Regardless of the many wagering opportunities available to today's gambler, there is still just one place to be if you're want to make a profit on horse racing. On the course. Even for novices with horses it is difficult not to get into the excitement. All the information required to give you the winner is displayed there in front of you.
We may live in the internet age, but the arrival of one 'face' at a bookmaker's pitch can still be enough to affect the whole market, even if only a moderate amount of money's invested. From the betting ring, the canny punter can see where the sharp money is going, having just observed for himself the condition of the horses in the paddock.
The bookies are the backbone of the betting ring. They separate into rails bookies and Tattersalls operators. They are a mixed lot and it pays to sort out who is who as soon as possible in your racecourse betting career.
Until recently there was a aura of mystery about the rails guys. This row of sharp-suited fellas who are present at the rail between the Tattersalls and members' enclosures, were traditionally not allowed to show prices. The odd bookie would shout the odds, but the others would stand in a distinguished silence, waiting for clients to request a price. It's a common belief that this was where all the action took place, and - although there were boards books that would put a few of the workers at the rails to shame - that was broadly true.
Owners and Trainers would tactfully have their bets with their favourite bookies, cards would be marked, phone calls would go back to head office and, on request, crucial business would be sent into Tattersalls. Some of the rails bookies achieved near-legendary status, with 'monster bets' being laid and hysterically reported on the TV.
Nowadays though, with boards on the rails, it's no longer ruled by the big hitter. Some of the smaller Tattersalls bookies have set up pitches on the rails, publicizing modest maximum bets. Nowadays, Rail bookies are pretty much just an extension of the Tattersalls, although by and large, rails hedging money is very much alive, so it pays to remember and look out for the rails floor men.
Frequently, hanging around the rails operators are floor men working for the Big Three and other off-course shrewd firms.
There's one reason why they are told to go into the ring, and that's to shorten horses up. Different firms have a variety of reasons for backing horses. Some are just placing their bets on horses popular in the shops, a good example is when Frankie Dettori is favourite after winning a treble.
If shrewd money is piling in, the reps go into the main ring to wreck the prices on the horses where the smart money's going. Obviously this is important to you: if you were waiting to get a price bigger than that on offer, you will have to get in before the reps, as the price will drop around your ears on a quiet racing day and reduce the odds on a busy one. However, if you were undecided, the money coming in from off course may sway you, as it means someone with the knowledge is having it on - but beware the Frankie factor!
Alternative bookies to be found in the betting ring are those over by the Tattersalls. You would be hard pressed finding a diverse and colourful lot than the Tattersalls bookies. Though a lot of the old legends have shuffled off of this mortal coil - or moved to the seaside in their retirement years. There are enough left to fill several novels. The majority are gentlemen, some are not, though none are the 'dastardly bookmakers' of popular infamy. Their business is based around honesty - they're there to win your money, not to steal it.
A floor man for the most decent of Tattersalls bookmakers will have bets during the year going into tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. They're done by word of mouth and sometimes, though rarer these days, tic-tac signals.
Experience is also the key to noticing familiar 'faces' - respected pro punters and exchange arbiters. When you see them make a move, this should also mark your card as to what is fancied and will shorten. Getting an attractive price is what on-course betting is all about, so keep your eyes and ears open.
Occasionally, bookmakers will call bets in-running. You will normally have to be there with your money in hand to get on, unless the bookie knows you. Many bookmakers are happy to give away money if a result looks on the cards, so if a 33/1 looks as if it's going to turn over the favourite with three to jump, you would do well to position yourself next to your man as the horse approaches the last, waiting for him to shout 'take 3/1.' That way - wallop - you're on the spot to get on.
The books are honest, but they still have a few little tricks that you should watch out for. It doesn't happen often these days, with almost instant photo finish results, but a few books will be bold in facing the frowns of the punters to price the obvious second in such a finish at 1/3, in the hope of tempting in a chump who bets before he thinks. It's a case of 'buyer beware' - if you put a wager on the wrong horse, it's irrelevant what you 'meant' to do, so be warned.
These methods may seem underhand, but they are all part of the rich pageant of the betting ring. A nod in the right direction and betting opportunities are all there to be seen by those who know to look. Hunt for value and the game is all but won!
Art Aronson is a tenured bottom-line professional sports handicapper. He is the best ROI handicapper in the business. He is not your typical handicapper.