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.
‘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.