It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks (to butcher and paraphrase Dickens' introduction to A Tale of Two Cities). That was last week at Royal Ascot.
Dickens went on, and he could not have been more apt had he been clairvoyant and foreseen Royal Ascot 2011:
"it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
Such wisdom before the event looked merely foolish after; so much belief was regurgitated as incredulity; light rapidly became darkness (with the only light left being the weight of my wallet); hope sprung into desperation; all that was before us disintegrated into nothing much at all; and my seat at the top table looked more akin to a chair with a power socket on its side and 50,000 volts about to be applied.
Annoyance. Frustration. Bewilderment.
These are just some of the emotions with which I greeted last week's festival of brilliant racing and hopeless punting. To add insult to injury, the only day I didn't bet was the day I found winners at 16/1 and 12/1.
Here are some of the numbers from my own personal record book (and records were set for me personally last week, all of them unwanted ones).
- There were just shy of 16 runners per race, on average, and winners won at odds of around 7.75/1 on average.
- Favourites returned a level stakes loss of around 7.5 points
- My selections returned a level stakes loss of 12.5 points
- The selections I bet returned a level stakes loss of 26.5 points (there were only 30 races!)
- I lost a(n un)healthy four figure sum, my worst week betting in 25 years
So what were the lessons to take from this week, if any?
Lesson #1: Check the time of the first race each day and do your own maths on the probable going.
Day 1: Good, Good to Soft in places (times indicate it was at least Good, Good to Firm in places)
Day 2: Good (probably)
Day 3: Good to Soft, Soft in places (jockeys reported that to be fair in the home straight, but that it was borderline heavy on the round course!)
Day 4: Soft (almost certainly heavy in parts of the round course)
Day 5: Soft (very, very, very soft!)
Having done a lot of my own legwork in advance of the racing, I was unable to respond to the times as I ought to have, and this is a real lesson for me when the weather is changeable.
Lesson #2: Draw biases are more confusing than helpful.
The first thing many people do when faced with a field of 25+ runners is try to make things simpler by implying a draw bias. Certainly, that's one of the first things I do.
This is rendered more complicated when the bias - if there even is one - changes based on the going conditions, which is also need to be inferred based on race times because of the difficulties of believing 'official' going descriptions.
And then of course there is the reversal of the draw numbers. What used to be a high bias has now become a low bias because all stall numbering has been standardised from the start of this season.
If you knew that already, good. If you knew that and remembered to apply it to your calculations, well done. If you knew that already, applied it to your calculations, and factored in the imact of the going, congratulations.
And if you knew all of the above, and applied it, and actually saw events transpire in the manner you expected, go to the top of the class.
I remain bewildered by the impact of the draw, and don't believe it is a reliable yardstick unless ground conditions are constant throughout the week, and across the full area of the course. This was obviously not the case last week.
Lesson #3: Trying to pick a winner in every race at Royal Ascot is the worst kind of folly.
On a normal Saturday, I would rarely touch a twenty-plus runner flat handicap with a bargepole, still less if it was a sprint handicap. So why then would I decide that wagering every race (on the four of the five days that I bet) was a prudent strategy at five days worth of ultra-Saturday competitiveness?
Folly is a polite word to describe it. Candy from a baby is an apt description of my relationship with my bookmakers last week. And, because of the very public nature of much of my big meeting betting, it was also extremely embarrassing.
Not that I did any better in the Group races...
Lesson #4: Flat racing is harder than jumps racing; Ascot is harder than Goodwood (or any other meeting).
Not just this year, but most years, the toughest race meeting of the year from a punting perspective is Royal Ascot.
It's not just the quantity of participants. It's also the quality of them, in depth. And the varying nature of the course (round mile, straight mile; far better drainage on the straight course than the round; unfathomable draw implications). And the international imponderables.
For, I think, four of the last five years, I've been away somewhere during Royal Ascot week, and I'd forgotten just how bloody difficult it is to win from betting at the meeting. I will almost certainly book a week away somewhere this time next year!
Lesson #5: If there is ever a race meeting to attend and savour the atmosphere whilst betting small 'fun stakes' only, this is it!
I had a great day at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. Really good fun. Top class racing. Easy on the eye in every way. And, with around half the number of people there on the first day than on Saturday (43,000 compared to 76,000), it was possible to get a bet on, get a jug of Pimm's in, 'make some space', and so on.
The royal element, and the commensurate pageantry, is something to enjoy and be proud of. (They try to do this sort of stuff elsewhere in the world and it rarely works - I'm not a royalist especially, nor am I anti-royals, but I do love the heritage and tradition of it all).
But keep most of your money in your wallet for a race at Chepstow where you really fancy one!
If you managed to get out in front on the week, take a bow, son (as a certain disgraced former commentator, and current betting exchange 'ambassador', would say).
For the rest of us, it's time to regroup, acknowledge our very human failings (addressed predominantly to myself), and move on. Today is another day... thank the deity of your choice for that!
Now then, it's not just any other day. It's the first day of Wimbledon's marvellous tennis extravaganza. All the latest men's singles Wimbledon betting can be found on the geegeez odds site here.
And the betting is interesting this year, with it looking like a genuine three horse race (or four if you actually believe Andy Murray can win).
Federer has won six of the last eight, Nadal the other two. Federer is a best priced 23/10 (just over 9/4) with titanbet, 9/4 with Betfred, and much shorter (2/1 or less) with the rest of the bookies.
Nadal can be supported at 51/20 with titanbet, which is a standout price. Coral and William Hill are 5/2, and everyone else goes a fair bit shorter (generally 9/4).
But the chap I like is Novak Djokovic, who is in the best form of his career, and has plenty of grass court pedigree (twice a semi-finalist, including last year).
Djoko's moved up to #2 in the world, and he's a best priced 4/1 with Hills and Ladbrokes. He should have too much for decent grass court players in Baghdatis, Troicki and Soderling in his quarter, and then he's going to face down that man, Federer.
Fed is obviously 'the man' at Wimbledon, but there are reasons to believe he's on his way down now, and Djoko is very much a star in the ascendancy. You can bet Djokovic each way and get 2/1 on the place if he makes the final. That looks the best play to my eye here.
William Hill are a standout 7/1 on Andy Murray, and I'm afraid I simply cannot see him beating Nadal, which means he can't make the final, which means he's no each way value. Of course, if you disagree, then you'll be availing yourself of their generous offer.
Further down the lists, Gael Monfils is a 350/1 shot with Victor Chandler. He's in Murray's quarter, and made the fourth round in both 2008 and 2009, before progressing to the quarter finals last year. He's another improving player (seeded #9) and, whilst he probably won't win, he could 'go deep' and present a decent trading opportunity.
After last week in Berkshire, I'm ready for a spot of tennis (weather permitting)!
p.s. leave a comment and let us know how you got on last week. Did you win? (Really?!) Horses to follow? Performances of merit? Fancies in the tennis? Share your insights with the rest of us. 🙂