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.
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:
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!