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The Punting Confessional: More myth-busting.

More Myth Busting

More Myth Busting

Today sees the third and final instalment of Tony Keenan's efforts to dispel some of the myths surrounding racing as he sets about debunking another five falsedoms in...

...The Punting Confessional – February 20th, 2013

Let’s conclude this mini-series with a few more clichés, starting with:

‘It suited to be up with the pace on that day.’

While there are a few tracks that may have pace biases – I’m thinking of the round tracks at the Curragh and Tipperary – in the main this sort of view is a ‘wise guy’ (and by ‘wise guy’ I mean trying to be too smart) call borne of American influences that would be best ignored in Europe.

There have been many great books written on the idea of track biases in the US but such concepts apply mainly to dirt racing and not to turf and possibly not even to all-weather racing here as it is run on polytrack or fibresand.

The important factor in racing in these islands is pace within the race, early, middle and late, not any inherent bias on the surface or course itself; a soft lead or early pace battle is a soft lead or early pace battler anywhere.

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‘The owners are a lovely bunch of lads.’

This has nothing to do with betting but is irksome nonetheless and is beloved of the likes of Ted Walsh on RTE Racing who seems to describe every winning set of connections as a great group even if he doesn’t know them. Let’s face it; they can’t all be ‘lovely’, some are bound to be sociopathic.

By the expensive nature of exercise, racehorse owners generally have to be quite if not very wealthy and while income is hardly a barometer of character there are bound to be some well-off people where the septic tank theory applies, i.e. the biggest lumps rise to the top.

We are constantly reminded of temperamental owners falling out with trainers and jockeys over poor rides or placing or other issues and horses being moved as a result. It often seems to be over very little though it must be said that trainers and jockeys are hardly whiter than white.

I suppose it boils down to placing racing in a positive light and getting others involved but the sport certainly isn’t all one happy family.

 

‘This price is value.’

The idea of value, popularised by the Pricewise columns of Coton, Collier and Segal, has made its way into racing idiom and is all too often thrown out there by a pundit because he fancies one at a big price; the conflation of value with longer odds is erroneous, what it really refers to is when a price is wrong, its true odds not reflected in current odds, and can occur at shorter prices too.

When the value comment is reeled off I want to know what the price should be and the argument behind it; if one horse is value, then something else must be underpriced but in the rose-tinted world of the racing media this negative opinion is rarely voiced for fear of offending connections and biting the hand that feeds. In the media, this may be a sensible approach but in betting having a negative view is vital as a bad favourite can lead to value everywhere.

The reasons a horse could be value are manifold and boil down to calling why the market is erring: it could have false or clouded form, its trainer may be underrated, it may be facing a hype horse, better than the bare form last time, the pace may suit well now. The commentator having a knowledge of betting percentages would be a help; that said, one shouldn’t be a slave to percentages as you have to fancy the horse in and of itself and not just because there are a few points out of a hundred in your favour.

 

‘He silenced the doubters.’

Paul Nicholls, with his sometimes adversarial (though admirably open in media matters) personality, has a lot to answer for. He has gotten a lot of mileage out of this phrase, especially when he has managed one of his trademark resurrection in form for one of his older stars like Kauto Star or Denman but it suggests a misunderstanding that racing involves betting; it is, after all, the doubt that makes the odds and a doubtful attitude to horses (and what trainers and jockeys say about them in particular) should be nurtured rather than scorned.

Throughout my betting life, I have made money from being against short priced horses, I am by definition one of the doubters. I slag off and question ‘public horses’ (those with big reputations) the whole time and while I get plenty of them wrong – notably the likes of Frankel and Sprinter Sacre – the fact is that you need to be right an awful lot of the time when playing at those odds, such runners much more often underpriced than overpriced.

They may not get beaten often but when an odds-on shot is turned over, you are getting a price and it pays to play the long game in this regard; most punters can’t countenance defeat for such horses but those than can, profit.

 

‘The yard knows the time of day.’

The shrewd connections argument is often based in punters’ love of a stroke and the likes of Barney Curley, Charles Byrnes et al have a whiff of sulphur off them that is both adored and detested. It would perhaps be better for racing if they were not around and we had a more trustworthy formbook but they are so we have to find a way to address them.

I am against any sort of insider nonsense and by that I mean any idea that there’s a golden circle that knows what’s going on more than others and as a general rule I want to be against gambling yards (though all yards are gambling to some extent or other) as they tend to operate a low percentages and short prices. You’re far better to be with yards whose runners tend not to be punted; the prices tend to offer better value and it is much easier to get on.

The Punting Confessional: Exploding more clichés.

Exploding More Clichés

Exploding More Clichés

In last week's Punting Confessional, Tony Keenan began to explain why much of what we hear about racing from (usually) self-appointed "experts" should be taken with a pinch (or two) of salt. He expands on that topic this week, as he sets about exploding some more common clichés often heard around the race courses in...

...The Punting Confessional – February 13th 2013

In his collection of essays and reviews from 2001, The War Against Cliché, novelist Martin Amis wrote that ‘all writing is a war against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.’ He was referring to literary pursuits but could so easily have been writing about racing, an area that is jam-packed with clichés. Let’s explode a few more of them, starting with that old chestnut...

"He’s due a win."

Probability has no memory and each race needs to be taken on an individual basis so the idea that a horse is in line for a win, by dint of its form figures, is fallacious. Figures of ‘322’ may suggest success is imminent but what matters is not the figure itself but the context it was achieved in; a ‘2’ that was achieved in a low-class race may not be as valuable as a ‘6’ in a better race and the former is more likely to be overrated by the market while the latter may slip under the radar.

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Similarly a ‘6’ achieved  when cutting out a fast pace and just fading inside the final 100 yards could be more meritorious than a ‘2’ that came from a closer in the same race that was run to suit hold-up types.

Often horses that are running well in handicaps are less likely to win rather than more so; because their marks are rising they are becoming less well-treated. Runners that constantly hit the frame without winning, poor win/run ratio types, can also be ungenuine and in the main it pays to go with horses that are serial winners rather than serial losers. Also, it goes without saying that those that run well in defeat tend to be short prices on their subsequent start.

Runners that are "due a win" should not be confused with horses working up to something, say one that is gradually coming back to form, perhaps off a break, and who may be able to take advantage of a dropping mark. Such horses are often undervalued as their form is clouded; the combination of a slipping mark, more than typical improvement from run-to-run and a likely value price making them always of interest.

"Anything he does over hurdles is a bonus."

A cliché beloved of the racing fans I wrote about on these pages in September (seen here) and October (here) of last year, it is one of the ways to the betting poorhouse. Trainers and jockeys certainly have a lot to answer for in this regard, often filling the racing pages with comments about how they cannot wait for a certain bumper horse or novice hurdler to go over fences such is the scope they possess.

And certainly there are times when these horses make up into top chasers but they’re just the type to be underpriced when they do run and in fact the horses punters really want to be with in novice chases are the opposite, those limited hurdlers that have improved for the bigger obstacles and who are underrated by the market that places too much emphasis on their hurdling form.

Generally, it takes the market a number of starts to cotton onto this improvement, the same market that overvalues classy hurdlers that have not taken to fences and keeps them short prices.

All too often, punters and racing generally live in the future, focusing on big races and targets in the future. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this as it does help build excitement for the big days but in life it’s probably best to live in the now and that’s true of punting too. Rather than looking ahead to a big race at Cheltenham we should seek to get an edge this week in the lesser races that are far less likely to be analysed to a point where any value has been squeezed out of the prices.

None of this is to say that we can’t take a long view and such an approach doesn’t pay off, but perhaps we do it too much.

A development on this idea is that of trading a race, backing a horse in the hope that it will shorten up because of a good run in a trial race before laying back to guarantee a profit. I just don’t get this; why not just back it for the first race and not tie your money up? The price may be not quite so generous but if it is offering value in the ante-post race it is likely to be the same for the prep race and if it’s going to shorten up for its ultimate target it’s nearly going to have to win its trial.

"The weight beat him."

Even the best are referring to this one, Willie Mullins using a variation on the theme when referring to his recent Boylesports Hurdle winner Abbey Lane as having a ‘lovely racing weight’ and it becomes a particular touchstone in marathon handicap chases or on soft ground where poundage is thought to have a greater effect.

Looking at this logically, it just doesn’t make sense; we’re talking about a half-ton plus of horseflesh carrying a maximum weight differential of 28lbs (more allowing for claimers) so how can a few pounds one way or another make any real difference?

What matters is not the weight but the mark as it dictates the class of race a horse can compete in; generally, it’s better to carry lots of weight against inferior opposition that having a feather burden against classier types. For me, class is a key concern whereas weight simply isn’t and punters would be advised to keep an eye on the class structure at play in their racing jurisdiction; in Ireland, the difference between competing in a 0-65 bottom grade handicap and a 0-80 can be monumental.

One offshoot of this is that classy horses at the top of the handicap are often underbet, the assumption being that they have too much weight. Preference is given to those at the lower end of the handicap by the market but there is certainly value in looking to the proven ones with plenty of weight, Tidal Bay in last year’s Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown (run on atrocious ground, incidentally) being a good example of where class won out.