To the many newcomers to the racing fraternity, recognition of the name Dominic Beirne may be pretty much restricted to those who have access to pay television’s Sky racing channel, and identify Dominic through his regular appearances as guest form analyst for major races at spring carnival time.

The many others, whose interest in horseracing  spans a few decades, would know Dominic Beirne firstly as one of the nation’s most successful bookmakers, and secondly as a progressive and inventive thinker in the domain of form analysis.

In his early 20s he made his name as a price assessor and form analyst for the Sun newspaper and Radio 2KY. He was first registered as a bookmaker at age 25 and two years later he had the highest turnover in the world of any licensed bookmaker betting solely on local events.

Dominic Beirne and fellow rail’s bookmaker Bruce Mc Hugh, took on the might of Kerry Packer, who, in his gambling zenith, would have been the world’s biggest punter. The sheer volume of money involved in many of those wagers would have had the average rank and file punter gasping in disbelief.

Dominic owed much of his success as a bookmaker to his ability to recognise innovative applications to form assessment. He successfully applied interpretations of sectional times in races and barrier trials to create speed maps – anticipating the in race running position of each runner and therefore the expected pace of any race.

Speed maps, when combined with Dominic’s ability to identify the nuances of the racing surface and the effect of wind strength and direction (commonly known as track bias), became part of the arsenal which gave Dominic a decisive edge over most other punters. This knowledge of track bias as a post race form explanation for exaggeratedly good and poor form performances facilitated future form analysis, a combination of these factors and original statistical data, improved his pre-race, market assessments.

Dominic retired from bookmaking in 1988 to pursue other interests, but maintained his link to racing through racehorse ownership and breeding. He raced and bred a number of Group 1 winners including Avon Angel, Card Shark, Telesto, Fraternity and Bonanova. Dominic was invited to become a member of the NSW Thoroughbred Racing Board Appeals Panel when that panel was inaugurated in 1998 and has been a member ever since.
Presently Dominic is managing director of a company which offers guidance on programming and race tactics to a select number of owners and trainers.

I posed a number of questions to Dominic on racing and punting; observant regular readers of PPM may note that in essence it is the same batch of questions posed to media analyst Deane Lester in a previous interview for PPM.

This is not something initiated out of laziness; the selective questioning holds strong relevance on contemporary issues confronting the average punter. It is also good to get a consensus view on these issues from a number of people at the top of their game.

Punters are confronted with a multitude of variables for form consideration. How should form students coordinate these factors and what do you consider are the factors of major importance?  

DB: The most important factors have not changed since modern horseracing was professionalised during the reign of Queen Anne in the 18th century: speed. Endurance, handicap weight, ability of jockey and trainer, barrier position, win ability, class, track condition, distance, age, sex, number of starts, predicted pace of race and the odds.

How to sensibly weigh these factors depends upon the circumstances of the day’s race.

Winner-backers are those who correctly order these variables from most important to least important. For example, in a set weight 3yo stakes’ race, the handicap rating will swamp all other factors as the most reliable predictor of the winner; in a 3200m race, endurance and the form from the two most recent runs matter most; in an 800m race it is speed and barrier that combine to provide the cleverest prediction. The ability to coordinate these factors comes as much from commonsense as from experience.

There seems a common thread between most successful syndications and individuals, of generating your own markets then betting the “overs” – Is this the only pathway to true long term success?

DB:  This methodology defines and identifies the crucial element to all gambling: “value”. I would like to inform readers that most of the leading syndicates in the world are heavily impacted by the wisdom of the crowd. It is naïve to think that you can “price” a race so accurately that you can disregard what everyone else thinks.

Take advantage of the way the market is formed to your own benefit; particularly this is true when placing multiple bets such as quinellas and trifectas. Yet generating your own market is not the only way to long term success. I will deal more adequately with this answer in a later question towards the end of this interview.

One aspect of racing that causes punters a great deal of angst is the issue of track bias. Some analysts state it is best to concentrate only on later races on a card to see how the track is going to play. What are your thoughts on track bias, and how should the punter manage this concern?

DB: Identification of the “wide on the heavy track” bias has been known for a hundred years. When I used to talk about other types of track bias on the radio in the 1970s mine was a lone voice; yet there were carnival days when railers won nearly every race or every race leader ran unplaced. Track bias has always been real, but sometimes less obvious. Yet the “edge” in identifying bias has pretty much disappeared. Track touts of various abilities fall over themselves these days wanting to be the first to identify the day’s bias. Often enough, their pronouncements will prove inaccurate.

On many racetracks, the bias that exists in the first few races is over compensated by the jockeys and the betting market. On other occasions bias can be annihilated by a drop in the wind or a drying track. It is for these reasons that one of the world’s most successful computer punters refuses to alter his markets due to this variable, once the first race has been run. On occasions he may regret this methodology, but how many times have you unsuccessfully switched selections due to a perception or report of track bias?

Race sectionals are freely available, but many punters are at a loss how to use them as an analytical tool. What value do you assign to sectionals, and how should punters use them?

DB: Using sectionals to identify the pace of a race is a crucial tool in post-race analysis; using sectionals to identify horses of exceptional ability likewise.

Most serious punters are loathe to wager on wet tracks. Is it harder for horses to hold form on affected going? Should the average punter put the cue back in the rack on wet days?

DB: Heavy tracks provide great punting opportunities. I’d rather take a short price about a proven wet tracker who is in form and has a speed map in his favour than any other short priced favourite.

In a recent interview with PPM, bookmaker Graeme Sampieri stated punters should only wager on either good or heavy tracks, as anything in between can be a nightmare. Is the recently revamped track rating system accurate in terms of correct assessment for these “in between” ratings?

DB: I have no complaint about the new track rating system; it should have been changed decades ago. As for Graeme’s observation, it is true that there are extra zeroes on the roulette table when tracks are rated dead or slow.

The wealth of information and tools at the modern punters disposal ensures winners come more frequently to the smart operator, than their counterparts from decades ago. In terms of acquiring value however, is the modern punter a victim of his own success? Is value harder to find today as opposed to yesteryear?

DB: First of all, the basic tenet of this question is inaccurate. The “smart operator” had all the information and tools available to him decades ago. Unfortunately for the “smart operator” the exclusivity of them no longer remains and the gap between the informed and the ill-informed has narrowed. The answer to the two questions is of course, yes!

One of the most contentious issues in racing in recent years is the advent of betting exchanges. Many punters are gravitating to these exchanges because of the minimal percentage take as opposed to the mainstream TABs. What is your slant on the issue of exchanges and their impact on the racing industry?

DB: Setting aside the fact that I urged the powers in racing years ago that they should run an exchange themselves and not be threatened by them, I think that their competitiveness is exaggerated. Betting exchanges are a fun way to invest on bolters, but those horses rarely win.

Betting on short priced horses after you pay commission is not as great a deal as those afraid of the threat of the exchanges would have you believe. Arbitraging by backing and laying the same horse requires knowledge or anticipation of racecourse fluctuations in your favour. If you’re that good, knock yourself out, baby!

Many punters will not place bets until visual examination of their selection in the pre-race mounting parade. Are you an adherent of this practice? How important is it for the punter to try to access a horse’s pre-race looks and demeanor?

DB: When I used to regularly attend the track, I made profitable use of this factor. But I must announce that my two advisors in this regard were John Size and Michael Fraser. It would be hard to match their “eye” anywhere in the world, so unless you are an expert, or can access an expert, don’t waste your time.

From a pure mathematical perspective, it is said you should never back each way as it diminishes the value of your selection. Alternatively you “save” on the assessed dangers by dutch or multi-betting several runners. What are your thoughts on this point?

DB: Before answering your excellent question, I need to point out that it is extremely difficult to find honest to goodness place ticket value these days. The modern day each way bookmakers at the track have been driven into submission and are understandably less competitive than their predecessors with this bet type. The fixed odds bookmaker at Tabcorp has the correct equation for the place. He fractionalises the win price to accurately return a consistent percentage in their book’s favour.

Admittedly, their returns have a house bias with which I am uncomfortable, but at least they “play the punters” once they’ve set the market. Most on course bookmakers could learn from the way the young turks who run the book at Tabcorp conduct business.

To answer your question – it depends on the circumstances of the race.

The best opportunity to bet each way  is when the track map and the edge-odds ratio synchronise. In answer to the second part of the question, I do not see a conflict in playing both of the bet types (each way and dutch book) in the one race. If the circumstances allow, make a dutch book and have a place ticket on one or two of those. It may seem that you have spread yourself thin, but if the “value” exists, such races over a period are the safest on which to invest.

I have noticed a developing trend in recent years, where many form analysts, particularly in racing abroad, are questioning the merit of weights as a genuine form tool. The consensus seems to be that the issue of weights is racing’s most overrated commodity. The point being, which is backed by strong statistical evidence, that weight does not stop good horses winning. Also frugal weight shifts, where horses have a one or 2kg turnaround on rivals, will in most cases not constitute a reversal of placings. Where does weight handicapping sit on your pecking order of form factors?

DB: The handicap weight is an extremely important factor, but the most misunderstood. As a factor, it is therefore not so much overrated as misapplied. Years ago, private handicappers, like myself, got lost in a cul-de-sac of number theory attempting to fit weights and measures into simple equations. Yet weights and measures presented no hurdles to the average racegoer who was a non-mathematician.

The solution was to expel conventional handicapping and take advantage of the wisdom of racecourse practice: that a good horse who often wins will beat a poor horse who often loses at a significantly larger weight compensation than the   popular equation: three pounds per length. Other decisions regarding weight confront punters, such as the real benefit of apprentice allowances or large rise/fall in handicap weight; or is a weight rise more significant at the top end of the handicap scale? The answer to these questions is that weight has a bearing, but to a lesser extent than literally espoused by traditional handicappers.

You are well known for the result of your form analysis being a rating figure for each runner, should the average punter attempt something along these lines, albeit a lot less sophisticated?

DB: I am advising against it. I know the extent of the science that is required to gain an edge mathematically. The marketplace is predominately set by mathematicians.

A winning way is to take advantage of their homework and add your own spice. Concentrate on a combination of variables with which you are most successful.

For instance, you may have personally discovered that backing front runners in sprint races ridden by unfashionable jockeys which are under 5-1 has proven worthwhile for you. Stick with it. Write your own system of multiple variables. Old fashioned system betting is perennial and provides a great pasttime in this centuries-old industry. If you want to be a private handicapper, buy Don Scott’s bible and be prepared to set aside a decent chunk of your spare time.

From a punter’s perspective, what industry changes would you like to see over the coming years that would be beneficial to the average horse player?

DB: Educate and inform punters; make the wagering experience more satisfying. The key to this industry is to grow turnover by servicing punters in such a way that they repeat their business. One way of facilitating a satisfying experience for the punters is to ensure that they receive a lot of dividends on the day.

How does a totalisator company do this? Well one way is to adopt the autowager technology that my company has written which spreads the punter’s investments across the variety of available pools or bet types in such an intelligent way that significantly increases the likely probability of receiving a dividend.

At the moment Dominic has no regular media commitments, but his musings and assessments of the nation’s major races are fervently sought by race media outlets to stream into the public domain. From his incisive and insightful answers to the questions put before him, I’m sure the readers can see why.   

By Ken Blake