ENABLE ridden by Robert Havlin Wining at Newcastle 28/11/16 Photo John Grossick / Racingfotos.com

5 Things to Consider Ahead of the New Season

The flat turf season finally gets underway at, er, Newcastle on the tapeta on Monday.

Take two: the flat turf season finally gets underway at Yarmouth next Wednesday and, whether you're a lawn purist or take your sans obstacles action on whichever surface it comes, the good times are once more about to roll.

But how should we play the early days of a season where all yards have been mothballed for ten weeks and more? The short answer is, tentatively (or not at all). Expounding upon that, I offer five thoughts ahead of the new season.

#1 Fast starters are fast starters

We don't really know the implications of the deferred start for those stables who typically stumble into a season half asleep. Will they have done more work at home to bring horses closer to day one readiness? Maybe, maybe not; after all, plenty of those handlers like their charges to gain race fitness in actual races.

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But what we can be sure of is that those trainers who habitually hit the ground running, especially those with a good record when running horses off a layoff (some logical overlap between the two), will call on that 'muscle memory' once more. Some obvious names to look out for are Hughie Morrison, Mick Easterby, Richard Fahey, John Quinn, Mick Appleby, and much of Newmarket (Messrs. Gosden, Appleby (C), Stoute, Haggas, and on).

That list is based on those with the best flat turf strike rates in April and May with horses running off a layoff of between two and six months. It is not exhaustive, it will not be profitable to follow blind, but it does point towards some who will be expected to have winners in the first days.

Geegeez Gold cards publish the two-year record of all trainers running horses off a 60+ day layoff - which is to say, currently, all of them. That should be a very helpful snippet.

#2 Day 1 losers can be day 2 winners

It is a fundamental human failing: looking for patterns on the basis of scant, sometimes almost no, evidence. And yet, in horseracing betting terms, we are often obliged to take such flyers where new and short-term situations emerge.

In these circumstances, extreme caution is necessary: a trainer who has two winners from four runners at Newcastle on Monday can be suspected to be 'in form'; but a trainer with no winners and just one place from four runners on the same day should not be written off as 'out of form'. There will be many who arrive at such a premature conclusion.

If a trainer's long term 'off a layoff' record is good, be forgiving of early failure. Conversely, where the historical form of a yard has suggested slow starters, proceed with caution and a nod to point 1 above: everyone has had an extra ten weeks to tighten bolts in 2020 so some of those traditionally tardy types may be more forward now, even if they fail to demonstrate that on opening day.

Management summary: expect everyone to be ready, or more ready than normal!

#3 Negative market movers may be most instructive

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed market is king; or something like that. Where we as punters are obliged to surmise so much about form and well-being, the market can offer valuable clues. However, this is a completely new frontier for a few reasons.

Firstly, we have 72-hour declarations, bookmakers clamouring for business, and no intervening races - or indeed sport generally - to divert attention away from the feverish excitement of Monday's ten tussles on the tapeta. Prices will be up early, probably by 2pm today (Friday 29th May). There will be chunky overrounds and accepted liabilities will be small, tacit acknowledgement that the opening shows are wonky and rick-ridden. As usual, small players will pick off the best of the prices, essentially being paid by trading rooms to more accurately reflect the runners' chances.

The weekend will be interesting: I'd expect this fallow period in terms of sporting and wagering diversion to be a fruitful spell for punters, who will rarely - perhaps never - have had such an opportunity to focus on a single card before. The markets should firm up more quickly than normal, then.

And then there is the elephant in the room. There will be no on-course bookmakers because there are no on-course punters. As such, there will be an industry SP, returned by some process which as far as I can tell has not yet been explained publicly. That said, this has been published by SPRC.

Nobody reading this bets at SP unless they took a Best Odds Guaranteed price and the returned price was greater.

Overrounds will be subject to close scrutiny, and so they should be with a new process in situ. The regulation of that process is somewhere between opaque and borderline non-existent, and it is a genuine concern (albeit one which, for some, conveniently finds itself a good way down the hierarchy of racing's genuine concerns just now).

Back to my point: a lot of market hares can be expected to be set running. After all, punters and stables no know more than you or me about relative forwardness at this juncture. Following the market, then, will be instructive if crying wolf relatively often. What may be more instructive is where horses are notably weak, especially when representing yards who usually start well.

I'll be looking to avoid the pink horses rather than back the blue ones, generally speaking.

#4 The 2yo minefield

Royal Ascot is scheduled to start 16 days into the British flat calendar this season, and just 15 days after the first juvenile contest has concluded. As such, there has been a clamour to get a run into the good horses in order that they may qualify for Royal Ascot's two-year-old Pattern events. Juvenile races may divide and divide again, meaning as many as three divisions of up to twelve horses each will be able to demonstrate their precocity.

And if you've got a good one with a realistic chance at the Royal meeting, do you want to give it two weeks' rest after a debut spin, or a week? The answer is obvious, so expect some ferociously hot heats in the coming days.

Moreover, in order to facilitate all yards having a relatively equal opportunity to get a runner to the Ascot starting gate, trainers have been asked to nominate their most likely candidates, the pick of which are given a 'ballot bye': they will be prioritised to get a run in those events which now amount to Royal Ascot qualifiers.

The full list of those runners is below (click to view full screen), and they can be expected to be above average, in relation to their barn cohort at least:

The priority list for elimination ballots in pre-Royal Ascot 2yo races. These horses will be given priority to qualify for Royal Ascot.

The priority list for elimination ballots in pre-Royal Ascot 2yo races. These horses will be given priority to qualify for Royal Ascot.

Frankly, it is a braver man than me who bets a two-year-old race prior to Royal Ascot this year. These seem to represent the caveat emptor of all caveats emptor in this quasi-normal wagering world of the early weeks of the 2020 season.

#5 Nobody knows, so be your own judge

Speaking of 'buyer beware', and of the land of the blind, this post is very much a case of the blind leading the blind; it contains few facts and much conjecture. It is my best guess as to how things will play out, and it is the basis upon which my (light) betting forays will be constructed. My cornerstones will be that fast starters are fast starters, that those weakest in the market should be considered to need the run, and that two-year-old races are mere amuse-bouches for the beckoning Berkshire banquet a fortnight or so hence.

But I could very well be wrong. It's happened before, you know. So by all means ponder the above, but ultimately make your own mind up. Perhaps you'll ignore it all as fluff, noise hampering the signal, and wager as normal; maybe you'll decide to watch and learn while others win and lose; possibly you have a different take entirely on playing the early dust ups.

Before the battle, all strategies are degrees of credible and plausible. To the victor the spoils. Even in defeat, if the collateral damage is not too bloody, it will be great to be at it once more. C'est la guerre!

- Matt

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5 replies
  1. fingers
    fingers says:

    I’ll be relying on my tracker horses of which there are a few entered next week Matt on the premise that they were given a quiet time in some races getting their mark down and if the draw and other factors are in place then maybe a small wager will be required as this stood me in good stead at the opening Irish meeting at Naas with a wide margin 14/1 winner and 10/1 not quite holding on 2nd and a decent 3rd from three bets before the curtain fell there…the reasoning here is if the yard have got the animal where they want it then get it ready to go first time especially this season with all the uncertainty in other stables.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Suspect it’s definitely a time for the tracker, Tom! I’ll be mostly adding horses to mine, but yes of course, if one pops up it will demand a second look.

      Great to be having these kind of conversations again!


  2. trophyman
    trophyman says:

    interesting comments Matt especially the 2yr olds as that is my own particular betting angle. One thing I cant figure out is whether the trainers who usually start the season fast in April will be demonstrating April form or June form with their horses as we all know trainers have peaks and troughs through the season especially with their two year olds. I have no idea if trainers are able to suppress early developers and if that has a negative effect on their first run? My theory at the moment is to look more toward the trainers with a higher strike rate later in the season as I assume their horses will be coming to hand at the right time. Either way its time for small wagers only I think. Thanks for the article and the Ascot info. Good luck to everyone this season.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Your guess is as good as, quite possibly better than, mine! I’d be expecting fast starters to be fast starters, as I’ve said, regardless of it being a little later. But that does allow the others to potentially catch up. Your point about early two-year-olds is well made, I suspect; quite a few of the breeze up types going to the sales in a week or two have already missed their gig.


  3. shell62
    shell62 says:

    Glad the racing is back i have had 2 bets so far STONE MASON 7/2 1pm big horse who as needed time they are expecting better and starts off a rating 63 could be well in. CONTINENTAL 2.45 they think a lot of this and was a talking horse last year without seeing the racecourse, there are 2 high rated horses in the race which is not ideal but this could be above average and 1 i have been looking forward to seeing running. Taking a chance backing these this early but there as been money for them both.

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