2018 was like this…

It’s that time of year again. Retrospective. Introspective. Generally thinking about where we are and what we’ve done, and could/should we have done more.

Here are some of my thoughts, offered for what they’re worth (and mindful that their worth may be less than zero).

Geegeez.co.uk

Let’s start with the shop. It’s not as impersonal a beginning as might be perceived because, as any business owner will tell you, such endeavours invariably take up more time than they ought to be entitled; and the entity at the centre can generally better be compared to a family member (regardless of the relationship with that family member) than some detached third party.

Geegeez was my first born to all intents and purposes, August 2018 representing a decade since its arrival, bleary-eyed and brushy-tailed, into the digital ether. Those of you who have been along for the ride since the early days will know how much things have changed, hopefully mostly for the better.

The Data Project

We’re now more than five years into the ‘data project’, which is to say the racecards, form tools and reports which comprise Geegeez Gold. Registered site members number more than 14,000, a figure which is not entirely a vanity metric inasmuch as I regularly cull inactive accounts.

From a business perspective, it is paying subscribers that count: those (lovely) people who derive sufficient value from our content to justify contributing monthly/annually to the site’s upkeep and, more than that, to its further development. Thank you to all of you for your support. It is obvious that without you I/we can’t do this project.

Without getting into fine detail, the total of paying subscribers (be you annual or monthly or those very luck early adopters who helped support the initial development of the embryonic Gold provision by signing up on a Lifetime ticket) is now sustainably into four figures.

For a little mom and pop business competing against a raft of media monoliths, this is both gratifying and humbling. It happens, I think, because we care: we have one to one conversations with our customers do Chris and I. We are customer support. And we each wear other ‘content provision’ hats as well.

It also happens because there is no conflict of interest at geegeez.co.uk. This is important. Almost all other intermediate to major racing form sites are in large part monetized by bookmaker revenues from losing bettors.

We are not. Indeed, in our last business year, such revenues made up less than 3% of our turnover, and that came almost exclusively from pool betting deals (i.e. where our reward is independent of whether customers win or lose, because the operator simply provides the marketplace).

Personally, I think it’s somewhere between not at all good and not at all sustainable how many of the large media entities have chosen to nick a chunk of punters’ losses rather than focus on educating them with better and easier to consume data.

Of course, therein lies geegeez.co.uk’s opportunity, and so I have to marry up our place in the racing form cosmos with those less-than-well-intended commercial strategies of the ‘big boys’.

In the last twelve months, we added the following to Gold:

  • Report Angles, allowing users to define parameters for any/all of our reports and receive notifications on the racecards (and in a bespoke report) when runners satisfy one of more report angles
  • A new A-Z report
  • Hcap/All filter options to both DRAW and PACE tabs
  • A range of user configuration to Instant Expert, to allow for contextual analysis of a field’s full form history
  • Contextual draw chart lines, to show how all runners fared compared with the chosen race-specific subset
  • ‘Hover over’ information for tracked items, so you can see in the racecard why a certain horse/trainer/jockey is on your tracker list
  • Incorporated historical data into reports, so you can see where the winners came from, and what prices
  • csv export to our reports
  • Racecourse information links on our cards menu page for UK racecourses
  • Query Tool Angles, whereby a user’s saved ‘system’ qualifiers are flagged both in a report and on the racecard
  • A facility for users to hide the odds, so as not to be influenced by the market
  • Class Move report, and indicators on the racecard
  • A facility for users to show/hide more than a dozen racecard elements to avoid the clutter of items not used
  • Trainer/Jockey Combo one year form to jockey inline form
  • Overhauled Full Form to include both draw and run style information
  • A number of new variables, including Pace Score, to Query Tool

And we’re currently working on a significant upgrade of the code engine which sits behind the website. It’s invisible (or should be!) to users, but it will facilitate a swathe of cool and exciting upgrades after the first quarter 2019.

More ratings, more QT options, more data elements, more reports, more user generated content. More power for you.

Editorial

Meanwhile, on the editorial side of things, I took the decision – not entirely of my own accord due to Nigel Keeling’s departure from the team in order to focus on other things which were important to him (and fair enough) – not to replace the regular ‘news’ items.

That was mainly on the basis that news is increasingly transient: we’ve read a story on a website before the daily papers have been printed, and we may have seen the story break on social media before we read it on a website.

Trying to compete in that sort of ‘scoop’ arena is impossible with our resources, so instead we have taken a step back and focused more on ‘big reads’.

From the likes of Tony Keenan, myself and, more recently, Jon Shenton and Dave Renham, we’ve been able to craft long-form data-driven eye-openers that the big boys, in the main, are not especially fussed for.

Again, this is to do with readership: geegeez.co.uk has cultivated a considered collective. You are open-minded, you have a thirst for knowledge, you know that there is more to know than the majority of providers want to share. And you are all very, very welcome members of our community!

We are compiling a database with more (and better) data than most, and we have analysts and wordsmiths better able to squeeze the database lemon and deliver a zesty thought-provoking cocktail from the juice. If you see what I mean.

Given the resources at my/our disposal, this is no mean feat, and it is one of which I am personally very proud.

This year, Jon Shenton has taken his first tentative steps into racing writing. He’s a keen eye for data and a nice turn of phrase, too. We’ve also tempted Dave Renham out of self-imposed semi-retirement. Dave is not afraid to do the ‘hard yards’ with the form book in order to unearth a punting nugget or three. I’ve been thrilled to publish their work.

And we’ve had further contributions, largely related to Irish racing, from Tony Keenan. Tony is a perceptive writer and a fine tipster, the latter point not lost on Attheraces who have recently snapped him up to replace the departing Gary O’Brien on their site.

Happily, that is Betfair’s loss and not ours, as Tony will continue to write his thought pieces on geegeez, though possibly on a slightly less regular basis than is currently the case. Congratulations to Tony on his new gig: win, lose or draw he’ll be a compelling read.

Tipping

Stat of the Day (SotD) is geegeez.co.uk’s flagship tipping piece. In fact, it’s our only tipping piece. We’ve been publishing it since November 2011 – seven years and counting – and in that time we’ve accumulated just about 500 points profit. From one pick a day, Monday to Saturday, one point level stakes.

If that’s the impressive history, it’s fair to say that 2018 was deeply disappointing in terms of results. We’ll record a profit, as we have done in every year since SotD began; but it will be little more than token after a protracted, and overdue, correction which lasted for much of nine months.

We don’t make excuses at geegeez.co.uk. We do what we do to the best of our abilities, we use data to support all of our content, and we trust our subscribers and readers to take that information in the spirit with which it is offered and do with it as they wish.

In other words, we treat our readers/subscribers as grown ups, and we in turn expect them to behave like grown ups. It is an enormous source of satisfaction to myself, Chris, and all of the team that even in the teeth of a downturn, the vast majority of followers have been supportive. They/you know that nothing in our modus operandi has changed, and that, excuse me, variance is a bastard.

Although nobody can say for sure, it would come as at least a mild surprise if 2019 didn’t see a reversion to the norm, and something like 50-70 points in the bank.

Syndicate Horses

It’s been a fairly quiet year for the syndicate horses, particularly the second half of the year. This is because we mainly have National Hunt horses, and because they are mainly young, untried stock.

That said, the weather, breathing operations, and a bug in the Honeyball yard have all contrived to set us back further in what can best be described as a staccato first half of the 2018/19 NH season.

Compare and contrast with the second half of the 2017/18 NH season the highlight of which was a runner at the Cheltenham Festival. Oxford Blu was sent off at just 14/1 in that race, though he never landed a blow after being very badly hampered by a faller in the early skirmishes.

We have plenty to look forward to: the aforementioned ‘Obie’ is dropping to a very workable mark and may have a dance on New Year’s Day; and Swaffham Bulbeck, our other Olly Murphy inmate, ought to be competitive in a maiden hurdle next time given his level of ability and relatively unexposed profile – wet ground will suit him well.

Down at Anthony Honeyball’s Dorset yard, we have four, all of them yet to run for us! Mystical Knight has plenty of form for his previous owner, a Mr J P McManus, and has trained well; while each of Aminutetomidnight, Windswept Girl (both three-year-olds for a few more days) and the two-year-old Coquelicot will be making their debuts at some point in 2019, hopefully sooner rather than later with the exception of the last named.

Up in County Durham, Wilf Storey prepares both Nearly There and Somewhat Sisyphean for us. NT is well named, having finished 3rd, 3rd, 2nd in his last three starts. If that suggests a one pacer, the reality is that he might have won the first of them, and ran very well in defeat in the other two given the funereal gallops were all against him. He met a very well-handicapped rival last time, too, and his turn is very close we feel. We further expect him to improve with age.

Likewise, Somewhat Sisyphean is a project. We owned his half-brother and his half-sister, both multiple winners, and we know this lad will come into his own most likely in 2020 and beyond. He’s a massive unit who will take time to fill his frame. When he does, he could have some engine. We’d obviously be looking for him to step forward on his next run, but time is very much on his side.

That’s eight horses syndicated and, to be honest, it’s more than enough. I have no plans to go again at this stage, particularly with so much untried stock. It’s likely to be a ‘one in one out’ policy for the foreseeable as they all take a degree of administration which aggregates to a chunk of administration.

Horseracing Bettors Forum

My ‘bit on the side’ is the Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF), a group set up with the help of the BHA to represent the perceived needs of the British horseracing betting public.

Since its inception it has achieved a solid amount, both in terms of industry traction and in actual deliverables. I wrote this post in early March, a week or so after I took the Chair, to outline HBF’s journey to that point.

Since then, we have continued to lobby in a number of areas, from slow pictures affecting in-running betting, to poor/piecemeal data from racecourses about rail movements and going, to Minimum Bet Liability (MBL) provision, to sectional timing, to the possible shape of a potential replacement for starting price.

This is voluntary work, and I estimate it takes about a day per week on average of my time. I have been on the Forum since it began, something that – with the recent ‘retirement’ of the excellent Simon Rowlands – leaves just myself and the brilliant Steve Tilley as founder members.

Happily, we are supported by a group of more recently nominated HBF’ers who share both our desire to improve the lot of British racing punters and our preparedness to put in the time to make things happen.

In 2018, the headline ‘delivery’ has been working with bookmakers to agree some form of guaranteed liability: that is, to get them to agree to standing a bet to lose a certain amount, in most cases at least £500.

As I write, BetVictor, Betfair, Skybet, William Hill, Coral and Ladbrokes all offer some form of MBL. I have personally had conversations to this end with the first three named and I’ve found them to be genuinely interested in having a better relationship with their customers, not just in terms of MBL, but also around problem gambling, communications, and fairness of terms and conditions.

Victor were pioneers in the MBL space, their brave and – at the time – unilateral online offering causing them some obvious challenges. They had to review the offering but are staunchly behind continuing to provide a ‘Guaranteed Bet’. At this time, there are some pricing disparities between this market and their main racing markets which we hope/expect will be reduced/removed next year.

They deserve a huge amount of appreciation for being ‘go ahead’ enough to get the ball rolling, and it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that BV’s bold moves have been both a facilitator and an impetus for others to ask what they can do in the space.

Betfair’s recent enhancement of their MBL provision is probably the most well-aligned with their main book, although theirs has no each way offering and is (obviously) non-BOG.

We continue to work with operators who are prepared to listen to us – sadly, and somewhat strangely in my opinion (what is there to lose?), some still refuse to acknowledge our existence – and I’m somewhere between hopeful and guardedly optimistic that we’ll see further progress in this space in the coming twelve months.

We’re lobbying on many more fronts, which you can read about here if you’re that way inclined.

2019 will be my last with HBF, though almost certainly not until approximately this time next year. By then, we’ll have chosen a new Chair, and recruited at least two new Forum members. If you feel you could help, do check out the HBF website and see what we’ve been up to, and what we’re about.

2019 promises to be a challenging time for all main stakeholders: BHA and racecourses face funding issues with the reduced revenues from media rights payments as high street bookmakers close shops only made viable from FOBT revenues; bookmakers will continue to come under close scrutiny for the fulfilment of their social obligations; and punters will be trying to get a better deal in the face of belt-tightening caused by the above.

That is all in the context of a sport and an industry not immune to the implications of Brexit, both on the macro economy and in racing’s microcosm. Things will be interesting, to put it mildly.

Closer to home…

My main job these days, however, is dad. More of you will be able to relate to that than business owner or charity/pressure group member, I’m sure.

Being dad brings me more joy, more fulfilment, and more hope for the future than the things about which I’ve blustered herein hitherto. And please understand that they also bring me joy, fulfilment and hope!

The best of many great things about running geegeez.co.uk is that I get to do it from home. I’ve had offices in the past and, to some degree, I needed/wanted them when Leon was younger and noisier and less self-sufficient.

Given that he’s now six, he’s clearly still young, noisy and not self-sufficient; but his development is a daily pleasure. 2018 has seen him learn to read, and to a reasonable level; he is his class councillor, and a very popular little boy in his school. His mum and dad are very proud parents.

What I think both Carole and I have cemented this year is the balance between work and home, something which is surprisingly difficult when you both have home as your work base.

I am lucky enough to have time freedom inasmuch as most of my work can be done when I don’t need (or want) to be doing other stuff. So I can take Leon to school, pick him up, give him breakfast or dinner, and do bath and bed time.

Not having to go to another location to work, and not having to be there at someone else’s behest when it doesn’t suit me has always been the greatest pleasure and freedom of doing what I do.

I earn less money – a good bit less – than when I was an overpaid IT contractor. But I’m fortunate enough to have enough – plenty actually – in spite of essentially taking a 50% pay cut.

I never did this for the money. I did it for the quality of life, and – wanky as this will sound (like what has come before doesn’t sound wanky enough!) – to try to make a small positive difference to a few like-minded racing obsessives.

2018 is the first year for a decade that I’ve looked back and been reasonably content in that context. That we’ve been healthy throughout the year is the major blessing, and nothing much can be done to prepare for unwelcome surprises on that score. If we get through 2019 with our health intact, it will have been another good year.

‘Investments’

It’s not all been gravy. The important things have been, and that’s basically everything. But a few less important things haven’t gone to plan.

The cryptocurr-crash

Let’s talk about cryptocurrency for a second. I spent some time and energy blogging on this site about the crypto opportunity. However, 2018 has been largely a cryptocurr-crash.

The disappointing thing hasn’t been the price correction: that was expected to some degree.

No, the disappointment comes from a market I expected to mature, through regulation and wider awareness, but which has instead shown its immaturity through trade manipulation and technical in-fighting.

Regulation will help, and 2018 has shown how necessary it is. For now, it remains a fascinating – if highly volatile and unpredictable – market in which to dabble.

The underlying principles of blockchain, and of decentralized ledgers, and of a trustless currency outside of the usual ownership, remain very sexy; but more needs to be done to control the gluttony at the margins.

I continue to hold (or hodl in the parlance) my positions, partly because I wasn’t sufficiently invested to do otherwise and partly because I retain belief in the long-term viability of the concept, but I’m not minded to get further involved unless or until we see some more robust regulation in the space: the very advantages of decentralization and trustlessness are fundamentally eroded without a core ruleset against which all actors are accountable.

My punting

It’s been a pretty poor year punting wise for me, too. I’ve previously alluded to the other calls on my time which have meant I’ve not had the energy to focus on my betting. That’s something which I intend reclaiming in 2019.

I haven’t yet run the numbers for 2018, but I suspect it’s a losing year, though not drastically. I’ll probably post something on geegeez when I’ve had a chance to go through the nuts and bolts. My punting is never even remotely a matter of life or death, though on any given day it can appear that way when things have gone for/against me.

I’ve still not managed that nirvana state of dispassionate acceptance of fate’s role in my wagering outcomes. In fairness, it would probably detract from the value of the pursuit, though I do still attempt to reduce the support and resistance range of my betting emotions.

If time permits – and it probably won’t – my grand personal project in 2019 will be to start work on a rating. The very word terrifies me in truth, because a simple time or form figure will never be able to accurately convey the myriad components of both the past (horse/trainer/jockey/sire form) and the present (today’s race conditions).

Still, I have a lot of ideas and, crucially, I have access to data and people who can make clever things happen with data. That means there’s a chance of at least getting to first base. If the project gets that far – certainly not a given – it may not get any further. But it’s a thing I’ve long wanted to work on, and I might just get the time next year (or the year after) to indulge that long-held ambition.

Little things that make me smile

So much for the macro, the big stuff which generally needs to happen.

If I may be so presumptuous – and you’ll genuinely be forgiven for declining – I’d like to share a few things which have improved my life in 2018. They are little things to me, but I know they make a difference to others.

  • I religiously say thank you to bus drivers when I alight. (If you live outside of London, you probably do as well. In Smokey, it remains the exception not the norm)
  • I say hello to the road sweeper down our road – whose name I now know is Simon – and share occasional small talk with him (again, this might be a London/not London thing)
  • When I remember (which is not often enough, I’m afraid), I buy a basket of shopping and put it in the food bank box at our local tesco
  • I give a few quid to people on the street (and, more than that, I don’t try to judge or guess what they’ll spend it on: it’s none of my business, and I know they’ll make the right choice for them in that moment, no matter what I think of it from my comfy seat on life)

Only the first two of those make me smile. What makes me grin is seeing the response Leon gets when he’s cajoled by me into following suit. He’ll invariably get a thumbs up from the bus driver and a high five from the dude making our place cleaner in which to live. And he’ll get the meaning of simple everyday gratitude sooner than most.

The other two. Excuse my French, but f’ck me, I don’t know where to start. I will say this, though: if you think the issues are political, you’re wrong, at least in part. In my opinion.

The issues are societal. It is too easy for us, those of us who are comfortable in life at least, to turn away or to blame some higher function. But it is the responsibility of all of us to look after those in our community who need help. And not just at f’cking Christmas!

Please, if you’re able, give a quid or two any time you can to the guy or girl asking for it – and don’t judge them if they buy something you wouldn’t with it.

And if you’re in the supermarket and you can, put some own brand tins or pasta in the basket/trolley. If you’re anything like me, it won’t make you feel better, it’ll make you feel worse; but it will help someone else a little bit, and that’s a little bit better than making it someone else’s job to do that.

Life these days, it seems to me, especially when viewed through the fractured prism of social media, is about being a super-hero and projecting our best self: a perpetual, and logically unsustainable, game of narcissism which cannot be won.

I’m as guilty as anyone, more so than many, of falling foul of that. And I’m going to get better. It catches us unawares and makes us feel bad about ourselves, even when there is nothing (or nothing much) about which to feel bad. What’s the point in that?

Lucky as I am to have the big project – geegeez.co.uk – and the ‘public calling’ – HBF – and someone at home who still needs me as well as loves me, the little things are there for all of us. Actually, some of those big ones are, too.

We don’t need to be superheroes, we just need to be a little more human. To judge people a little less, and to judge ourselves a little less critically – and, on occasion (we know when those occasions are), a little more critically!

The above words can be seen as the sanctimonious spittle of a self-satisfied specimen, which to a large degree they almost certainly are. But please read them as well intended, and from the heart, whether or not you much care for my tuppence’ worth, still less agree with it.

I’ll make no apology for reflecting on how lucky I am and, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been a factor at some point in my good fortune this year. Sincerely, thank you.

I wish you and all those for whom you care the very best of health over Christmas and into the New Year. And, who knows, maybe we’ll have a decent winner before the year is out…

Matt