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I am delighted to say that Graham Wheldon will be writing guest blogs from time to time so to help introduce him to members I conducted a Q&A with him last week. I have popped into my blog for now but will include in Graham's personal page later.
Would you start by telling our readers a little about yourself, your background and how did you first became interested in horse racing and betting?
I started with a fruitie fixation back in the late 70s, aged around ten, but it was only once a year on the annual Pontins holiday and I only ever had a couple of quid a day to spin up. I'd literally spend all day in the arcade, just wandering round and watching others play or looking for coins in the payout trays, sometimes nudging the coin-push machines to try and make a few topple over without setting off the alarm. The beardy guy who ran the change booth must have been sick of the sight of me. I told him once I wanted his job when I was older when my parents came to pick me up. He looked at me like I was taking the piss but it was 100% genuine. Getting hauled away for lunch and dinner was just an annoyance, although it gave me a break from listening to 'Upside Down' on the jukebox. Every other song! Racing took over at secondary school and I got a job at Coral head office in the broadcasting department straight after spectacularly flunking three A-levels - too much time down the bookies, pub and snooker club. Dave Compton gave me that job.
What did you learn most from our time editing The Form Book at Weatherbys together in the early-nineties?
A hell of a lot. I picked up some useful stuff from a couple of the Coral boys in Barking but it was during that four years or so in Wellingborough, huddled round the printer with the likes of John Baker (now MD at Aintree) and Tom Segal waiting for results on the printer, that things really started to take off. Albeit to small stakes. Salaries were terrible then. Phone chats about draw biases with the now BHA Handicapper, David Dickinson, played a big part too. That office was full of characters and it was a fun time looking back.
After leaving Weatherbys in the mid-nineties you wrote two books on the effect of the draw published by Raceform. Do you still think there is still an edge in this type of approach?
Definitely not, they were very much of their time. The first one took months to pull together but I'm glad I did it. Backing The Draw For Profit can still be found on Amazon for £0.01p but it's so outdated now that's probably over the odds. Racecourses have done everything possible to get rid of biases. The likes of Newbury, Thirsk and Haydock now put the stalls down the middle, while a lot of courses have done work to even out surfaces or changed watering systems. Occasionally a rail bias will pop up somewhere but otherwise I don't even look at the draw these days.
What was your most successful bet of all time?
Most of my success has come in-running and I backed in most races, day in day out, for more than ten years, so it's hard to narrow it down to one. The miss-clicks live longer in the memory than the wins to be honest! If I had to pick one out, it came in the early days of Betfair, I'm guessing around 2003. I spotted one creeping into camera shot going to the final fence at Hexham, asked for £11 at 10 and got it matched at an average of over 200. That was off delayed ATR pictures too. Shows how much things have changed.
What is your biggest ever losing bet or bad-beat story?
The worst losing day I ever had IR was on New Year's Eve 2007. The date's etched in my memory! Even so, that December was my best month of all time. I was more of a steady builder than a blaster. I always looked at each day of IR as like building a test innings. Don't get yourself out early, pick off the loose deliveries and then go for it when you're 'in'. Next day start again mentally on £0. My biggest loss in one hit came when I played the World Series of Poker Main Event for $10,000. It was worth doing once, just for the experience, but I'd sooner play six or seven £1,500 side events than hand over 100 x $100 bills on what's largely a game of luck. I only really play in the USA these days; the game's become a joke over here outside of Festivals. The worst bad beat came in a WSOP $1,500 tournament in which I finished 22nd. I had it ‘all in’ pre with tens against eights for the chip lead. That one hurt. I can remember pretty much every second of the taxi drive back to the hotel and that gutted feeling.
Like myself you are very keen on Eurovision betting, far more so in fact. In addition to horse racing and cheesy singing competitions contests, what other events do you bet on?
Eurovision week is still the betting highlight of the year but I've always bet in any event where I've thought there's an edge, including the hottest month of the year a couple of times, the Oscars, Miss World (my first winning bet at a bookmakers was 20p at 8-1 on a Terry Wogan tip in the Mirror) and Big Brother. The 2011 series of BB was very good for me and was the best series of the lot in my opinion, the one won by Aaron Allard-Morgan. I used to spend so much time watching that show. Channel 4 let it go a couple of years too soon I think, while Channel 5 have let it carry on three or four years too long. It's become a very hard watch recently and it's good to see it's finally being laid to rest. CH5 did it to themselves when they stopped putting in the effort to pick the right characters.
As an avid fan of Peterborough United who are currently flying high in League 1, how do you see the rest of their season going?
Ask me a week into October once we've played Sunderland and Barnsley in the space of five days. But if pushed I'd say top six rather than top two. Either way I'm a big Steve Evans fan. He'll always have his critics but he was exactly what the club needed and the business he did over the summer will stand us in good stead for some time. I had an insane number of seasonal bets this summer but I tend to back Posh game by game. I'll be punting various goal markets away at Gillingham this weekend for starters and have backed Peterborough over 3.5 goals at 8/1 and over 4.5 goals at 25/1, over 5.5 goals at 80/1 and Siriki Demebele anytime scorer at 4/1. It’s a very different Posh this season as Evans didn’t mess around in his first transfer window bringing in 18 new players and letting about the same amount leave. Players that will be key to our season are now knocking on the door for starts, namely Jamie Walker, Marcus Maddison and Ivan Toney, and a complete demolition job wouldn't surprise me in response to last weekend's disappointing performance against Pompey.
Do laying and trading play any significant part in your betting activities?
Not anymore. I take way more time off these days - the game isn't what it was five years ago and I'm just waiting for the next big thing to come along.
What do you think are the most under-rated angles punters don’t do look at enough?
Football sub-markets are still golden, as in anytime scorer, team goals and the like. Going back to Posh, Mark O'Hara was being priced up as a centre-back in the first couple of games this season when in fact he was playing at the tip of a diamond. He copped a couple of times for me at fancy prices but the market has caught up. Also, bigger markets like L1 and L2 top scorer are full of mistakes now. The 'exchanges' no longer have markets for them and the fixed odds brigade are utterly hopeless at pricing them up now they can't crib.
Do you have any particular methods or approaches to handling a bad run of results?
Because of my nitty approach I didn't have a losing week in the ten years or so I was betting IR, averaging 3-4 losing days a month. It was always about keeping the minuses off the scoresheet and letting the good days take care of themselves. I've never dealt well with losing days, which is a good thing as a professional punter, but I'm better at taking losses now than I used to be, including on the poker table. Slightly.
You are a keen poker player. Is there anything you learned from playing poker that has helped you in general gambling terms? What do you see as the key characteristics needed in a successful gambler?
I've always been a horse/sports punter first and a poker player second. The poker trips to Vegas, two or three times a year when I was betting hard, were just to take a break from the serious stuff. As with sports betting, I don't take poker as seriously now and am quite happy messing around in smaller tournaments and smaller cash games, just drinking beer and chatting to neighbours. Discipline is the number one attribute for any successful gambler. It hurts my head seeing good poker players going to the pit during breaks and splashing around on the Blackjack/roulette/craps table. These are sharp guys who know the numbers don't stack up but they can't help themselves. Dedication is also a biggie but it has to come naturally, you can't force it. I remember having three or four-day stints when the only other face I'd see was the kebab delivery man! I lived and breathed it and was completely hooked but it was a positive addiction I think. Things were so good for IR punters during that time that I never really wanted to take a day off.
What are the best racecourses to bet on and avoid?
I had my IR stuff broken down course by course in the late noughties and the numbers were interesting. Most courses were around +15%, with front-runners' tracks like Nottingham, Ripon and Haydock 20%+. The only 'failure' was Ffos Las, where I was about break even. That place is just weird and I'd never bet there now, it's just all too random. Pre-race I've always done particularly well at the July Course for some reason. How I miss Premier Baron...
Is there a certain type of race you like to bet in more than others and what type of races would you put a line through straight away?
I'm as happy betting in Class 6s as Group 1s. It never made any difference IR, as there was invariably a bet to be had in every race, and that's still the case now I'm back to pre-race.
Do you bet ante-post?
Very, very rarely. I was given one for the RSA Chase back in the spring by a good judge but that's the only ante-post bet in the portfolio at the moment, punctuating dozens of football bets.
In your view what is the biggest mistake punters make?
Chasing is obviously number one. I'm reading Paul Merson's autobiography at the moment and some of that stuff is scary. It's a shame because he has a good analytical brain and should be a successful punter. Betting on anything that can't possibly return a long-term profit is the other. I can pretty much guarantee that when I go to the newsagents to pay the papers I'll be the only one in the queue not buying a scratch card. Anyone who plays casino pit games, scratch cards, FOBTs or backs football accas on a Saturday should just stop. Now. But that covers about 99% of gamblers in this country.