General

Nick Mordin, genius or nutty professor?

I know nothing about the science of statistics. The first time I took a serious interest in them was when I fancied Captain Cee Bee to win the 2008 Supreme Novices and all the stats gurus told me to ‘discard 7-y-olds’ as they had a dire record in the race.

I didn’t want to discard the Captain because he looked to have a great chance and he was 10/1, so, like many of us, I tried to make my fancy fit the facts rather than the other way round.  Stats were still king at that point.

I dug back through the previous 10 years of Supreme results and found that little more than a handful of 7-y-olds had run in the race. Even a non-statistician like me, who failed basic maths at school, could work out that the reason the age group had a poor record was that the sample size was tiny.

Happily, the stats guys helped push out the price of captain Cee Bee who beat 21 others home in the Supreme.

In the UK, the doyen of stats is Nick Mordin. His signature style is utter conviction. His systems are announced in Eureka fashion.  A Mordin theory disproved is one where some outside agency must have spannered the works.  I don’t read him much these days but his piece in the most recent Weekender suggests his discoveries are still revelatory, to Nick at least.

Still, if his word is the Bible, he has plenty of apostles.

His Betting for a Living book garners an average of 4 stars from 11 Amazon.co.uk reviewers.  Just one 1- star review:

“I only bothered to read the first chapter in which he sets out the extremely complicated form study methods requiring access to numerous expensive form manuals. He also states that about 24 people per annum make a living out of gambling on horses. So it was a waste of money.”

Nick gets six 5-star reviews, the most recent (May 2009):

“With a fast moving betting scene and technology evolving to facilitate new strategies, books can become outdated relatively quickly. There are sections of this book that are now slightly outdated (keeping file cards, references to Sporting Life, no references to internet etc), but the majority is still pertinent for today’s serious gambler and therefore is still worth buying. Chapters structured into usual subjects, distance, class, going etc, with some interesting ideas and thought. 

In summary a worthwhile addition to any serious horseracing book collection.”

My experience of Nick’s systems and theories has been confined to reading his Weekender column. I find much of his reasoning so convoluted it feels as though I’ve been led through a maze to a resounding ‘Voila!’ at the exit.

Here’s a sample from what I read in his column today which sums up Mr Mordin’s style beautifully – the words in italics are mine

“I’ve touched on this subject once or twice before in this column. It’s something I call ‘seasonality’.  This is a broad term which covers a range of factors that appear to affect horses differently according to the time of year.

“One of these factors is fitness level which clearly changes through the course of a season.

“You can see this from the percentage of horses in British Flat races on turf who have earned the comment ‘looked well’ from Raceform’s paddock watchers over the last 15 years according to a test I ran on Raceform Interactive (at this point he refers to a table displayed on the page with percentages monthly from March to November inclusive as follows 6.4:6.9:8.5:8.8:9.1:10.1:10.4:8.4:7.0)

“As you can see, the results suggest that average fitness levels of horses in Britain start out at a relatively low percentage, rise with successive months to peak in September, then taper off as horses start to feel the effects of a long season. (looking well will be nothing to do with summer coats, grooming, nutrition and general wellbeing?)

“I looked at these stats just after I’d been studying a bunch of smart horses who have already run in France this year so it’s not surprising it struck me just how much the French Flat season is out of sync with those in Britain and Ireland.

“In France their top horses start running about six or eight weeks before those in Britain and Ireland.

“This is surely (a typical assertion) why most of them get rested for six to eight weeks over the summer  as they need that break to be fresh enough for the big French autumn races like the Arc.

“Having got to this point I started thinking about which particular group of top French horses would hold the biggest fitness edge over their British and Irish counterparts this early in the season.

“I figured the sprinters weren’t the right answer because horses frequently win big sprints after long layoffs .  Fillies weren’t the right answer because they’re much easier to get fit than colts according to my research. Two-year-olds were the wrong group because the good French two-year-olds don’t start running till much later in the year. And horses aged four and above looked wrong because they have the chance to run in big races before the start of the British Flat season, notably in Dubai

(I resisted peppering the  previous paragraph with italics simply to preserve the wondrous rambling , hypnotic, Alice In Wonderland madness of it)

“By a process of elimination (!) I arrived at the answer that the British and Irish horses which have the biggest fitness disadvantage against French ones early in the season are three-year-old colts and geldings running beyond sprint distances.

This being so, a system to exploit the situation almost wrote itself.  Look for any British or Irish three-year-old colt or gelding who runs well on his seasonal debut in a French race over 1m or more before June, earning a racing post rating of at least 100.

“If you’d adopted my normal strategy of backing the qualifiers in their next three starts, you would have won 16 bets from 74 over the past 15 years and made a profit of £113.67 to a £1 level stake.

“At this stage there are no qualifiers on the system  because the races in which they run  . . . take place over the next four weeks.  There are plenty of British and Irish horses entered for those races so I’d keep a close eye on the results because the profits this system has produced in the past have been remarkably high” (With system results bringing one winner a year, I think I’d rather pan for gold in the Scottish hills Nick)

Nick’s other theory this week, the one which initially caught my eye was that Denman was over the top in the Totesport Bowl – “I saw Punchestowns as a cert (It was Nick’s best bet of the season) because Denman looked likely to be over the top according to some other stats I uncovered (note the revelatory ‘uncovered’) before the race.

“Those stats were certainly powerful (Oh yes?).  They stem from the fact that the Totesport Bowl comes at the end of the season (surely not!) when many of the top jumpers are in need of a break.  This is especially true for the top 3m chasers as big 3m chases are very taxing.  Most often the runners sustain a 2m pace for 3m (some animals!) and this takes a lot out of them. It makes sense therefore that the race has been a graveyard for horses who ran really well last time out.

“The one big run late in the season frequently puts them over the top and they run below form in the Totesport Bowl”.

Nick offers a table of evidence featuring Kauto Star, Denman, Imperial Commander, Desert Orchid etc adding “If Long Run hadn’t sidestepped this year’s race, I daresay the top five (highest rated) would have been beaten” (A natural Nick assumption despite Long Run’s three-race season – 7  runs and 8 runs respectively in his previous two seasons)

Nary a mention of the unsuitability of the Mildmay course for the likes of Denman and Imperial Commander. Not a whisper of Kauto Star’s demolition of the second-last fence in his nose defeat. Zero information on Denman’s comparatively quiet season for a horse claimed to be over-the-top.

The Weekender’s audience will, I suspect, (only suspect, mind, I have no stats) have its fair share of wide-eyed optimists who take Mr Mordin’s caveat-free style as the word of a man who not only knows his business but has been generous enough to share his professorial certainty with them.  For a cover-price of £2.50

Mr Mordin’s pitch mirrors that of snake-oil salesmen in the old wild west.  The difference being he really believes in his magic potions.  And he never leaves town in the dead of night.

Joe McNally

19 replies »

  1. Mr Mordin has disappeared down a ‘trends’ dead end – calling them stats makes me churn. His Dubai write up was nonsense – I’m being very nice. His ‘Mordin on Time’ book with a formula that was wrong would have deserved a thorough kicking if you had thoroughly researched it.

    However It’s not uncommon for people to speak strongly of their choices in racing and to mock that is cheap/naive frankly – I’m being nice again. I am pretty sure he has mentioned the unsuitability of Commander in Chief and Denman to tight tracks not less than 30 times elsewhere. It is a System’s column and was not relevant to the system as well which you fail to acknowledge. For instance your rebuttal does not mention Denman had a 2 run season when bringing up Long Run’s 3 run season. Or did you think the system should be don’t back horses who ran big last time at Aintree if they had shown an aversion to tight tracks or had too many runs? So you don’t understand systems so why write about them.

    You attack a book written 20 years ago as well. Using 1 of 11 Amazon reviews that backed your prejudice. You mock those who read The Weekender as twits who cannot sort wheat from chaff which shows the same broad brush you are criticising?

    I would ask that if you want to de-construct someone you do more than read one Weekender column and a single Amazon review (the 1 of 11 you agree with).

  2. Joe.

    Our paths have crossed when we both worked for SIS and while everyone is entitled to an opinion I am with the other commenter and at a loss why you have singled out Nick Mordin for an attack. There are many more worthy targets in the industry and while attacking these may make you less popular you could make a much better case against them.

    While you may have singled out some debatable stats/comments made by Nick Mordin, he offers (without charge) some very incisive opinion and I cannot see why this should be sneered at. Of course, the key to what NM writes (as with many other contributors to our sport) is in the interpretation. Anyone who brings thought-provoking comment to the table is deserving of praise and Nick Mordin deserves respect for putting his thoughts out there!

    You may not agree with everything (or anything!) he says but while you de-construct (nice phrase) certain chosen areas he gives the thinking punter much fuel for their own work. While you decry his approach I could quote many examples of when he has been right on the money with his comments, none more so than recently with Master Minded.

    He has been beating the “lost his pace, needs 2m4f+ drum” for some time now despite the contrasting evidence of a multiple Grade 1 winner at the minimum trip. Several months ago he “forecast” that connections would, at some point, have to come out and state that future targets would be at 2m4f+. Lo and behold, post Aintree, PFN claimed Master Minded has lost some pace and following his Melling Chase win exclaimed “It’s clear he wants a trip now!”

    This example doesn’t prove Nick Mordin to be a genius but he offers so much more for those who are prepared to take a concept proposed by him and work on it further.

    Recently, I similarly replied to a James Willoughby tweet where he was having a pop at those who quote trends/stats, etc. He (rightly so) stated that statistics based on such a small sample is an irrelevance. My position is that there is a value in others being misguided enough to bet on the evidence of such weak statistics and you highlighted the same in your Captain Cee Bee example above. The value was “being against the crowd” because you took a statistic and examined it further with the result being a profit.

    In concluding I would say every piece of information we absorb has it’s place in the jigsaw. This can be personal research, stats, information or just twitter gossip and it is what we do with it that determines our profit and loss at the end of the day.

    Your views are respected but maybe leave NM alone while he is providing his opinion for those who can profit from it.

    ps Punchestowns may have been Nick Mordin’s nap at Aintree for all of the right reasons but the unknown factor (and there’s always more of them than we can ever assimilate) is that pre-Aintree Punchestowns had been lame and the yard suggested “a watching brief”! Nick Mordin couldn’t have known this. All part of the puzzle…

    • Hello Steve, thanks for taking the time to comment. I did not single out Nick or anyone else – not my style. Nor do I feel it was an attack. It was a light-hearted piece with a serious element – the aspect mentioned in my final paragraph in reply to Jonathan.

      Let me know of the other ‘worthy targets. you consider deserve an article and the reasons why and I will take a look. As for Nick offering opinions without charge, I was concentrating specifically on his column in the Weekender which costs £2.50.

      Your point is fair when you say “In concluding I would say every piece of information we absorb has it’s place in the jigsaw. This can be personal research, stats, information or just twitter gossip and it is what we do with it that determines our profit and loss at the end of the day.” But you have the benefit of experience. The novice punter/Mordin reader does not and deserves a wealth warning in my opinion.

      Finally, I don’t think it’s down to you or anyone else to tell me to ‘leave NM alone’. One of the reasons I started blogging was for editorial freedom. Nobody pays to read it which gives me the great good fortune of saying what I want to. I’m certain Mr Mordin is a very nice fellow and I don’t feel I’ve offended him personally at all – my article concentrated on his methods and, more importantly, the way in which he presents his findings. ‘Nutty professor’, is considered a mild term of endearment by many – I have heard Nick called much worse.

      Best wishes
      Joe

  3. Thanks for the comment Jonathan. Nick strongly divides opinions as I suggested. Might I also politely suggest you read the article again and you will find that I did indeed mention Denman’s light season?

    You’ll also see I make it clear Nick’s book has many more 5 star reviews than 1 star and that I do publish one of those reviews in full to balance the 1 star review.

    Where do I attack the book?

    I don’t doubt what you say that Nick has frequently mentioned Denman’s and (I think you meant Imperial Commander’s) unsuitability to the Mildmay; why then discard that theory? Because it is typical Nick – it did not suit the particular case he was trying to make this week.

    I can’t see where I mocked ‘those who read The Weekender? I said I suspected it had its fair share of wide-eyed optimists which brings me to the serious point in what, overall, was a light-hearted piece.

    I have no issue or argument with anyone’s method in trying to pick winners. What does bother me is the way they convey their findings, especially to readers lacking experience. Nick’s style is to be 100% positive, conveying a certainty about almost everything he ‘discovers’. His tendency to dress things up in pseudo-scientific presentation of percentages, tables, graphs etc, would further convince the novice that the Oracle has finally been found.

    Nick, or his editor, should show some responsibility towards these people and add the necessary caveats. I would not be at all surprised in this litigious culture, if Nick and/or The Weekender find themselves the subject of a lawsuit at some point, brought by a punter who took Nick at his word.

    Best wishes

    Joe

  4. In over thirty years of hobby betting (focussing now on Group 1s for time reasons) and of general interest in the sport, NM is the only commentator I have ever placed any credence in. Sure he gets it wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, but he is the only consistent source of 20/1+ winners I have ever come across (and that’s just SP, much bigger odds on Betfair). You only a need a couple of NM tips a year to come in at these odds to have a self-financing hobby and make a bit on the side. This year NM’s free tips (more advice really) on his website gave me long-odds winners on two English classics, and would have bagged me another recently in Cirrus Des Aigles if I hadn’t forgotten he was running – NM has been banging on about Cirrus for months.
    A few years ago he was giving out 10/1+ Royal Ascot winners like crazy on his website – I had two forecasts go in from his top two tips per race. He’s previously given big-price ante-post tips on the Arc which were very profitable for me, and the day after I bought his book (the one you mention) I bagged a 10/1 winner following his very specific advice about Lingfield sprints (different surface now). That winner duly came in again at 10/1 the following week (same C&D, same NM system) and I had a chunk of my previous week’d winnings on it. Yeah! Put me down as a fan.

    Tim Keenan

  5. I definately think the opening post is rather harsh. After writing hundreds of articles for the weekender there are only so many times you can write a nice straight forward systems column like ‘Following first time blinkered horses’ before things have to become a bit more convuluted.

    If you don’t like the expense of paying £2.50 then Nick is more than happy that you read his rantings on his site for free. Maybe you will actually learn something about how to bet successfully.

    There aren’t many people in the industry with the balls to put themselves on the line like he does. He was banging on about Falbrav long before anyone in Britain had every heard of him.

    The very fact that raceform compile their speed ratings from the same method that Nick introduced us too 20 years ago now says it all.

    The guy is a legend and when it comes to teaching the general public how to study form, no book has ever come and doubt ever will come close to doing what ‘betting for a living’ has done.

  6. I have said so many times when I make the point that every scribe (I include myself in the list) works for a living whereby none of us now the ultimate answer to beating the opposition.

    All we can do is stick to our ‘systems’ and if others support them by reading or dare I say pay for them, that is their choice.

    What I will suggest is that trends, stats, systems (call them what you will) have so much more going for them than the ‘handicap’ way where it is believed horse ‘A’ must beat horse ‘B’ if he subsequently meets the same rival eight pounds better in for a length defeat.

    Bookmakers have grown their own cigars via the that method since time began and thankfully, they don’t smoke too many from my losses via proofed selections which are based solely on trends and statistics.

    Nick in too technical for my small brain but if others make a profit from his findings, I find it difficult to castigate his methods.

    Whatever ‘system’ you use (reading the samepaper/Internet pages is a system to a fashion)…..I wish you well.

    Mal.

  7. To be fair to Mr Mordin,he is expected to come up with statistical methods 52 weeks a year in the “Weekender”,something i would imagine is well nigh impossible.

  8. having read and scanned many of his systems from the 90’s,these days i find his weekly updates on his website more of a interest .i think mordin is at his best when trying to pick what race a horse represent value in and as a good shot at many months before and also the horse in question is still a mainly unexposed type that not many people are sure of yet.

    best recent example as to be rock on rubys write up after he just won at newbury .to that point he was just a horse who just came short in the big novice events at the chelt/aintree festivals and had won a hcap on his seasonal debut.it was hard to see him having a chance at that point of winning the champion hurdle on what he had done ,but mordin had done his homework and his speed figures suggested he had a great chance.

    dont push it’s write up a full 6 months before his grand national win was also a great read.

    imperial commander also another example when he pushed kauto to the line at haydock and suggested his had great gold cup claims but poor claims for the king goerge!

    dancing rain from the flat last season another stand out!

    i agree with a poster above that he can get very technical,with thing like “hes rather a top heavy horse that may dislike running on downhill tracks where it puts more pressure on his legs!!!!)

    if people can remember odds on magazine,he used to write a column and one horse that springs to mind was when ramruma won a newmarket maiden at 3 and said the 20-1 for the oaks was outstanding value on what was the fastest 3yo filly on his ratings!

    its not just picking future winners,he does a decent job when certain horses are all the rage for so and so top race and therefore represents poor value.he hit the nail on the head with his November 2011 article “delay those arkle bets on peddlers cross” even though he praised the horse up for his fast win at bangor!

    grands crus also he stated looked dodgy for 3 mile plus races and seems a genuine 2m4f horse.we will see next season i suppose more but he didnt look to wrong after the rsa !

    ive took his advice on planet of sound for this years national,so hope his good record keeps going ,to the grand national at least!!

  9. if you think nick mordin is any good read what he said about camelots chances in the derby.he said no chance(fancied bonfire!!). hes not alone tom seagal(pricewise is another,he couldn’t tip a waiter!). racing post tipster this week tipped bear behind for the epsom dash it finished 19/20! they are all about as good as weather forecasters.

    • Yes, Phil, I read NM’s latest madcap ravings about Camelot. The man should come with a wealth warning.

      Joe

      • I had about five bets last year (I’m more a speculative investor than a gambler, but each to his own), all from Mordin online tips. Two came in at huge AP prices (in classics). My monthly life assurance payments (which are not cheap because I’m pretty old to have such a young family) has since (and is now) being paid for out of my Mordin winners. So I’m thrilled that you are all dissing his tips because he got it wrong with Camelot (Astrology, an online tip, though came 3rd at AP 25/1), because that means I will continue to get big AP prices. Keep ’em coming Nick.

  10. yes i had a quick glance at Wednesdays weekender in asda and just knew he was gonna come up with negatives for Camelot,the shorter price a horse is for a big race,the more he will try to find stats that says it wil get beat.his online weekly updates are much better though as ive mentioned and ironically is UK November 2011 update read this

    “CAMELOT HAS THE PACE FOR GUINEAS AS WELL AS DERBY”

    with his last sentence about him reading –

    “I concede that I’d feel more confident betting Camelot for the Derby rather than the Guineas. But I struggle to see what’s going to be able to beat him at Newmarket on this run”

    LOL ,the trouble with him at times is that he over analysis’s things!!!!

  11. Cheltenham 2013: Around 400 points up on week (actually only bet on last two days) thanks to Nick’s long range tips. The pick was a nice double, Benefficient and Cue Card on Thursday. Great stuff!

    • There’s no doubt he hits the target from time to time. It’s his methodology and the way he presents opinions that punters should be wary of, in my opinion.
      Joe

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