He was, I believe, perhaps the most influential and controversial punter of the last generation, and successful too; and today I’m going to give a little insight into the methods he employed. He was the Dutchman, C. Van Der Wheil, sometimes known as the Flying Dutchman. He arrived in this country in 1945 at the end of the war, having served with the British forces. He was a physical and mental wreck,and had only half a crown in his pocket, about 12p in today’s money. Yet by 1948 he was going for sailing holidays as they called them then, not cruises, for months on end in the Caribbean, at that time an experience enjoyed only by the very wealthy. Yes, and it was all paid for by his punting.

He came to the attention of the punting public in the winter of 1978 in a contribution to the Sports Forum of the old Sporting Chronicle Handicap Book. His contributions continued there over the years, provoking discussion, admiration and envy. I can’t begin here to do justice to the whole argument, but at least I can give the basic VDW method, and even here there may be punters prepared to enter into the debate.

He concentrated his attention on certain races – the most valuable at the main meeting of the day and the next most valuable there. And also the most valuable race taking place at each of the other meetings taking place that day. In these races he looked at the betting forecast (in his day it would have been that of the Sporting Life, but today it will be The Racing Post’s), and if the race was a handicap he considered the first six in the forecast, and if a non-handicap he looked at the first five. That was the basis. We now come to what he called the numerical picture.

First he considered the form of these runners. He looked at their three most recent races and added up the form figures. So, 1,1,1 would total 3, 0,0,0 would make 30, 456 making 15 and so on. If there were only 2 form figures you made up to 3 by repeating the last one, and if only 1 then you used it three times. So, 1,2 makes 5 and the single form figure 3 equals 9. For any F, P, U etc you used the figure before it instead. Thus, 1,P, 2, 3 would add up to 6. The three lowest totals (or more than three if there are joints) are the ones we want for the first part of the numerical picture.

For the second part he evaluated ability, but in a rather different, objective way. He equated ability with money and got an ability rating by totaling up the prize money a horse had won in its career and dividing that figure by the number of races it had won. To make the figure manageable he then knocked off the final two digits. Example. Horse A has won £130,000 in ten races. Divide the total by 10 and remove the last two zeros, and we have a rating of 130. Horse B has won £86,000 in 9 races. Divide by 9, remove the final two figures and we have a rating of 95. Clearly Horse A has the superior rating ability.

VDW would evaluate the whole field for ability, and if any of the top three on ability were also among the three top on consistent form, then he would pay particular attention to these. And if he did have a bet it would come from one of them. But he wouldn’t necessarily have a bet unless he was satisfied by other factors. And therein lay a lot of the animosity that VDW seemed to generate in other punters. They felt he was keeping something back, not giving out his full system. And they were probably right. It was often said that there was a missing link and VDW would suggest that it might be the individual temperament of the punter. He did put forward a formula for his success and it went like this. Consistent Form + Ability + Capability + Profitability + Hard Work = Winners. It’s not a bad formula to keep in mind. Oh, and by the way, all the information for compiling the ability ratings is easily accessible in The Racing Post.

I realize that not all may be clear yet, so I’m going to go through a whole VDW reading, and his explanation of how he came to make his final selection. The race was the Mackeson Gold Cup of 1988, and I’ll give the first six horses in the betting forecast with their form, their consistent form figure and their ability rating. Then we’ll come to how Van Der Wheil made his final choice.

132P3-2 Bishop’s Yarn 7 40
24U11-1 Jim Thorpe 3 52
2U312-1 Pegwell Bay 4 40
211331- Comeragh King 7 21
11-121F Giolla Padraig 4 19
0251-33 Townley Stone 7 59

Comeragh King and Giolla Padraig go out immediately because of their low ability rating. Four are left. At first glance you might think, as I did, that Jim Thorpe was the obvious choice, top on consistent form and second top on ability. He was the forecast favourite too. But VDW discarded him straightaway. Why? Because he had to have soft going and it was good on the day. Also, his wins were all at 2 miles and today’s race was over 2 and a half miles. Bishop’s Yarn was also eliminated because he too had to have soft going, and also he was well beaten last time out in a much poorer race.

Townley Stone had shown a lot of ability in the past and has the top ability rating, but recent form has been very poor with only 2 wins in his last 20 races, and his last win was in a very low class race. Pegwell Bay is left. It has good consistent form, a good ability rating and has run consistently well in better races. It has the going it likes and is running over its best distance. That was VDW’s selection – and the winner. Perhaps we can see now where some of the hard work comes into the equation.