The Compleat Horseplayer

This is a review of Dr. David Edelman's book The Compleat Horseplayer, which is not to be consued with Tom Ainslie's book of the same name. I have never read Ainslie's book as I am not a fan of "handicapping" techniques.

Edelman is part of a long line of economists who have used horse race betting markets as part of their research. Some of his research papers can be found on this website.

The Compleat Horseplayer consists of nine chapters that are worth every penny of this slim volume. The first chapter is an introduction to the elements of horse race betting; odds, markets, value and information. Odds, markets and value don't really need mentioning to readers of this blog.

Information is the most important aspect of horse race betting. The successful bettor is one who has the best information. And the best informed bettors are usually insiders with information that is not privy to members of the public. Edelman gives you a formula for evaluating information and determining its financial value.

The second chapter is titled Money Management and it is no surprise that the chapter concentrates on Kelly Criterion. Towards the end of the chapter we are also given formulae for value, volatility and the Sharpe's Ratio, which is something that I have used for evaluating systems.

Chapter three deals with Technical Analysis of prices, including arbitrage, hidden information and exotic betting.

Fundamental Analysis is covered in chapter four. Class, speed, weight, fitness and some red herrings are discussed. At the end of the chapter a method for evaluating multpile fundamental variables is given with the Multinomial Logit Model and mention of Bolton and Chapman's paper, which can be found on this website.

Chapter five deals with exotic betting and place pricing models. Edelman gives an interesting alternative to Harville, Henery and Stern's place pricing model. After some discussion with Edelman via email I managed to produce a program that generates Edelman place prices to compare with existing models.

If you do wish to contact Dr. Edelman then insure that your query is of the taxing academic kind and not that of the inquisitive amateur otherwise you will soon outstay your welcome. A consulting academic does not come cheap and time is money.

In chapter six we are given a treatise on placing bets. As this book was published in 2001 there is no mention of betting exchanges so this chapter is the least useful to us.

Evaluation of an ongoing system is given in chapter seven with discussion of Regret, Deconstruction and Information Theory's method of scoring the value of information.

Chapter eight gives a little time to automation and chapter nine gives some concluding remarks.

For a small book there is a lot of useful information packed inside it that will send you scurrying for research papers. A valuable addition to the intelligent bettor's library.


  1. I'm new to subject of quantitive analysis in trading and looking for information to test my horse racing trading strategies in an accurate and unbiased way. Looking at this book but any advice you can offer James would be appreciated. Thanks!

    1. I assume you are a fundamental trader looking to price horses and look for stat arbs.

      Edelman's The Compleat Horseplayer is a good book. It will steer you away from a lot of Red Herrings.

      The following books will help too.

  2. Thanks for your reply James, I've a read a number of your articles on your blog now and find them all very informative.

    I've been learning to manually trade pre race for the past two years with relative success and failure. In that time I've also been developing strategies to trade both pre and in-play markets.

    I have no formal qualifications in economics, statistics or computer science but I am very interested in developing algorithms for trading purposes which lead me to your blog.

    Will most likely purchase your book, but I firstly want to make sure my fundamental analysis is being conducted effectively. Hence my initial enquiry regarding 'The compleat horseplayer'.

    1. David Edelman is a good place to start as he is an economist who has written extensively on horse race betting markets.

      You might like to use Google Scholar to find his papers and then branch out into Ziemba, Vaughan Williams, Thorp et al.

      PS - No need to send a comment twice. I have to okay them before they get published in case anyone wants to leave their email address.

  3. Hi James,

    I purchased this book as suggested. And as you state it is rather light on content and the print isn't exactly legible in places. However, there are indeed nuggets of gold information in here. Which I for one have already put into practice. So thanks for the review and recommend.

    1. I just looked at my copy and it is legible to me so you might have a different edition.

      But yes, there are plenty of nuggets. There is no one book that is going to tell you everything you need to know.

      I should think the number of books I have read to help me in sports trading is well into three figures. You have to keep reading and adding to your knowledge.

  4. Well the short list you provide on the site along with your reviews are appreciated.