The Punting Confessional: A Galway Review

A Galway Review

A Galway Review

The Punting Confessional – Thursday, August 8th 2013

After five losing days out of six, I drew stumps on Galway before Sunday’s all jumps card and if I’m being honest I called just one race at the meeting meaningfully right, the mile and a half premier handicap on Friday in which my main play Curley Bill just held on from my saver and place bet Bayan.

Clearly I got plenty wrong over the week, notably backing Trikala ahead of Hidden Oasis when keen to oppose the favourite Backdrop in the opening maiden on Friday and only having a token bet on Dark Crusader at a massive price in the 3yo handicap on Monday despite her being an impressive last time out winner for an in-form yard.

There are always lessons to be learned from such events however and let’s survey the car wreckage to see where the damage was done.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Though it is not easy at the time, the sensible punter has to allow for the fact that a bad period of losses can often be the result of randomness; if you are backing horses away from the front end of the market – as I prefer to do – long losing runs are inevitable and simply a consequence of your approach.

During a Festival week, when there is a sharp concentration of racing and strong opinions are often held, a losing streak could be more likely as there is simply more betting going on. There is little point feeling gutted about this but equally this should not be taken as carte blanche to continue punting foolishly; there is a time for self-examination but rarely is it the time itself.

In gambling, it is very easy to get things wrong, even calling a race right does not mean one gets paid, as I mentioned above in the Backdrop race. With this, it is also worth noting what one is doing right and I certainly backed a lot of horses that the early market called wrong at Galway, Usa at 11/1 (SP 6/1), Quinine at 8/1 (SP 9/2), Elegant Statesman at 9/2 (SP 9/4), Cairdiuil at 12/1 (SP 13/2) amongst others.

None of that quartet won and most never came close but if you’re backing horses at odds well in advance of starting price you have to be doing something right; as my whole approach is based on backing horses at bigger odds than their true value, one expects to see money come for them at some point as the market corrects itself.
Despite rain that was biblical at times, notably on Ladies’ Day, form held up well at Galway; at one point in the meeting, 12 of the last 16 favourites had won between Tuesday and Thursday. Of course, you then have the hacks saying that the professionals must be winning which is a misnomer, if anything it means that the mugs are winning.

Too many punters revert to the security blanket of the favourite when things are going against them; I have a couple of friends that like a punt without being seriously into it and if they chance upon a decent price winner for a fair return they don’t see that this is the best way to approach the game and instead return to backing short prices, their approach neatly summed up as: high strike rate, low returns, plenty of shouting, no real profit.

There is no meeting I dislike punting more than a card where I fancy a number of favourites as it means that I have to get a lot right and the upside is small due to the odds. I much prefer heading into a card with a few fancies at bigger prices and profit if even one of them clicks.
Many of these ideas about favourites apply to the Dermot Weld horses at the meeting as you simply need to get an awful lot right with his horses if backing them over the seven days. The SPs of his eleven winners were 9/10, 11/8, 2/5, 11/8, 1/5, evens, 11/4 twice, 8/15, 6/1 and evens again. At those sorts of prices, one would need to be an ultra-selective genius to make him pay at Galway; if you detect some bitterness in my tone you’re probably right as I backed him to have ten or fewer winners at 7/4!

I do struggle to call Weld’s horses at the meeting as it is often not the runners with standout form claims that win; the three of his horses that I backed over the week – Pay Day Kitten, Tandem and Stuccodor – all came to the track with form that was working out yet none made an impact.

Sour grapes aside, the almost saintly status accorded to Weld at the meeting is over-the-top; yes, it is admirable that he manages to peak his inmates for one week of the year and that he extracts wins out of bad horses in a competitive scene and seems to know what horses will handle the unusual track well but one also needs to note that most of the maidens at the meeting are handed to him on a plate with many of the other big yards sending out second-graders to make up the field if even taking their chance at all.
One pleasing trend to emerge from the meeting was the sight of other trainers getting in on the act, notably Tony Martin but also Ger Lyons. Lyons opting to aim a few good horses at the meeting – he won the big mile handicap with Brendan Brackan and also ran Group 1 entry Sniper in a maiden – is particularly interesting as he had scorned Galway in the past but perhaps he now comes to view it as a good shop window for his yard and he would certainly have many horses that, in class terms at least, would fit the programme offered at Galway.

An opening up of the meeting to yards other than Rosewell House would certainly be good for the meeting as a whole as it would make it more competitive though the course executive could hardly care less on that front; as we saw from the crowd figures that came through the deluge to make racing on the Thursday, they will turn up regardless.

The Punting Confessional: The Galway Festival

The Galway Festival

The Galway Festival

The Punting Confessional – Monday, July 29th

Many have tried and failed to explain the appeal of the Galway Races to outsiders and many more will try in the next few days. The Irish love a party and quite like racing which just about explains the popularity of the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown, the Punchestown Festival, even the buzz on Irish Derby Day.

But turning out in numbers for quality racehorses is not something we necessarily do as we saw in the relatively poor attendance for Sea The Stars’ sole run as a three-year-old on home soil at Leopardstown and he was one of our own.

Yet at Galway this week we’ll be breaking down the gates to get in to look at horses that struggle to crack a rating of 100 on the flat. So what explains it? Well, firstly there’s the tradition and timing, harking back to the first week in August being the set time for holidays, farmers getting a break between the two cuts of silage and even Gaelic games taking pause.

That’s hardly the way now however as the GAA has one of its biggest weekends of the year over the August Bank Holiday and many of our farmers are now doing pilates and yoga or laying the favourite on Betfair.

Galway of course is the great party city of Ireland – try it if you don’t believe me – and that plays its part and of course so does the drinking; just look at the number of races over the week that are sponsored by drinks companies and hostelries while Galway is just about the only track in the country where you can always get a drink in seconds, no matter the crowd.

Some of the figures quoted by the pubs around the city as to the number of bottles quaffed over the seven days beggar belief; pounds of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon it isn’t.

All this however is wandering off the point, as what we’re really interested in is the meeting from a punting perspective; how is it possible to make the week-long puntathon pay?

Your first 30 days for just £1

First, however, we’ll get the drinking and pacing yourself out of the way. Let’s be clear, only the most hardened teetotaller can go to Galway and not have a drink; it’s akin to going to hairdresser and not getting a haircut. I’m not going to preach about the perils and pleasures of drinking as plenty of other websites do a much better job but we all know that drinking and gambling don’t mix as it can make punters more reckless.

With the idea that you’re going to do at least a bit of socialising over the week, it makes sense to go through the big races in the days before the start of the meeting as the entries are already out. One should also get a sense of the entries in the other races too and know where your horses to follow are down to run. If you’re picking out the right sort of horse anyway – i.e. ones that are underrated by the market and will offer value – you may be able to get away with a bit less study than usual.

Oh and as for anyone who’s planning on doing seven days racing and seven night drinking; nice idea, but it’s next to impossible.

The ground at this year’s meeting – officially on the soft side at the start of the meeting – could make things very interesting. We’ve had lots of fast ground this summer and the form has been holding up well but with the going already on the slow side and plenty more rain forecast, it’s likely to be different terrain at Ballybrit.

This however should be viewed as an opportunity as much as a change as it offers the chance to back some decent priced winners back on their favoured ground. I don’t think going back to last summer’s form is quite necessary however as there was so much soft ground that most of the mud larks got their wins and those races were invariably run at such as slow pace to make the form redundant.

With the big national hunt handicaps, the Plate and the Hurdle, as a rule it is best to give preference to winter form as it is simply contested by a better class of jumper; this is something that is not so important when dealing with lower grade jumps handicaps where the recent is king. With the Plate and Hurdle being so valuable now it makes sense to keep a good national hunt horse back for it and most trainers opt against running their horses in summer jumps races, preferring instead to prep them on the flat (often in staying maidens) if at all.

As such, Galway trials, particularly those for the Plate run at Down Royal, Limerick and Tipperary, are pretty meaningless with many of the horses contesting them not high enough in the weights to get into the main race. All this said, the market is getting pretty wise to this and perhaps the real contrarian approach is the back the summer form at bigger prices.

In-running action at Galway is always interesting and there was a fine piece in the Racing Post last week in which Pat Smullen and Barry Geraghty discussed how best to ride the track. Both talked about the perils of going too soon around Ballybrit which is oft-underrated error as punters seem more drawn to horses being given too much to do whereas in many of those cases hold-up horses are simply hostages to pace and it’s never easy to change a horse’s run-style anyway for those who say they should have made their own pace.

A more cardinal sin is committing too early and you’ll see plenty of that over the week with jockeys making their move coming down the hill about four furlongs from home which when you think about it is really mental; it’s like going on across the top at the Curragh or when leaving the back straight at Leopardstown.

Galway presents a good jumping test between the Easy-Fix obstacles on the hurdles track and the two fences in the dip on the chase course; the chase course would be slightly more galloping than the tighter hurdles and flat tracks. In the main, on good ground I’d like my horses to be close to the pace though that obviously depends on how fast they’re going and a low draw is certainly a help in that regard.

Over the week, you’ll like see plenty of horses double-jobbing and running more than once; Shadow Eile won two of her three starts at the track last year while Pintura built on a second in the Galway Mile to win the big 7f handicap at the weekend. It’s no negative to see a horse running twice in the week, certainly not on the flat or over the shorter jumps trips anyway, and the ones that reappear tend to be those that have already run well and proven they handle the track.

Remember that these are lower class horses we’re dealing with and they can take racing well as they’re not running at Group race speed and owners and trainers are much too fond of cotton wool anyway; punters may be out on their feet by the end of the week but reappearing horses often aren’t.

I’m sick of making a prognosis about Dermot Weld at the meeting as he constantly proves me wrong and every year we have to listen to him talking down his chances at this time and saying that his team isn’t as good as previous years. There might be some truth in it this year however, particularly as his national hunt numbers are well down, but as ever he’ll be strong in maidens as unlike other trainers he tends to keep good horses back for the meeting.

I wouldn’t be in a rush to oppose him in such races but it’s a different story in handicaps which are my bread-and-butter.

In handicaps, I can rarely bring myself to back his horses as you’re often taking 3s about a horse that should be 8s on form and I can’t change my whole value-based punting modus operandi. It could be argued that they are value at the price as they keep winning but I find it hard to change for seven days of the year and will be hoping for a lean time for the Weld handicappers.

With Goodwood overlapping with Galway, it’s hard to keep on top of the racing there too but it could be worthwhile, especially with the Irish horses doing so well in Britain again this year. It’s certainly worth watching out for the raiders at the Sussex track and not just the obvious ones like Dawn Approach.

After the meeting, the first thing to do is rest but don’t forget to set the Sky Box to record the racing as there’ll be plenty of eye-catchers. Racing at Galway always has loads of trouble from traffic to horses getting trapped wide as well as jockeys going for their race too soon.

If we have soft ground, it might be worth noting those that haven’t handled it and similar thoughts apply to the track; it’s a unique venue and not all horses take to it so a bad run may not be as bad as it seems.


The Punting Confessional: Summer Punting

Summer Punting

Summer Punting

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, July 24th

We’re in the midst of the best period of weather in many a year, a heat-wave that stands in sharp contrast to the three wet summers prior to this one, and with such temperatures predicted to continue it’s probably worth pointing out a few angles for summer punting; some of these are simple down to the weather while others are more general.

The prevalence of fast ground is an obvious starting point.

At the moment one doesn’t even need to look at weather forecast to ascertain likely going conditions as it’s a generic good-to-firm across the board albeit heavily watered in some cases. Such ground is the natural habitat of flat racers, as the soft is for national hunt horses; the likes of Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and the York Ebor meeting just seem wrong run on a deep surface.

I suspect that fast ground is a more ‘honest’ surface for flat racing and I mean this in terms of pace; there may still be slowly-run races on it but a lot less so than in summer 2012 when seemingly every race was slowly-run as jockeys adjusted to a prolonged period of soft ground by riding their races slower and doing their best to ensure their mounts got home in the conditions.

Your first 30 days for just £1

That led to a host of strange results – I found last summer to be one of my worst periods punting in quite some time and wasn’t alone in this – as it was often a case not of which horse handled the ground best but rather which horse got away with it. In warm conditions then, pace can become a much more useful angle.

All that said, I wouldn’t say no to a blast of rain to shake things up for a few days and give the soft ground horses that have seemingly been out of form (and had their handicap marks drop) a chance of success, and often at big prices. This is vastly different to a prolonged period of deep ground that just plays with the form book and can provide a real edge; it is the very sort of change that is a punter’s friend.

A knock-on effect of fast ground is that some trainers’ horses thrive on it. I’ll return to why this might be with some of the lesser-known national hunt handlers anon but certainly there are a number of mid-level flat trainers that are flying at the moment, notably Ger Lyons, Eddie Lynam and Mick Halford, all of whom have their strings in top-form. It is no coincidence that these are the very trainers that succeed at Dundalk during the winter as their horses are conditioned for a fast surface and/or bred for it and indeed the sort of stock they have simply tends to be fast.

Lyons, for instance, does very well with juveniles who rarely race over further than a mile while Lynam’s record with sprinters is well-recognised through the exploits of Sole Power and the likes by now. Halford is a top trainer of handicappers but most of them seem best around seven furlongs and a mile and like the aforementioned pair he rarely seems to have good stayers, even middle-distance types. All are good yards to follow as they send out reliable horses and have readable methods.

One area where my punting fell down last year was in being distracted by an excellent summer of sport that comprised the Olympics and Euro 2012 and often losing money punting on them. This year’s sport hasn’t been as much of a distraction, mainly because I dislike rugby, golf and cricket and am lukewarm on tennis whereas athletics and football in its various shapes being more to my liking.

This year’s GAA championship has left me rather cold and I’ve taken only a passing interest though shamefully I must admit to being absent for Monaghan’s first Ulster title since 1988; I gave them no chance of beating Donegal so headed for the Curragh instead! But most of all, I’ve avoided having throwaway bets on the big sporting events which has certainly helped.

While I haven’t been mixing it up with punting across different sports, I have been playing a bit on the better summer jumps races as opposed to looking solely at the flat. I’ve been finding the bottom grade stuff on the level a turn-off as many of the runners in such races are inherently unreliable and concentrating instead on the middle-range and up on the flat and the better races over obstacles.

I’ve had some good results in the latter with Rawnaq at Bellewstown an example though the defeat of Supreme Doc at Limerick (traded 1.04 in the run) was hard to take and it is certainly useful to be following the national hunt form to some degree with an eye to the mixed cards at Galway.

The summer jumping scene has proved quite competitive with many races over-subscribed while the flat racing, away from the big meetings, has been lacking in numbers. Certainly there is less Willie Mullins domination over the summer as he tends to put his best horses away for June, July and August and indeed that is true for most of the big yards; the horses they tend to run are ones that struggled to compete over the winter.

This is not the case for the smaller trainers however as they often keep their best horses for the summer, as we saw with the likes of Rebel Fitz in the Galway Hurdle last year, and such runners often offer value in the face of horses from more high-profile yards.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that this is the time of the year when most normal people are taking their holidays and don’t forget to do the same; this is something I have been guilty of in the past, not wanting to miss a meeting at a time when they are coming thick and fast. Breaks can help rejuvenate and being just back from a good holiday I’m mad for some racing. Even mini-breaks, taking a day or two off a week, can help as some cards just look impenetrable.

The Punting Confessional: A Blinkered Attitude?

A Blinkered Attitude?

A Blinkered Attitude?

The Punting Confessional - Wednesday, July 3rd 2013

With Royal Ascot just gone and on a lesser scale in Ireland the Derby last weekend and Galway to come, headgear seems a topical issue at the moment.

Now there is nothing surer than punters will be up in arms at the very mention of fashion on mainstream television coverage of the big meetings – coverage I might add that is watched by a far wider array of viewers than just the betting public – but perhaps we should become more aware of a fashion that is becoming much more widespread on the actual turf at our racetracks, namely the much increased use of headgear.

Already this year we have had a Derby winner in cheekpieces – the first horse to do so –  and his trainer Aidan O’Brien is at the vanguard of this trend which may ultimately become a culture.

In these islands, a number of different types of headgear can be used. Blinkers are the most obvious and most severe; they aim to reduce visual distraction by focusing a horse’s attention only on that which is in front of them and tend to be used on lazy horses.

The visor is a slightly modified version of blinkers with a slit in the side, they are less severe with cheekpieces even less so. Made of sheepskin, they are more of a concentration aid, used to sharpen an animal up.

The hood is a different piece of kit entirely as it aims at reducing noise rather than vision; in the main it is used on keen horses that tend to get geed up and struggle to settle.

Your first 30 days for just £1

For years, the culture in Europe, including Britain and Ireland, was against headgear. The general perception was that blinkers were a rogue’s badge, an admission from the trainer that the horse was less than genuine, perhaps even a last resort in order to get it to reveal its ability. While it was one thing to use them on a lowly handicapper to extract a few pounds of improvement, it was quite another to opt for them on a group horse or stallion prospect.

Even the idea that the progeny of a sire, much less the sire himself, would be in need of an aid was seen as a sign of weakness and breeders would be reluctant to support such a stallion with their mares. In the US however, the culture is totally different. Even a cursory glance at attheraces’ coverage of American racing reveals that half the field often wear some form of aid and Animal Kingdom, the most high-profile American runner in the UK in many a year at Royal Ascot, and Kentucky Derby winner, wore blinkers on every start of his career.

This is changing, however and Aidan O’Brien has been the main catalyst. He has won a Derby with a cheekpieced runner and raced numerous classy types in headgear; over the three days of Derby weekend in Ireland he had 27 runners and 14 of them wore some form of headgear.

He has, with the help of his stable jockey son Joseph, offered numerous public pronouncements on the benefits of headgear, particularly cheekpieces, with barely a mention of the issue of temperament, to such a degree that it could almost be called a PR campaign.

O’Brien is just about the only trainer with the power to change the culture of headgear and while perhaps his whole increased use of aids could be seen as him seeking the next edge it is worth remembering who his paymasters are; if he does not satisfy the greater needs of the Coolmore operation, i.e. profits from the breeding sheds, then he will soon be out of a job.

All of this begs the question: does headgear work? At the risk of copping out totally from an answer, yes and no. We must judge each horse on an individual basis and see how they respond though some overall precepts about trainers are worth developing. Often, a piece of headgear will work just once, and on the second start in them a horse will regress back to its previous form.

When they do work a second time however, you may be onto something as it’s worth considering the animal a new horse, much like one that has changed yards and improved, and often this horse will continue to be priced up on its old form for the next few starts.

This doesn’t however mean that headgear will work forever. The horse may get used to it and become wise to what is going on; what was once a concentration tool is now old hat.

With horses like this however, there is still an edge as one needs to watch out for the reapplication of headgear. In this case, the trainer will note that horse has stopped reacting to the blinkers or cheekpieces and remove them only to reapply them at a later date, likely a race that has been a target or after the horse has dropped in the weights or showed a glimmer of promise. In this situation, a punter can expect improved form.

One such horse I’m waiting for with this angle at the minute is Ucanchoose, an Irish 5f handicapper whose last three wins have come in blinkers but hasn’t worn them since September last year.

On the whole, I don’t think headgear can change a horse’s temperament, particularly those are really recalcitrant. In some cases, blinkers can even exacerbate a horse’s reluctance as was seen at Naas last week when Dermot Weld applied them on a horse called Resolute Response who rivals Charles Byrnes’ Courage for the least-aptly named horse in training.

With a horse with a slight temperament issue or a mere lazy streak, headgear can be the key but some are beyond saving.

It is worth mentioning how the bigger Irish trainers use headgear. With Aidan O’Brien, cheekpieces are a positive and so too, the hood; I still think blinkers are a negative with him and while a trendsetter in this area it will take a while to break this mode of thinking.

With Dermot Weld, blinkers are a plus as he has campaigned even his best horses in them, notably Vinnie Roe, which is something to bear in mind ahead of his annual Galway jamboree. John Oxx on the other hand is an arch-traditionalist; any sort of aid from him is a negative, perhaps even an admission of defeat.


The Punting Confessional: Ascot Debrief

Getting The Basics Right

Ascot Debrief

The Punting Confessional , Wednesday, June 26th

After Cheltenham, I wrote about some lessons that could be learned from the flagship jumps meeting of the year and it’s worth doing the same with Royal Ascot.

Many of the pointers apply at both events; for instance, hype horses or handicap blots can get overbet in competitive, maximum field races; for Sam Winner in the Pertemps, read Wentworth in the Britannia; here was a horse that at 7/2 was just too short in a field filled with potential and while perhaps given too much to do that’s a factor that needs to be considered when facing 26 rivals.

Minor factors can get overvalued at Royal Ascot also; much like the Twiston-Davies stable form was overdone at the Festival so too was the draw accorded too much value in the Coronation Stakes, the market at the off presenting the strange picture as both the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas winners Sky Lantern and Just The Judge were available at 9/2 and 5/1 respectively whereas in the average year one could easily see them 9/4 each of two.

There are new lessons to be learned however and there is certainly a good argument to be made that Royal Ascot is a better punting meeting than Cheltenham.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Certainly, there is not the same buzz about the meeting months in advance and punters get the chance to bet into immature markets; two weeks before the fixture, there was betting available on the Queen Anne, the King’s Stand, the Gold Cup, the Golden Jubilee and the two feature handicaps along with the St. James’s Palace and Prince of Wales’s at a stretch.

There were Group 1 races like the Coronation that had no betting until the five-day stage whereas prices on the lesser group races were not available until final declarations. With most of the handicap entries not out until the five-days, punters had a real edge in races that weren’t analysed to death and the compilers had a much smaller window to correct their errors.

The use of 48-hour declarations on the flat are an edge in themselves and one I’m unused to as an Irish punter, such methods only being used for Sunday cards here. It gives one time to study and while a punter needs to be prepared and have his study completed a few days in advance there is the opportunity to get on at advantageous prices ahead of the main tipsters.

There were some right ricks during the week, perhaps the early price of 8/13 about Battle Of Marengo for the King Edward being the most obvious, his SP of 10/11 much closer to the mark and that meant value in the likes of winner Hillstar and third Mutashaded. Such an approach may not be ideal for living in the moment but it does provide a price edge for go-ahead players.

As a keen follower of Irish flat racing, the strength of the Irish challenge provided a personal edge with the eight winners coming from five different yards; now is certainly a good time to follow Irish flat racing with a view to punting in England as one can have a strong view on a horse or form line though, as ever, patriotic or parochial putting needs to be avoided.

It’s fair to assume that English punters just won’t know as much about Irish horses as Irish gamblers (the reverse also applies, obviously); for example, it may not have been widely known that Queen’s Vase winner Leading Light was one that comes off the bridle and finds plenty and he traded much bigger than his SP in-running, that Roca Tumu won the hottest 3yo handicap of the year at Curragh on Guineas weekend or that the Irish 2yo fillies looked a poor crop.

The availability of a quarter the odds each-way all races was also a boon and while I’m not a mathematical punter, preferring instead to find an edge in form study not numbers, it is certainly a help in the smaller field group races. The Prince of Wales’s is a good example as was the Duke of Cambridge where I backed Dank each-way at 5s and still turned a profit, something you can’t do at other meetings.

The pick of the them all was the Battle Of Marengo race however where you had the dead eight along with a bad favourite and there was real each-way value available, allowing that it is more difficult to get on in such races.

I alluded to draw biases when mentioning the Coronation Stakes above and in the main I found them overdone at this meeting (and others, in the main). It is something the mainstream media have latched onto and hence it is overrated in the market; every time I turned on Channel 4 Racing on Friday, the draw of the fancied pair in the Coronation seemed to be being discussed.

If we learned anything over the week, it is that the draw should not be overrated as tool for pre-race analysis; as pointed out by James Knight on Twitter, just because there is pace in a part of the track over another does not mean that that side will dominate the finish. Instead, the important factor is what pace allows the horse to race optimally and there is simply too much chaos at play here – predicted pace often doesn’t work out – to do anything other than look for the most talented horse.

None of this is to say that there aren’t draw biases but in general they are most apparent post-race rather than pre-race and that is the time to use them to get ahead.

To conclude, a word on the juvenile races which to my eye were dominated by the potential rather than proven horses. The most impressive 2yo winners of the week were War Command, Kiyoshi, Berkshire and No Nay Never and that quartet were all debuting in pattern company and had a combined five starts between them.

It’s worth reiterating that the reason they hadn’t run to big figures beforehand is they hadn’t had the chance to and it is something that is worth bearing in mind the next time the market plunges on a 2yo like Coach House of Sandiva because their form is standout.

The Punting Confessional: Getting The Basics Right

Getting The Basics Right

Getting The Basics Right

The Punting Confessional , Wednesday, June 19th

Racing is sport of complexities from pace analysis to ratings figures to sectional times and breeding angles and these nuances should be sought out by the punter seeking an edge. One does, however, have to be aware of the folly of over thinking or at least not forgetting the KISS principle, i.e. Keep It Simple Stupid!

The basics of gambling are important and shouldn’t be forgotten in the rush to grasp the difficult concepts mentioned above; avoiding what one might call ‘schoolboy errors’ while perhaps not making you a profitable gambler can at least cut your losses, a lesson I am repeatedly reminded of.

Perhaps the most common ‘schoolboy error’ is failure to check the ground and going updates. I have ranted about the lack of going updates from the racecourses and authorities through other mediums for long enough and to be fair to both groups, in Ireland at least, their communication of this information to punters has improved markedly in the last year.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Morning updates are available through Twitter – both the trade paper The Irish Field (@TheIrishField) and Horse Racing Ireland (@HRI_Racing) have going updates early – and any punter that isn’t on Twitter at this point needs to get their act together as it’s the quickest place to get information. In terms of advance weather forecasts, the HRI’s race administration site ( provides decent predictions, specific to each course, and if you want something more detailed there are plenty of other sites available.

At the risk of sounding like a farmer, is good for forecasts as is while has access to a number of weather stations that register things such as localised rainfall, many of which are close to racecourses. There are similar Twitter feeds and websites that provide such information in the UK.

With changeable weather a fact of life in these islands, as punters we need to be aware that ground can change in a matter of hours as we saw at Fairyhouse last Wednesday; going that was described as good before the first race was yielding to soft by the last. While many bemoan a change in ground, it can also be a big plus as prices that were framed for fast ground can now offer value among horses that may be suited by an ease. Such was the case at Leopardstown last Thursday where good to firm ground became good to yielding in the hours before the off.

This meant that Reply who would have been a strong fancy for the Ballycorus Stakes had his chances ruined as he is dependent on fast ground while the Ballyogan Stakes favourite Tickled Pink was a similar case if not quite so marked; the eventual winner Fiesolana was well-suited by some cut and it also placed a greater emphasis on stamina as she had previously won over a mile. It also made the penultimate handicap more interesting as the two potentially best-treated horses in the field – Bensoon and Dane Street – needed contrasting conditions, the rain swinging the race in favour of the latter.

None of this is to say that the ground should be everything; indeed it is sometimes an overrated factor and it’s worth pointing out that ability, or at least ability relative to mark, remains the most important factor. But not registering what the ground is or how it may have changed is a basic error that should be avoided.

Another mistake one can make involves targets for horses in ante-post races and I got a costly reminder about same when I backed both Olympic Glory and Mars for the Irish 2,000 Guineas on the Tuesday before the race only for neither to turn up, a fact I would have been aware of had I paid closer attention to stable announcements. Nowadays, targets are mainly transparent though some yards are better than others.

Willie Mullins is one I find particularly frustrating with his tendency to hold back on confirmations until the very last minute while Jim Bolger has been known to throw in a volte-face or two. Every now and then one has to take a chance on a big price about a horse and hope it will turn up – just like a few did with Dawn Approach on the exchanges for the St. James’s Palace and it was hardly out of character for the trainer – but in the main it pays to be as certain as one can be that a horse is going to take its chance.

My advice would be read as widely as you can if planning an ante-post bet; search and Twitter and the wider internet. It’s not a bad idea to read the paper Racing Post everyday as not all articles in the print edition make it onto the website though I should follow my own advice here as I’m not a daily reader. Doing so might have prevented me from backing Mars, a bet a felt pretty hard done by given how well he shaped in the Derby on this next starts.

With bookmakers, there is no excuse for anyone not to have an array of online accounts; brand loyalty is a nonsense as by so doing you are playing right into the firms’ hands; they love nothing more than a ‘one bookie’ customer that will take their prices regardless of what may be available with a competitor. And it’s the same with shop punters; Jane in your local betting office may well be ‘a fine bit of stuff’ and very pleasant when you’re backing one but that’s not going to put you in profit.

Top price may be a fiction for the winning punter as bookies are unwilling to lay it but for the beginning punter getting on is not an issue and by always taking the best available price you’ve got some sort of chance if not of becoming profitable then at least of limiting your losses. So take the option of walking across the road or opening another window.

Finally, be wary of night before prices and don’t rush in. While every now and then a price may be completely wrong, the layers at this point are often betting to ludicrous percentages which means there will be bigger prices available the following morning or closer to the off. I find with Irish racing there are certainly fewer moves overnight with more punters seemingly practicing patience in the markets.

The Punting Confessional: More on Non-Triers

The Non-Triers

The Non-Triers

The Punting Confessional , Wednesday, June 12th

Last week I looked at some ideas around non-triers and inside information and before exploring the issue further it’s worth mentioning a couple of tweets I received on the subject since. Declan Meagher (@declanmeagher76), an Irish professional gambler, mentioned that it is only the ‘dunces’ who get caught and I can’t think of a better way of describing them.

I also asked Kristian Strangeway (@KoosRacingClub), syndicate manager for Koo’s Racing Club, where he stands on assessing non-triers in his punting and he responded ‘depends on the race type really, but I don’t overly worry about it. If you spot an obvious one they get overbet anyway.’ Short and sweet, but also accurate and I couldn’t agree more.

One of the errors made by punters is to believe that only the insiders can win, that there is some sort of golden circle that have access to the information that will lead to punting nirvana. I’m reminded of a day at the Curragh in August 2011 when I backed a Bill Farrell mare called Sharisse in a six furlong handicap.

The case for the horse was simple: the trainer (at the time underrated by the market but not so much now) loved a winner at the track, the mare won a good handicap over the same course the previous June and was just 7lbs higher, she had shaped well in a listed race last time on her first run of the season. She won and directly after the race I spoke to a punter beside me who had also been cheering her home.

Your first 30 days for just £1

He went on to tell me that he’d backed the horse because Gary O’Brien of attheraces had put it up and O’Brien had access to all the right information because he spent time the sauna of some Kildare hotel with all the jockeys beforehand. Leaving aside any homo-erotic thoughts for a moment, and without wishing to cast any aspersions on O’Brien’s tipping as he’s an excellent judge, this is just the sort of faulty thinking that has punters beaten before they start. While O’Brien may well have access to much more information than the average punter (and there is no way we can ever get that information lest we rise the ranks of the racing media), his presentations on TV and the attheraces website reveal a diligent form student who puts in the work like any other sensible gambler.

Without wishing this to turn into one long anecdotal piece, I’m reminded of a recent Racing UK interview with Alex Ferguson. Apart from all the obvious fawning, the former manager made a great point about what he admired most in trainers of racehorses, their capacity for hard work, pointing out that it is a talent it and of itself that is all too often undervalued in the modern world, something punters would do well to remember.

All this privileging of inside information works off the belief that trainers and connections are all-powerful whereas in reality they’re just as fallible as the rest of us; one only need to look at Aidan O’Brien, widely regarded as the best trainer in these islands, and how he believes that Camelot is the best horse he has ever trained despite all the evidence to the contrary. That’s an extreme example, and one to be taken with a pinch of salt given the bloodstock concerns with the horse, but it shows how even the best can get it badly wrong.

Just because a horse is working well does not mean it will translate to the track and quite often punters are best backing horses that reserve their best for race-day. Even if the horse does produce its best on the day, a better-treated rival from another yard may do the same or any number of other things may go wrong.

One also needs to think about how the market reacts to plot horses and inside information. We have to accept that we don’t know connections’ staking patterns; some may back in the morning, some may wait until the off, some may want €500 on, others €50,000, some may not even want to punt it. A punter can get some sense of how a yard may play the market over time but it is very much a skill for the experienced gambler and even the best market reader is bound to get it wrong plenty of the time.

There is also a herd mentality at play with punters piling into a horse that may not even be fancied (which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be backed by the way) but experience can at least go some way to revealing the difference between meaningful and meaningless market moves.

A lot has been written in the last year or so about how accurate the market has become and that sometimes one would be better having more on a horse when the money comes for it than if not. I can’t help but feel there’s an element of confirmation bias at play, a tendency to favour information that supports their belief, i.e. remembering the gambles that won and ignoring those that lost.

Over time, I can’t see how this approach can pay as you’re backing horses at shorter prices than you think they should be and any sort of sensible value betting approach means one should be having more on a drifter.

In the main, I want to be against gambling yards, stroke horses and dodgy owners. It’s much better to be with proper trainers that a playing with a straight bat and while acknowledging that all yards are to one extent or other gambling yards, there are certainly those that pull strokes more often than others. Such stables often have their charges overbet, whether strongly fancied or not, and I like to be against them as a rule as they often leave the other runners underbet and get beaten often enough to make it pay. These trainers prefer to make the crooked pound over the straight pound but there are many more that opt for the latter approach.

This brings me on to one of my great pet hates in racing, the idea that Irish racing is bent. It’s probably fair to say that this is the perception abroad amongst the betting shop masses and also I might add among bookmakers, who much to my chagrin are reluctant to lay a semi-civilised bet to a form-based Irish punter as they seem to believe it’s all hooky. As someone who watches a lot of Irish racing, nothing could be further from the truth and I feel I have to stand up for it.

Irish racing has excellent prize-money (in contrast to Britain for instance) which maintains a fair level of integrity and while the authorities have been slipshod in their policing of the sport with a number of recent integrity budget cuts, the natural competition between those involved means that it’s pretty straight. Those that point to gambles and touches being landed would do well to remember that it is possible to get an edge on Irish racing because it is not as well-analysed as its English equivalent; there is a smaller pool of horses and fewer punters playing so it is much easier to move a market with little money.

I’ll close with a question that every punter needs to ask themselves: where do you stand morally on non-triers? I find it a difficult one to answer and can’t give a full answer. They’re a fact of life for any racing follower and expecting it to change is foolish. They happen a lot less than people think but it doesn’t make them right. And never forget some perspective, there are a lot worse things going on.


The Punting Confessional: The Non-Triers

The Non-Triers

The Non-Triers

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, June 5th – The Non-Triers

Recent weeks have been black for racing with a high-profile corruption case and the Al Zarooni/Sungate steroid scandal; the latter is certainly the darker cloud at present and there remains a strong suspicion we’re nowhere near the bottom of it yet. This column aims however at the punting angle and I have to admit to being clueless as how to apply anything relating to drugs to playing the horses.

Non-triers are another thing entirely however and I have strong feelings on the issue and how it applies to the average punter; by average punter I mean a punter without access to any sort of inside info.

The verdicts released by the BHA in the aftermath of these corruption cases always make for fascinating reading and one was struck by the amateur nature of the whole Ahern/Clement conspiracy. Though not quite so lax as the methods applied by Andrew Heffernan/Michael Chopra earlier in the year, here was a pair that were in contact via their own mobile phones and were laying horses through their own (or their wife’s ) exchange accounts.

There are those that would say that Betfair and the other exchanges have a lot to answer for and that problems with non-triers increased when punters, and not solely licensed bookmakers, could lay horses to lose. I couldn’t disagree more. Firstly, why is it that just a coterie of high-fliers (bookmakers and their friends) could lay a horse in the past? I’m for equality in all its forms and the exchanges provide a service and saw a niche in the market that was previously unfilled.

Your first 30 days for just £1

One is reminded of the ending of the film Trainspotting where Renton steals the drug money and says that his ‘friend’ Sick-Boy would have done just the same if only he’d thought of it sooner, a sentiment that applies to all the big bookmaking firms in terms of the exchange model. Not only that but the likes of Betfair have provided the BHA with the sort of information into the activities of corrupt individuals that was previously inaccessible.

When going through the details of such cases, one cannot help but feel that there are much more sophisticated operations at work that the authorities are struggling to get to grips with. Surely the real villains at work at a higher level are applying more smoke to their machinations using a complex series of mirrors with mobile phones that leave those at the centre unconnected from the dirty work as well as a host of ghost exchange accounts that cannot be traced back to the main participants?

At the very least, laying all the bets through a single account, often to figures exponentially larger than the average stake on the account, seems amateurish. Though speaking hypothetically, one would like to think that anyone with any more than rudimentary knowledge of how betting markets and ‘getting on’ works would be able to make a better stab at laying non-triers than some of those convicted by the BHA.

Interesting, and frightening, as such speculation may be, the average punter needs to ask: do you want to be dealing with these sorts of crooks? Or would you prefer to back proper trainers and proper owners whose campaigning of horses is largely straight and whose formbook cases you can trust? The corrupt connections are people who would stop at nothing to make a profit and trying to second-guess them is risky in the extreme.

We often hear stories, possibly apocryphal though some ring true, of owners laying a horse out for a touch, missing the price because others punters got on ahead of them, and then stopping the animal because they didn’t get on despite it being initially well-intended.

One of the big problems with the whole spotting of non-triers is that it’s just so intangible; one only needs to look at the BHA’s use of expert witnesses and their study of races to see how difficult it can be to prove that one hasn’t been trying. Recalling the Heffernan/Chopra case from early 2013, it was interesting to note that the panel ‘was not able to say one way or the other’ whether the loss of ground at the start by one of the stopped horses, Wanchai Whisper, was caused by the jockey.

Even in this most open-and-shut of cases, it was hard to call and it is easy to see how difficult it would be to spot, much less prove, that a more sophisticated operation was cheating. Comparing the ride given to a horse on different days, perhaps with a mind to market moves either positive or negative, is one way to go – the panel applied this method with reference to Wanchai Whisper – but it is hardly bombproof.

Picking out one that isn’t ‘off’ is not a task for the beginning punter as there are so many complications. Is a horse being given an easy time because it’s ungenuine and finds little off the bridle? Is it being stopped or simply getting a bad ride? It is worth remembering that many jockeys, even the best, give incompetent rides. And there are so many ways to stiff a horse: go off too hard in front like Ahern; drop one out off a slow pace; use up energy by making a mid-race move; no effort from the saddle; intentionally missing the break; riding into traffic; even changing a horse’s habitual tactics, say by dropping a front-runner out in rear could be enough.

And that’s not even to mention all the stuff that could be happening on the gallops pre-racing as well as the basic things like running a horse over the wrong trip or on the wrong ground.

Gamblers need to ask themselves what sort of punter they are and for the average punter the answer has to be a form-based player who makes up their own mind by whatever means possible. The inside information the normal punter unconnected with a horse can get will invariably be second-, third- or fourth-hand and by this stage it will be largely useless as they’ll have missed the price.

Instead of taking the whole inside information route and buying into every conspiracy theory going, the typical gambler would be better served to dispatch with the paranoia and assume that the game is straight, applying logic to his selections, an issue I’ll explore in more detail next week.

The Punting Confessional: The Power of the Negative (part 2)

The Power of the Negative (pt 2)

The Power of the Negative (pt 2)

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, May 22nd – The Power of the Negative (part 2)

If asked who my favourite horse is, I wouldn’t reply Frankel, Sea The Stars or even Wrekin Rock (a Jim Gorman-trained handicapper who landed me a nice few quid at a Curragh May Bank Holiday meeting last year; you had to be there). Instead, my all-time great horse is the bad favourite.

A rising tide lifts all boats and having a runner that is too short at the head of the betting can make a number of its rivals overpriced. Punters have to differentiate between a bad favourite in an absolute sense, i.e. one that almost cannot win the race and would need to be a massive price for one to even consider backing it, or one that you have to be against at the price.

We saw a good example of the latter in the shape of Declaration Of War in the Lockinge at the weekend where he was simply too short at 5/4 for what he had achieved on the track; had the same horse been 8/1 off the back of a good reappearance win and quality connections then he likely would have been a strong bet. In terms of absolute bad favourites, one stands out from recent years and that is Wonder Of Wonders in the 2011 Irish Oaks.

Here was a filly that finished second in the Epsom Oaks but had shown attitude in her previous starts and to my eyes there was little chance of her winning as he was going to throw victory in no matter the circumstances, a trait she further revealed next time in the Yorkshire Oaks.

As punters, we need to be careful about becoming too attached to horses and a version of the Buddhist belief of non-attachment is worth applying here; this concept, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a state in which a person overcomes his or her attachment to desire for things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened perspective.’

Your first 30 days for just £1

If we become overly attached to a horse we can follow it off a cliff and hardly allow it run without a bet; instead a preferable situation would be to attach ourselves to the idea of a good bet rather than a good horse.

Having a negative view as a way into a race is a good place to start, whether it is a doubt about a fancied horse’s stamina, ability to handle the ground, form or whatever. We hear trainers – Paul Nicholls being one – talk about silencing the doubters but in truth it is doubt that makes in the odds. Of course, positive angles into races work well too – there are few better approaches than finding a well-handicapped horse as they must go close, all things being equal – but doubting a horse or a form line can provide an edge.

Just because a handicap has been strong down the years does not mean it will be the same this and not all group races are equal; there is a logic to race standardisation where one expects a certain level of performance will be needed for victory but there are times when a race is much worse than it should be. A good recent example of this would be the Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh won by Sruthan in a Racing Post Rating of 108 whereas in reality he probably had to run to little better than 95 to win; it was a listed race in name only.

Another area where punters can utilise the power of the negative is in imagining worst-case scenarios. Again, Burkeman’s The Antidote (as mentioned last week) is informative and his quotation from JK Rowling’s speech on receiving an honorary doctorate from Harvard in June 2008 is illuminating; in it she speaks of benefits of failure and what it can teach us. For her, prior to the success of the Harry Potter books, she was the biggest failure she knew yet she was still alive, in many ways living out the worst-case scenario she had imagined in her youth. The point here is that the worst had happened, all her horrible imaginings realised, but failure hadn’t killed her.

Such an approach needs to be modified for punting – I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to take this as advice to punt you brains out, find yourself in massive debt yet realise you’re still alive – but when gambling it is probably worth realising what one can lose should everything go wrong. A punter doesn’t have to be comfortable with this (no one likes losing) but it should be bearable and if it isn’t then it is time for a rethink. Planning stakes and realising all that can go wrong rather than just pottering along hoping for the best could be a worthwhile exercise.

In terms of the ideal punting mentality, I often think a sort of stoicism, where life’s slings and arrows produce a somewhat indifferent response, comes close to what is needed. This is best exemplified by someone like Hugh Taylor who whenever he is interviewed about the quality or otherwise of his selections The Form Factor, seems never to be excited one way or the other.

If things are going well, he will remind the presenter of the bunch of donkeys he tipped the previous month whereas if results have swung against him, he will talk about sticking to the process that has worked for him in the past. The game is filled with highs and lows and if one allows themselves to get too drawn into one or the other, it can end badly.

The very nature of racing seems concentrated on the future; barely is one race over than everyone wants to know where the horse is going next. So it was with Dawn Approach’s Derby bid after the Guineas and we can spend our lives wishing away the jumps season by giving too much emphasis to the Cheltenham Festival. All anyone has at any time is the moment they are in and this living in the now is certainly an idea that can be applied to racing; perhaps we should enjoy our punting wins as they are and live with the failures rather than trying to move on quickly to the next race.

The now of racing is invariably made up of more mundane racing and instead of spending so much time focussing on the bigger meetings we could be better served by trying to find an edge on the much less analysed day-to-day racing.

Finally, and bizarrely, let’s finish with goals. Modern society is obsessed with goals, with the general tenor of much of ideology behind it preaching that a person cannot get anywhere without goals. The most famous of all studies on the subject is the Harvard Goal Study where a group of students were surveyed about goals they had before leaving college and the small percentage that had written aims ended up achieving much more than the rest of the students put together.

The results of the study are often wheeled out as proof of the benefit of goals but no proof of it was ever found and it likely never happened.

Punters have to be careful with goals, particularly where the goal becomes the only thing; I’m thinking particularly here of profit targets. One has to be wary of achieving a pyrrhic victory in that profits may be realised but the expense may be too great; like a marathon runner who is so dogged in lasting the distance but injures themselves in the process, the punter has to watch the personal cost of aiming for (too much) profit.

Sometimes focussing on the process rather than the outcome is the way to go.

The Punting Confessional: The Power of the Negative

The Power of the Negative

The Power of the Negative

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, May 15th – The Power of the Negative

Probably the best book I’ve read in the past year had nothing to do with gambling. In ‘The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’, The Guardian’s psychology correspondent Oliver Burkeman dissects what he calls the ‘cult of optimism’ and puts forward the idea that many popular ideas about happiness, success and goals are flawed and indeed aiming for such things can lead to anything but.

For Burkeman, positive thinking is wildly overvalued by modern society, much as things like reputation and jockeys are overrated in betting markets. In place of all this optimism, Burkeman argues in favour of the negative with many fascinating ideas such as awareness of mortality, acceptance of failure, the dangers of goal-setting, non-attachment, imagining worst-case scenarios, stoicism, living in the now and allowing for uncertainty and fear. Some, if not all, of these ideas apply to gambling and this week and next I’ll look at them as well as some of my own thoughts on the power of the negative.

Let’s begin with what my idea of negativity isn’t. It is most certainly not the acceptance by the mug punter (or society at large for that matter) that the bookies always win and there is no such thing as a winning gambler. These are the sentiments of the betting shop loser, the punters who fall into all the stereotypical traps available: they punt only with one bookmaker, having brand loyalty despite a bigger price being available across the road or on another website; they follow stupid systems in the hope of getting rich quick; they believe the hype when a jockey or trainer or some other insider says ‘it’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden or trained’; they love the thrill of inside information and eschew the formbook over the head of it.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Instead, my idea of negative is more like healthy scepticism, perhaps even edging towards cynicism, the cliché about believing little of what you hear and judging with your own eyes has truth in it. I suspect the good punter is the negative punter, the one who sees the glass as half-empty rather than half-full. An outsider might think that racing would be filled with pessimism; most horses never make it to the racetrack, never mind win a race; injuries and setbacks are a feature of the game; at a most basic level, there can only be one winner in a race so most connections leave the track disappointed.

Yet, like the rest of the modern world, the cult of optimism reigns in racing; punters always think the big payday is just around the corner and it’s the same with owners, trainers and jockeys. Perhaps it is living on this dream that sustains them but as a gambler it might be best to think otherwise.

I acknowledge that is it not easy to be a pessimist in racing as optimism is everywhere. One need only open the trade paper or the racing pages of any of the dailies to see that the coverage of the sport is particularly toothless though there are some exceptions. The Monday Jury, where the Racing Post poses questions to jockeys, trainers and analysts in light of what unfolded on track over the previous seven days is a good example; the questions are invariably met with positive responses, with nary a semblance of doubt never mind criticism.

A negative (or perhaps realistic would be a better word) opinion is rarely ventured in racing journalism, and it is easy to see why; the racing correspondent relies on the co-operation of jockeys and trainers for their copy and to criticise would be seen as spitting in the soup. It is similar with jockeys criticising trainers or horses as it is the former upon whom he relies on for employment. All this is understandable – the dole queue is an unpleasant place – but as punters who want to turn a profit or at least grasp what is going on properly, we need to work against it.

Perhaps the best example where optimism overcomes pessimism in a disadvantageous way for punters is the ungenuine horse or, put it succinctly, the dog. Charitable types will say that such an animal doesn’t exist or at worst they are suffering from some sort of physical issue – I hope these forgiving kinds are the same with the people in their lives – but for me there are simply some horses that don’t win as frequently as their form entitles them to.

This is not to say that they don’t win as even a broken clock is right twice a day and sometimes circumstances conspire that a dodge cannot but win; the opposition is useless, they find themselves in front before they know it, the pace collapses. But keeping an eye out for those that show temperament, be it awkward head carriage, tail swishing, hanging, finishing weakly or even a poor win/run ratio is one of the best applications of the value of negativity in racing; such horses invariably run well without winning and take up too much of the market on their starts.

One of the central cogs in Burkeman’s wheel of negativity is certainty, or more accurately, our excessive desire for certainty and security. So much do we long for both these things that we are willing to accept even the illusion of such; his example of airport security as a glorified piece of theatre that is unlikely to protect us from a determined terrorist attack is a master-class in logic. I suspect a similar mind-set is at play when punters love backing horses at short prices; even the language is the same, such runners often described as a ‘certainty.’ This applies across the gambling board from the myth of the Cheltenham banker to putting short-priced runners together in accumulators despite much of the evidence about successful punting suggesting that playing away from the head of the market is the way to go.

Two most successful tipping services around are Pricewise and Hugh Taylor and both excel at the back-end of the market and there is nothing surer that if you back every favourite over time, you will lose in the long-term. No more than in life, there is no security or certainty in gambling and instead of looking for it, we should turn away from it and be willing to take a risk. Fear of failure is something that troubles us all but by acknowledging it and taking the chance anyway we may make a success of it, whatever success may be.


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.

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.

Punting Confessional: The trainer’s role.

The Trainer's Role

The Trainer's Role

The Punting Confessional – May 1st 2013

To continue last week’s discussion of the role of the trainer as a punting angle, it’s probably fair to say that the bigger names are doing an entirely different job to those at the bottom end of racing’s food-chain; the top yards have the luxury of long-term planning and aiming their horses at targets often months in advance whereas for those with lesser animals it’s more a case of run them when they’re fit and any sense of sort of strategy will be on a much smaller scale.

One tried-and-tested method of the bigger yards is the prep race, an approach that in general doesn’t apply with a lowly handicapper with the possible exception of their seasonal return. Particularly on the flat, where all that matters is that a stallion prospect wins its Group 1 in order to boost potential breeding income in the future, top horses can meet with defeat in a prep race in a lesser group contest; the horse may be the most talented runner in the field but not hit its peak on the day and punters need to be wise to this, especially in the early part of the season.

Aidan O’Brien is certainly one that takes this approach, tending to leave plenty to work on for debut, and so too does Michael Stoute; I’m thinking particularly of the improvement Stoute garnered from Workforce between his run in the Dante and his record-breaking Derby win in 2010.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Should you wish to read more on these sorts of ideas and the role of the trainer in general, Chapter 8 in Steve Davidowitz’s excellent ‘Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century’ called ‘The Trainer’s Window’ is worth looking up with perhaps the most interesting line of all in the section coming from the American trainer Jerry Hollendorfer: ‘Every race takes something out of a horse, or puts something into him.’

There’s so much in that simple phrase and I think it is something that bigger trainers really grasp in their use of prep races as a means to an end whereas often the smaller trainer, perhaps less experienced with a good horse, fails to understand, asking their potentially decent sort to do too much too soon.

That said, this idea of over-facing a horse, i.e. fast-tracking it into a class of race that can be beyond it too early, can happen to the best of trainers, even someone like Willie Mullins in his handling of Mikael D’Haguenet. Anyone who watched him lumber over his fences at Punchestown Saturday just gone would have seen a horse that was a shadow of the 2009 Neptune winner, an unbeaten novice season that included three Grade 1 wins.

I suspect the key to his downfall was his fall on chasing debut in the 2010 Drinmore as he hasn’t looked the same horse since and surely starting his career over fences in an ordinary novice, especially as he was coming off an injury, would have a been a better approach? Such are the decisions upon which a racing career can hang though Mullins has many more success stories than sob stories.

The bigger trainers understandably attract more attention in the media than the lesser ones but punters need to be careful of those that are particularly media-friendly as their runners are often overbet. Just because a trainer is good for a quote and might be the sort of person to go for a pint with does not mean one should back their horses and in general the runners from lower profile yards tend to be underestimated by the market.

A few years back Nick Mordin conducted a study that revealed the number of column inches received by a horse (or in this case mentions in the Racing Post database) was directly linked to their market position in subsequent big races which backs up my belief that runners from media-friendly trainers tend to be underpriced; instead, punters would be better to focus on lower profile handlers. In Ireland the best example of a trainer that talks bigger than he actually is would be Paul Nolan as his strike-rate shows him to be no better than mediocre.

Noel Meade is another beloved of the press-pack – indeed he seems a genuinely nice guy and is certainly forgiving seen has he’s put up with the antics of Paul Carberry down the years – but his runners are often shockingly short in the betting and he is someone I would find extremely difficult to make pay.

I wrote last week about becoming aware of a trainer’s patterns with their horses and how they like to win their races but it could be argued that losing patterns are at least as important; there is no trainer that excels in every field, just like there is no human that does the same, as anyone who has seen me attempt to either sing or dance would attest. Again, Meade is a good example with his record at the Cheltenham Festival throughout his career; for whatever reason, perhaps that he trains his horses for early season targets, his runners just do not perform in the key four days of March.

This is by no means a personal attack on Meade, or indeed any trainer; I am merely pointing out that they all have flaws and one can go broke backing a trainer in races they struggle to compete in.

To conclude, I’ll go back to Davidowitz’s book for perhaps the best idea with trainers, the niche angle. In a short chapter called ‘The Money Tree’ he writes about an obscure trainer called Glenn Smith whose overall figures were poor but had a sixty per cent strike-rate with first-time starters and absentees, despite their workouts showing no sign of form. This sort of angle is something that will dip under the radar of most punters and if you can cotton on to one then you too could have a found a money tree.

As to a couple for Ireland: always note Bill Farrell’s runners in Curragh handicaps as the trainer excels with aiming his best horses (which admittedly would be viewed as limited by most other handlers) at races there; in the midst of the Weld hegemony at the Galway Festival, respect Kevin Prendergast horses in the big mile handicap on the Tuesday and the equivalent seven furlong race on Saturday; he may not aim good maidens at the track but his record in those races in enviable, with Vastonea adding to it last year.

Punting Confessional: Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

The Punting Confessional – April 24th, 2013

In the equine/human equation that makes up any horse race, the animal is always the most important factor; their talent, much more so than any preference for ground, trip or otherwise reigns supreme. Of the Homo Sapiens involved however, the trainer is the vital person, more so than the jockey, an oft-overbet angle; one only need look at the amount of time spent by the respective roles with the horse, the trainer and his staff taking care of the beast night and day, the jockey (in most cases), appearing on its back for a matter of minutes.

The trainer plays a role in the horse’s condition as well as the selection of its races and in this article and next week’s follow-up I will look at some angles on trainers.

I abhor clichés but the idea of leopards never changing their spots has lots of truth when dealing with trainers; they are the great creatures of habit in racing. Some trainers are capable in some areas but not others and recognising these is a way to punting success. Knowing a trainer’s strengths and weaknesses is important as is not getting them confused.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Take David Marnane as an example, a relatively new trainer I respect. Marnane excels with his raiders in Dubai and the big English handicaps with Elleval the most recent example in Meydan this spring. On the day-to-day Irish handicaps however, where I do much of my betting, the Bansha trainer is not so good but the market is often framed around his ability in a totally different type of race.

Why this is so, I’m not sure. Perhaps English odds compilers and layers are guilty of availability bias and overvaluing events that happen in their own jurisdiction or maybe it is just the draw of familiar name in the midst of a field on unknown handlers with limited handicappers. In this regard, one is reminded of Philip Hobbs’ comment that training racehorses is little more than galloping them up a hill twice a day and I certainly think this is the case with ordinary types; there is no great skill involved, especially with flat horses that can be readied quickly, and overvaluing the role of the trainer could be a mistake.

This whole area of trainer specialisms should also be considered by prospective owners and they should match up the type of horses they have the trainers rather than blindly sticking with a handler to whom they have a personal connection; that said, it is worth remembering that some owners have more money than sense and racehorses are the definition of a discretionary spend.

Of course, the really good trainers are ones that don’t specialise, not jack-of-all-trades but masters of all. They are few and far between however and unsurprisingly they are habitually found at the top of the trainers’ table. On the flat, Aidan O’Brien is as close as there is to one, doing well with juveniles, three-year-olds and older horses while winning across the distance spectrum too. His record in handicaps may not be so hot but he wins his share and he does well with tailoring individual campaigns around individual horses; he does not use the ‘one size fits’ all approach.

It is Willie Mullins however who really is the master trainer in this regard, excelling with juvenile hurdlers, bumper horses and staying chasers, as well as everything in between. While perhaps fewer of his classy novices progress as expected, in the main Mullins is better than everyone else in every category and isn’t afraid to push boundaries as was seen most recently with the victory of Blackstairmountain in the Grand Jump in Japan. This was a masterful piece of placing as much for the horse’s obvious limitations as anything else; the classic tweener horse, too high for handicaps and not good enough for graded contests, he would struggle to win a €30,000 race at home yet landed the world’s second richest jumps race on his travels.

Playing the bigger, though not always better, yards is another area of watching the trainers. With Mullins and O’Brien, I’m basically against them in the majority of Irish racing; despite their high percentage returns, their runners are often overbet relative to their form and I prefer to take them on with a more formful runner from another yard in the expectation (or is that hope?) that they will win often enough at rewarding odds to turn a profit. It’s a different story with the champion training pair go on their travels and I often find myself playing their horses at the big English meetings when the prices can be bigger; the competition is stiffer, no doubt, but parochialism tends to be at play too.

Among the better known handlers, Dermot Weld is an interesting case study in how he campaigns his horses at different tracks. Everyone knows about the dictatorship he applies at Galway each summer but his excellent record at Leopardstown is sometimes underrated. This angle is best appreciated when placed alongside his record at the Curragh, a track that hosts a similar standard of race and is his local track, yet the Weld figures at Leopardstown far outstrip those from the Curragh. For whatever reason – perhaps the promise of better ground as opposed to the gloppy Curragh – he tends to send his best horses at Leopardstown.

One also has to know when to admit defeat and I have long since done so with Jim Bolger; I find his methods incomprehensible. Bolger seems to mould his horses in his own image, tough and loving a challenge, but the problem is that not all horses respond to such methods; his best runners do though. No more than any other trainer, Bolger is a creature of habit as seen by his winning of the opening 6f 2yo race of the season at Leopardstown and on the bigger stage in the Dewhurst in recent years. In reference to the Leopardstown race, Bolger won it this year with Focus On Venice having previously started off the likes of Finsceal Beo and Parish Hall in the same race.

I’m not a great believer in trends but these trainer patterns have definite value, largely due to the trainers knowing what is required to win a typical renewal of the race and aiming the right sort at it. It is worth remembering however that such trends are not set in stone and a major change on a macro level can alter them; Willie Mullins rethreading the fabric of Irish national hunt racing is the best example. Whereas five years ago, Mullins was just another trainer (albeit a good one) that liked to target specific races, he now does well across the board and has won many races he previously failed in.

Punting Confessional: My Day At The Races

A Day At The Races

A Day At The Races

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, April 10th 2013 

Curragh – March 24th

I thought I might take a periodic look at an individual day’s racing over the next few months, taking in the betting shape of the card as a whole, and where better to start than the opening day of the flat turf season in Ireland, the Lincoln at the Curragh? One has to remember that there is an element of randomness within each punting day and while one may approach it with a sense that there is money to be made there is every chance the opposite will happen; conversely, the card that looks particularly tough, one can make a few quid.

There are many who would say tread carefully in the early part of the season as the form settles down but I don’t believe in this idea; a punter never knows when a bet will present itself and while I wasn’t playing to high stakes this day my caution was more the product of what I perceived to be the absence of value rather than the time of the year. This was a day where things didn’t go to plan which are as worthy of analysis as days when things went swimmingly.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The opening two races were maidens and made zero betting appeal. This can be good in some ways as a punting friend of mine often argues that he hasn’t the attention span to cover a full card in real detail, preferring to concentrate on three or four races. It could be argued that this is a flaw in our make-up, perhaps a product of the internet age that has boiled all our brains, but equally the effort needed to give a race the quality of attention it needs should not be underestimated.

I’m not saying maidens can’t pay but by and large they don’t for me as I discovered when analysing my results a year or two back; with all the unraced horses, they are races where the inside info boys have an edge. Breeding offers some sort of angle into them but more than anything I’m watching for the future, particularly with an eye on attitude and things like high head carriage, hanging and tail-swishing; I tend not to be forgiving in this regard.

Bird’s Eye View headed the betting in the six furlong handicap and he’s the type of horse you have to be against at the prices; he had been impressive on his sole start in 2012 but representing the Tommy Stack/JP McManus axis was always going to be too short. We never got to see how well-treated or otherwise she was as the saddle slipped and my decision to take her on with three race-fit rags – Battleroftheboyne, Allegra Tak and Elusive Prince – never looked like paying off. The winner was Srucahan and he was a horse I was too harsh on attitude-wise; despite having looked a dodge early in his career, he had won his two previous starts and this brought up the hat-trick. While Stack is well known as an early season trainer and often overbet as a result, Srucahan’s handler Paul Deegan does well at this time of the year and is nothing like so well-recognised.

The Group 3 Park Express Stakes was unappealing as I thought Yellow Rosebud was solid; I went for a ground motivated place bet on More Than Sotka but her limitations were exposed at this level. The favourite likely wasn’t fit for this early target and Rehn’s Nest took advantage, the Bolger bandwagon rolling on.

The Madrid Handicap was more like it as I felt the favourite Francis Of Assisi was a bad one; he was too short by dint of his connections, looked badly handicapped off 93 and had shown attitude on both his prior starts. Of course he goes and hoses up but he’s the sort of horse one has to oppose throughout the year and accept that some will win and make you look stupid. I backed Wholelotofrosie who appeared to have a lot going for her apart from the fact that she had moved to an unknown stable; she ran no sort of race. Einsteins Folly also got a saver with his strong form from Gowran on his final start of 2012 and the early form of the Bolger yard but he could manage only second to an easy winner.

Of all race types, older horse handicaps are my favourite and next up was the big-field Lincoln; this is the sort of race where if you are to find the winner, you are likely to be paid handsomely, and all the angles about pace and well-known horses apply. Despite having tipped up Tandem and Inis Meain in a Betfair piece early in the week, I turned against the front end of the market (which also included Anton Chigurh) by the day of the race; that is one of the problems with writing a piece so far in advance as you just don’t know how the market will unfold.

I felt they were all too short; Tandem because of connections, Anton Chigurh having won off the back of winning some poor ones in England last backend and Inis Meain because he had been talked up over the winter as a Pierse Hurdle horse and was well-known by the public. As an aside, the fickleness of the betting market should never be underestimated; Inis Meain, despite running well in this race having forced a strong pace, was allowed to go off a value price when finishing a good second to Parish Hall on his next start.

Shifting, Dougal Philps and Campanology were my main plays but all ran deplorably; though I prefer to only have one strong fancy in any race there are times when I will back three or four against the field if all are value.

Thankfully I had the good sense to listen to a pair of judges who were raving about Sweet Lightening pre-race and I had a saver which limited damage on the day; the fact that both fancied it suggested I had missed something in my analysis and while it is fine and good saying that you shouldn’t be swayed by others there is as a difference between listening to a sensible argument and being pig-headed for the sake of it.

The closing maiden was not the most interesting though I felt both the favourites were short enough and laid the pair at a combined 2/5; a furlong down it looked like I was going to get a result but Alpinist, like many from his yard, found a bit extra in the finish.

Ballydoyle concluded the day with post-racing gallops and my thoughts on such things have already been aired; they offer little punting advantage beyond telling you what horses are at some level of health, as those that have had setbacks won’t make the trip.

The Punting Confessional: the Flat is back!

Flat is Back

Flat is Back

Everyone has their own particular favoured type of racing, many people prefer the gritty battles of winter jumps racing, watching the old warriors plough through miles and miles of mud sodden races. Yet for others, the almost serene appeal of the flat season is their preference. Tony Keenan prefers the latter and he now explains why in...

...The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, April 3rd 2013

I have a preference for flat racing over jumps racing so it’s a pretty good time of the year; Dundalk may keep one ticking over during the winter but the return of the turf season is something to be cherished and hopefully we’ll have some decent ground this summer. I am confident that I could make it pay over jumps – I have in the past and got a few quid this winter ‘tipping away’ at the national hunt – but it suits my personal life to concentrate on the level.

The impact of what goes on in one’s ‘real life’ should not be underestimated when thinking about punting; if one’s gambling runs contrary to what is going on elsewhere in one’s life, it won’t be long before both areas suffer. With my other work commitments, I have plenty of time off during the summer which is flat racing’s peak time.

In general, the flat season has more of a flow to it; in England, you have the Guineas and the Derby through to Royal Ascot and the weight-for-age races of the high summer before all of the classy backend stuff like Champions Day. It’s similar in Ireland with the early trials leading onto the classics before Galway and the packed Group One calendar of the autumn.

Though an overused term, the flat campaign has more ‘narrative’ to it and though this has no major effect on one’s punting the lack of focus on a single meeting – as with Cheltenham over jumps – is better.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Flat racing has more complexity that jump racing and for the good punter this is a plus; if things were easy, everyone would be making money. While over thinking can be a problem (and one I suffered from in failing to back Our Conor at Cheltenham), in the main the complicated should be valued as an edge; the impact of factors like pace, draw, trouble in running and breeding tend to have more of an influence on the flat than in national hunt racing.

By the nature of the code, a punter also has less time to get to know flat horses than with jumpers that have greater longevity; this can be a good thing as the market can cotton on over time to form angles and preferences for the latter group.

On a simple level, it takes much longer to analyse the replays from a national hunt meeting as I found when I went back through the tapes from Cheltenham recently; time is valuable for punters and its worth should not be underestimated. Also, analysing the two codes are different beasts entirely and I have to admit to having forgotten how to analyse jumps racing replays; while I may still be able to spot a form angle with a jumper I tend to struggle with the video approach.

With the flat horses, I am better versed and know what to look for; things may unfold quicker and be more difficult to spot but again complexity is a plus.

It’s no harm to make the broad point about specialism again here; no one can know everything and the advantage the punter holds over the layer is that he doesn’t have to bet on every race. One needs to take a break too in order to recharge the punting batteries. The idea of not even trying to know everything is central to good risk intelligence; the wise punter will admit to having no opinion on many occasions and give up any hope of knowing everything but when he has a strong view he will back it accordingly.

My own speciality is handicaps and one of advantages of flat racing is that it has more handicaps than jump racing. The reason for this is simple: there is only one code. In national hunt racing, you have bumpers, hurdles and chases and horses need maidens and novice race to run in each whereas there is no such need on the flat.

At the mid to low levels, Irish flat racing is woefully under-analysed despite being more complex than jump racing and there’s plenty of it too with even racing through the winter at Dundalk; jump racing has long been the preference of the Irish nation as a whole. What analysis there is tends to be quite poor and as ever Ireland is behind Britain in this regard; there is certainly no Hugh Taylor equivalent, at least not in the public domain, which is a good thing.

What scant attention Irish flat racing gets in the mainstream media extends little beyond Aidan O’Brien hagiography and coverage of the Group 1 meets; while much of the Cheltenham Festival analysis is wrong-headed, it is at least analysis and some of it is of interest.

Flat racing in Ireland is more competitive than jump racing where Willie Mullins is having a record-breaking season; Aidan O’Brien may dominate the Group 1 events but there are only ten such races each year and there’s certainly more depth below him on the trainers’ table with the likes of Weld, Bolger and Oxx, not the mention some gifted mid-level guys like Lyons and Oliver. With Mullins, you’ve also got the complicating factor of applying the worth of French form with so many of his runners sourced there.

As pointed out by Brian O’Connor in a recent blog, the idea that the small man has always been a feature of jump racing has a mythic quality; there were probably a lot fewer Solerinas and Danolis than we recall in our memories. That said, the seam of following a good horse with a low-profile trainer over jumps – as I did with likes of Brave Right (Leonard Whitmore) in the past – seems to have dried up a little and if anything the edge can be exploited more on the level these days.

In general, the quality of trainer on the flat is superior to their jumps brethren and the likes of Ger Lyons, Tommy Carmody and Andy Oliver certainly know what to do when they get a good one. A low-profile handler can do particularly well with sprinters; after all, Tom Hogan trained a Group 1 winner in Gordon Lord Byron last year while Damien English looks to have a 5f specialist on the up in the shape of his recent Dundalk winner All Ablaze.

Of course, it’s probably easier to train a flat horse; at least there is less time to wait for a return as they can race from two years old and are less injury-prone as they don’t have to jump obstacles. For a trainer looking to make a quick impact, the flat is the way to go and there is plenty of room for winners at the low to middle grades. This immediacy also plays out in punting as the horses run more often; a punter gets a chance to back his opinions sooner which suits someone who is being diligent and following racing closely.

There are probably fewer plot horses on the flat too though this may be naivety on my part but having watched flat racing intensely over the last few years, I think it is largely straight in Ireland; at very least, such thoughts play little part in my considerations of a horse’s chances.

A final advantage the flat has over the jumps is the greater number of ungenuine horses. This makes total sense; flat horses are younger, less likely to be gelded and race/train at faster speeds, all of which contribute to finding out one with a suspect temperament.

There are those that would tell you there is no such thing as a dog but they are also likely to be losing punters. This is not to say such horses cannot win but rather that they win less often than they should. Spotting them early in their careers is vital and show no mercy in judging them; they are the market makers that provide a way into a race.