Horse racing is not about horse racing
Norton Howells

I downloaded this one to Mrs UK-21's Kindle gadget (it's only available as such as it's published through and got started with it on hols recently just prior to the return journey. Horse racing is an avenue of punting I've never really looked into, and so I was hoping this would provide some insights to the motivations and methods of the author. Was the anticipation rewarded? Yes, in the main.

This is the author's story of how he stumbled upon horse-racing and betting on the GGs by accident, falling for it having never had any interest in gambling before and the results of his punting endeavours that became an obsessive escape from the drudgery of his day-job. I can empathise with this, as in my younger years I countered my secure, but boring, job (that was taking me nowhere) working for a financial institution in the City with similar escapism - although mine involved spending most weekends wearing baggy green skin and playing with interesting and varied pieces of kit that were owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Mr H is an English teacher (in the UK) by vocation, and by his own admission got into teaching a few years after graduating from uni due to the absence of any other obvious prospects - just what do you do with an English degree? He writes "Twenty five, with fuck all else to do, having lost all hope of living a life of passion, I did what many others do in similar states of abject desperation: teacher training." So, just like his regular betting endeavours, this wasn't something that was planned either - he just fell into it.

Horse racing is not about horse racing is written in an intelligent, eloquent style, almost poetic at times, which contrasts well with the matter-of-fact approach needed to analyse form and identify "value". Early on, and not too long after getting the bug, Mr H records his aspiration of giving it all up and replacing his c£40Kpa income from teaching by doing it for a living - "Nevertheless, I've had enough of teaching. I support the rights of the average couple to live and procreate, to pursue whatever pleasure they desire, and to receive free medical and educational support. I just don't want to teach their kids anymore. I want to be a professional gambler - the greatest job in the world.".

The book then goes on to provide a season-by-season summary of wins and losses, the highs and lows, interspersed with reflections of a personal nature, which in his case were: living alone, his inability to attract a partner and soulmate, self-doubt, depression, the futility of his day job existence, not seeing any obvous point in the future when he might expect to quit teaching. For those, like myself, who are not seasoned horse racing punters, these aspects of Mr H's story are the interesting, and in places amusing, parts. In contrast, unless you're into the horse racing game and possibly familiar with the names of horses, trainers etc, the blow-by-blow details of Mr H's betting activities become repetitive and tedious after a while - ie I won £xxx from backing "<insert runner's name here>" in the such-and-such race, and lost £xxx from opposing the favourite in the main race at "<insert venue here>". If you're of a similar mind, and your own unwritten record would read in a similar manner, then Horse racing is not about horse racing is definitely a read for you.

The one thing I think that is missing from the book is a cumulative P&L snapshot at the time of publishing. Just what did Mr H have to show for all of the thousands of hours he spent travelling and studying form over fourteen years? He admits to being "little more than a breakeven gambler", but I think that some numbers would have put it all into perspective. Bearing in mind the typical overround on a race is in the region of 20%, it does mean that even being fairly proficient at finding the "value" and pulling a return from it over time, it's always going to be a challenge to remain any distance in front of the bookies, let alone making enough to fund a comfortable, middle class, lifestyle. There are some that manage this, although I suspect such mavericks make use of more than the odd snippet of information from within the trade to achieve it. Mr H was dependent entirely on his own homework, methods of assessing potential and hunches to inform his bets - many of which were for hundreds of pounds at a time. So much for the title's tag line "Anatomy of a Small Time Gambler" - I've never met any "small time gamblers" who bet those sorts of amounts. Perhaps I need to get out more?

After finishing the book, I wrote to Mr Howells but never received a response to my e-mail. At the time of writing he remains on the staff of Newmarket College, which was placed into special measures after having been declared inadequate in three out of four of the inspection criteria following its last OFSTED inspection in February 2013. It has since become an Academy and is working through an improvement plan under the direction of the Samual Ward Academy Trust, following the sudden departure of the the college's Principal and three governors in October of that year. No doubt he'll be making his contribution to the efforts being made to raise standards there.

October 2015.