In just over 40 years on the punt I have read many articles about the flamboyant punters of the past.

Felipe Ysmael and Eddie Birchley, aka The Fireman, are two that come to mind immediately in my time in horseracing since the late 1960s. The amounts they bet when in full swing were astronomical and you would wonder if they were psychotic, like Dostoevsky’s “The Gambler”, or were they just men who believed in themselves and bet accordingly?

Both were beaten in the long term by either the percentages – as per Ysmael via his battles with the legendary Australian bookmaker Bill Waterhouse – or by skulduggery, as Eddie Birchley believed when he complained he was being set up by bookmakers and some jockeys to have the horses he bet get beaten.

One is never sure what is fact or fiction when punters of that magnitude are beaten but one thing is for sure – they lit up the racetrack with their exploits.

In my early days I read of Australian legends like Cyril Angles and Eric Connolly and US legend Pittsburgh Phil, and PPM readers will remember the series I wrote when I interviewed the world’s greatest gambler in the racing world, in my opinion, Bill Waterhouse. These people were legends. Now, a new player has emerged who might just be the biggest of them all.

Only recently a friend of mine sent me an article about a leviathan punter in the UK called Harry Findlay. The article (Google – Flash Harry: the outrageous world of Britain’s premier punter), was  quite an amazing read.

It detailed the exploits of an absolutely amazing orgy of betting I suspect few in the world have ever read about and if they did, they wouldn’t believe it. I am here to tell you . . . I believe it.

The article was written on March 15 and Harry Findlay had backed his horse Denman to win the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup to the tune of  £1 million, which is about $2.25 million Australian. The race was over 3.25 miles or 5200km. Harry backed his horse to win a fortune despite the fact that so many things could go wrong. The fairytale story surrounding this plunge was that Denman won.

How did this all start? Findlay left school at 16 with none of his jobs lasting more than two weeks. As he says, “I realised overnight how normal people get screwed to the ground (after people explained to him about mortgages, pensions).”

In his early days of punting madly on the greyhounds he survived for a while but in the end he strayed and was imprisoned for credit card fraud. This was not a good start but some time after his release he came good with an £80 treble which he turned into £11,000.

It wasn’t all a bed of roses and bumps occurred along the way but right now he is firmly entrenched as probably the biggest punter in the UK and surrounding areas. 

Well, what are his secrets? How does he do it? When asked he explains it quite simply and it is all to do with the so called bane of existence to the establishment . . . those betting exchanges.

Findlay asserts:  “No-one can get bets on with bookmakers because when you win they close you down. (Sadly, this has occurred to several punters who frequent Australian horseracing forums.)  Now it’s all up front. We’re living in the real world. Press that button on Betfair and let’s see how good you are.”

Well, I have to say I’d love to see Harry and Bill Waterhouse go head to head; there would be no closing of accounts with Bill. 

Harry Findlay is particularly enamoured with the Premier League when he says: “It’s honest and its integrity puts it on a sporting level almost beyond compare.”

I guess when you consider this, he is absolutely right. Why would there be any skulduggery in the Premier League? The amounts of money some of the players earn alone ensures the highest integrity for a range of reasons starting with simple maths.

What interested me was the comment:  “Among the high priests of betting he is the lone voice  in preaching value in backing favourites.” As he states: “The real money is in the short prices. I know I am never going to make more than 4 per cent profit on turnover but, no matter what you do in life, confidence is number one.

Say one punter bets 20/1 shots and backs a winner after 20 losers and he’s level. Another fellow bets evens and after 10 winners and 10 losers he is also level.

“They both have the same money but he (the evens punter) has been right 10 times. Who’s going to have more confidence? But nobody talks about confidence, the mental instabilities involved in gambling. It’s all about how you perform under pressure, how you perform when it all goes wrong.”

I would have to disagree with him a fraction as in the pages of PPM there have been many, many articles discussing and emphasising the importance of a punter’s mental state.

After just over 40 years of betting I am firmly convinced the punter’s best chance of winning is indeed at the favourites’ end and I am even more firmly convinced that the old furphy about not backing odds-on chances is a load of old cobblers.

The statistics on favourites show you lose about 10 cents in the dollar while on odds-on chances it is about half of that. Yet on 10/1 chances you would lose a minimum of 15 cents in the dollar and it gets progressively worse as the odds lengthen.

I have argued this with several punters I respect who are mad on the word “value”, whatever value is, because to be quite frank, long term value is quite a difficult word to pin down in racing parlance.

I personally gather more confidence in this belief from Harry’s words: “Do not be afraid to back odds-on. It’s the biggest myth in racing. It’s a myth perpetrated by bookmakers and ignorant punters. Cowards. They’re afraid of the risk factor.” As he rightly points out, “there is no difference between getting 1-2 (66.66 per cent) about a 1-4 (80 per cent) chance and getting 4-1(20 per cent) about a 2-1 (33.33 per cent) chance.”

Harry has won millions backing the likes of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods and you will not be obtaining long odds about either of those two. 

Now, of course, the problem here is you must have the ability to decide what situation is a 1-2 chance and what situation is a 2-1 chance, which is another story, but what Harry is trying to point out is that just because something is odds-on doesn’t mean it’s not worth backing.

The old furphy about not backing odds-on favourites should be ignored. Let’s be serious: Isn’t it easier to turn a long term approximate 5 per cent loss on turnover into a profit than  to turn around 15 per cent?

No wonder bookmakers don’t want you in the area where they are most vulnerable! And perhaps Harry Findlay’s accusations have a more solid foundation than first given credit to.

Regular readers of PPM have seen all the arguments for and against the betting exchanges and the likes of Brian Blackwell, myself and our late old friend, EJ Minnis have been strong advocates of the exchanges, especially Betfair. In past articles we have all stated, in one form or another, that Betfair stimulates rather than strangles betting once the liquidity is addressed, with a range of punters and bookmakers using the exchange to balance various betting outlays.

Harry Findlay points out: “I stopped betting on the horses completely until the exchanges (mainly because bookmakers close the accounts of winning punters) . . . it is physically impossible for anyone to make big money on the horses if they are not playing the exchanges.”

Now, of course, he is right about “big money” but I cannot agree with his general tenet as there are punters who win betting with bookmakers but it is not in the millions like he can achieve betting on the exchanges. Just the same, for any punter who really wants to win, or even just break square, the likes of Betfair is there to aid the bottom line.

To finish off this amazing story I will supply you with what is attributed to Harry in regard to the mental state of the punter when he says:  “Winning is amazing. But you can start to feel invincible. As soon as you let your guard down in this game (punting) or take any liberties, your head is sawn straight off. By the same token when you can’t back a winner, when you think you are completely useless you have to keep your equilibrium.” Now isn’t that the truth!

Well, the life and times of Harry Findlay are far from over and perhaps he will bite the dust like many other high punting fliers of the past who lost the plot and bet in areas of no-go and were beaten by the brutality of gambling percentages? However, perhaps he will just keep on winning, too. As they say in the classics, stay tuned.

By Roman Kozlovski