The Punting Confessional 28th March 2012

Editor's note: In the first of a brand new series of features, Tony Keenan, Betfair's Irish racing writer, brings his 'punting confessional'. Part diary, part teaching module, I'm really looking forward to this series, as I very much enjoy Tony's frank and generally contrarian outlook. I hope you will too.

The Punting Confessional

Cheltenham, March 13th through 16th

The Punting Confessional

The Punting Confessional

I’ll leave the Dickensian allusions about the meeting to the site owner and simply say the Festival was edging towards the worst of times for this corner; bar the momentary relief provided by Teaforthree and Riverside Theatre it was a disappointing punting week with near misses for Fruity O’Rooney and Tanks For That particularly galling.

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The only other bright spot over the four days was Son Of Flicka landing the Coral Cup as it meant I copped on a special bet placed with Ladbrokes around the time of the Open meeting that any horse running in the Paddy Power or the Greatwood would win at the Festival.

The price of 3/1 was a silly one as the bet would have been landed in two of the past three years – odds-on surely more accurate – and called for a decent wager and in fairness to Ladbrokes they did hold the price for much of the day and take the medicine for their error.

There was something poetic about the horse that landed the dough having essentially been lapped in the Greatwood but that was the selling point of the play; one simply had so many horses running for you at the meeting. These bookmaker specials are for the most part unviable for punters with the only special thing about them being they are especially quick to drain your bankroll and should be ignored in the main.

However, every once in a while a gem does pop up where the odds compiler has had a rush of blood to the head and not done his figures and so can be exploited; the biggest issue then is reacting quickly as the offered odds can be pulled quickly.

Punting at Cheltenham can be fraught with problems, not least the information overload that we are faced with about the runners, especially those in the feature races and we seem to know about every misstep, schooling sessions, racecourse gallop, breathing op and heaven knows what else in the run-up to the Festival.

To be honest, I don’t want to know any of this stuff and am reminded of one trainer’s comment – I think it was Edward O’Grady but am open to correction – that you would never back a horse if a trainer told you everything that went wrong with them at home. Much better to focus one’s attention on racecourse evidence rather than hearsay about events off the track; it is after all the crucible they will be tested in and action from there is much more meaningful.

Shutting off the constant drone of Cheltenham information is nigh on impossible before the meeting as one inevitably has a host of half-baked opinions about races before you have looked at them in real detail and I much prefer approaching a card fresh and without preconceived ideas. Should any reader have a solution to avoid this information, please feel free to comment at the bottom, but I’m not holding my breath.

This meeting may demand a somewhat different approach to exclude extraneous information but it is worth remembering that the Festival horses are still horses and have the same predilections as their fellows running at ordinary meetings; for instance, they are still prone to the bounce factor and tend to perform best off a recent run.

I would put forward those ideas as reasons for the defeats of Hurricane Fly and Grand Crus respectively, a pair of horses that failed to live up to their banker status, a mythical quality ascribed to some horses that seems to make them invincible until we discover, usually post-race, that Cheltenham tends to be much more competitive than to allow bankers free reign.

To these eyes at least Hurricane Fly bounced off a big first time out effort in the Irish Champion Hurdle, a run that surprised his trainer as he didn’t think he was that forward and that was right up with his very best runs in terms of ratings.  Yet because he was a supposed banker he couldn’t be beaten at Cheltenham.

Did Burton Port bounce?

Did Burton Port bounce?

The Racing Post ran a really interesting piece by James Pyman in the lead-up to the meeting about the possibility of Burton Port bouncing where the figures all suggested that it was a distinct possibility, an idea surprisingly supported by a number of industry insiders including vets and trainers who usually would have scant time for punting theories.

In the end, Burton Port probably didn’t bounce – he was a bit below his Newbury form in the Gold Cup though not much – but the significant aspect of the bounce theory is not so much that a horse is sure to regress after a big run off a break but rather that the chances of that happening are underestimated by the market.

This is where the bounce and recency bias (a thinking bias that privileges the short-term over the long-term) intertwine: if a horse puts up a big effort last time it is invariably factored into its price on its next start but it should be much less so if that run came off the back of a break.

And so to Grand Crus who for me could have done with a run in between his Feltham win and RSA disappointment. Yes, I realise he has scoped badly since and is probably better on softer ground than prevailed on the Wednesday but either way he is just the sort of horse I love to oppose in any race, a horse coming back off a break.

There are some horses that are best fresh but on the whole horses run best off a recent run and as a rule I want to be against any horse coming off a break and all the more if they are a short price. These mini-breaks in season are often the product of some sort of training setback and if Grand Crus was really in peak-form in January and February, there were plenty of suitable targets for him to get a prep run in for the Festival.

He didn’t and that was probably his downfall though it must be said it didn’t help me back the winner of the race; I couldn’t have Bobs Worth on my mind after how he’d jumped at Ascot and ended up backing Lambro and Cannington Brook so the less said there the better.

Even so, being against horses coming off a break mid-season is a good stance to take, particularly at the lower levels where I do much of my punting, as they win a lot less often than they should and we might try not to forget it when playing in better races too.

- Tony Keenan

Editor's note: Do leave a comment and say hello to Tony. Like me, he loves feedback, so if you've any thoughts on issues related to betting you'd like covered, feel free to share them in the comments section below. Or just say hi! Thanks. 🙂

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23 replies
  1. Matt Bisogno
    Matt Bisogno says:

    Great start Tony. Really looking forward to you getting into the theories, starting perhaps with a few more thoughts on the opportunity presented by opposing recency bias. 🙂


    • andrew mcgahey
      andrew mcgahey says:

      enjoyed your post tony have to agree on the cheltenham information overload not to get bogged down with theories ie cinders and ashes is only acts on soft not firm doh

  2. Mal Boyle
    Mal Boyle says:

    Welcome Tony….Hope you have as much enjoyment writing for Matt as I have during the last nine months.

    My father was a Waterford man (never knew him) and we took our first visit to Ireland last year, taking in Tipperary racecourse in the process.

    I have never walked on such lush grass anywhere in the world, whilst the drive past The Curragh on the way to Dublin was a sight for sore eyes.

    The Guinness wasn’t bad either!

    Enjoy the craic at Punchestown in a few weeks time.


  3. Danny
    Danny says:

    Hi Tony, I enjoyed the article and what you say makes sense about the ‘bounce’ and ‘recency bias’ but, as i don’t know anything about these things, what constitutes a ‘mini-break’?
    I might guess a normal gap between races is, say, 3 weeks and maybe anything over 6 weeks a mini-break (leaving aside winning horses racing again quickly to beat the handicapper)?

  4. mbowen
    mbowen says:

    Not sure what I have read here, apart from the 3/1 bit at the beginning, obviously an insinder’s ” shrewdie ” paragraph but being a long way ( physically ) from sharing mathmatical sharpies I can’t find much else, not the faintest sign of an amusing happening. Anyway it must get better judging by your persaverance, well off to work, good luck. Martyn

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      A little bit harsh, Martyn, perhaps. Seems others found utility in it at least. In any case, do reserve judgment as Tony is of course just finding his feet here. Rest assured, I’m not easily pleased when it comes to writers, and Tony is one of the best I’ve seen in the racing space.


  5. Vince Murphy
    Vince Murphy says:

    Great deb-utt (as the mighty Fred Trueman used to pronounce the word) Tony. We clearly think similarly as a lot of your Cheltenham selections mirrored my own! The break theory is an interesting one and as you (or Edward O’Grady) say, we often dont really get to hear the real reasons for the break and perhaps sometimes its better not to. The interesting fact is the stats on those horses reappearing after a break and then the stats around their follow up runs. I will be looking closely at your theory over the next 12 months as I am sure there is a lot in it.

    Looking forward to more thought provoking stuff from you on this excellent website/blog or whatever the correct modern term is for this communication!!)


  6. Karl
    Karl says:

    Welcome Tony.
    I have been a regular reader of your Irish Racing Trends blog, and many thanks for flagging up past winners. Sorry to hear you had a bad Cheltenham. I for one never back horses at the festival below 5/1, as there is always a decent each way bet to be had. Here’s hoping to better times in the future.

  7. Peter Colledge
    Peter Colledge says:

    Every maiden speech deserves a break…some harsh comment here. I agree with off-track comment being at best irrelevant and at worst counter productive betting wise. Tony’s remarks are apposite and perceptive; I do not understand the criticism.

  8. Jack Sullivan
    Jack Sullivan says:

    Hear, Hear Peter

    Welcome Tony – i,for one, look forward to more post of a similar vein in the very near future

    Having also been a regular reader of your Irish Racing Trends blog for a while i can echo Matts opinion as to the quality of the script.

    Of course, the “Martyns” of this world are entitled to their opinion….!

  9. Kate Austin
    Kate Austin says:

    Enjoyed reading this Tony. Thx. My ‘punting’ low was, going to Jackdaws Friday morning & meeting Sonnyhillboy & Alfie Sherrin but, not backing Synch! I mean -doh!! AP had said at the PP preview the week b4 that if he was in touch-ish near the last nothing wld be coming up the hill with more strength!

  10. john doland
    john doland says:

    Liked the article Tony a really enjoyable read.The only suggestion I
    can make to miss all the pre Cheltenham hype is to go and stay at a
    monastery from Xmas till Champion Hurdle day.Joking apart I look forward to more of your blogs.

  11. dave b.
    dave b. says:

    Some enlightening remarks especially about the BOUNCE FACTOR which I have never really understood.Plenty of correspondents often refer to it but they never explain it and they probably say it for an excuse for their wrong form assessments without understanding it themselves.The remark about not taking any notice of what trainers say is I believe totally wrong.Who else knows the horses better, the trouble is that they don’t know how good the opposition is.I do quite well reading what certain trainers and some correspondents say or write and don’t need any paid tipsters feeding me false information that is just their own fancies.

  12. mbowen
    mbowen says:

    Sorry to perpaps have, put backs up but I’m looking to be informed in an entertaining way. Racing, I think is a professional activity for a few and fun( maybe ) for the rest, like life indeed should be. I didn’t know that I was to be considered amongst ” the Martyns” of this world for holding a non- sycophantic point of view. Of course I will stay with it because I’m sure that “value ” will be extracted at some point, I even read the Watchtower ( skip over it). Good luck ( and fun, of course in this enormous cosmos ) Martyn

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Martyn.

      I think your opinion was entirely reasonable, and I’m happy to publish contrary opinions as well. All are welcome as long as there is rationale as well as rant! (which, of course, there was in your initial comment)


  13. Billy
    Billy says:

    The bounce theory is very interesting. I have heard of it but know it only in the vaguest terms. Maybe a more in depth article about it? Would be particularly interesting any trainer and/or track trends in this area!
    Nice article Tony; looking forward to your future posts

  14. Kevin Jackson
    Kevin Jackson says:

    An enjoyable article which highlights the differences in thinking that prevail between punters. I actually look for horses who do well after big breaks as they have produced good profits for me over the years. However, i have to accept that this just doesn’t seem to hold up at Cheltenham generally.

    I was convinced Peddlers Cross was a banker because he had had a break. His only previous losses were when racing with less than six weeks rest between races. But I didn’t factor in the possibility of him still suffering from the back injury he sustained at Kempton.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Also the possibility that Peddlers Cross is not nearly as good a chaser as he is a hurdler…

  15. mbowen
    mbowen says:

    Fine Matt, I see my spelling is getting worse, not sure if this is due to what’s on the outside of my head i.e ( glasses ) or what’s inside ( now, that would be a problem ). I didn’t think that I was being so acerbic as I was once titled ( no, and I haven’t forgotten ). No, and not to be misunderstood I believe too, in being open to all opinions sub/objective and look forward to reading more, thanks. Good luck, Martyn

  16. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Tony,

    Welcome along and thanks for a good article, look forward to more in the future. I’d certainly be interest to hear your thoughts about what we learned from the Festival this year, and what might it mean for some of the horses that under, over or non -performed this year, especially
    – Bog Warrior, Al Ferof, Grandouet, Voler laV, Our Girl Salley, Last installement, Rubi Light, Baby Mix, Mount Benulben, Wierd Al, Maganimity.

    There are some names there that were beacons of potential in the months leading up to the Festival – are they to keep in view or were they over-rated?

    All the best.

  17. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    A captivating and informative piece by a charismatic and precise gentleman to say the least.
    Lets have more Tony.

    All The Best

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