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James Willoughby Answers your questions

Home Forums Archive Topics Celebrity Q&A’s James Willoughby Answers your questions

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    Jame’s Profile to date: <br>James Willoughby, 34, has worked in the racing and betting industries virtually all his working life. <br>James started out working as a betting shop manager and odds compiler for an independent bookmaker with six betting shops in the Dewsbury area of his native Yorkshire. <br>He then joined Timeform for a spell in Halifax as a comment writer. <br>James’s next move was down to London, where he worked as a writer and tipster on the racing desk at The Times. <br>James then joined the Racing Post as ”Topspeed,” the Post’s time expert in residence and compiler of their highly-respected time ratings. <br>He has since moved on to become a an entertaining, and occasionally controversial, columnist. <br>James made his debut in broadcasting on the racing Channel, covering American racing. <br>After its closure he became one of the original team on ATR but, after the demise of ATR’s initial venture, James joined RacingUK as a pundit and occasional anchorman during the Flat season. <br>


    Posted by Grasshopper on 11:43 pm on Nov. 4, 2004<br><br>James, thanks for taking the trouble.

    Whilst outspoken is probably the wrong word, you seem to have very strongly-held opinions. Have you always had plenty of confidence in your selections, or did you wake-up one day, after many years of toil, and suddenly have it all tapped? Or, indeed, do you still sometimes get the punting ‘yips’, after sticking one up strongly?

    Thanks again

    Grasshopper <br><br>*** Nobody has it tapped. If that was the case, there would be a million more interesting ways to spend a lifetime. I suffer as much from self-doubt as the next person, probably more. <br><br><br>– Posted by rory on 11:53 pm on Nov. 4, 2004


    Apologies for the fact that this question is primarily about me, but what the heck:

    I’ve worked for a major bookmaker (I can’t mention names because Chris Bell might sue me) in various guises ~ betting shop manager, supervisor, ops manager, marketing executive (makes spitting noise), wannabe trader etc, etc. for seven years, before taking redundancy earlier this year.

    I would love to get more involved in the racing and broadcasting world, and may have a squeak of getting some studio based work with an unnamed broadcaster. I’ve spoken to a fair number of people within the racing media who have made vaguely encouraging noises. The trouble is I’m not sure whether this move would be a career fillip or the kiss of death, and I’d like to have a proper plan of action as I’m reliably informed that I’m no longer a teenager.

    I remember reading that you once turned up at Mark Johnston’s yard looking (unsuccessfully) for work, so I thought you might be able to provide some experience based career advice. In my position (ever so slightly younger than you, but no better looking), what would you recommend I do to maximise my opportunities withing the racing media? <br><br>*** I don’t consider that I have any unique talent; nor do I know more about racing than the majority on this forum. Media opportunities are all about being in the right place at the right time. I simply got lucky. All you can do is keep writing letters. <br><br><br>– Posted by Joe Haywood on 11:59 pm on Nov. 4, 2004


    I was quite shocked when you turned up working for Racing Uk and not Attheraces as i thought American Racing was your life.

    You once said, just before Christmas ‘I’m going to study American Racing form on xmas day for Boxing Day’.

    I thought you preferred U.S.A Racing to UK Racing, and i’m just wondering why RacingUk and why didn’t you stay with ATR, was it a better financial deal or something, you never seemed to appear presenting UK Racing on ATR, only very rarely at all-weather tracks.

    RacingUK don’t have any U.S.A coverage at the moment so why did you change channels?

    And are you a fan of The Racing Forum, it would be great for you to join

    Take Care

    Thanks. <br><br>*** I would be flattering myself to get involved with this hypothesis. Simply put, ATR would not want me. <br><br><br>– Posted by LetsGetRacing on 12:19 am on Nov. 5, 2004

    James ,

    We all know that you are a man who loves his figures and stats , so how highly did you rate Ghostzapper’s performance in this year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic ? Would you go along with the thought that he is the best horse we have ever seen or do you think ( like myself ) , that the likes of Secretariat have set an insurmountable standard ?

    Many thanks and oh , just as a swift after-thought , Azerty’ or Moscow ? <br><br>***Ghostzapper is good and has considerable potential. He cannot be ranked with any of the greats yet, however. Another unbeaten season and more spectacular time performances and things could change. <br><br><br>– Posted by bear on 12:26 am on Nov. 5, 2004


    My question, which you may think is pathetic/intrusive is this :-

    When having a cash bet at the racecourse do you bet more than you really want to just to keep up appearances? I once stood at a Tote window behind ex snooker world champion and racecourse C list celebrity John Parrott, and he had a £2 place bet on a second favourite that was showing a dividend of £1-10p on the screen. Frankly it was embarrasing.

    Seriously, I really enjoy the days when you are on screen, I think you are excellent value, and just about worth the 20 notes a month I am forking out!

    Well done Ian for securing TV’s No 1 pundit for TRF- and James "Get registered". <br><br>*** He is not pretending to be a big punter. I don’t think anybody thinks I am a particularly shrewd either, so it does not concern me what type of punter they perceive me to be. I don’t think it is worth having a bet if you are not going to do it properly, however. Watching a race has enough interest for me on its own. <br><br><br>– Posted by empty wallet on 12:50 am on Nov. 5, 2004

    hi james

    what would you change in racing? <br><br>*** British racing is the best in the world, and while there are things I would personally tinker with, I think it gets a massive amount right. Everything must be done to maximise integrity and I think stewarding could still be tightened up. I also think that we must not be complacent about the continuity of terrestrial television coverage. <br><br><br>– Posted by Glenn on 1:54 am on Nov. 5, 2004

    Before Tawqeet’s race today I was listening to you say that Kingmambo’s liked fast going. The beast went on to win, possibly because the incomparable Richard Hills judged the fractions so perfectly to overcome Tawqeet’s dislike of heavy.

    My question is: what sort of research do you do to unearth these sire/going preference relationships? <br><br>*** Pitiful research, clearly. I should have said: "Tawqeet is a lovely colt. I have no ideal whether he will act on the ground, but his excellent trainer would not be running him here if he did not think he would act on it." That is the way to the top on telly. I am such a fool for not realising it. <br><br><br>– Posted by Seagull on 5:50 am on Nov. 5, 2004


    Met you once at Goodwood and nice to see and hear you on the television still.

    As someone else who follow the fortunes of the Saints who would you like to see managing and running the club?

    Sorry its not about horseracing but it is an important issue;) <br><br>*** Rupert Lowe has been unfairly criticised. I would like to see Steve Wigley given a chance first. I believe strongly in thinking the best of people and trusting them. That is the way you achieve stability in the long run. <br><br><br>– Posted by thedarkknight on 8:17 am on Nov. 5, 2004

    My questions relate to All Weather racing.

    1) What the hell are you going to do all winter? Is there no chance of a secondment over to ATR so that, if nothing else, we don’t have to endure the tedious aftertiming of Simon Mapletoft all winter? Surely you aren’t going to be dusting down your tweed suit and going twighopping?

    2) Do you think there is any prospect of the All Weather improving in quality in the foreseeable future? I have been disappointed at how the racing has developed in the last couple of years. The BHB’s new handicap reforms seem to be encouraging more and more low quality races on the AW and in particular the minimum prizemoney values for the better races is a disincentive for the tracks to put on these contests. I would love to see more top handicaps, Listed and even Group races on the sand and I am sure trainers and owners would support them, particularly as the Wolves surface seems to have been widely praised. Can’t see it happening though and unfortunately I can see AW becoming Horse Racing”s answer to BAGS. Any views? <br><br>** I don’t share quite the same pessimistic outlook on all-weather racing, James, but I do think you have a point. It will be a long time before decent horses are kept in training in sufficient numbers, however, when you look at what they fetch as potential jumpers or exports. <br><br><br>– Posted by Artemis on 3:37 pm on Nov. 5, 2004


    Have you managed to work out what it is about horse racing that really makes you look forward to getting up in the morning?

    It might sound a bit nerdish, but I don’t mind admitting that I think I enjoy racing for the same reason I enjoyed trainspotting, chemistry at school, and statistics and accounting at college. It’s the order in it, or the attempt to introduce order into it that appeals to me. I’m pretty much a figures man, and although I realise that races are generally chaotic events, the challenge of bringing order to this chaos is what does it for me.

    How about you? <br><br>** I like enthusiasm. I really look forward to reading Tom Segal’s Pricewise selections, because I owe him a great deal, as do many punters. The thought of races like the St Leger and the Derby which have great history associated with them keep me going. But it is the horses themselves who will always be the stars of the show. <br><br><br>– Posted by Gearoid VI on 4:18 pm on Nov. 5, 2004

    How did you get into odds compiling? Did you price up everything or just racing? <br><br>** Part of my first job. Just Flat racing. <br><br><br>– Posted by Scottf on 4:19 pm on Nov. 5, 2004


    From a betting perspective, do you look at every race looking for an angle or are there races that you prefer, and how do you set about analysing a race before deciding to bet? <br><br>*** I like backing up-and-coming horses against established stars in top quality races. I do not have a lot of time to plough through ordinary races, except when I do Racing UK. That’s one of the benefits of using figures. <br><br><br>– Posted by phunter on 5:13 pm on Nov. 5, 2004

    Thanks for your time James, i wondered if you could tell me if there are certain courses which are better than others for using speed figures on, i would also like to congratulate you on being one of the few people who will ask questions to trainers and jockeys without fear of them being offended, more folk within the racing media should follow your lead . <br><br>*** Good races run on fast ground are the best medium. I don’t understand why we should be in awe of racing professionals. Journalists are not there to make friends. <br><br><br>– Posted by robert99 on 6:20 pm on Nov. 5, 2004

    Again, thanks for your time James.

    From your experience at Timeform and Racing Post, what could be a more effective way of present racing information to punters, that they could be willing to support?

    A second question if I may – how can real progress be achieved in the basics of race timing, going, horse weighing and reliable course distances?

    Robert <br><br>*** I have become resigned to the fact that British racing pays only lip service to the rights of the punter to proper data. Nobody in a position of authority really cares enough about the importance of pushing the sport forward, and that goes for most punters themselves unfortunately. Celebrity columns sell newspapers, whatever we think of them. <br>Everybody in the media should work hard against this apathy, but my own efforts have come to little. So anything that I might say on this has an empty ring. <br>Trainers run the show. We should direct our inquiries to Mark Johnston and John Gosden. <br><br><br>– Posted by apracing on 6:50 pm on Nov. 5, 2004

    Hi James,

    Within the racing media, who in the press room or on TV irritates you the most?

    (Can’t see why you should be able to avoid the tricky questions, as I got a few when I went through this Q+A process a while back!)

    Alan <br><br>*** To be honest, I am not into the cult of celebrity. What irritates me most is the standard of ‘journalism’ that exists in racing – and I count myself within this criticism. Our interviews are sycophantic, we cannot ask proper questions, and most of us are simply too obsessed with protecting our position within the milieu. There are obviously some glowing exceptions to this, but overall it is important that standards are improved. <br>In my opinion, racing forums such as this one have an important role to play. <br><br> <br>– Posted by barry dennis on 7:16 pm on Nov. 5, 2004


    Following Alans question,

    as you have quoted that mac and I irritate you with our mundane racecourse slang.

    how many racegoers or betting public give a **** about form, speed , ratings,and do they perform any better than lucky dips which sell well at racecourses. <br><br>*** What are these lucky dips? Where can I get them? <br>Neither you nor John irritate me. I recognise that you are role-playing. In fact, I thought the real Barry Dennis was superb on the Money Programme. I just don’t see the point of cluttering your informative analysis of betting movements. That’s all. <br><br><br>– Posted by cormack15 on 9:15 pm on Nov. 5, 2004

    Two quickies –

    Views on staking systems?

    How long on average would you spend analysing, say, a ten runner handicap? <br><br>***I am sorry if this sounds trite, but the bigger the price you are getting (so long as you know why) above your 100% book, the more you should have on. I spend about half an hour preparation per race for Racing UK, and less for my own purposes. <br><br><br>– Posted by beauzam on 9:21 pm on Nov. 5, 2004

    hello james,

    Given the assertion that track position rather than weight is the pre-eminent factor in dirt racing,does it not follow that stall allocation could be employed as a useful handicapping tool?

    I also like the american idea of a club secretary being supplied with the names of the available horse pool prior to writing a condition book which then endeavours to share the available purse money around amongst the barns which have supported a given meet to encourage them in future. Your thoughts.

    Finally,how long can a system which places all manner of barriers,(here I’m thinking of group and especially classic races),be they prohibative entry fees,gelding discrimmination,running the derby relatively early in the season as opposed to being the years championship event etc, hope to grow and appeal when tied down with such anachronisms?

    regards Grant <br><br>*** You clearly have a sound grasp on the US racing system, and indeed it works well there. I believe that there are too many cultural differences between their system and ours to affect parallel change. I agree that the positioning of the Derby is not ideal, but to change it would be difficult. As you suggest, the entry system has its shortcomings. <br><br><br>– Posted by johncockerill on 9:27 am on Nov. 6, 2004

    I haven’t counted so I am not sure if I am within the first 20. However here is my question which I am afraid is in several parts.

    1) With the introduction of the betting exchanges has your betting income increased or decreased.

    2) Roughly what percentage of your betting (money wise) is placed on horses to lose.

    3) Do you think, for the average not in the know punter, it is easier or harder to win money since the introduction of the betting exchanges.

    You may gather from this posting that I am very much against the exchanges as I am sure they breed corruption and I have indeed retired from the betting on horse racing as a consequence.

    John <br><br>*** Exchanges have empowered the punter. I lean much more to betting than laying, but both make mathematical sense, according to the situation and your approach. It is massively easier to win money as a result of the exchanges. Corruption exists, but not to the extent that it prevents the punter turning a good profit. <br><br><br>– Posted by nore on 11:51 am on Nov. 6, 2004


    Hand on heart, do you make a profit from betting? How has 2004 been betting-wise? <br><br>*** Betting is a personal thing. My bank account is jointly-held by my partner and I have dependents. I will leave it up to you to work out whether I squander thousands every year. <br><br><br>– Posted by Grasshopper on 9:42 pm on Nov. 8, 2004

    James, I love to indulge in the occasional suicidal ante-post plunge, especially now the clocks have changed, and there are all manner of Festival markets to dabble in.

    What’s been your most satisfying long-range tilt, how long ago was it, and what odds did you back it at?

    And is your business still welcome with the layer? <br><br>*** The only one on a significant scale was the Kentucky Oaks – Derby double with Farda Amiga and War Emblem. I have tried again twice since with 5 in one race and 6 in the other. On both occasions, I nailed the Oaks winner on Friday (which most would do with 5 goes!!) then got wiped out because I did not think that either Funny Cide and Smarty Jones would stay. <br><br><br>– Posted by seabird on 7:06 am on Nov. 9, 2004

    James, Mr. Willoughby, sir.

    A big fan and you are sorely missed since RUK went the subscription way, but why oh! why do we have to have these Americanisms creeping into our racing.

    You and some of your colleagues who cover the American racing insist on bringing those traits ‘ to the table’ when you are covering the British racing.

    I, for one, am not a great lover of all things American and would be be grateful to you and your friends if you could refer to a horse by its given name and not by its racecard number.

    Yours humbly,

    Colin <br><br>*** US racing uses numbers rather than names because it facilitates exotic betting. I agree with you that British racing is a separate entity that deserves a separate vernacular. <br>

    barry dennis
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    Willoughby, well done, your a star

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    thedarknight put it all rather well. Thanks for that ;)

    empty wallet
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    cheers james

    thank you for your time :cool:

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    Cheers James, very much appreciated.

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    A good read… passed a boring office morning nicely


    Nick Hatton
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    Good stuff James. :biggrin:

    Hope that you might consider joining the forum ?

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    My two questions were edited out. Possibly the format rather than the content. I love cotton wool anyway :biggrin:

    <br>flatcapgamble…thank God for Ian’s black book  

    dave jay
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    Thanks for the interesting replies James … :cool:

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    "*** I don’t consider that I have any unique talent; nor do I know more about racing than the majority on this forum. Media opportunities are all about being in the right place at the right time. I simply got lucky. All you can do is keep writing letters."

    How many others in the media would be so refreshingly honest? I am sure that all would say it in public but most would not believe it, whereas with James you get the feeling that he is being frank.

    Excellent work. <br>

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    An excellent Q&A session , many thanks James for your time and the answers were very refreshing to read.

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    Looks like that sycophantic journalism James was referring to has found its way onto the very pages of TRF:o

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    The three kings guided by a bright star carried gifts of gold, frankinsence and myrhh.

    A small man with a false beard pink panthered behind.


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    Fascinating stuff! Thank James for us won’t you Ian, and PLEASE urge him to join the forum! He’d be perfect on here! :biggrin:

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    Thanks for taking the time and trouble, James. Some very interesting and informative replies.

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