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Punter makes easy money the hard way
There are barristers and stockbrokers who are neighbours to Dave Nevison and even a woman four doors down called Gloria Hunniford who has made a career out of sitting on sofas. But when Nevison himself emerges from his Sevenoaks home each morning he is embarking on a quite different business. He is going to the racecourse to make money.
Of the dozen or so men countrywide who are thought to make a career out of backing racehorses Nevison, at 38, is just about the newest on the block. Along with the Runyonesque pairing of Eddie "The Shoe" Fremantle and "Beardy" Alan, his is now one of the most recognisable faces in the rings of the southern circuit.
Nevison says he makes "a comfortable living" from punting, which should be measured against the fact that he used to work in the City. Certainly he still has the keys to his £500,000 property in green and pleasant land, and next month celebrates his sixth year on the racecourse.
When you hear of his big wins, the liberation of money from the bookmakers, the parties, it can be immediately intoxicating. But just contemplate a moment before you take your coat from its peg. "Someone once said that is a very hard way to make easy money," Nevison says. "When you get it right a bloke just opens up a big satchel and hands over great wads of cash. But I think you'll find my hourly rate is probably not that high. Against that I am out in the fresh air every day doing something that I love and getting rewarded for it. But, make no mistake, you have got to keep a grip on yourself and you have got to put the hours in. There is simply no substitute for hard work."
Nevison has been getting up at 4am for some time now. It makes a change from joining the pinstripe wave crashing into the City, from existence as a foreign-exchange dealer. "I was a bit mug-punterish then," he says. "I was a City fizz kid. It was lager every lunchtime and lager every night and I wasn't compos mentis about my racing even though I'd bought a few horses.
"For the last two years I was virtually punting and getting paid in the City. Eventually I got the tap on the shoulder and the suggestion that I might as well move my office to Coral's. We were going our separate ways. I told my wife I was going to go punting full time."
There was the pot of his £70,000 pay-off to play with but also anxiety in the household. However, Lotte Nevison no longer waits at the train station with child in pushchair wondering how the family wealth has fared that day.
So what is the Nevison system? He does not trust his eyes, paying little attention to paddock inspection or how a horse moves to post. He does not trust his ears much either and rarely acts on "information". "It can be a question of spotting things early," he says. "There's the obvious. If Lord Carnarvon wanders up to the rails at Windsor and has £25 on a two-year-old it's past the post. And other things as well.
"I made an awful lot of money two Flat seasons ago when Dandy Nicholls came on the sprinting scene. It's common knowledge now but back then I was backing horses at 16-1 that go off at 7-2 now. There was also the time when Tony McCoy was claiming 5lb against professional jockeys when he was 7lb better than them anyway. You had a stone advantage."
The bulk of it, though, is the mundane - hours in the formbook and analysis of speed figures. "I've never been a short-priced player," he says. "I basically price up every race myself and have a serious look at anything that's over 15 per cent higher than I've got it. My strike-rate isn't that high, but I think you've got to make a judgement about whether you either want to back winners or win in the long run. The profile of a professional gambler seems to be of someone who will wait and wait for a single horse to have his £500 on, but, emotionally, I don't think that works. I don't know a single person that operates that way at my level.
"When you play for value rather than winners you can quite often end up backing more than one horse in a race. And one of the biggest problems in gambling is being able to handle your losing runs. We all have them and they're hard to handle but, because I cover more options, mine are by definition shorter. If I don't back a winner when I go racing it's an unusual day. There are an awful lot of people who go racing every day, but they've been successful in another life and the pressure is not on them to win. They're not doing it to put their kids through school.
"In the time I've been doing it I've seen many, many people come and go. They've been people similar to me who have suddenly come into some money and decided to have a go. It's the mental strain, the emotional up and down of it that gets them."
If Nevison does have a single piece of advice for those who choose to put their money in jeopardy, and various nuggets are soon to appear on an Internet site, it is to stick to a single branch of racing and, with patience, master it.
"There are the old chestnuts such as backing only in Group races, but while they may be very true they don't give you much of an advantage," he says. "Anyone can back Lammtarra for the Arc, but you don't win much money. In Group Ones, certainly towards the end of the year, it's easy to find winners, but difficult to make a profit.
"The races I like are handicaps up to a mile. In three-year-old handicaps over 10 furlongs plus and any handicap over a mile and a half plus you've got to be really sure there's going to be a pace. You don't get that problem in sprints with big fields. And if you can be reasonably sure about how a race is going to be run you can be reasonably sure about what is going to win it."
Only Nevison himself knows where he stands with the old enemy when, at day's end, he leans back on the front door. But as the door is entrance to a significant property and there are further trappings in place the signs are good. "Most of all I enjoy the constant battle and the banter with Barry Dennis and the boys at Lingfield's all-weather," he says. "It is one of my favourite hunting grounds and thanks to them the kids now have a nice, new car for the school run."
Dennis himself says he is prepared to continue the contest. Dave Nevison has therefore found the happy Christmas Day no-man's land between punter and bookmaker. For that, as in many things, he is one of the turf's more unusual figures.