Nick Mordin: Winning Without Thinking

My notes from Nick Mordin’s brilliant book – plenty of ideas to ponder…


Nick Mordin: Winning Without Thinking

What follows are my notes from Nick Mordin’s excellent book, ‘Winning Without Thinking’, which was first published in 2002. I’ve presented these notes in bullet point form and have tried to group them into relevant categories. My aim is to offer something of interest to read that may well inspire your own thinking when approaching the greatest of games.

I read this book a few years ago but thought it was time for a refresher. For a variety of reasons my approach to racing on the blog has become stale, predictable and at times, questionable. The break from the daily grind has done me good, as has reading this book again – there’s plenty of food for thought. Although this book was first published 18 years ago the ideas are still relevant. I’ve still much pondering to do as to how I shape my content moving forwards, but I hope you find the following as interesting and insightful as I did. It’s become apparent that down-time from day to day racing is vital,– as well as allowing you to attack racing ‘fresh’, down-time also gives you the opportunity to think about how you approach racing, what you do, and why. Well, it has for me anyway. Now is the perfect opportunity to reflect and plan for the future – it was about time I did. Hopefully some of what follows may inspire you to even greater punting success.

These books are in scant supply these days (a few on Amazon for £40 HERE>>>) and i’ve only touched the surface of the content contained within these pages.  

But, with that in mind, you can find my Nick Mordin notes below…


Against The Crowd

  • The importance of contrarian thinking – focus on horses underestimated by other punters. Must go against the crowd.
  • It never pays to follow the same kind of thinking as the crowd. The only way to get value is to oppose the thinking of the general betting public, when you find a logical reason to do so. Know something mass of punters do not.
  • Whenever betting public makes an assumption that seems blindingly obvious, they’re likely to over-emphasise its effects/or be downright wrong
  • Pro Punters: they focus on factors not in wider domain
  • Pro Punters: They want to get the FAV beaten – focus on races with bad favs.
  • Pointless to base bets on same sort of analysis as other punters, as will come up with the same bets = no value
  • Think counter-intuitively
  • Whenever betting public makes an assumption that seems blindingly obvious, they’re likely to over-emphasise its effects/or be downright wrong
  • Develop your own source of information/research and focus on races most people ignore
  • ‘If you attempt to use the same tools as the rest of the punters, to pick winners of the same races they’re interested in, you’re doomed to failure’
  • Where is your edge?


General Points/Ideas

  • Negative stats more useful than positive stats, especially for championship races
  • Focus on trainers ‘out of form’
    • Especially big yards – bad runs could just be bad luck
    • BUT smaller yards can go ‘under the radar’ when ‘hot’
  • The Punter: Aims to find a horse who best fits the likely character of a particular race
  • Trainer: Aims to find a race that fits the character of the horse
  • Note ‘key races’ that produce future winners – inc certain maiden races on the Flat.
  • Do not over-think or over interpret form
    • Hong Kong betting syndicates – their computers do not over interpret form / lose confidence after a losing run/ doesn’t get carried away after winners/ just keep crunching the numbers in the same way, day after day
  • But, don’t be clever and always avoid the obvious – some winners are too obvious but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bet them.
    • Don’t just search for the Kudos for taking on top of the market, esp when obvious.
  • We are unfairly biased towards big name jockeys and trainers – unsporting and unprofitable
  • Absorb external events and impact – and/or changes in racing
  • The value of colts is not enhanced if they prove too much stamina
    • Fillies – the reverse is true given the widespread (unfounded) belief stamina comes from the dam
  • Illogical ideas – ponder – can be logical – importance of upside-down thinking
  • Flip straight forward logic on his head – always ask the question/try to flip
  • ‘back for next 3 runs’ (if have an idea/horse to follow/system qualifier etc – depending on system)
  • Media Hype (TV/Newspapers)
    • Market influenced by reports
    • Pay attention to non-newsworthy race types/horses

 The Horse

  • Looking for horses suited by course / distance / going
  • Good horses get injured/bleed more frequently because they try the hardest
    • A ‘top trainer’ (unnamed) – distrusted horses who passed vet with flying colours – completely sound horses could be slow
    • Horses that have had leg problems – won’t want quick ground, and may now prefer flatter tracks
  • Show of early speed can be a positive indicator of improved form – but they may go too quick too soon this time – track them.
  • Small field vs big field horses
  • A horse running too many ‘big figures’ in a short space of time may burn out and can be opposed
  • It’s unusual for a horse to show the same level of form in successive races – when they do, sit up and take note.
  • Read the formbook comments to understand pace of the race.



  • Follow horses who run well when poorly drawn
  • Follow horses who make all/run well from front when it’s usually impossible to do so
    • Follow them, even winners
  • Where is the effect of the draw most extreme?
  • Nonsense that winners come from where the pace is, in big field sprints. Draw and track bias far more important
  • When analysing draw biases, ignore/separate out soft/heavy, which can flip any draw bias. Ignore Maiden/2YO only races
  • Study the draw/course for the classy big field sprint handicaps



  • ‘Duels’ – looking at those races when front two well clear
    • Horses winning having ‘duelled’, from some way out/fighting off others
    • These types could be classy/worth following
  • The higher up the class scale you go the more ‘rigid’ the profile requirements are for winning such races – whereas you can win a lesser class race by outclassing.
  • You have to analyse races differently depending on the class of competitors
    • At lower class you’re looking for a clear edge in ability
    • In Top class races- you want the fittest horse best suited to today’s conditions- course, distance, going – it’s hard to ‘outclass’ oppo in such races as all of similar ability, generally speaking
    • The edge for such horses in top races –
      • Better suited to conditions
      • Trained with big race in mind
    • Horses running in Pattern Class for first time… some need time to adjust as not used to the pace in these races – they’re quite the step up esp from handicaps or maidens
      • This is more of an issue if horse had has had 6+ runs (flat) previously
      • The idea of ‘seasoning’ – many horses can only adjust to a gradual increase in class of oppo


Systems/Research Ideas  

  • Watch races/results – odd results > peak interest> research
  • Applied Research rather than Blue Skies is best – should have an idea worth testing first, then research it
  • Use the market to filter ideas – if opposing the fav in any system, how does second fav etc perform?
  • If a negative performance pattern, then flip to a positive to find an angle
  • Spot a cherished/established idea in wider racing world, and challenge it
  • Statistics are only as reliable as my interpretation
    • Reports on the past are not a prediction of the future
    • Why do the stats go one way and not the other? You have to answer this.
    • Make educated guess about the factors you’re testing
  • Most profitable systems exploit a sudden change in pattern of results and the inability to most punters to adjust to it
    • Take any changes to racing rules as a starting point
  • Statistically significant results are bad / unproven speculation is good
  • Idea: Look at Newmarket Bias angles
    • Horses running at Newmarket tracks not trained in Newmarket – use market as a guide in analysis / maiden races etc
    • Ie a ‘non Newmarket trained’ Fav in a maiden race must be decent
    • Lambourn based horses underrated at Newmarket
  • Human failings: prejudice / ignorance / laziness/ greed/ lack of discernment/ overreaction / conservatism
    • Focus on betting systems that exploit these failings



  • If soft/heavy – stamina obviously comes to the fore
  • Note easy winners in heavy, and follow, especially if in big races
  • And follow those who win carrying a big weight in heavy/soft
  • The idea that ‘reserve energy’ is used to carry weight – there’s no reserve energy when a bog
  • Bigger weights can do better at tracks with tight turns – can only go so quick around tight bends
  • Jumps are more competitive on soft+, as more good horses run


When to Bet  

  • You need to know the reasons why you’re betting
  • Bet what you know
  • Are you opposing the FAV or horse X because they are slower than your horse or because they’re not suited to conditions?
    • 2 different approaches can affect your approach ..
    • Ie if you’re opposing because you ‘think’ they’re slower, maybe think of an insurance bet, inc backing fav and forecasts etc
    • If you think Fav/horse X won’t handle conditions, then ponder exotic bets with others in race- forecasts/tricasts etc
  • Bet as if your analysis will be reflected in the result
  • Important to know the strength of your opinion
  • Avoiding losers is important
  • Always listen to that little voice in your head – the subconscious mind knows more than the conscious mind can hold



Where to research ideas?

For those of you who may be inspired by some of the ideas above to get researching angles, there’s a couple of sites that I use (neither is free but both have free/low cost trials). With no daily racing to get stuck into this is the perfect time to get researching….



You can also find the above notes in a document: READ HERE>>> (to print off/keep handy) 


As always, if you’ve any questions or thoughts, do post away…





Post Comments

Do join in the conversation below, we're a friendly bunch.. all questions welcome, and do share your selections or thoughts

23 Responses

  1. I purchased the same book back in the early naughties as well … just reading the above back …. i can see how much of those thoughts still influence me now ….. …………….. especially “going against the crowd”

    Brilliant read and like you i think i shall go and re visit my “secret bookshelf” and have a look at this again …. thought provoking stuff….. thanks 🙂

    gbster 🙂

  2. This is the sort of article I really enjoy.
    I’ve always wondered how often the initial favourite from the opening book goes off as favourite?
    Is there then any correlation between winning favourites being the initial favourite or not?
    Does it matter if the initial favourite is backed in to a shorter price in relation to it’s winning percentage? ( not sure if that makes sense but I know what I mean haha)
    About 35% of favs win give or take. If you can identify weak favourites that you want to take on how would your returns look if you laid the favourite rather than tried to pick the bigger priced winner?

    1. Hi Leif,

      I think that idea of identifying and taking on weak favs (which obv is subjective depending on approach) should be a key part of any analysis/punting decision – and in truth that’s not something i’ve done that much of, or consistently, or not very well. I spoke to Adam Norman a few weeks back and he stressed that as a key part of his approach, and i’d never stopped to think of it etc, which is a bit amateur – Just ‘hoping’ some favs/top 2 in market say, esp in big handicaps, get beat isn’t a great strategy but is the sort of thing you do when your heads in a muddle.
      I’m not sure there’s much value to analysing/researching the general questions you pose RE favs, well not for me anyway, – but maybe a case of looking at record of favs in certain race types/tracks, but then prob dealing with small percentage changes and need to think through logic of that, or how useful such research would be. Working out which favs/top of market are still value and should be supported obv another key element to all of that.

  3. Betting for a living ,mordin on speed and the winning look are all good reads by him ,I miss his website ,always a good read it was.

    1. yep agree with Betting For A Living, that’s on the shelf and first racing book I ever read I think- I haven’t read his other two. Superb content. I’m not sure what happened to him? Head may have emigrated to the US possibly…

  4. I do have a copy of ‘Winning Without Thinking’ and will read it again whilst in lockdown!!!!!!!!
    I do remember using its principles to build my approach to coming up with systems for horse racing. What is interesting when reading it is that it relates to a time before the Betfair Exchange had such an influence over prices etc.
    But its basis is still relevant.

    1. yep good point about the exchanges etc – I doubt many of the angles/systems are still relevant/profitable – and many of his approaches i’m not sure I have tools to research, hence why i’ve focussed more on pulling out his ‘thinking’ and musings – i’m not sure there’s anything above that is now irrelevant – how he thinks, ideas he muses on, the logic etc all still so relevant.

  5. We are all doing it going through our books and re evaluating our methods during lockdown. Mordins Betting for a Living, Clive Holt, Alan Potts, Peter May, John White Russell Clarke,Eric Bowers all jostle for room. The answer must be in there somewhere

    1. Indeed, we are always searching!! That’s what makes it so enjoyable, most of the time! But you can have information overload and at some point you need to narrow down and focus on the aspects you enjoy, esp research areas and indeed race types etc – but always nuggets to take away when reading such musings. But yep just then a case of working out how to apply it and how to shape thinking etc!

  6. It will be a very unpredictable time betting once racing returns. I’m sure thetre will be big differences between horse’s level of fitness, yards may not follow their normal way of training because of the enforced absence during the normal early stages of the flat season, etc.
    Think many will find it very hard to find winners for a good couple of month.s upon racing’s return.

    1. Oh you’re right there Matty – a case of some early caution – it will be hard to know what trainers have taken X approach – many will have eased up to some degree but at same time with these highly strung horses, esp flat, they need work – and will have been ticking along – whether more are fitter than usual for stage or season or not, i’ve no idea! Higher class races – potential stallion/broodmares will need/want wins – the big owners/trainers/owner-breeders – what impact that has who knows – i’d assume AOB, Johnny G etc may have their top level horses as far forward as they can get them. Smaller trainers/owners will want winners/need winners – in theory at least every race run may be more competitive than usual, esp for early season – in theory plenty of ‘hot form’ but whether that’s an edge it remains to be seen. At the lower end, and lightly raced sorts, may be a case of class winning out/trying to latch onto those types – that’s where breeding ‘could’ be more significant.
      OR – all of that is nonsense and it’s just a case of approaching as you usually would etc.
      But certainly plenty to ponder.

      1. OR – I did have that thought. I will go with a usual approach I would normally apply for two weeks whenever racing comes back and then rethink it from there.

        One area that Mordon picks up on is doing your own handicapping. This can work for the keen punter if you stick to a category and apply logical principles to come up with your own figures. I did used to do it for two year olds based upon various factors and it did work. I gave it up because I was just busy with more profitable angles, but may start it again as a project once we get back.

    1. Ha, quite. That idea of finding more systematic ways to bet etc I assume is the element focussed on the ‘without thinking’ element – but to get to that stage requires rather a lot of thought. Plenty to ponder anyway.

  7. Wonderful weather in West of Ireland,having a farm gives a little lee-way on the travel front,have been dabbling a bit on the us tracks just to pass an hour in the evening,just the usual trainer in form with overall profit at track.Wining without over thinking maybe.While having loads of information available can be useful sometimes we don’t see the wood for the trees,and the overall value diminishes as everyone is drawn towards same vein.I would say clive holts fineform formula still produces lots of winners but value hole has been plugged

    1. Good stuff Gerry – I imagine that’s not a bad spot to be in lockdown! I’m certainly enjoying being back in the Suffolk countryside.

      I definitely need to simplify some aspects of my approach – esp 3-5 main factors to focus on/work through when analysing – any more and the brain can just go into meltdown, over thinking, going nowhere longer term. And also relying on instinct more, and indeed the subconscious mind.

      I was watching a good video on youtube (The Art Of The Mating) which is a new project, while in lockdown, from Jack Cantillon – had a couple of bloodstock experts with him, talking through who they’d mate 3 of the worlds best mares to post racing career, starting with Enable – fascinating. And i have a new found interesting in the breeding etc – but their knowledge was just out of this world.
      Anyway, I found something one of them said interesting – and that was that, in the last 100 years, despite all the technology, the stats, the data, genetics etc etc – the racehorse thoroughbred hasn’t got any quicker or any sounder etc – ultimately it can just boil down to knowing your pedigrees inside out etc – for those at top of game.
      At our lesser knowledge level maybe same is true – too much information doesn’t necessarily mean progress! How we use it and apply it / tools we use, may help progress mind, but without over complicating.


  8. Thsnx Josh…
    used to read Mordin first thing in “Weekender” evey week…
    always challengin’ & thought-provoking;
    is his old website archive still Accessible, does anyone know?…
    latter end of G.b. articles, Nick was definitely much more Pedigree-orientated…
    Any plans for Video summary…
    or even further Focus…

    Is Racehorse Base the site on Betdaq?
    AllTheBest EveryOne ~
    PaulJo $

    1. Hi Paul,

      I couldn’t find much RE any of Nick’s archived musings etc when searching just now on google, but may be worth another look if you’ve the time – i don’t know if they exist somewhere or not.

      Videos will return at some point – I don’t have any kit on my Mac at moment and don’t have my desktop with me as of yet, but will in a few weeks – that has all the kit on, just a case of whether i buy something for my Mac but i’ve a few other issues to resolve before then.

      I do keep reading those notes and re reading – and there will be plenty of research pieces moving forwards as there always has been – i’m still in a pondering phase RE what the stats focus/daily members content will be homing in on, as it needs refreshing. But – his words have sparked a new interest in breeding angles, sires/dam sires/trainers patters with those etc. I explored that in a recent members’ post.

      Betdaq – they have a deal with Proform I believe – there the stats on there, although i’ve never looked at them – Proform is well touted esp by pro punters – and I gather an impressive piece of kit, but it has a price tag to match, much like proform.
      Horse Race Base and Geegeez Gold are the alternatives I use mainly, but there are no doubt others around. If wanting speed ratings there’s the likes of Inform Speed, Raceform? (never used but think they have their own ratings) etc


  9. I also went straight to the Nick Mordin column in the Weekender and the column was worth the price of the newspaper alone. However the first books I read on betting (probably the first written that made sense) were by Clive Holt, Be a Successful Punter and Winners Always Back Winners. As was mentioned earlier the ratings always produce winners but the value has probably gone. But the books contained lots of snippets which still hold true today.
    Under good recent form “It is often the manner of a horses victory or recent good run that indicates the worth of the form. A horses ability to quicken at the end of a race is an attribute that wins many races. Special consideration should be given to those horses that can quicken appreciably on an uphill finish.”
    Under Time “The best type of fast horse without doubt is the one that is able to quicken up in the closing stages of a fast run race. These are real money spinners. Always place great store in the value of a horse that can make all and then run on well, strongly or even quicken clear of the rest. ”
    I know you will all say that those comments are obvious but sometimes we ignore the obvious when trying to find bets. Don’t overlook the obvious and if the price of the obvious is too short then leave the race alone and move on. Don’t try to construct a bet for the sake of having a bet and then beat yourself up because you knew the obvious would win. It is just as important to avoid losers as well as have winners.
    The above advice has served me well over the years. Just sit down and look at the number of silly bets you have made trying to get the obvious beaten. There are still lots of other races (once racing returns) to have a go at.

    1. thanks for posting John – many wise words there to ponder.
      I wouldn’t say any point that relates to race reading/how a race is won etc is overly obvious – those sorts of things you can often only pick up by watching the races/replays – and that’s something I need to schedule in/do more of, the next day etc.

      I’m guilty as charged often enough when it comes to trying to get the fav/shorty beaten etc – Nick’s points about analysing why you’re taking them on and how you bet accordingly etc have made me ponder- again they may seem obvious but you still have to stop, think, absorb – ie – are you taking on because you think they’re slower, or because you don’t think they will handle race conditions – and how that impacts how you bet, including just leaving the race etc.
      cheers, Josh

  10. Many thanks,Josh.Lovely article for the times we are in -thought provoking.Never any harm to dip back into one’s library.

    1. thanks Ray – indeed, nothing ever wrong with dipping back in and being reminded of certain things, and given new areas to ponder.

  11. Having had my first bet on Nimbus to win the Derby of his year you must know I’m in my dotage…seeing Arkle is a relatively recent thing in my timeline !!!! And WHAT a horse !! Yes read Mordin always in the weekender every week and all his books. He gave me the 2014 winner of the Gold Cup in his musings at 20/1. I still have a hard back copy of Prof.Frank George on betting amongst my collection. How to win ? Well I OUGHT to have found out….but I haven’t yet. Try deciding which runner OUGHT be fav and if it isn’t then bet on it. If it is ,then don’t.

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