My bizarre introduction to Australian racing

A quick quiz

What does Eagle Farm, a suburb of Brisbane, a sauna and a rather sore back and the Melbourne Cup have In Common? All those three things may seem a little bit odd but let me explain how all of them are delicately interlinked.

If you are in Australia and are not familiar with my background. I first started using Betfair shortly after they opened for business in June 2000. My vision was the betting exchanges would change the landscape of betting forever because they would offer opportunities that traditional bookmakers and betting mediums were unable to.

It was with that vision that I quit my well-paid job to take up my role as probably one of the first full-time professional Betfair traders.

A lot of things have happened in the near on two decades that have passed since, but one of them involves a Sauna, Eagle Farm & Flemington racecourse and a rather sore back.

Australian spring racing carnival

This time of year is when decent group racing returns to the card in Australia. While the weather cools down in the UK, the markets warm up in Australia. My first foray into Australian racing was back in 2006.

Things have changed quite a lot since then and last year before the stalls had even opened I had made guaranteed £1300, or roughly $2500 AUD on the Melbourne Cup.

Here is the story of how I got there!

My introduction to trading racing on Betfair

Trading horse racing pre-off is my speciality. It’s something I’ve come to love and enjoy for many years now and the scale of what I do has grown over the years as I’ve found better and better ways to trade horse racing markets.

While I was an early adopter of Betfair, joining just days after they opened for business. My foray into racing markets wasn’t immediate.

This was because I knew nothing about horse racing! I had to find a way of making money from horse racing that didn’t rely upon beating people by analysing the form. So fairly quickly I discovered that you could actually trade in and out of positions on sports markets using the Betfair betting exchange and Betfair trading was born. This wasn’t a betting strategy, but something more like a financial market trading.

Soon I realised that if I was going to actually trade on Betfair for a living, I need something better than a web interface to place my bets and trades and one of the first pieces of Betfair trading software was born, Bet Angel. At first, it just did basic one click betting, but quickly expanded to include a ladder interface and more advanced strategies on the Betfair exchange.

Bet Angel has allowed me to dramatically increase the scope of the scale of my trading over the last two decades and discover and deploy a whole range of Betfair trading strategies. More specifically in the context of this article, horse racing.

Trading horse racing on Betfair

When I started trading pre-off racing on Betfair. The only race meetings that I was particularly familiar with in the UK was the Grand National and Royal Ascot. Most other race meetings meant nothing to me. So, I had to go through the learning curve of trying to understand horse racing at least a little bit. Of course, the biggest market that I knew about in Australia was the one that I and many other people instantly recognised around the world, the Melbourne Cup. It was a very high-profile race meeting and therefore this naturally drew my attention.

I started looking at Australian racing markets in 2006 when I had a good look at the Melbourne Cup. However, I didn’t feel like I was able to do much about it. In 2007 I returned to have a serious go at attempting to trade the Melbourne Cup in the same way that I would trade in the UK. But it was a tough start in this market.

The Melbourne cup carnival and Freezing nights in my garage

Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but hey, what the hell. My exploits on the Melbourne Cup should go down as the stuff of legend!

Back around this period, when I first tried to trade it, I was still in my second ever home. Which, by then, was bursting at the seems with a wife and three young kids. Kicked out of the spare room and replaced by twins, the only way I could trade was to convert the garage by splitting it in half and calling it an ‘office’. My Dad helped me create a makeshift space and we did the best we could to insulate it against the outside world.

While it’s a Spring Carnival in Australia, we are heading deeper into winter in the UK. To trade the Melbourne Cup I’d have to get up at 4am, overlay my boxer shorts with something a bit warmer and make the short walk across the garden in the pitch black and freezing cold temperatures to reach the garage and fire up the PC. Shivering until the heater kicked in, dosed up with coffee, I would attempt to gather some composure before trading the market.

The Melbourne Cup 2008

Therefore, my determination to be able to understand Australian racing and to be able to trade it effectively more or less started with the Melbourne Cup. After three years of getting up in the early hours of the morning on a Tuesday in November to little reward. I managed to start to be able to make some progress on the big race and by 2008 my effort was starting to be justified.

However, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t something that was particularly profitable for me, certainly not as profitable as trading in the UK. However, my belligerence ensured that I would return each year to do exactly the same thing in an attempt to improve my performance.

Success on Melbourne Cup day

Slowly but surely, I began to get more and more confident that I knew how the market was going to behave. As soon as I knew how the market was likely to behave, that gave me the opportunity to trade very effectively. Last year I managed to earn £1300 or roughly $2500 AUD from the big race whoever went on to win. The ultimate proof that work and perseverance do pay dividends. It wasn’t my biggest result ever, but a good one nonetheless.

Each year I try to beat my record result, but that always needs a bit of ‘luck’

I was more or less stuck on the Melbourne Cup as my sole representation in Australia for a number of years until all those three things that I talked about at the beginning came together.

One Friday I decided to take my children swimming at the gym that I belong to and while they were busy throwing balls at each other annoying fellow pool-goers, I decided to leave my eldest in charge and sneak off to the sauna. This was a big mistake, but it turned out to be a very good mistake to make! Having toasted myself for a good 15 to 20 minutes I decided to get down from the top level of the sauna. I miscalculated how far the step was below me. I slipped and fell down the bench and through the glass door.

Thankfully I hadn’t injured myself seriously. But my hand had reached out to prevent a more serious fall and I had picked up a few injuries. I had injured my back which, was heavily marked by the fall and I had also injured my arm in my attempts to stop a more serious accident. I appeared to have torn a ligament or two or at least done some soft tissue damage to my arm. It was instantly painful, but I was more concerned about making sure that the children weren’t left on the pool in their own without some sort of adult supervision.

Dad now dragged himself out of the Sauna was now hobbling like an old man across the perimeter of the swimming pool in an attempt to reach the children. Having successfully achieved my goal of rounding up the children, I solemnly limped to the car and home feeling rather foolish. I also remembered that perhaps my overriding role and responsibilities an adult was to oversee the children and not to sneak off to the sauna!

All this had an unexpected benefit though because that night, my arm began to swell up. It was particularly painful. I remember the pain and suffering that I went through as I attempted to go to bed and I just could not get comfortable.  I did eventually doze off and managed to grab a few hours’ sleep. So far this doesn’t sound that beneficial.

My epiphany on Australian racing

In the process of tossing and turning in the bed to try and get comfortable, I trapped my arm. It was now very painful and very swollen, and I had no choice but to get up in the middle of the night on a Saturday.

With that in mind, I had to figure out something to do to try and take my mind off the agony while the pain killers began to kick in. I considered doing a tax return, but that seemed to be a little bit too boring to do in the middle of the night. So instead I sat down at my desk in the study of my new house.

I fired up a copy of Bet Angel and I had a look at what markets were available early in the morning on a Saturday. I looked at the available markets and of course, there was a fair amount of liquidity available on the Australian racing. There was this thing called Eagle Farm which immediately piqued my curiosity. I did a quick google and figured out it was a racecourse in Brisbane, Australia.

As the markets developed the volume began to rise. And I sat there and watched the market unfold in front of my eyes. Adjusting my arm to a more comfortable position. I grabbed my mouse and started trading. It was at this moment that I realised that rather than just the Melbourne Cup in Australia, there was plenty of decent racing taking place on a Saturday. It was lower liquidity than the UK, but having been on Betfair markets since the day they were born. I knew exactly how to trade a less liquid market. That’s where I built my base from way back when nobody even knew you could trade on Betfair.

I learnt that depending upon the way that I looked at the calendar, there was often large amounts of group racing and very fortunately this came during a period within the UK when the racing was predominantly getting a little bit weaker. I was hooked!  I continued to trade for the rest of the session and at the end of the session I returned to bed as my wife was getting up. I finally managed to get some sleep and woke later to do my normal trading in the UK. My pattern of activity was set.

That morning was the moment that I truly discovered Australian racing. From that point onwards it was a case of familiarizing myself with the nature of the markets, where the key liquidity was and all of the racecourses in Australia.

Learning the geography of Australia

Suddenly my geographic knowledge of Australia exploded as I began to understand that Ascot actually wasn’t a racecourse just 20 minutes up the road from me. It was in fact just outside Perth on the west coast of Australia. Suddenly places like Morphetteville, Eagle Farm, Warwick Farm, Flemington Caulfield and Randwick, were all names that were familiar to me. Names that conjured up imagery of a far distant land.

As my knowledge built, so did the results that I managed to get from each of the individual race meetings. I began to realize that there was an ebb and flow and a structure to the underlying markets that took place in Australia and I could specifically target key periods where the racing was of higher quality and greater liquidity in order to be able to actively trade the markets.

As my presence grew in Australian markets, I began to get more and more ambitious and every time the spring carnival came around at Flemington I would get truly excited with the prospect of what I could do with what was in front of me. As my knowledge of Australian racing and the markets grew, so did my results.

As a consequence, I’ve been trading Australian results ever since. When we get to the key periods within the markets I down tools and begin to focus on some of the major race meetings that take place in Australia and trade them to the best of my ability. I now match millions on Australian racing markets each month.

Time differences and Australian racing

Because I’m based in the UK this tends to mean getting up in the early hours of the morning. However, I’ve gradually got used to it over a large number of years and began to get comfortable with the idea of waking in the middle of the night, trading the markets and then often returning to bed to get a little bit more sleep before the UK markets come online a little bit later.

At key times of the year, I’ll devote a lot of time energy and effort to actively trading the Australian racing. But during the British summer when Australia is plunged into winter the racing is not so important. But over a large number of years, I’ve been able to actively automate some of my trading so that during the lower grade race meetings I can leave Bet Angel to work its magic overnight on its own using the knowledge that I’ve acquired over a number of years on Betfair Australian racing markets.


When the big meetings come around and the key group races are being played out, you’ll now find me at my desk in the early hours of the morning actively trading them. So, if you want to know how a Sauna, Eagle Farm in Brisbane and a rather sore back is related, that is how!

You may think that some of this has been slightly fortuitous, but I’ve learnt that that’s the way that life works. I may never have gone into the sauna injured my back, got up in the middle of the night and looked at the racing. But it’s likely that at some point I probably would have. My mishap just got me there slightly earlier than expected!

But you need to have the spark to do something and curiosity overwhelmed me that night and I discovered another new market to trade. Without that curiosity and level of intrigue, I would have never taken another step forward. That’s something you need to possess to keep moving forward. Positive minds find opportunities, there are everywhere and can occur at the oddest of moments. But since that rather fortuitous accident, I have now staked many millions of dollars on Australian racing despite the fact that I’m based right around the other side of the world.

One thing that is important to point out is that if you are unable to trade the UK racing markets effectively, then it’s unlikely that you will suddenly be able to trade Australian effectively. There are similarities and differences, but some knowledge of the UK markets will definitely help you. But turning up in the middle of the night, like my early attempts, are unlikely to yield immediate rewards. But it should catch your interest at key times of the year.

I hope that one day I’ll be able to come to Australia and actively go and see and visit all of these racecourses that I have so much enjoyed trading over the last two decades. I can turn those google street map images into something a bit more real.

I will return with vigor to the Melbourne Cup again overnight, it has been a staple market for me know since 2006 and I look forward to trading it again this year.

  1. john capper 4 years ago

    Don’t want to be picky but you don’t spell bizarre like that 🙂

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