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In last week's Punting Confessional, Tony Keenan began to explain why much of what we hear about racing from (usually) self-appointed "experts" should be taken with a pinch (or two) of salt. He expands on that topic this week, as he sets about exploding some more common clichés often heard around the race courses in...
...The Punting Confessional – February 13th 2013
In his collection of essays and reviews from 2001, The War Against Cliché, novelist Martin Amis wrote that ‘all writing is a war against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.’ He was referring to literary pursuits but could so easily have been writing about racing, an area that is jam-packed with clichés. Let’s explode a few more of them, starting with that old chestnut...
"He’s due a win."
Probability has no memory and each race needs to be taken on an individual basis so the idea that a horse is in line for a win, by dint of its form figures, is fallacious. Figures of ‘322’ may suggest success is imminent but what matters is not the figure itself but the context it was achieved in; a ‘2’ that was achieved in a low-class race may not be as valuable as a ‘6’ in a better race and the former is more likely to be overrated by the market while the latter may slip under the radar.
Similarly a ‘6’ achieved when cutting out a fast pace and just fading inside the final 100 yards could be more meritorious than a ‘2’ that came from a closer in the same race that was run to suit hold-up types.
Often horses that are running well in handicaps are less likely to win rather than more so; because their marks are rising they are becoming less well-treated. Runners that constantly hit the frame without winning, poor win/run ratio types, can also be ungenuine and in the main it pays to go with horses that are serial winners rather than serial losers. Also, it goes without saying that those that run well in defeat tend to be short prices on their subsequent start.
Runners that are "due a win" should not be confused with horses working up to something, say one that is gradually coming back to form, perhaps off a break, and who may be able to take advantage of a dropping mark. Such horses are often undervalued as their form is clouded; the combination of a slipping mark, more than typical improvement from run-to-run and a likely value price making them always of interest.
"Anything he does over hurdles is a bonus."
A cliché beloved of the racing fans I wrote about on these pages in September (seen here) and October (here) of last year, it is one of the ways to the betting poorhouse. Trainers and jockeys certainly have a lot to answer for in this regard, often filling the racing pages with comments about how they cannot wait for a certain bumper horse or novice hurdler to go over fences such is the scope they possess.
And certainly there are times when these horses make up into top chasers but they’re just the type to be underpriced when they do run and in fact the horses punters really want to be with in novice chases are the opposite, those limited hurdlers that have improved for the bigger obstacles and who are underrated by the market that places too much emphasis on their hurdling form.
Generally, it takes the market a number of starts to cotton onto this improvement, the same market that overvalues classy hurdlers that have not taken to fences and keeps them short prices.
All too often, punters and racing generally live in the future, focusing on big races and targets in the future. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this as it does help build excitement for the big days but in life it’s probably best to live in the now and that’s true of punting too. Rather than looking ahead to a big race at Cheltenham we should seek to get an edge this week in the lesser races that are far less likely to be analysed to a point where any value has been squeezed out of the prices.
None of this is to say that we can’t take a long view and such an approach doesn’t pay off, but perhaps we do it too much.
A development on this idea is that of trading a race, backing a horse in the hope that it will shorten up because of a good run in a trial race before laying back to guarantee a profit. I just don’t get this; why not just back it for the first race and not tie your money up? The price may be not quite so generous but if it is offering value in the ante-post race it is likely to be the same for the prep race and if it’s going to shorten up for its ultimate target it’s nearly going to have to win its trial.
"The weight beat him."
Even the best are referring to this one, Willie Mullins using a variation on the theme when referring to his recent Boylesports Hurdle winner Abbey Lane as having a ‘lovely racing weight’ and it becomes a particular touchstone in marathon handicap chases or on soft ground where poundage is thought to have a greater effect.
Looking at this logically, it just doesn’t make sense; we’re talking about a half-ton plus of horseflesh carrying a maximum weight differential of 28lbs (more allowing for claimers) so how can a few pounds one way or another make any real difference?
What matters is not the weight but the mark as it dictates the class of race a horse can compete in; generally, it’s better to carry lots of weight against inferior opposition that having a feather burden against classier types. For me, class is a key concern whereas weight simply isn’t and punters would be advised to keep an eye on the class structure at play in their racing jurisdiction; in Ireland, the difference between competing in a 0-65 bottom grade handicap and a 0-80 can be monumental.
One offshoot of this is that classy horses at the top of the handicap are often underbet, the assumption being that they have too much weight. Preference is given to those at the lower end of the handicap by the market but there is certainly value in looking to the proven ones with plenty of weight, Tidal Bay in last year’s Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown (run on atrocious ground, incidentally) being a good example of where class won out.