is that that’s only 3 per cent difference, give or take, but it looks so much more.

You asked me a little earlier about my actual betting. I’ll have a go at anything, to be honest. For example, if I reckon I can pick the quadrella then I’ll have a shot at doing it. I operate on the quadrella, however, only when I’m pretty confident I can nail two and preferably three of the races. I have to tell you that I don’t get it very often, so maybe this is something I’ll need to have a look at in the near future and even abandon it completely.

What I do is to try to isolate one horse in each of the three legs and to take the field in the other leg. I also have a variation on this, where I think I’ve got a running chance, and where I reckon I just might be able to pick all four legs, or at least three of the four winners, but I don’t necessarily know which three! I take the field in each of the four races with the other three singles, so, you know the drill, Field/single/single/single, single/Field/single/single, and the other two likewise, just sliding the field bet across to the third and the fourth legs.

That can usually set me back something like $50 or so, and of course I have to get three right. It means I’m having four dollars on my number one combination anyway, and I convince myself that it’s a lotto ticket. I haven’t taken a quaddie for a few weeks now, and I suppose that’s professional patience, but at the right time and on the right meeting, yeah, I’ll probably have another crack at it.

TO: Win and place?

DW: I average seven bets on a Saturday and another three bets during the week. They come from the same bank and this is a long-term average, so I know it’s going to be pretty accurate year in, year out. It means I’m going to have 500 annual bets on individual horses. I have a very conservative staking plan for my singles betting and I’ve totally given up betting place. I know that you don’t necessarily agree with this but, as you taught me years ago, I keep a meticulous diary and I have the evidence to prove that in my case at least, I do better by betting for the win.

That’s something about online betting too. You get that extra option, the one you wrote about quite extensively over the past two months, to get the best of what’s going. I’ve found that in practically all examples that have come my way, the prices offered on Fridays are mostly a rort, to put it mildly. I totally gave up trying to second-guess the market the day before. In fact I started to think the gods must be against me on that particular score, so I just hightailed it out of there.

Frankly 500 bets is more than enough to satisfy me. The exotics are a separate bank. The exotic bank is a very small affair when compared with my staple diet. I’m virtually a professional these days and, while I think I’m one of these rarer professionals who admits to temptation, I nevertheless know exactly what my bank balance is, and I never exceed the allocated bet size. Speaking of that bet size, did I get around to the actual staking plan? Not sure I did. Well, for every new day’s activities, I divide my existing bank’s highest point by 25 which means 4 per cent, and I distribute that equally amongst the bets for the day. I accept that this means I will probably have more on a country horse than a city animal, but then for me to even bet outside the city I’m going to have to be pretty sure to start with.

The reason for the 4 per cent is that I allow myself a theoretical 25 betting days without a winner. Two months without one winner might be rather fatal.

TO: Ever gone broke?

DW: Not broke, but I did lose 60 per cent over one horror period in 1999/2000. I do have a supplementary bank if I ever have to use it, and it’s the same size as the original first bank. I got that 60 per cent back with a very happy series of Sydney autumn results, but it wasn’t what you’d call my most pleasant, or for that matter my most relaxing racing season.

TO: Damien, we’re out of space mate, but it’s been a pleasure.

DW: No worries. Catch you later.

By The Optimist