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The old-style pro gambler plying his trade at racecourses across the country. Alex Bird, known as the original pro bettor, learned his trade from his bookmaker father. He decided it paid more to be on the other side of the counter.
He needed to be at the course because one technique he used to beat the bookies was betting on photo-finishes. Even on today's betting exchanges, there is a market for those who have an opinion of any result. However, on course, in those days of old, there was plenty of time to bet while the photo was developed.
Bird noticed that more often than not, the horse on the far side looked to have won. This was an optical illusion.
It was reported he made 500 consecutive winning bets and in the process made a fortune.
Such was his influence in the betting ring, that he could make false favourites. He employed an army of bettors who placed his money off course, sometimes betting up to 50K a time. As the on-course bookmakers set the SP price, he would often bet what seemed significant sums of money on another horse, followed by punters, making sure his 'original' fancy drifted in the betting.
Bird used race times to find winners, similar to Phil Bull who was the founder of Timeform.
He detailed how Mill Reef broke a track record on firm going but also won in the mud when winning the Gimcrack. He concurred this was the mark of a great horse and backed him at 4/6f. Bird placed his biggest bet £60K. Mill Reef trounced his rival by four lengths.
The following year Bird backed Mill Reef to win the Epsom Derby in 1971. This son of Never Bend, trained by Ian Balding in the ownership of Paul Melon, won by two lengths. Alex Bird was reputed to have won £100K on this exceptional bay colt.
Mill Reef Racing Record:
Winner of 12 of his 14 races. He was runner-up in those defeats.
Coventry Stakes (1970)
Gimcrack Stakes (1970)
Dewhurst Stakes (1970)
Greenham Stakes (1970)
Epsom Derby (1971)
Eclipse Stakes (1971)
King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (1971)
Prix de l'Arc de Triompe (1971)
Prix Ganay (1971)
Coronation Cup (1972)
Mill Reef was retired at four after sustaining an injury but a noble stallion and sire.
Bird was as studious in his later years as younger. Just a year before he passed away, in 1990, he backed Final Shot to win the Ayr Gold Cup. The horse was backed form 40-1 - 10s.
Alex Bird's Golden Rules to Making Your Betting Pay:
1) Hold your bets if there is a change in the going.
2) Bird love each-way bets, especially maiden races with 8 - 10 runners with just a few noted form horses. Oppose the favourite and combine the second and third favourites in each-way doubles/trebles.
3) A good 7lb apprentice is worth their weight in gold.
4) Never bet on the first show - horses usually drift in price on the second or third show.
5) Bird rarely bet on handicaps.
6) Never bet on three-year-old maiden fillies.
You may be interested in reading Alex Bird's: The Life and Secrets of a Professional Punter, published in 1986. [Written with Terry Manners]. It details his story covering almost four decades from 1946 - 1985.
In this modern age of technology, it would have been interesting to see how Bird would have figured. In truth, such a man would have used betting exchanges to his advantage. Successful gambling is as much to do with the principles of working and discipline. When you consider how many modern-day pro gamblers work, they seem to lack by his lofty standards.