Wising up to get into tip-top shape
Surprising facts you didn't know about Tom Segal (aka Pricewise): doesn't have a Betfair account; prefers tipping to betting; doesn't go racing very often; is as likely to be watching his beloved Reading play at home than cheering home his Saturday nap; claims he was rubbish at the jumps until Ruby Walsh came along.
If that's sated your appetite for The Secrets of Pricewise, a new book, then (as they used to say before giving the football results on the news) look away now, but if it has piqued your interest about the man Alistair Down once described as having "lobbed grenades down the front of the bookies' trousers" with monotonous impunity then there is more to follow.
More Clark Kent than Superman, with two kids and a mortgage, Tom Segal is an unlikely, if quintessential, working-class hero. And for many of the working class, he is precisely that. Polite and friendly in person, his raw enthusiasm for the craft of tipping washes out any possibility of personal or professional conceit that might come with what John McCririck describes as being "the only one who moves the market".
Trying to poke under the hood of racing's most successful tipping service proves instructive but far from definitive in its nuts and bolts. For one thing Segal, who started in the role 11 years ago, relies far more on intuition than his predecessor Mel Collier who had (in Tom's words) "a more scientific-type figures-oriented brain". He adds: "If Mel was doing the Cesarewitch, he would spend 10 minutes looking through every horse in the race. I'm not like that at all."
Segal is far more intuitive in his approach and quickly whittles large fields down to five or six horses with plausible chances. He then tries to assess chances based on the filter of which horse is likely to improve.
"I want to find the one that's got progression in it as I'd say 90 per cent of races are won by improvers," he says.
He is a disciple of the David Ashforth remark that the formbook is "useful for predicting what will happen in the past". Segal points out that betting markets are based on the facts of the formbook, ratings and figures and that his 'wild card' approach gives him his edge.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Segal's worldview is the distinction he readily draws between tipping and betting. "I consider myself a much better tipster than a punter. I don't really have many bets -- maybe two a week, maybe not even that. The punting side has never really been that appealing to me. You invest so much of your energy in the tipping anyway so you feel like you get the reward if your horse does well -- without necessarily needing the monetary aspect that goes with it. It sounds silly but the more I bet the worse I tip."
It's wholly ironic that the one man most capable of taking down the bookies' trousers every Saturday is altogether indifferent to betting. "There's a massive difference the way the English think about horse-racing compared to the Irish. Over here, people are into it just purely for the betting. In Ireland, people love the sport. I'm definitely in the Irish camp -- because I love horse racing. I've
been going since I was five (grew up within commentary earshot of Sandown Park), and betting has always been secondary."
His fandom of Irish raiders in the UK under both codes is well-publicised and he is a frequent panellist at particular Irish pre-Cheltenham events.
"There's just a different attitude over there. Ted Walsh put it to me one day that when you're growing up in the UK you want to be David Beckham, but over here you want to be Ruby Walsh. And that sums it up. It's just in the fabric."
Ruby Walsh has more than just a fleeting significance for Segal, something that emerges when the question Flat v Jumps gets discussed. "Deep down I prefer the jumps . . . but I think jumping is much harder to find winners in because of the factors outside your control (ie the obstacles). I was pretty rubbish at the jumps until Ruby came along. He has been the biggest help to my career ever. Jockeyship is the most important ingredient in all races, but especially jump racing."
The hardest part of being a tipster in Segal's view is that you have to reconcile the good runs with the inevitable bad runs. He cites his laid-back temperament as a key to diffusing any judgement-impairing tension.
"With betting, nobody has to know if you've had a shocking bet. With tipping, you have 20 losers and the emails start flooding in; the Twitter accounts start raring up and you need to be able to take the hits. Fortunately, I never get too up-and-down. I'm pretty laid-back and I don't take it too seriously."
And don't expect to see too much of Pricewise on the racecourse. "I go to Cheltenham on Gold Cup day and to the Racing Post Trophy and that's about it."
And with that he's off to talk American football with James Willoughby who lives nearby. In life, as in his column, Tom Segal can't ever be accused of the bleedin' obvious.
Sunday Indo Sport