The Punting Confessional

Punting Confessional: Away from the limelight…

Away from the limelight...

Away from the limelight...

The Punting Confessional – May 8th, 2013

Looking at trainers over the past two weeks, I focussed mainly on the bigger yards and how they carry out their operations; let’s now turn our attentions to the less known yards.

One punting angle that stands the test of time is grabbing onto the coattails of a trainer on the up whose prowess is as yet not reflected by the market. Racing is the sort of sport where hope is always in plentiful supply and many a young man or woman who knows how to put a horse’s head through a bridle will harbour dreams of training a big winner or even a winner at all.

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There are always new trainers coming on the scene, some of whom will make the grade, most of who won’t.Why some succeed and others fail is a question as old as man but suffice to say we all know successes and failures (and everything in between) in other walks of life.

Yet punters are creatures of habit, often reluctant to part with their hard-earned on an unfamiliar name on a racecard or in a newspaper, preferring the comfort of the recognisable. Breaking this habit is a way to profit and finding a trainer that does well with limited sources can provide an edge on the market; while such trainers may lack the experience to handle a really top-class horse well, a point I alluded to in last week’s piece and in reality the chances of them getting a talented type without big-spending owners is slim, they tend to get the best out of middle-of-the-road horses in need of individual attention where the same sort of animal would be lost in the ruck of a bigger yard.

In Ireland at present a few names stand out in this regard. Andy Oliver is becoming quite well-known at this point so the edge may be going off his runners but the fact that he trains away from the main training centres in Co. Tyrone means the dogs aren’t barking about his horses and he does well across a number of categories, winning a few notable pattern juvenile races in 2012 and achieving success with cheap buys, both unraced horses and ones that have been in training.

Damian English has only been training since 2011 but things have really taken off in the last 12 months with the improvement of the seemingly limited Cash Or Casualty (gone up 24lbs since this time last year) the standout in his career; his All Ablaze is a 3yo to watch this year over five furlongs. At an even lower level, Miss Claire Simpson seems to know what to do with very limited resources; she had Enigma Code for one race this winter and it won while she even knocked a flat win out of the 10yo Head Waiter at Leopardstown last month.

The antithesis of the trainer on the up is the handler that is dining out on past glories, the old boy who is living on a reputation and just isn’t getting the horses he used to. Oftentimes however, this reality is not reflected by the market. Racing is a sport that is fluid and transient and in many cases you are only as good as your last season and punters should be ruthless in selecting their bets and avoid yards that have gone cold despite the winners they may have provided in the past. As to why they have gone bad, ours is not to reason why; there is an endless list of possible reasons from personal issues to owners moving on to getting the virus to losing a key member of staff.

Arthur Moore is probably the best example of this in Ireland, the esteem which is held in not being reflected in his strike-rate. Be careful however not to consign a trainer to the scrap-heap on a whim and I think some have done this with Kevin Prendergast on the flat this season especially in light of Declan McDonogh leaving the yard to join John Oxx; Prendergast is still capable and his runners seems a bit underestimated this year albeit that they’re not winning the number of races they have in the past.

There is of course a cohort of trainers that have never been any good at their job and are worthy of being viewed as an instant downgrade to a horse’s chance, low percentage trainers that make mistakes over and over again. Whether it is putting a horse in a race that it can’t win, consistently running horses on the wrong ground and/or trip, being unable to keep a horse in form for anything more than a couple of races, if there are errors to be made, they will find a way of making them and they will keep making them. You need a pretty good reason or a pretty good price to back horses from such yards.

At the moment, I’d include the likes of Tom Hogan, Tom McCourt and Philip Rothwell on my negative list but these can change – Tom Mullins (the name Tom seems to be a problem for whatever reason) has improved markedly in recent years, having a winner at the last two Cheltenham Festivals – and it’s worth repeating that anyone can train a limited horse but you need a little more juice in the price when backing one from a bad yard and they’re probably worth opposing when a short price. It’s also worth paraphrasing a point from Davidowitz’s book again here; bad trainers tend to be bad punters too so money for one of their runners can lead to the other horses in the race becoming value.

Do not make the mistake however of thinking that all low-percentage trainers are bad trainers as some do well in certain circumstances. Many would say Harry Rogers and Jim Gorman are poor trainers and perhaps the numbers support this but over the years I have made money backing their horses because they tend to be disrespected by the market; for whatever reason, they tend not to be backed. With middle-of-the-road handicappers, both are competent, something the market doesn’t reflect.

Finally, a word on a relatively new phenomenon, stable switches. This seems to be happening a lot more frequently than in the past with the most glaring example being the improvement of runners from other stables when moved to Willie Mullins. Owners are becoming wise to this and how it can turn a horse’s career around but I still think they don’t do it anywhere near often enough; loyalty and personal attachment to yard holds too much sway and if you think about it, you wouldn’t keep returning to a mechanic if he kept messing up your car, so why would you do the same with your horse and a trainer?

When a horse moves yards, it’s worth keeping a very open mind as sometimes they become a totally different animal, as seen in Paul Nicholls’ handling of Tidal Bay, who went from being a jade with Howard Johnson to returning to his high-class form both over hurdles and fences. Sometimes, the oddsmakers place too much emphasis on what went on prior to the switch, information that can become redundant following the move.

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