Book review – ‘A Wasted Life’ by Alan Potts

I guess, at one time or another, most of us with an interest in betting on racehorses have wondered whether we could ever actually abandon the humdrum of our working lives to make a living from betting alone. Occasional TRF contributor Alan Potts did just that in 1992 when a redundancy payment allowed him the necessary funds to both establish a suitably sized betting bank and provide, at least during the initial uncertain stages of his new life, for his living expenses.

Some of you will already be acquainted with the two books Alan wrote in the 1990s in which he detailed his approach to betting. The first, Against The Crowd, was published in 1995 and the second, The Inside Track, in 1998. He has now, some twenty years on, written a new book which he describes as ‘less an autobiography than a memoir of my involvement with racing and betting’.

Previous issues with publishers and time constraints had left him reluctant to delve into book writing again but the capability to self-publish and make the book available to potential readers without the aggravation of a publisher’s involvement plus the fact that he has more time available these days tempted him back into authorship.

While his previous books were substantively designed to provide a deep insight into methods and approaches that others may learn from to apply to their own betting, this new book, entitled ‘A Wasted Life’, is written as much as a form of personal record, Alan describing it as ‘a purely personal piece, written as much for my own amusement as for any specific readership’.  A labour of love, one might say.

The book is divided into 21 relatively short and punchy chapters (the whole book itself is 140 pages in length when opened in .pdf format) each of which covers a specific aspect of Alan’s racing involvement. We have chapters on his early background and route into racing, initially as a hobby and later as a professional. Several chapters cover off Alan’s various forays into racehorse ownership.

As with many betting professionals these days Alan was involved in several offshoots from his betting activities; writing (his books and columns/articles for various publications), tipping, television work and various other racing/betting activities such as Cheltenham Festival Preview evenings, for example. His experiences in each of these strands are the subject of dedicated individual chapters.

Those who found Against The Crowd and The Inside Track useful in terms of improving their own betting, will be happy to hear he does include several chapters where he outlines his betting approach in a little bit of detail, assessing what worked and what still works. He looks at topics such as the draw, right/left handed bias, the effect of losing runs and the edge that can be gained by going to the course and seeing horses perform in the flesh and the importance of building experience and understanding of what is important and influential in terms of analysing races and racehorses.

Alan’s analytical mind and logical thought process, familiar to those who remember his approach to analysing races, result in a book that is neatly segmented. There is a clear definition between each chapter and this works in ensuring that the book remains tidy which, had he taken a chronological approach beyond the initial few chapters detailing his background pre-racing, may have not been the case.

The writing itself is also neat and logical, those familiar with his earlier books will recognise the style. No flowery prose or self-indulgent, after-the-event, lengthy rationalisation or unnecessarily detailed descriptions of events, Alan uses a matter-of-fact style which mirrors, you would guess, his own personality.

Those of us of a certain age will certainly enjoy the references to the racing scene of the 80s and 90s in particular. I know I did and, as Alan describes some of his early betting successes, names such as Gabitat and Timothy’s Toy (remember him anyone?) had me transported back in time as I read.

For modern day bettors and those with an interest in racing there is plenty to take note of in the sections where Alan writes about the factors he takes into account when betting and how to interpret these. Although not the primary raison d’etre for the book there is still lots to learn in there for both the novice and expert.

The chapters on his writing, tipping and television careers make for interesting reading too, the various anecdotes revealing the types of pressures in each of these genres (telly work ‘isn’t as easy as it looks’ says Alan while expressing sympathy for those involved). It made me feel very old to read that he’d stopped appearing regularly on At The Races some 16 years ago (really?), although I’m sure he must have made some guest television appearances since then.

The final section of the book re-publishes some of Alan’s blogs and articles from more recent years. These cover a refreshing and random range of topics. From the history of Ascot, through Horage the racehorse (another one to revive what I’d thought were long-forgotten memories) to Harold Hewitt (you’ll need to read it to find out). He writes about handicapping, about Sea Pigeon, Maverick Wave and Vagog (again, read to find out if, like me, you found that name unfamiliar).

I enjoyed the whole book but I particularly enjoyed the chapters ‘The Novice’ and ‘The Pro’ which detail Alan’s transition from profitable part-time bettor to fully fledged professional punter. The section covering the jackpot win that occurred relatively soon after and cemented his financial position and eliminated lingering doubts about whether he could make a go of it describes the sort of thing, the sort of big win, that most of us dream about.

Alan has decided to make the book available via download and he has decided that it will be available for free to anyone with an interest in reading it. In the world of the pro-punter, value is king, and what better value can there be than that?

Whether you take your betting seriously or whether you are simply interested in racing generally there is plenty to recommend in this book. Alan Potts’ knowledge, experience and expertise regarding racing is undeniable and he has utilised these, adding common sense and insight, to produce a thoroughly readable and interesting account of his racing life, a life which, contrary to the ironic title of the book, has hardly been ‘wasted’.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend downloading and/or reading it. You quite literally have nothing to lose!

You can download Alan Potts’s ‘A Wasted Life’ free of charge by clicking on this google drive link http://bit.ly/2P6xHPu

Reviewed by David Cormack

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