Expert Q&A: Cameron O'Brien

Full time professional punter Cameron O'Brien, our newest expert who heads up our Western Australian Tips & Ratings service, talks to us about his 12 years as a pro punter.

He has joined Winning Edge Investments to provide his successful betting strategies to members. He joins us to discuss his background in racing and punting.


Read the transcription here:

Interviewer: So I'm here with Cameron, and we're going to talk about his Western Australian racing service and find out a bit about him. So hi, Cameron. How are you going?

Cameron O’Brien: Hi, Stephen. I'm very good. Thanks for taking the time out to do this.

Interviewer: Okay. Now, to start off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah. Sure. Well, I'm a 42-year-old guy. I grew up in sort of country Victoria and then in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. And I was into racing from a young age, but didn't sort of get into professional analysis 'til I was in my 20s. But yeah, I grew up there and have travelled around a bit, and these days, live down the coast, down the Bellarine Peninsula. I've got a large, young family of five children. And yeah, doing this full-time for a long time now.

Interviewer: Okay. So how did you get into racing? Where was the first track that you went to?

Cameron O’Brien: The first track. Well, I can't remember the first actual track I went to. It was probably actually Healesville where I grew up, but the first proper track, I suppose-- well, I got into racing through my father. My father was a successful punter and analyst, and he helped Don Scott with his racing tome, the Winning Way, because Don was in New South Wales when he helped him with the Victorian class and weight tables, and he's actually acknowledged in the beginning of that book by Don.

And so Dad actually got me into racing. I liked it. And he took me down to the Melbourne Cup of '86 where I looked at the Sun form guide on the way down and made up some little point system like stats at the distance and stats at the track and overall stats and recent form, and it selected the favourite, At Talaq, as the pick. And Dad had $10 on it for me at five to one, I think it was, and I got back 60. And as a 10-year-old, that had me very interested [laughter]. And so I guess Flemington was the first proper track I went to at the Melbourne Cup.

Interviewer: Okay. So you started with a point system. You would've evolved that over the last few years, so how did you do that?

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it did. So I continued to follow racing loosely, I suppose, in the next couple of years, but then when I was about 15 or so, I was interested in studying it more. And so Dad gave me the Winning Way to read, a copy that Don had actually signed, which I now have in my bookcase, and he said, "All right, well, read this." And so that just opened my eyes to a new way you could analyse racing as opposed to just looking at the Sun form guide and this whole idea.

And Don was such a brilliant writer. He was such an amazing writer. He was not only a great punter, but when he retired, he then wrote several plays. He was a champion debater and a wonderful writer. And so the books were so well-written and so sort of convincing that just this new world opened up to me. This new world of racing analysis where, in his world, it was using class and weight to rate them and then compare them like-for-like and such and then turn that into a price which you valued it.

And I just thought, "Yes, well, this is--" I was like a religious convert. I thought, "This is what you have to do." And so I started dabbling in doing my own class and weight ratings like that just on Victorian racing at the time. And I'd do things like-- well, I got Dad to go to the printing press place. And Don had a sheet for the past races, and he had a sheet for the upcoming races. And I got Dad to photocopy me several hundred of each of those so that I could start to build up my own ratings. And I even got those little card index things. And like Don used to do, I'd have one for every horse and carefully transcribe each line in of their form as I went, with some details about each race.

And so after a while, I had this huge, big roller index thing of cards for these Victorian horses. I was basically doing the metros and main provincials only. And then I'd do the form and do things like ride down to the TAB. And the TAB guy knew Dad, so he'd turn a blind eye as I put the odd bet on and, yeah, I really started to get into it. And that was sort of where all this began for me, was doing that. Don didn't like-- well, Don said he didn't like to use times, but I think that's actually wrong. I think he used them a lot more than he makes out. But he was very much class and weight rating [inaudible].

So that's how I started out, but then after that, when I was about 18, I started reading Andy Byers' books, the American time professional, and I realised, "Well, hang on, there's more to time here than what Don used to say," and so it started to develop for me. I started to then actually do time ratings rather than straight class ratings. And it was a bit more wild because straight-up time ratings can be pretty wild and pretty raw, but therefore, I was teaching myself. And Dad read Byers' books as well, and so we were sort of doing time ratings. And Dad was still doing some ratings at the time as well himself, so I would put my ratings into his database that he had. So I was really giving myself an education in different ways to analyse races.

It all started out with Scott's books and, as I say, it led through to Andy Byers, and it sort of progressed from there. Then I took some time off and went travelling and came back and went to uni for a little bit. And it wasn't 'til I'd landed a job working as an analyst for Mark Reid when I was 23 or 4, whatever I was, that I then saw another side to it where Mark would use more about the pace in the sections and that kind of thing. So it sort of kept developing from there really.

And where it got to the point-- I left working for Mark after a couple of years and started developing my own methods even more, and I guess it's been a constantly developing thing until I went out on my own punting in 2007. And yeah, it had taken me-- I left Mark Reid in 2002, and so in the next sort of five years, really, I was sort of developing and still working. And so it's been a constantly evolving process, really, since I was about 15, I suppose.

Interviewer: Okay. So where do you find your edge is now?

Cameron O’Brien: Well, the edge is in having accurate ratings and then using them in the right way when you do the form. So, as I said, it started out being class ratings, and then I was doing time ratings, and then Mark Reid taught me about using the sections and things. So the way I work out my ratings is really a combination of those three things. The class of the race is the established starting point, and then you use their times and their sections to work out, "Now, what did they really actually do here?" And then obviously adjusting to such things like the weight they carried that day, and then obviously the weight in the upcoming race.

And then when you do the form, you start with their ratings. So you work out, "Well, what kind of horse is this? What is his ability? What can he rate if everything goes right? And therefore what do I think he'll rate today given the circumstances of today's race, given who's riding him or her, given his suitability at distance, suitability at the track, suitability at the map, and his reliability, and of course the trainer and the trainer's reliability to get a horse to perform?" And those are the core components of doing the form.

But accurate ratings have to be the backbone of it. If you're going to be a ratings analyst, then your ratings have got to be right. And I guess that's where it comes back to Perth, for me, is it's a good place to rate because it's a pretty stable environment. If tracks are constantly rating throughout the day, it's quite hard to work out what they've rated, and so your ratings might not be quite as reliable. So the edge comes in having really reliable ratings and also being able to then turn those ratings into a good predicted figure for the upcoming race.

Interviewer: Okay. So what led you to looking at Western Australian racing?

Mark Reid led me to that because I was the second in charge to Melbourne's-- under the best analyst I've come across, a guy called Jerry Twomey, and he taught me a lot up there. And then I was put on to doing Adelaide because the Adelaide guy had left or whatever. I can't remember what happened. And so I was doing Adelaide for a while, and that was a bit depressing. And then the Perth guy left, and so Mark just told me I was now doing Perth as well. And as anybody who knows Mark, you don't really argue with that. You've just then got to cop it and go and do it [laughter].

And so I found I liked Perth a lot more than Adelaide. And so from there, I sort of-- but I hadn't paid much attention to Perth racing prior to that, and I sort of thought, "Oh, hang on. Yeah, there's some advantages here. Some advantages." And so after I left that, I still maintained an interest in Perth racing. Obviously, being a Victorian, Victoria was what I sort of based myself on, but the Perth racing is what I find the most reliable in a lot of ways. And yeah, so I've maintained a very strong interest in it ever since.

Interviewer: Okay. What tracks do you like in Perth particularly?

Well, I like most of them. There's a couple I don't touch. Esperance and Narrogin. Esperance is a beautiful place to visit - we've been there a few times - but its track is too quirky and so it's too much about being the right spot. And Narrogin's much the same, and a lot of Narrogin horses are Narrogin specialists. They'll go great there, and their figures everywhere else never live up to what they can do at Narrogin. So I've started a form for tomorrow. There's a horse who's at Ascot who's been performing well, but all of his wins have been Narrogin, and his ratings at other tracks outside of Narrogin are nowhere near as good. So that's the kind of stuff I stay away from.

But, I mean, Ascot's reliable. You know what you're always going to get. It's on pace, but that's fine because you know it's always going to be that way. It's like Caulfield in a lot of ways. On the short trips, you want to be-- you don't have to be on rail, but sometimes, it is an advantage, but as long as you're on pace on these short trips, then you're in the right spot. But as long as you know what you're in for with that, it's fine. Belmont holds up well in the winter. Northern Pinjarra, Bunbury, are all good places to bet. Geraldton's a little bit lesser, and Albany's a little bit lesser, but I do do them and go okay there.

And that's sort of the crux unless I've forgotten one. I don't think I have. But that's sort of the crux of it. There's only six or seven tracks there that I'm really betting on, so it's not form lines everywhere. Those tracks have got a really strong history. Because they only race in a few, and I've got a big history in these tracks, so I can work out, "All right, this track, this distance, you need to be here," or it might be that it doesn't matter where you can be. Bunbury is a bit more fair than some of the others.

And so I know the tracks. You get to know the horses because there's no interstate riders. Interstate raters, I should say. I mean, there are obviously at the carnival, but that's a very small amount of the total. And there's far less wet tracks, and so there's far less sort of chaos with that kind of thing and biases that happen on wet tracks and things like that. Obviously, there are some wet tracks in winter, but far less of them.

And so the ratings tend to settle out and work out well and, as I say, the whole key here is to have accurate and reliable ratings or else the whole system falls down. Yeah, so they're the tracks I bet and that's how I think they work.

Interviewer: Okay. So then you use your ratings to determine your bets. So what type of bets will you be looking at sending our members? How many bets a week? Approximately how many units will you spend a week?

Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Well, Perth? Well, the number of bets will depend on how many meetings are in a given week, but they usually have on average about four meetings a week. Sometimes, more. There's rarely less than that, but sometimes more. A normal week would have a Wednesday meeting, a Thursday meeting, one or maybe two Saturday meetings, but the secondary Saturday meeting is generally pretty poor, and a Sunday meeting. Oh, yeah, I meant to mention Kalgoorlie before. I do do Kalgoorlie too, but I'm not as keen on it as I am on the ones more on the West Coast.

So it averages out. So if we look at four meetings a week, it averages out about two-- sorry, roughly 10 bets per week, therefore. And the suggested unit amount varies, but on average, it's about 1.2, 1.3 units of bank per bet. So I think you could say, at a minimum, it'd be 12 units a week. But yeah, I would say at a minimum, but it's probably a conservative figure. Yeah, and as far as, yeah, unit of bank recommended, that's as a percentage of bank. So 1.2 is 1.2% of bank, etc.

Interviewer: Okay. So given the time zone, when would you normally expect to release your bets?

Yeah. Well, yeah, it depends on the time zone, as you say. Obviously, I'm in Victoria. Right now, Perth is three hours behind Victoria, so at this time of the year, I think we're looking at 1:00 PM as the release time, which is, of course, 10:00 AM over there. So essentially, you could say we're looking at releasing at 10:00 AM Perth time, which is 1:00 PM at the moment Eastern States Time or, well, New South Wales and Victoria time, and when it's non-Daylight Savings, 12:00 PM Eastern States Time.

Interviewer: Okay. So that's allowing time for the scratchings to come out, for the markets to stabilise--

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah, that's right.

Interviewer: and then identify where there's value at that point.

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah, it gives me time to fix up and change whatever needs to be changed after scratchings. There's not as much scratchings in WA as there is in meetings in Victoria. Probably in Queensland, in Brisbane, they can have half the field scratched. Yeah. But yeah, you've got to have time to finalise everything and not rush it out, and make sure the bets are right and make sure you're giving the right ones. So 10:00 AM Perth time seems like a good time to me.

Interviewer: Okay. So your previous results, what are you looking at for profit on turnover long-term?

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah. Well, in the last year and a bit, my bets have made about 10% on turnover, and I can't see any reason why I won't continue with that. My more recent results, the last three or four months, are higher than that, but I'm not going to go saying that they're going to be outlandishly big just because the last three or four months have been really good. I'll stick with the 10%, which I think is well and truly acceptable anyway and if we get more than that, then, well, that's good.

Interviewer: Okay. And what type of information do you send out with your bets?

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah. Well, if any of the listeners are subscribed to Mark Rhoden's service, it'll be the same as Mark's service, which will be an outline of the race with all of my prices, with a comment for each horse and a race comment, and also what the suggested bets are, the unit amounts, and that kind of thing. So you'll get the full service as far as all my prices and such. So if markets change and people want to go backing some of the overlays later or whatever, then they can, and I'm happy to sort of steer them on how I think they should do that, if the members want, down the track.

But certainly, they'll have all my prices there. People who play exotics. A lot of people love to play quaddies and things - I do too - and so if they want to be doing those kinds of things, then they'll have all my markets there, not just the bets. They'll have my markets, so they can use whatever takes their fancy, really.

Interviewer: Okay. And for Western Australian betting, are there any bookmakers that you find are preferable to use given the market over there is a little different to the East Coast?

Yeah. Well, the best of the best product is a good product no matter what because you're getting the best of either top fluc, or the best tote, or SP. And their betting market's okay as far as the fluctuations. To me, the top fluc can be a reasonable product. And the SP can turn out pretty well as well. I'm talking about the metros here at the moment. And so that.

Betfair's reasonably okay, but between those-- but I'll often suggest to take-- well, not often, but I'll commonly enough suggest to take the fixed price when I think it's wrong. And in that case, you've just got to try to get on for as much as you can at the fixed price before it goes, and then take something like best of the best. Because what happens in all these markets, not just the East Coast or in Perth or wherever-- what happens is the last five minutes of betting is dictated to by the robots, by the syndicates, and if they don't like something, even if it's been backed [early?], if they don't like it, it goes back out.

So Mark and I discuss this regularly. Mark Rhoden, that is, and I discuss this regularly. It's bloody impossible to predict what the robots are going to do. One thing you'll be sure, "They're going to like this. They have to. This looks a good thing. This must be backed," and then it drifts out in the last few minutes, and you have no idea why. So the robots, they're of their own minds, obviously.

But that means that best of the best and Betfair SP are viable because they run that. If they don't like a horse, it'll drift on bet for SP and, of course, all the bookmakers just follow Betfair anyway. So it'll drift on track and, therefore, the totes will get out as well as the robots adjust the totes. So products like best of the best, but also if there isn't a best of the best available, something like best tote SP, they're very viable products in that respect.

Interviewer: Okay. So you expect that our members will be able to get a good bet on.

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah. And depending on what their bet size is, if they have to spread it across two or three of those mediums, then well and good. But there's a couple of people who offer best tote SP, for example, so you could get on with a couple of them and then-- well, I mean, several offer it, but some of them won't let you on. And then, yeah, as I say, depending on their bet size, that you put some into Betfair SP as well and, potentially, if they've got time, shop around, in the last couple of minutes, for a price.

If they don't have time to do shopping around for a price in the last few minutes, well, that's fine; you just put it all on whatever I've suggested at the start, whether it be best of the best, or best tote SP, or whatever it might be. So yeah, you can get a decent bet on because you can spread it around like that.

Interviewer: So there's enough liquidity in the markets to be able to do it.

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah. Well, in the case of best tote SP, the liquidity is the bookmaker's-- his satchel. So if he's taking the bet, it's not going into any pool. Unless he bets it back into the tote or he bets it back into the ring, then the liquidity is just what he's willing to take on as his risk.

Interviewer: Okay. How are official results recorded with all--?

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah, the official result will be exactly what I've suggested. So if I say, "Have 1.8 units on this thing at the fixed price of $3," then obviously it's recorded as 1.8 units is at $3 assuming that $3 is available. And it's got to be transparent in that respect. And if the $3 isn't there-- when the emails are going out, if it's gone, if it's disappeared-- if I've prepared the email 10 minutes before, and it's going out 10 minutes later, and the $3 is gone, then we adjust the suggested price to take-- or it might change to, "Well, actually, back it this way now instead." So if I say best tote SP, for example, then obviously, we've just recorded that. So it'll be recorded exactly as suggested with the stakings I've suggested and for complete transparency.

Interviewer: Okay. So thanks for your time today, Cameron. That was a fair bit about your service. Are there any racetracks in particular you'd recommend for people who are either travelling to Perth or are in Perth to go to for a good day out at the races?

Cameron O’Brien: Yeah. Well, I've only been to a couple of them. I've been to Belmont. I've been to Ascot. I can't remember if I got to-- no, I don't think I ever got to Esperance, but I would say if you wanted to visit, a track like Esperance would be wonderful because it's a beautiful part of the world as well. The South Coast down there is stunning. And Albany looks like it's stunning as well. I haven't actually been there. I've travelled around, but I never saw Albany. So those tracks would be good.

As far as the good tracks, Belmont's nice, and Ascot's nice, but the one that would be the best if you could get there - I haven't been here, but I've seen it on the telly and my jaw drops - would be Broome. Broome looks stunning. You've got the racetracks right on the water and that beautiful coastline out the side of it there, and people who have been there tell me it's absolutely stunning. And so I'm looking forward to, at some point in my life, getting over to Broome and having a look at that.

Interviewer: Do you often send bets out for Broome?

Cameron O’Brien: No, I don't bet on those kind of tracks, no. Up North, yeah, there are more tracks up there like that in Carnarvon and these kind of places, but, no, I don't bet on those at all.

Interviewer: Okay. Great. So once again, thanks for your time, and good punting.

Cameron O’Brien: No worries. Thanks very much, Stephen. I hope it clarifies some things for all the members and, if not, feel free to get in contact with Winning Edge. And if any questions, I'm happy to answer.

Interviewer: Okay, great. Thank you.

Cameron O’Brien: Thanks, Stephen.

Interviewer: All right.