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This week, Tony Keenan starts to explain to us how important it is to find “the right type” of horse to back and how to spot them in the latest instalment of…
…The Punting Confessional – October 10th, 2012
Dundalk/Curragh – September 28th/30th
After a quiet few quiet weeks, there was some relief over the weekend with winners at this pair of meetings, notably All Ablaze and Bubbly Bellini. I wrote last week that as punters it is best to like bets rather than horses but there are certain animals that are simultaneously habitually underrated by the market and have found the winning thread and both of the above-mentioned fit this category.
They are by definition the right horse or as I sometimes call them ‘hero horses’ and finding this sort of beast can be the key to making a betting year. Spotting such animals isn’t easy and it’s not just a case of latching onto one racking up a sequence; they have to be underestimated by the odds in so doing.
Finding them at the start of the year can be particularly difficult as anyone compiling horses to follow lists will tell you; they can make anyone look thick and it is sometimes best to let the season unfold before selecting horses one wants to be with. Of course, one wants to avoid becoming attached to horses for sentimental reasons as to do so would turn one into a fan but it is also dangerous to follow horses just because we have won money on them.
As an aside, it is also important not to damn a horse just because we have lost money backing them. All that said, there are those runners that the market repeatedly ignores and knowing the reasons why this is so can help one identify the right type.
Perhaps the first and most simple angle into finding the right type is the good horse/bad trainer approach and by ‘bad’ here I don’t mean lacking in talent but rather small or unknown. One pays a premium for supporting big yards, the Aidan O’Briens and Dermot Welds of this world and their horses are constantly shorter prices than their raw form credentials merit.
The converse of this is also true and while it is obvious that better known trainers win the majority of races I tend to believe that most trainers can do a passable job with a good horse; one need only look at Tom Hogan (who I would rate one of the worst trainers in Ireland on the basis of his last decade’s results) winning a Group 1 on Arc weekend.
This is a particularly good angle with jumps horses as the spread of good horses tends to be much wider than among the flat trainers. Galway Hurdle winner Rebel Fitz is a very good example for his trainer Mick Winters and when I played the jumps seriously a few years back I was always on the lookout for this type, Brave Right trained by Leonard Whitmore being one of the best examples, winning 5 of his 16 starts under rules notably a big handicap hurdle at Punchestown at 16/1.
It’s not so easy to find such horses on the flat with the concentration of talent in the better-known stables but the aforementioned All Ablaze fit the bill when supplying his trainer Damian English with the biggest win of his life in the Dundalk premier nursery. Bill Farrell, particularly when running horses in handicaps at the Curragh, is another one I like to watch out for and he has supplied good winners like Sharisse and Sedna at the track down the years.
Another right type is the poor workhorse that reserves its best for the track. As a rule, I’m not a lover of trainer quotes as they tend to be overvalued by the market; this is certainly true of those given in the run-up to the race as the positive ones in particular tend to lead to a market contraction though sometimes what they have said becomes more useful on subsequent starts as the majority have forgotten what was said.
My interest, however, is piqued by the mention of a horse being idle or showing little at home. I suspect far too much stock is given to homework by racing insiders and it often has too much influence on the market; I am not saying that this information is useless as it isn’t but by the time it reaches someone like me – a form-based punter with no ‘in’ with a yard – it will be of little value.
Often horses with negative reports surrounding them but good form on the track will drift in the betting and they’re just type I want to be with; I am reminded of Willie Mullins commenting on the notably poor homework of Blackstairmountain just before he won his Grade 1 novice at Punchestown in 2010 and how his price of 5/1 should have been much shorter judged by his form.
Sudden or unlikely improvers are also worth looking out for and Bubbly Bellini is a good if extreme example of this type. He started 2012 as a 5yo with 36 starts under his belt so no one could have expected he would rise 43lbs in the weights and win 5 races; there were however strong hints that he was on the up, notably the manner of his success at Limerick in June, his third win of the season.
With a horse like this, it is best just to trust the improvement as the market often doesn’t and this was the case with Bubbly Bellini as he won premier handicaps at 11/2 and 11/1 in 6 starts following his Limerick win (I’d love to say I’d been wise to all of this but the only times I have backed him this year was on his last two starts but thankfully I got paid on one of them).
There are plenty of horses where the reason for improvement will be obvious; a 3yo after a winter off could take a massive leap forward in terms of form but the market will often allow for this possibility on subsequent starts. It tends to struggle to correct so easily for less obvious improvers however.
One could improve for a mini-break of just a few months in-season (a result of a small injury or a much-needed wind-op perhaps) or for a host of other reasons, like the application of new kind of equipment. Wholelotofrosie is a 2yo who has improved markedly for a mid-season break in 2012 but the best type is the older horse where the progression seems to come from nowhere; Royal Diamond is another such horse this year though the less said about him the better!
My final right type is the hold-up horse that repeatedly gets there to win and doesn’t show their true superiority in winning and Maarek is the one horse of the last two seasons that stands out, his traditional late flourish allowing him to rise from a 69-rated handicapper to Group 3 winners rated 114 with the potential to compete at the top level.
Obviously horses like Maarek are reliant on pace but if you can latch onto one going the right way they can be a goldmine.
The reasons they are preferable to wide-margin winners are manifold. Firstly, they don’t get the rise in the weights to those that win easily and so can progress gradually rather than be forced through the grades ahead of their time. Neither are they taking as much out of themselves as the comfortably victor that often regresses off a big win.
Finally, their narrow wins are often undervalued by the market as against one that has won by daylight. Such horses are often idlers and while I wouldn’t be great at spotting such types I have a friend who swears by it and finds it a ready source of winners.
So to conclude, here are four right types of horse: the good horse with a small trainer, the poor workhorse that keeps it for the track, the sudden, unlikely improver and the hold-up type that keeps winning.
I’ll be back next week when I’ll look at the wrong type.