Taken from A Hedonist’s Guide to Life

How to pick a horse in a paddock, by Sir Clement Freud. Sir Clement, who was related to most other Freuds, owned racehorses for most of his life.

This essay contains information that could lead to bankruptcy.

Gambling then – there is but one rule. If you mind losing money more than you enjoy winning it, keep away – play solitaire, move to Bognor Regis, whatever. I have always believed that betting within your limits is wholly pointless. To spend time, energy and intellectual capacity working out which horse/dog/athlete is going to come first and then backing your opinion with insufficient ammunition to realise the price of a case of decent champagne is pathetic. As Milton wrote, “High heaven rejects the lore of nicely calculated less or more.” What you must do is plunge. Feel real pain when selection is stuffed so that you can rejoice at the magnitude of your win.

Let us now concentrate on making money at a racecourse. Avoid information. Owners do not know; quite apart from paying to purchase a Thoroughbred, the enormous training, entering and transport bills tend to make them wildly optimistic; they are also ignorant of the form of the other horses.

Trainers won’t say unless you are the owner and owe them a lot of money and jockeys are scared shitless lest what they tell you is deemed to be ‘insider information’ and they get sent to jail – where there are many other jockeys.

Newspaper tipsters are not a bad source because if they fail to give the odd winner they lose their jobs and have to start working. If a professional tipster suggests a horse that appears to have no chance on form, his pin could have got stuck in the wrong column, or he might, just might, know something.

There are those who bet because of the horse’s name, the colour of the silks worn by the jockey, the number on the saddlecloth. If that goes with being at odds of less than 33-1, coming from a reasonably successful yard and being ridden by an in-form jockey, then no reason why not. Don’t change your mind; absolutely nobody wants to know that you nearly backed the winner.

If you go to a racecourse, it is a bit pointless to sit in the restaurant and watch the action on the TV screen behind the bar. You can do that at home, where you are likely to eat better food and drink less expensive drinks. Before each race, visit the parade ring and look at the horses as they are led around, mounted and then canter to the start. They mostly look alike, until you examine them with care. Some are grey, others between dark brown and light chestnut and many have blazes of white on their faces or legs. None of this has anything to do with how they run.

Some have larger feet than others. As a general rule, if the going is very soft, like after there has been much rain, a horse with small feet will not do well; as the trainer knows this he would not have entered the brute unless he/she is an exception to the rule. You will see horses that appear to limp. Although a horse that walks well also runs well, there are plenty who wait for the start of a race before they show noticeable enthusiasm for anything.

Very fat horses – they are said to show a lot of ‘condition’ – are best avoided. In a sprint race go for the one that has the biggest bum as long as he looks well (shiny coat) and the stable-lad/lass manifests an aura of cheerfulness.

Make your selection and bet with whatever bookmaker gives the longest odds (a substantial bet on the Tote, unless at a major meeting, is likely to depress the dividend). An elementary knowledge of maths is necessary here: 11-10, 6-5, 5-4, and 11-8 may all be available somewhere. Smart folk take the 11-8.

The sure way to come home poor is to have the same bet on every race. Vary your stakes: £500 (which in racing is called ‘a monkey’) on one race and then a proper heavy bet on another in respect of which you feel more strongly. Back to win, not each way (which means first, second or third) if the odds are 10-1 or less. Don’t bet to win money; bet to fly to Las Vegas on Upper Class Virgin and stay at Wynn’s Hotel, or buy a large white truffle or a gold watch with platinum hands and diamond movement. When you lose, modify your expenditure for a while, like a few nights of dinner at McDonalds or Nando’s.

Content copyright of Sir Clement Freud / Hg2.com