In the racing world there are some people whose opinions you respect without question and one such person, in my opinion, is Geoffrey Hutson.

I first met Geoffrey via an Internet forum and was impressed by his wit more than anything else initially. As I am drawn to people who make me laugh I thought it would be a good idea to meet him and eventually the late EJ Minnis arranged a meeting on track.

We found him an affable, gentle speaking person and, to be quite honest, he has not changed one iota since in the 10 years I have known him. On Sandown Cup Day, 2000 we met in the grandstand prior to one of the races and he told us, “I am writing a book on racehorse observation . . . What do you think?” I clearly remember advising against the move as unless you really have something to offer the Australian punting public it would be a hard road to make money and I suggested publishing on the Internet rather than the huge outlay via the traditional “book in hand” method.

History has shown I was wrong.  I am only too glad to admit this because I believe Geoffrey’s book, Watching Racehorses: a guide to betting on behaviour, is one of the top 10 horseracing betting books ever written in the world and I am not even a horse watcher, bar when I watch my bets run around.

The story of Geoffrey the Racehorse Watcher started with quite some seriousness when he combined with Marie Haskell in 1997 to write a paper called Pre-race behaviour of horses as a predictor of race finishing order, for the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

In this publication the behaviour and appearance of 867 horses entered in 67 races at Flemington and Moonee Valley were assessed over 20 meetings covering 29 variables for each horse. Nineteen of the variables recorded were behaviour/appearance: 14 in the parade ring/mounting yard and five with the jockey up on the way to the barrier, with the others being either racebook information or post-race results.

After the study was completed and the various mathematical methods of analysis applied, it was concluded that “simple observations of the behaviour and appearance of horses prior to a race cannot be used to predict winners.

The fact that single variables did not predict winners should not surprise us. Although our single variable results did not predict winners they did confirm some traditionally held views about pre-race behaviour that winners tend to be fitter and more relaxed and losers tend to be more aroused and require greater control.”

The authors found that “when more than one variable was considered behaviour/appearance variables were valuable in eliminating horses which could not win. This information has potentially high economic worth        . . .  this area offers many intriguing research opportunities.” There is little doubt a life-changing experience came to Geoffrey around this time; it was the beginning of an endless quest that started with those words. By the time you finish reading about the number of observations that have actually been made and the number of variables Geoffrey scores I am sure you will agree with me.

Sometime in 2002 Geoffrey’s book was published and I was honoured to be invited to his book launching, along with EJ. It was quite a sight to see boxes and boxes of his book stored in every available nook and cranny when we dropped back for the post-launch drinks. All told there were 5,000 books involved and I seriously wondered about this venture.

However, once I read the book (both EJ and I had to pay for our copies, by the way!) I had no doubts the book would become a racetrack classic. Subsequent sales have proven this to be so.

In the early pages, Geoffrey details what he calls The Seven Ages of Punting Man which starts as a seat of the pants punter (First Age) through to the Third Age, when he maintained thousands of form cards, through to the Seventh Age which is his current and last stage. Finally, in 1997, Geoffrey discarded all his formguides and took watching racehorses to a serious level with the culmination being the writing of his book “after 13 years of watching horses”.

Throwing out nearly half of the original 19 behaviour and appearance variables, Geoffrey obviously decided to let loose and added nearly 40 new variables. As he stated: “Now that my thinking had been completely turned around I could concentrate solely on bad behaviour and picking losers.” Along the way he dropped some old classic appearance variables such as Horse Type, Fatness, Fitness and Coat condition because “simply, they did not help much with picking losers”.

By the time his book was ready for publishing Geoffrey had expanded his list of variables to 65, divided into four main areas: the birdcage stalls, the parade ring, the mounting yard and the track. As you can imagine, a fair bit of ground is covered over the four areas and this man of figures even measured the distance he walked at several meetings, by use of a pedometer, and found he averaged 14km at Flemington (10km at the track and 4km from home and back). It’s no wonder he looks so slim!

Chapter Six of the book covers the birdcage area where about 80 per cent of the horses are seen and the first thing looked for is pawing of the ground, vigorously and persistently. The negative side of this observation was highlighted to Geoffrey when he noticed real signs of arousal in the stalls of O’Reilly, the favourite in the 1997 Newmarket, who sadly broke down during the race. Later, an odds-on favourite also was observed pawing badly and then failed. Other major factors looked for are Weaving (moving from one foreleg to another accompanied with swinging head from side to side), the obvious negative of Kicking, Positive Strapper, Very Positive Strapper and the unusual Twitching (application of pressure to upper lip).

Chapter Seven is titled Perving In The Parade Ring and details Geoffrey’s battle with bits: the metal bar which sits on the horse’s tongue and gums. Apparently there are quite a few different types. Some classics like chewing (jaws moving rapidly up and down with mouth open), grinding (clearly audible jaw grinding noise), gaping (mouth open to a considerable degree), Neck Twisted, Neck Arched and Tongue Ties are discussed relative to their plus or minus factors.

After you read Chapter 8, Did someone say sex? I have no doubt you will be thoroughly enlightened about the correlation between sex, racehorses and racetrack performance but I do warn you that the observations and statistics regarding erections and the masturbatory habits of stallions will almost blind you with amazement. There are also the observations of a Polish doctor who used a flashlight during the night during his horse watching. It sort of makes you wonder “how far can one go in racehorse observation?”

At the time of publication the information in Geoffrey’s book covered 926 races with data on 10,509 horses using over 60 variables in the time frame of four years between March, 1998 and March, 2002.

Geoffrey is not one for standing still. As of December, 2008 his database now has over 31,453 observations and he has increased the variables to around 100! The good news is that he plans to write a sequel sometime in the future.

Naturally, I asked: “What are the major factors that a horse watcher needs to watch out for as elimination factors?” The top four negatives in the mounting yard are arousal (head up and changing walking style), more gear carried the bigger the worry, strapper having to really make an effort to control the horse and an unacceptance of the bit (horse has mouth open, bares teeth, twisting head from side to side). In the stalls, pawing is still a major negative, eating straw or anything else, and if the strapper smokes or drinks and is not paying attention to a horse that needs attention/calming, this is a big no-no.

Do not underestimate the stall behaviour because, according to Geoffrey, Apache Cat exhibited several negatives prior to his recent first-up defeat and had “run his race in the stall”. It’s this type of pre-race “hint” that has Geoffrey deciding to add Betfair to his arsenal as a punter. He intends laying favourites whose pre-race antics indicate an unhappy horse, as well as betting on any horses whose behaviour has no negative or minimal negatives.

So how does he go on the punt?  In an instant, he was able to provide his figures for the last three years and they were sensational, with a minimum profit of 28 per cent on turnover for every year with most of the betting being for the place because “I do not like long losing runs which can happen when win betting”.

I must admit when I hear other punters crowing certain POT figures I immediately think “rubbish” but in this instance I do believe the figures. What has to be noted is that his figures are one in a million type of statistics that could only be attempted by someone who loves the punt and loves figures. Accordingly, he has a massive start on the public who just cannot factor this sort of data into their punting equation and if he can eliminate a favourite he must instantly be receiving overs. You cannot lose long term if you have such an advantage going your way.

Eventually, many more punters will log similar observations and the value will erode to a certain extent but Geoffrey is a scientist first and foremost. He feels when he passes on his work can be replicated, rather than lost, by a new generation of punters.

I hope in some of my past articles, and indeed this one, that I too can pass some work/observation/thoughts to the next generation of punters; so, I understand his reasoning. If you wish to buy his book (remember there are not that many left) contact Geoff at and follow the contact links: he will answer any questions you have.

By Roman Kozlovski