Thursday, 24 March 2011

Tom Segal and intuition

Any Tom Segal column is always worth reading. That should go without saying.

This week, his clever corruption of a famous sporting quote in the Racing Post caught my eye: "Unlike Gary Player, the harder I work the worse I get."

This is testimony from a remarkable mind. Tom is without doubt the best newspaper tipster ever.

What a joke he has never been close to winning Racing Journalist of the Year. He should have the trophy in perpetuity.

While there are certain advantages Tom enjoys over the punter, these are petty, well documented and regularly brought up by his relatively few misguided critics in any case.

But, Tom is operating under a lot of pressure. Unlike you and I, he cannot salve the disappointment of an unlucky defeat in the next race on the card. He usually has to wait a week.

Moreover, he is expected to solve viciously difficult races with incomplete information. He does not rely on contacts, he does not have the advantage of knowing late changes in the going and cannot witness raceday interviews.

In all this, his integrity is beyond reproach. He has never taken advantage of the arbitrage provided by his influence over the markets. Heck, he often doesn't even take standout prices which would disappear if he capitalised on the value.

How Tom achieves his results is well beyond my comprehension. He is a brilliant thinker, yet somewhat erratic in the ideas he advances. One day he will tell you the effect of the draw is overrated, the next he will select a horse next to the fence at Ripon.

This, however, is an irrelevant diversion in the attempt to understand his approach. It is more important to know that he doesn't rely on figures and considers intellectualising a redundant process in finding winners.

In effect, Tom and I are different sides of different brains. And our psychology is equally juxtaposed when it comes to life. (I am guilty of thinking too much, of living in my mind and of trying too hard to formulate concepts from the stream of consciousness we all know as life itself.)

Lucky for me, there is room for the intellectual approach in this great game of ours. It writing about horses were only permissible by those with demonstrable results, I would now be buried in research to discover the newest prime number or be designing mathematical models for the use of mobile phones.

Instead, my approach is to engage the reader with ideas in one of two ways.

Either I write about those which are common to our intelligence which I have formalised logically and can instill deeper into our collective consciousness.

Or, I attempt insightful views which may be incomplete or coarse, which I can then improve by listening to those who respond constructively.

The driving force for my writing comes from that part of the brain we all know as our intellect. But the intellect is opposed, at least in some part, by our intuition.

Intuition can be thought of as that understanding of the world we cannot really justify by a logical process. So, I hope you can see how the opposition between intellect and intuition arises - as indeed it does between people who have learned to rely heavily on one process or another.

Of course, there should be room for both the intuitive and intellectual approach in a topic so multi-faceted as racing. And, happily, there is.

It gives me pride to say that some trainers and jockeys who were understandably hostile to my new-age ideas 15 years ago are now people with whom I can spend time fruitfully and peacefully.

To my mind, that says an awful lot about them. And an awful lot about people within the sport.

But, I still have to accept that I am a niche operator. Which is one reason I chose to give up the position on the Racing Post to which I had aspired all my working life.

The vast majority of racing followers are interested in finding winners. They do not have time for burrowing deeper and deeper into the esoterica of the sport.

They want quick ways to learn practical ideas which work. So, they are nourished not by writers like myself, but more by Tom.

You may find specific things you don't like in Tom's approach or expression. He's only human after all.

Many people who know about the mathematics of betting sneer at his one-dimensional staking approach or lack of each-way advice, for instance. But they fail to grasp the reasons he doesn't operate in this fashion.

Tom's knows full well that you should have more points on propositions which you assume provide the biggest edge. He is also aware that the place part of an each-way bet can be better value than the win.

But he doesn't do either because of accountability: he considers it disingenuous to have 10 points each-way on a 25-1 shot when nobody trying to follow him can possible bet like that.

So, he is prepared to forego a favourable distortion of his results for what a straightforward and accountable approach. And this is very much a defining characteristic.

Many people in this sport are impressive. The might inhabit roles as different as trainer, jockey, bloodstock agent, handicapper, analyst and television presenter and producer.

But, when it comes to the intuitive process of understanding what wins races, Tom is in a league of his own. And many punters benefit from it on a weekly basis - as do trainers and jockeys.

But, more can be learned from intuition than is evident from profit or loss figures. To be guided by your intuition is important to the harmonious flow of your life, so long as you can correct its sometimes erroneous lead by means of selective guidance of your intellect.

My intuition is severely underdeveloped and underemployed. I have lived in my mind too long and relied on it to get me out of harmful situations, from the playground to the Betfair forum.

Putting that right is the task of what is, hopefully, the second half of my life. And I intend to keep in mind the approach Tom brings to finding winners as a representation of a highly successful mindset which is at right-angles to my own inclinations.

Tom is one of a kind. I look forward to reading his input as long as we both live.