Counter Attack
Various contributors.

Back in 2002 when this title was published one could be forgiven for thinking that, despite all profits being donated to two horse-race industry related charities, the £12.99 cover price for the 143 pages that makes it up meant it wasn't the greatest example of value for money? That doesn't necessary follow of course, as the content may be such that you can apply it to your betting and quickly recoup the cover price and more - in which case it'd be a sound investment.

I purchased it partly out of curiosity and partly in a move to add to my meagre knowledge of the horse-racing game - assuming that it would contain many gems of wisdom that would stand the test of time and be as relevent now as they were thirteen years ago. Bearing that in mind, was it a good move? Hmmm . . .

When you open the covers you find 52 articles, authored by a wide range of industry pundits; racing press writers and publishers, TV racing presenters, "pro" gamblers, those working for the bookies and operators and other "insiders". Some of the offerings provide something of substance for someone like me, many don't (and look to me to be just a collection of words aimed at contributing to the page count) and some contain such a preponderance of racing language and terminology I didn't understand that frankly, for me, they missed the aiming point by miles. Perhaps I should have picked up something else as a primer before attempting this one?

Another aspect of the collection of articles that had me scratching my head was the contradictory nature of some of them. Not without reason, throughout the book more than one of the writers discusses the necessity to identify "value" in the prices offered, while another, Mark Cotton, has provided a contribution entitled Why value isn't worth it, arguing that if a runner isn't likely to win (regardless of whether there are attractive prices on offer) betting on it, regardless of the value aspect, makes no sense. In a similar vein, Dave Nevison (a seasoned professional gambler of the time) ends his one page contribution with the final line "A lot of value bests end up in the rubbish bin". So should I or shouldn't I, and if I should under what circumstances?

Across the content, there's the recurrent advice from many that, if you're a serious punter, you should attend the races to find the best prices and take a look at the horses in the paddock prior to the off. In contrast though, Henry Rix (tipster) writes "I don't go racing . . . I'd have no idea what to look for in a racehorse.", which I think sums up the case for a large number of those following the horse-racing game, especially people like myself. Advice in what to look for in a potential winner when down at the paddock, along the lines of "I don't like piggy little ears, parrot-mouths or too much white around the eye" and ". . . while its hocks shouldn't be too wide or too close together" (Gerald Dalamere in his piece entitled An Expert's Guide to Paddock-watching), really doesn't help much - just what is the right shape, size, gap or whatever and why? All I know of the physical attributes of a horse is there should be a leg at each corner, and that they tend to travel in the opposite direction from the end where the crap drops out.

From an amusement point of view one piece discussing the punter's mindset did leave me smiling; the author (Paul Haigh, Racing Post columnist) recounted a story of a grizzled old sage saying to a youngster "Unless you absolutely can't help it, never under any circumstances have anything to do with anyone who isn't interested in racing". He goes on to write about how "Punters believe they are cleverer than the average drone. If they didn't, then (fairly obviously) they wouldn't punt." and how they're also the greatest optimists on earth; "If you want pessimists, go to banks. Or insurance offices. Fancy the really gloomy types? Don't bother with undertakers. Just surround yourself with chartered accountants." Thanks Paul. Just as well that I'm not chartered.

For me, the best two pages by far were contributed by Julian Wilson, former horse-racing presenter for the BBC, in his piece The Winning Way. All clear and sensible stuff, and if the rest of the book had been along his lines I'd be inclined to rate it more generously than I do. His final line "If you have the self-discipline, and the will-to-win, you have a chance" - possibly with the emphasis being on "chance" as opposed to "certainty" - just about sums it all up.

Overall then, Counter Attack isn't one I'd recommend to anyone like myself wanting to tap into veins of wisdom and knowledge offered by those that know better, and from which one can develop an approach to horse-race betting. This one just doesn't provide enough, in substance or volume, and I'm sure there are more recently published titles that do a better job - although I wouldn't know which they are. As a sideline matter, I'd also be interested to know just what the print-run was, and how much the two charities (both of which still operate and don't seem short of a few bob) benefitted from its publication. As it all happened 13 years ago though, these are no doubt things that are now buried away in the publisher's archives somewhere.

December 2015.