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The Punting Confessional: In-play action

Punting Confessional: In-play Action

Punting Confessional: In-play Action

Having guided us through the importance of note taking and showing us how he analyses his notes to help him pick his bets, Tony Keenan now offers his advice in how to make the most of your work by placing some bets in-running in this latest edition of...

...The Punting Confessional – December 5th, 2012

Having done your work on pace and such like, it would be foolish not to apply what you have learned to in-running punting; I don’t do an awful lot of this myself but it can be a useful tool in your repertoire. Of course, one is fighting against those with fast pictures and you only need to go to a meeting live and see how far the attheraces channel is behind the on-course feed; there can be as much at seven or eight seconds in the difference.

That said, I still believe there is a an edge for reading the race right as some of the fast picture boys aren’t the most diligent race readers and are merely playing their time edge.

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It is inevitable that one will get sickeners playing in-running, marginally missing a price because your fingers were too slow but the rewards are out there and last year’s James Nicholson Chase at Down Royal is a good if extreme example. In the race, the strong-travelling Sizing Europe was always likely to come into the race going well with the strong possibility his stamina would fail as the slow Quito De La Roque came off the bridle early and found plenty in the closing stages; so it transpired as the former hit a low of 1.32 while the latter traded at 280 before winning.

A lot of how a horse’s price moves in-running has to do with race position; as a general rule, hold-up horses will drift (out of sight, out of mind perhaps?) while the price of a pacesetter will contract. How a horse travels also plays a big part; if it is one that tends to come off the bridle early then you can invariably hit it at a bigger price in-play though the trip and pace play a big part in this as the horse that can travel smoothly over a longer distance may find things happening too quickly over shorter.

It’s the opposite with strong travellers who tend to shorten in the run and they can provide the opportunity to lay off in-running; the merits and otherwise of doing this have been debated by much smarter people than me and the argument can be made that by laying off you are taking a bad value price but it’s probably best to judge each horse on an individual basis.

It depends on your temperament too if you want to insure against narrow defeats but either way is something that is worth bearing in mind with horses that are suspect stayers, likely to race on the pace or may be ungenuine. If taking such an approach, it could be worth adding a little extra to your initial stake to allow for the loss you’ll be facing if your lay gets matched though this can be more costly should things not turn out as planned.

It’s taken me a while to get onto jockeys and one thing to bear in mind is that they are all fallible, most are competent when given the right horse but some more than others and you learn who over time. The most obvious thing punters cop with a jockey is when a horse is given too much to do and comes with a late rattle but as we have seen pace can play its part in this and it is way overdone as an angle anyway; the aim is avoiding rather than spotting the obvious.

With jockeys there are a few things I’m looking out for that may not be quite so well reflected in the market. Premature or midrace moves are one and by this I mean when a jockey moves his mount through the field at a time when his rivals are content to sit in position; such a decision is invariably costly as these moves are hard to sustain. Hitting the front too soon – a much better guide to future winners than looking for the fast finisher – is a variation on this.

Pace duels is another notable aspect of jockeyship, i.e. when two or more frontrunners get into a battle for the lead and go too hard, too early; in such cases, all involved are likely to be better than the bare form and keep a particular eye for horses that set a strong pace and still got involved in the finish. Some riders have a tendency to take a pull at the wrong time or not kick on early enough; this is not a contradiction of my earlier point about giving a horse too much to do but must be judged on an individual basis; if you’ve got a horse that needs a relative stamina test over an insufficient trip the jockey needs to be kicking early.

There may also be jockeys that lack aggression in terms of going for gaps and their timidity can be costly; this should not simply be confused with hold-up types that cannot get a run and don’t fall into the trap of blaming every troubled run of a patiently ridden sort on the jockey; the very nature of how such horses are ridden means some trouble is inevitable. Finally, I don’t deny that horses can get a soft ride now and then and it can be profitable to spot one but don’t hang your hat on this as it happens a lot less frequently than most think.

Trouble-in-running is another thing to look out for though I acknowledge that this can be overdone in the market; it is certainly one of the most obvious video angles and these are just the sort of horses that tend to be backed next time as not getting a clear run tends to be clear to jockeys and connections. Some horses are more vulnerable to trouble than others – hold-up types, obviously – and the same is true of jockeys, a number of whom seem magnets for bad luck in running though perhaps that’s my pocket talking.

With those meeting traffic, there are a few things to look for. I particularly like a horse that makes late progress after trouble, indicating that they still had running to give, it may only be running on from eighth into sixth but it’s enough to be significant. If the horse’s effort stalls totally after trouble, I am less inclined to mark it up. There are times when you simply don’t know what a horse had to give, especially if the jockey eases down on them, and in cases like this you really need to be let prices and their overall profile dictate having a bet.

The daddy of them all in terms of bad luck in running however is shuffling, the situation where a horse tracking the pace is caught behind one of the leaders falling back through the field. This is significant on a couple of levels; not only is the horse losing ground at a crucial stage and allowing others have first run on it, but it is also costing momentum just when it is needed. Horses like this don’t come along too often but when they get up to win you are almost certainly onto something, a horse well ahead of its mark as they are likely to be raised off the bare form.

Goldplated was a brilliant example of this when winning at Limerick early in 2011 and duly went on to climb the weights and it’s just the sort of angle missed by the market.

The Punting Confessional: Pace and Position

Punting Confessional: Pace & Position

Punting Confessional: Pace & Position

Last week, Tony Keenan began to take us through the process of making our referral notes/videos, now he goes on to explain how he analyses those races in terms of pace and position in...

...The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, November 21st 2012

By now you’ve got your replays stored and have set up some way of storing your notes so let’s get down to the nuts-and-bolts of the process itself. Essentially you’re looking for eyecatchers, positive and negative, and both can work to providing bets in the future. I don’t believe in adopting the rose-tinted view of so many in the racing media and tend to view with a cynical eye, if anything being more negative than I have to be.

One wants to ignore efforts the obvious in spotting these eyecatchers and by this I mean the sort of superficially positive run that any attheraces presenter can spot in the 30 seconds following the race when needing to fill up airtime. Three obvious examples of these that spring to mind are the supposed non-trier given an easy ride, the horse motoring at the finish or the impressive wide-margin winner.

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All three can easily be turned on their heads and read entirely differently: the one that wasn’t off may be a dog that needs tender handling, the fast-finisher could have made cheap late gains and been suited by the pace scenario while the wide-margin winner may have had the race fall apart or be vulnerable to the bounce. Crucially however, because their efforts were so falsely positive and flagged up by all and sundry, they tend to be overbet next time.

Let’s start with pace which is a key factor as it’s underrated by the market; as far as I can see, the likely run of a race has little to no bearing on the pricing of Irish races. The reason for this is simple: in Ireland (and the UK for that matter), we have next to no access to sectionals so the exact pace of a race is hard to quantify. That’s unsatisfactory for the intelligent punter on one level but on another plane it’s a good thing as it provides an edge; one has to go with some educated guesswork in understanding the pace and while there will inevitably be many times when one calls it wrong, the lack of market awareness to this approach means the prices offered leave room for manoeuvre.

In terms of gauging the pace, it’s important to have some sense of what is likely to unfold pre-race, an idea of the number of front-runners and such like in the race. Yes, tactics can change but it is better to have some knowledge prior to the event than none. In the race itself, look at how many horses are battling for the lead and how hard does the eventual leader have to work to get there. Do the runners get spread out early – indicating a likely decent pace – or are they racing in a bunch? How many of the runners are keen or fighting for their head?

If this is so, the pace is likely to be slow. Be aware of how pace works in relation to certain tracks; I’m not completely sold on this and suspect that the key thing is not the track but how the horses run but there do seem to be some courses where front-runners are at least marginally favoured; Ballinrobe with its tight turns and the round track at Tipperary spring to mind. Pace can also impact a horse’s trip preference; if there is a strong pace over 7f, a miler may get away with the distance but not if it is slowly run. Should the latter circumstances unfold, be willing to forgive said horse a seemingly bad run.

Race position and draw location are factors that link in with pace. There has been a rising consensus among English pundits of late that the draw has been done to death and become all too mainstream and the value is now in going against perceived biases; Tom Segal as Pricewise has advocated backing ones that seem to be drawn badly and are overpriced as a result.

I’m not so sure this is the case in Ireland as we’re backward in almost every aspect of racing and thank god for that as it provides no end of punting angles. Certainly, Irish punters can continue to look for ones that are favoured or unfavoured by the draw though an awareness of how such biases can shift depending ground is important; at Naas and Tipperary for instance, soft ground can see the high numbers favoured.

Race position – i.e. where a horse sits in the race – is a product of the draw; where one starts has an impact on where it races. Being trapped wide is something to look out for. When a horse is wide races on the outside of the pack, it may get a clear run but this one positive is heavily outweighed by negatives. Firstly, the horse racing wide doesn’t get cover and this increases the chance of it racing keenly which in turn expends vital energy necessary for the finish.

Not only that but the horse on the outer tend to travel further which is simple maths; as a fellow columnist Kevin Blake once said if you go around a track four horse-widths off the rail with a trundle wheel and do the same tight to the rail, you soon see the significance of this. At some tracks, often those with sweeping bends, such a race position can be fatal; Dundalk is a good example.

How a horse travels in its races is another thing to note. This can be determined by the trip and/or the pace and looking at how it moves and whether or not it is keen can tell you if it needs to go up or down in distance which is always useful to know; one that is off it from a long way out when most of the field around it are going well within themselves but runs on in the finish is almost certainly looking for a step up in trip but I prefer to base this on how it went through the race rather than the gains it made late.

I tend to like habitual strong travellers – something like one of this year’s progressive sprint handicappers An Saighduir is a good example –  as they make life easy on themselves and can h0ld race position at little cost. There are however horses that are keen over every trip and off every pace; such horses are to be avoided as lack the strength for a finish and with quite a few races in Ireland being slowly run tend not to get the breakneck gallop they need to show their best.

Obviously how horses are travelling will give an insight into the pace.

The Punting Confessional: Further Notes on Form Study

Punting-Confessional

The Punting Confessional: More on Form

The Punting Confessional – November 7th, 2012

by Tony Keenan

Dundalk, Friday November 2nd

I’d been impressed with Paene Magnus on his October 5th run over the same course-and-distance and he looked a bet at 6/1 in the morning; on his previous start which came off a break, he set a strong pace and having beaten off those that raced up with him the 3yo retained enough in the finish to run out a comfortable winner from a couple of closers. The market agreed and sent the Bolger horse off an eventual 10/3 favourite and he ran out an easy victor.

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This was a video-based play and is one of my main ways of approaching a race these days; I like to review race meetings in the days afterwards and pick out horses of note, positives and negatives. It is form study of a sort but rather than viewing the race in words on a page through in-running lines, I look at the race in 3D which adds depth to my understanding of what really unfolded; oftentimes, the words of the formbook simply don’t tell the whole story.

Such an approach has become part of my edge on the market. Any successful punter needs a heads-up on the betting public, be it speed figures, inside information, trainer angles, statistics or any other. Video reviews are part of mine and my aim in doing such is to hold an exclusive view that is not widely available.

I suspect more people are taking such an approach now than in the past with its value having been established by the likes of Hugh Taylor on attheraces, his weekly eyecatchers tending to form a large part of his subsequent bets. Tom Segal is another devotee of watching as much racing as possible and the more widespread availability of video replays has made the logistics of such a project easier.

That said, I still suspect it is an edge for two reasons. Firstly, it is bloody hard work to analyse a meeting and even harder to sustain it over a punting season; most will give up at the thought of such labour. Secondly, by its very nature video analysis is interpretative rather than objective and what one viewer will see, another will miss.

It could be argued that taking the time to do such reviews is unnecessary when one can just read the post-race analysis in the Racing Post and allow the professional race-readers to sort it out for you. Au contraire. I wrote last week about some of the pros and cons of the trade paper and this section certainly falls into the latter category as their flaws here are many.

Firstly, and this is only as far as I know, the Racing Post journalists who analyse the races (and who tend to double up as news reporters at the same meetings) often complete their post-race analysis in the gaps between races; this is why the analysis are available on the website soon afterwards and in the paper the next day.

The timespan here is too tight; I assume that most racing journalists are also punters and having made a play in some of the races they are simply too close to the race – in every sense – to make an objective call about the result. Timeform do a much better job of this by waiting for a few days and allowing the dust to settle.

The Racing Post would be better advised to do a full results section with in-running lines and starting prices and such like the next day but leave the analysis until later at a time when ratings and relative times are available as well as a point of critical distance having been reached. Weekly papers like the Weekender and Irish Field really fall down in this regard; their print deadlines mean that they could really go into detail with post-race analysis (on at least a select number of races) but they ignore this avenue totally.

There is also the feeling that much of the analysis in the Post – and I am speaking mainly on Irish racing here as that is what I follow – is toothless; a journalist may be unwilling to call an ungenuine type a dog for fear of offending the owner who is almost certain to read the breakdown of his horse’s performance; the old line about how you can insult a man’s wife but not his horse rings true. Furthermore, some analysts are clearly better than others and it takes time to sort the wheat from the chaff.

A few just state the obvious, rehashing the in-running lines (which have improved notably in Ireland over the past months) into boring, uninformative copy. In terms of getting a better standard of analysis overall, Timeform is probably the place to go; I have used it in the past myself though not at present, preferring to compile my own analysis. Another problem with using the Racing Post reviews is that their views are in the public domain, accessible to the majority of the betting public which nullifies at least in part any points of value they have made.

So ideally, one wants to put together one's own reviews but what are the logistics of doing this? As I alluded to above, one really has to do it after the event, not the same day, and probably not the next day either. The aim should be to suppress one’s emotions in relation to the race which basically means winning and losing money and take a dispassionate view of the race.

In terms of getting the replays and storing them, I’d advocate putting a series link up on Sky Plus and recording the Racing Review programme (goes out every morning between roughly nine and eleven) on attheraces; I don’t have Racing UK as I don’t really play English racing but assume it’s the same over there. Any decent Sky Box can store a hell of a lot of racing though the Racing Review approach isn’t perfect; there are times on the days when there were lots of meetings that attheraces leave out the start of races and only show the finish which is a mess as you need to see the entire picture.

Alternatively, one can watch the replays on the various websites that provide such a service but the picture quality is not always great on the small screen and I prefer to watch them in comfort on a big TV though connecting a HDMI cable from your laptop to the TV is an option. Some of the websites have the irritating habit of including pre-race ads or plugs before each replay which can waste time; ATR have been running the Breeders’ Cup promo for weeks now and are sure to replace it with something else.

I’ll spend the next two weeks developing on this topic.

The Punting Confessional: When and where to bet?

When and where to bet?

When and where to bet?

Last week, Tony Keenan talked of the importance of getting the right price for your selection. He continues that theme by exploring the timing of your bets and where you should be putting them on, as this week's Punting Confessional comes from..

...Killarney – September 4th

I had a few quid on Bitsanbobs win and place in the mile maiden at this rescheduled fixture and the 4yo is just the sort of horse I like backing for a number of reasons.

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Being trained by Andy Oliver is key as not only is he an up-and-coming handler that the market seems to underrate a little but also his horses are rarely too strong in the betting, the antithesis of those runners from well-known gambling stables I said I generally wanted to be against last week. Bitsanbobs ran a fair race in third but the interesting thing about him was his price; drifting from a morning bookmaker show of around 12/1 to a Betfair SP of 25.47 and 4.9 in the place.

Such a market move would not be atypical for an Oliver horse and there are a number of stables like him in Ireland – notably Ger Lyons and David Marnane – that tend not to ‘go for’ their horses all that strongly; when a stable’s runners tend not to attract money it makes it easier to get on as they may drift on the exchanges and there will likely be less need to chase a price around in the morning. Of course, these are all general points, as there will be times when these trainers try to get a few quid but it the exception rather than the rule.

Speaking of rules, another simple one is to practice patience when you want to back an outsider. In the main, waiting for Betfair near the off is the way to play things with any horse priced in double figures as the nature of the exchange model means that the discrepancies at the bigger prices will be much greater than at the front end. This applies particularly to runners from small yards as they simply don’t have the punters or the money attached to them to compress a price unless there is a serious touch afoot. Holding on until the last minute with a rag and pulling the trigger on a bet in the final sixty seconds before the off is often the best way to play it though again I stress this is only a general rule.

At the risk of stating the bloody obvious, there are two totally different markets for every race: the morning prices provided by the bookies and the exchange market near the off (and in Irish racing, I’m really only talking about the 10 minutes before they jump as this is when the proper money comes in). I wouldn’t even mention the on-course market in Ireland such are the larcenous percentages the layers there bet to; you wouldn’t pay €1.10 for a litre of milk if you could get it for a euro elsewhere?

I think there are probably two optimum times to make a bet in the day. The first is early in the morning between 10am and 11am when a range of bookmakers have priced but have yet to cut their odds. At this point, you are playing your opinion against the odds compilers which is a good position to be in as they’re often wrong, the strength of the big firms’ risk management these days being much more about identifying winning punters and restricting/closing their accounts rather than any traditional bookmaking nous. The obvious problem with playing at this time is getting on and any remotely skilled punter can expect difficulties in this area, particularly in Irish racing where many of the layers seem bet-shy.

The other good time to play is in the final 10 minutes before the off on the exchanges where there can be wild fluctuations in price that make horses that previously looked unappealing become interesting as they drift; one does have to be wary of the ‘slot machine’ mentality here as I’ve written about before. In this case, it’s more that you have the percentages in your favour than backing against another person’s opinion; on Betfair and the like the market will be priced to a tight 104-5% depending on your commission which is often better than the combined prices of all the bookmakers in the morning. Again however, there are problems with this as the price about your fancy may well have contracted and you may have to take a shorter price now though you can probably get on what you like given the sums that are swilling around. The ideal scenario for any punter is to have access to both markets but increasingly winners are being driven towards the exchanges; if I have a preference for one over the other it would be Betfair though that has been born of necessity.

The timing of one striking a bet is thus very important and one thing I tend not to do is back a steamer during the day after the price has shortened. Not only will the value likely have gone (though this is not always the case) but more importantly it is likely the horse will drift again near the off; I find it rare that one will be hammered both in the morning and at the time of the race as in most cases other horses will be backed at this point and the earlier steamer may take a walk. By backing such horses during the day, you’re taking what is often the basement price and no matter how good you are at the form it is hard to turn a profit betting like this.

One relatively recent development, particularly on the Irish scene, has been the arrival of evening or night-before prices with a small number of firms pricing up the better handicaps or group races for the following day. When this began, one would see a number of horses being backed and dramatically so in the evening but this pattern seems on the wane now as realistically no reasonable-stakes punter can get on; if you think the morning limits are bad in Ireland, you should try the to get a decent bet on the night before. I think most punters don’t even bother to try to get on at these prices now and just hope that some small player doesn’t ruin the odds before morning.

Playing to any sort of civilised stake in the night-before markets is one of the easiest ways to spoil an account; you need to ask yourself, what sort of punter wants to make a bet at this early stage if not a clued-in one with his homework done? For a punter playing the long game, getting longevity out of accounts is important, all the more now as the firms will use any excuse to close one.

A final point on night-before prices: playing at this time can be a case of fools rushing in. In the main, it is best to have a spread of prices in front of you than just the offers of two or three bookmakers. This is not to say that the two or three bookmakers won’t make a mistake as they certainly will but they will have a large percentage factored in to allow for errors; as I write the night before the Kilbeggan meeting on September 7th, one firm as an 8-runner race priced up to 123% and a 17-runner affair priced to 159% and it’s not easy to win with those figures. Clearly, you’ll call a few wrong with such an approach but long-term it should pay off.

The Punting Confessional: The Price is Right?

The Price is Right?

The Price is Right?

And we don't mean that terribly tacky game show we imported from the States in the 1980's. In this week's Punting Confessional, Tony Keenan explains how to get the right price for your wagers and the importance of doing so, using a couple of examples from...

...Killarney, August 30th

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I had a pair of bets at this mixed meeting last Thursday, Alla Speranza at 10/1 and Authorization at 16/1, both at morning prices, with the former finishing up at 8/1 and the latter at 5/1, with respective Betfair Starting Prices of 12.o and 7.7 (I include the BSPs as they tend to give a fairer reflection of the market than the larcenous percentages bet to by the Irish on-course layers). Certainly, they performed in contrast to market expectations, Alla Speranza going down by less than a length despite being stagnant at best while the gamble on Authorization went astray as he finished fifth. It was yet another example of how drifters and steamers often perform in contrast to what the betting said beforehand and that the market gets it wrong frequently.

Getting the best price about a horse should of course be every punter’s aim and certainly one can develop a gut feeling for the sort of horses that are consistently under- and overrated by the market. Achieving this aim alone could help a few punters reach profitability while it would certainly limit the losses of all. It is worth remembering however that no one can get price-taking right the whole time; it is impossible to call the market correctly the whole time (unless you are putting down such substantial bets that you are influencing the entire thing) so resign yourself to a number of incorrect calls.

A good general rule to apply is that if you are satisfied the price is value, then take it unless you have good reason to believe you will get a bigger one by waiting (more of this anon). Remember that if you think a horse is overpriced and have a track record of calling these things correctly the chances are others will hold the same opinion. One needs something of substance to base this judgement call on; your own tissue prices are the obvious place to start or at least some sort of target price that has been ascertained before you see the available odds.

One thing that won’t help you after you have taken a price is to continually check the odds of your selection and whether it is shortening or drifting; the psychological theory of investment (as I read in a book called ‘Nudge’) suggests that when we continually checks whether the value of our investment is rising or falling, it affects our attitude to risk, making us more risk-averse, clearly not what one wants as a gambler. I do acknowledge that this is something of a double-edged sword as a punter has to check prices as part of their routine but it is worth being aware of the psychological problems this can cause.

With calling the market, one needs to be aware of the various influences on it and by so doing one can improve their market reading. Tipping services are the most obvious place to start and the main ones have a huge influence. Pricewise in the Racing Post is the daddy of them all in terms of power but one thing I find hard to listen to is punters continually bemoaning Tom Segal putting up one of their fancies and contracting the price. With Pricewise, punters know the sort of race Segal will be tipping on – usually the big handicaps or group races of the day – and if you are concerned about him giving your selection then you need to get on the night before; with this sort of race, the markets are available from the day before the race if not even earlier so there is no excuse for not having at least half the stake on before the day of the race.

In reality, Segal’s doings have no real impact on my daily punting as he rarely does Irish racing and Gary O’Brien of attheraces has a much bigger influence on the market, not least because most of the Irish morning prices are fragile. One needs to be aware of the time his tips go up – usually between 10.30am and 11am though not always – and keep an eye on the ATR website. In fairness to O’Brien, the prices of the horses he tips don’t tend to contract instantly so one has a chance to get; from what I can gather this is not the case with the tips of Hugh Taylor whose selections have their prices cut to ribbons within seconds.

With O’Brien, as with any tipster for that matter, it can be useful to pre-empt his selections. Oftentimes he will go for the same type of horse, if not the same horse itself as he has done with something like Sure Reef in 2012; he has put that one up at least four times this year so if you fancied it, it was one to get on early. Pricewise Extra, usually released at midday on the day of the race is another tipping service that has power, notably so when Segal is in situ.

An awareness of stables that like to back their horses, and perhaps more importantly when they like to do so, is another skill of the good market reader. I am not so much talking about traditional gambling yards like those of Charles Byrnes or Tony Martin; horses from that sort of stable are underpriced as a rule and are ones to be against in most cases though they train mainly over jumps so are of little interest to me. Of course, all stables back their horses to some degree or another, some a lot more expertly than others, and if you intend backing one of their runners it’s important to know their modus operandi.

For example, the Reggie Roberts yard seem to have a clear method behind their gambles; they want to get on as early as possible with the morning prices, often long before all the layers have priced up, though I can’t really see this as a good strategy as the limits at this time of the day tend to be restrictive. They landed one such gamble this past weekend with Timeless Call at Dundalk. The Kevin Prendergast stable tend to back their better 2yos early in the morning too and often it is a case that no price is short enough about an unraced sort – see Nurpur earlier in the year at Leopardstown. In such cases, they often become insensitive to price and silly season kicks in so as a rule it’s probably best to oppose them though it should be pointed out that the usefulness of this approach is not what it was with the yard not having so many winners these days.

The Punting Confessional: Further thoughts on Staking

Punting Confessional – July 18th 2012

No seamless anecdotal lead-in to this week’s piece as I just want to continue with last week’s discussion on staking. I concluded that piece with writing about the importance of having a plan before undertaking a day’s punting but it is equally important to allow some flexibility within this plan.

A punter should know at the start of the day what the worst-case scenario is should everything go to pot but I like to add maybe 15-20% to this figure as it allows me to adapt during the day depending on market movements as the market in the morning and the market at post-time can be two entirely different things; the horse you fancied at 10.30am may now have shortened into a price that makes it unbackable while one that was tight enough in the early exchanges may have drifted to a value option.

All this reminds me of a quote from economist John Maynard Keynes that Kevin Pullein used in one of his Racing Post columns in the past year: ‘I change my mind when the facts change.’ One of the great myths of punting – and one that is reinforced by anecdotal evidence, never a good way to support an argument – is that you shouldn’t change your mind about a selection; not to put too fine a point on it but that’s bollocks.

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If you thought a race was between a pair of horses, one priced at 7/4 and the other at 5/1 and you slightly (but only slightly) favoured the former in your analysis, which one would you be backing? If you’re answering the 7/4 shot then it’s unlikely you’re making money in the long-term. Sometimes I will plan to have a bet in a race but won’t decide on which horse it will be until right before the off as I know the Betfair market at that stage can fluctuate wildly and one can get some massive prices about horses.

This brings in the idea of what to do with drifters and I do have a neat anecdote about this. I was at Down Royal on the Saturday of Royal Ascot last year when Maybe won the Chesham impressively; she had been put in around 6/4 or 7/4 in the morning but was sent off 5/2 having been widely available at 3s. A punter in front of me after the race turned around and said ‘Jesus, she was the only horse I fancied today but when I saw her drift, I couldn’t touch her.’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

For me, there is only one way to deal with a drifter: back it again. If you fancy a horse at 7s, then you have to fancy it even more at 12s. Of course, you will get lots of these wrong but the ones you get right should more than make up for the wrong calls. Everyone loves to be on a springer, a horse that you have backed at 20s that goes off 7s but it’s worth remembering that all the data that has been compiled on drifters suggests that they win as often as they should relative to market position.

Too many punters oppose drifters as they suspect something sinister is going on but more often than not the drift is for an innocent reason. A horse may have done a bad piece of homework in the lead-up to the race and it has filtered into the public domain; some see this as the ultimate negative but it’s worth remembering that races are won on the track and as a punter I really want to be with horses that save their best for the racecourse and are idle at home.

Other horses being backed is another obvious cause of a drift; on Betfair say where the percentages have to add up to 100 so if a horse is being backed then another must drift. Connections may have backed their horse in the morning and had enough money on so a drift on course is inevitable. Some connections don’t gamble or gamble very lightly. And finally there are times when the market simply gets it wrong as it is far from the unerring behemoth some present it as.

The most marked drifts occur on the exchanges and this is why any right thinking punter must have a Betfair (yes, I know I do some work for them but hear me out!) or Betdaq account; frequently a horse will drift from 7s to 10s on course but will be widely available for decent money at 14s on the machine – in this case it’s a no brainer where to play.

I realise some punters can’t handle using the exchanges as a slot machine mentality kicks in and I suppose knowing that this is your weak-spot is a skill in itself but by denying yourself access to Betfair or whatever exchange you are cutting off what could be an excellent source of profit on drifters and that’s not even to mention their prices on outsiders.

I think punters have to use whatever means necessary to get on at the best prices and exchanges are a vital tool if a punter can remain in control.

Consistency of staking is a good skill to acquire and ideally a punter wants to be in a position where he is having the same on a horse depending on the level of confidence and regardless of other circumstances. This level of confidence is best determined the night or morning before a meeting rather than a post-time when the pull of the action can be strong; I find the best decisions, in gambling and otherwise, take time.

The other circumstances I refer to above would things like whether you are on a good or bad run of form or perhaps the stature of the meeting; we can all play things up a bit at the big fixtures and while acknowledging that we’re human and these things can happen it is important that they don’t get out of hand. Punters need to be aware that good betting opportunities can present themselves anywhere and one pro-punting friend of mine swears by the likes of tracks like Bellewstown and Ballinrobe as the racing there is largely uncompetitive.

I wouldn’t be quite so extreme as that though punters should try to reach a point where we have no problem having a good bet at tracks like these instead of saving our firepower for courses like the Curragh and Cheltenham.

The Punting Confessional: Staking and the Betting Bank

Camelot's Irish Derby win didn't excite Tony!

Camelot's Irish Derby win didn't excite Tony!

In this week's Punting Confessional, Tony Keenan tackles an age-old source of disagreement: stakes, staking plans and betting banks. He explains how he apportions his betting bank into daily stakes and how he manages the bank: discipline is vital.

Curragh – June 30th

I was standing on the steps at the Curragh on Irish Derby Day chatting to a pair of punting friends of mind, discussing not the upcoming Group 1 (frankly, we couldn’t care less about Camelot’s stroll around as it made no appeal as a betting race) but rather the thorny issue of staking.

The duo: one a full-time punter and the other a very serious part-timer, agreed that it was not only one of the more important parts of the game but also one of the most difficult and that striking the right balance between aggression and control was hard to achieve and that picking winners was only part of the battle.

I could write a book on the subject and still fail to cover it satisfactorily but here are some of my broad ideas on staking.

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First and foremost, I think you need to have a separate betting bank, kitty, call it what you will. This sort of mental accounting – an economic/behavioural term where you separate money into different areas – is vital and whether you do it with a separate bank account, credit card or cash doesn’t really matter, it just needs to be done.

I try to avoid treating gambling money as real money whereby a fiver might be a pint, fifty a meal out or five hundred a new laptop; when you get into that you’re attaching value to the money and it becomes harder to part with it and you’re much better to think of it as chips and have a certain blasé attitude to it. In order to dip into your wallet and have a bet with one hand and pay for petrol with the other, you are either reckless or bombproof; I am neither so prefer to keep my betting money separate.

On a really practical level, it is wise to keep your betting business apart from your main bank account, especially if you have a lot of turnover and transactions; in these straightened times banks are using every excuse not to lend people money and there’s no point in giving them another stick to beat you with.

I like to use a points-based system in terms of staking with my minimum bet being half a point up to a maximum of 6 points and my average bet coming in at around 2 points. As an overall bank, I’m probably working off 200 to 240 points at any one time and if it gets over the 240 points I’m taking the money out for income.

I don’t really like to have a huge differential between a small bet and a large bet – at its worst, a small bet is only one twelfth of a big bet and more than likely it is one sixth – and I was recently very surprised to see an interview with Richard Hoiles in which he talked about his small bet being only 2% of his maximum bet; I can’t have it that one would fancy one horse fifty times more than the next.

My turnover would tend to be quite high and at a given meeting I could easily have a bet (or more than one bet) in every race; I would tend to put about 20 points in play at a meeting where I am playing strong which works out at about 8-10% of my overall bank. I would rarely have my maximum 6 points on a horse – I did it only once in June – but often I would push in 4, 5 or 6 points in a single race where thought there was a bad favourite or favourites and a number of horses were overpriced.

In truth though, I’m probably quite risk-averse and the thought of risking a bank on a single day’s racing or going ‘all in’ makes no appeal; I want to negate the risk of ruin where possible and prefer grinding steady profits over a long period of time than trying to knock it out of ballpark the whole time, getting it right sometimes but going broke as well; the former approach is much better for the head too.

A level-stakes approach is something I would have little time for; there are degrees to which a punter may fancy a horse with some plays being marginal and others strong. The time to go in strong for me is when you like both the horse and the price and less so when it is one or the other.

Also, price – and by price I mean whether a horse is a big or small price – should not play a part in your staking level and by that I mean you should not be having more on a short-priced horse and a small bet on an outsider. I probably swing the other way on this entirely as I hate backing short price horses and would much prefer have a decent bet on a 16/1 shot than a 5/4 jolly; indeed, I probably won’t even back the 5/4 as I have no head for analysing value at the front end of the market.

One final thing on a points-based approach to staking; be aware that you can and should change the size of your points from time to time. This should not be done arbitrarily and probably not all that frequently but if you feel the need to get the profits up – as I did at the start of the 2012 flat season when I increased my point size by about 25% – it is worth thinking about.

A word of warning with this though is that you need to know your own comfort zone; if increasing stake size will mess with your thinking and make you second guess yourself then it may be counterproductive.

Having a pre-racing plan as to how you are going to play each card is always a good idea; before each meeting starts you should have a clear idea about how much you are going to risk and what is the worst-case scenario if everything goes wrong. Some days are good for punting with lots of overpriced horses, others are not and knowing the difference is a skill; if you ever discover how to do this, please drop me a line.

The time of an individual race is irrelevant and whether your strongest fancy is in the first, third or seventh race shouldn’t matter; you need to plan accordingly and get stuck in early or keep the powder dry depending on circumstances. It never ceases to amaze me when bookmakers comment on the bumper (invariably the last race on the card at national hunt meeting in Ireland) being the most heavily traded race of the day; surely this is the toughest race with least racecourse evidence available and stakes should be kept small but race position on the cards seems to have a major effect.

Needless to say, I am scornful of any sort of progressive or regressive staking approach where you have more or less on the next horse depending on how the previous one went; such beliefs are illogical and fail to treat each race as the independent entities that they are.

Playing The Handicaps

Wexford's Parade Ring

Wexford's Parade Ring

Playing the handicaps!

Wexford, May 19th

It’s been a grinding sort of week since I last wrote with a few reasonable winners like Prince Jock on this card and Elusive In Paris the previous evening at Dundalk peppered with plenty of losers like Catch Light, Ondeafears and Harry Trotter; I think the technical term for this is chiselling out a profit but I’ll take it whatever way it comes.

Also, despite the turf season being nearly two months old, it was the first week of really slogging form study with seven back-to-back flat meetings from Killarney on the 15th to Roscommon on the 21st. Thus far, I’ve been enjoying it and getting a winner or two has helped, though I’ll be glad of a little breather this week to catch up with some reviews ahead of the Guineas meeting at the Curragh this weekend.

When the racing starts to come thick-and-fast like this time management is important; during the summer it’s not so bad for me as I have more time on my hands but at this stage of the year I have other work commitments and how I distribute my time matters. When I come home from work in the evenings, I know I only have a narrow window in which I can work, probably a period of two or three hours. One could pull all-nighters and simply devour the formbook but such moves are unsustainable and I know, having already put in a day’s work, that I only have a short time in which my attention is at the quality level required to go through a card properly.

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This means that I have to choose my battles wisely and I’m looking at doing four or maybe five races in real detail while scanning the others for obvious plays. Inevitably, I am drawn to handicaps; I wrote last week about my love for them and I know from past records that I do best in them; in 2011 for instance, I made 92% of my profits from handicaps.

When I get the declarations in the morning I will plan how I will distribute my time and select the races I want to study and in what order; I will often avoid maidens as I find they are a drain on time and rarely offer good betting opportunities. Some would say that this is because stable insiders have the edge here with the merits of unraced and lightly-raced horses but I wouldn’t overestimate this as so-called informed punters often get it wrong and the market is not always the accurate guide some pundits would have you believe.

Often, it is more a case that few have chances and the layers prices up very accurately to big margins. All that said, handicaps are my thing and I prefer to start with handicaps for older horses where the form is well established. Once I have ‘got my eye in’ I will move onto the trickier three-year-old races or nurseries where the horses are less exposed.

One of the main features of handicaps, and for me it is an appealing feature, is the transience of it all; things change very quickly with handicappers and loyalties have to be switched quickly. Over the past 3 weeks I’ve been compiling horses to follow lists for my Betfair blog and the challenge in selecting group horses and handicappers to note is completely different; with the former, you need to play the long game and project the whole season while with the latter everything is recent.

Handicappers run more frequently and a punter needs to stay on top of the form but with classier horses there is more time to digest things. Good handicap punters tend not to be too loyal and can oppose a horse one day and then back them a fortnight later; when the facts change, we change our opinions with them.

Indeed, excessive loyalty can be a flaw in a punter. I never cease to be amazed that when I give a tip to casual punter who asks me about a race and the horse wins (infrequently, I’ll grant you) that person will still be following the same horse 18 months later when its brief period of being well-handicapped and/or in-form has long since passed and they have done their best to give back the profit they made on the original bet. With winning punters, most loyalties are quickly cast to the wind and I only want to know about a winner I backed in the future if it shaped better than the result on its recent starts.

It is often said that the most important factor in the outcome of a race is the ground but I don’t agree; what matters most is the talent of the horse, or in handicaps, the talent of the horse relative to its mark. I have two main means of determining whether a horse is well-in: form and video. The former is an old-fashioned approach where one is simply looking for races that are working out or horses that have been running against tough competition while with the latter one is looking for those that were better than the bare result, be as a result of pace, draw, trouble or whatever.

When you find a well-handicapped sort you are onto to something and, by-and-large, a well-handicapped horse has to go close granted normal luck; considerations of ground and distance, provided they are not totally unsuitable (a fast ground sprinter stretching out to 10f on soft, say), are secondary. The toughest races are those in which there are no well-treated entries as other factors – ground, distance, how the race will be run – come into play and there have been a few such races in Ireland of late, for example the handicaps won by Whipless and Jazz Girl on consecutive Sundays; I tend to keep my stakes small in such races.

Another important consideration when playing in handicaps is class. In Britain, there is a straightforward framework of classifying races from one down to seven and it works well; we have no such system in Ireland, relying instead on ratings bands such as 47 to 75, and we could certainly do with a more transparent method.

Punters should keep an eye on ratings of horses (usually updated on a Monday in Ireland) to see what band they qualify for and whether they can sneak into a grade that they have previously been ineligible for. This sort of class drop, though it may appear imperceptible, makes a huge difference as a horse is now competing against animals of a totally different league; to take an extreme example, a horse rated that has run sixth in a good 0-85 may now be dropping in to compete in a 0-65 and he may have a significant class edge against the bottom feeders.

A good recent case was Moonbi Creek at Dundalk on May 4th; he had run fourth in a decent 0-80 against fair horses like Barrow Island and Knockgraffon Lad on his first run off a break but dropped into a 0-70 next time to take on limited sorts like Tsar Paul who may have been in-form but it was form from a lesser grade. Moonbi Creek won at 7/2 and while I didn’t get enough on (I missed the price), his sort are always work looking out for; he carried top-weight in the race but I never consider such things, class being the key factor.

Finally, a word on very low-class handicaps. I play in them quite a bit and would know plenty about the horses involved but I would have a preference for slightly better class races; horses that run in 0-65 races in Ireland (the lowest grade available) invariably have some sort of hole in them, being ungenuine, injury-prone, slow or simply unreliable.

It wouldn’t put me off having a good bet on one if I thought it was overpriced but I have a preference for the better handicapper or at least the middle-of-the-road ones that are just that bit more reliable. Premier handicaps, races like the Scurry or Galway Mile, are my favourite medium of all with their competitive big fields and are made for exchange betting where prices on my favourite type of horse, outsiders, tend to be inflated and offer the opportunity to knock it out of the ballpark.

The Punting Confessional: Beating the handicapper.

Curragh Racecourse

Curragh Racecourse

Curragh, May 6th

I managed to the get the flat season – or at least the punting part of it – up and running at the Curragh on Bank Holiday Monday with a pair of decent winners in Ondeafears and Wrekin Rock; that the pair came in 50-80 handicaps should come as no surprise to anyone who knows my punting methods.

I realise there is something perverse in making your biggest plays in the worst races on the card – that was certainly the case here with the winners returning the worst and second-worst form ratings of the meeting – but I’m a contrarian by nature and handicaps are very much my bread-and-butter.

Group races just don’t do it for me and while some will argue that the perils of punting in such events were brought into sharp relief later on the card with the St Nicholas Abbey debacle in the Mooresbridge Stakes, I don’t agree. That race saw what was palpably the best horse getting turned over but such results are the exception, the problem with playing in pattern races from a personal punting perspective being quite the opposite, i.e. that the best horse wins all too often.

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For me, this isn’t a good thing because such horses are all  too obvious and invariably sent off at short prices; what I really want in a race is complexity – whether it be provided by pace, handicap marks, track or draw biases or any number of other variables – as this provides the possibility of a big score. Handicaps, by their very nature, are complex in that their stated aim to give each horse an equal chance and the fastest horse does not always win.

One of the best things about handicaps is the predictability of pace. Exposed handicappers have a running style and by-and-large they stick to it; to change it could compromise their chances. This means one can a have very good idea how a race will be run beforehand which is helpful as one can see how the likely pace scenario will favour one type of runner over another; there may be a front-runner that is going to be left alone in the lead or there may be loads of pace on which will suit closers.

Not only is such pace analysis a useful tool pre-race, it comes in handy afterwards when reviewing a meeting as one can come up with a sensible idea of which horses were advantaged or disadvantaged by the run of things; knowing how the race was expected to be run makes this sort of work far easier.

Analysing pace in other races is much more problematic. In maidens, a punter has little or no evidence to go on with running styles and oftentimes pace becomes an irrelevance as there is such a differential between the ability levels of runners. Group races are even worse, especially in Ireland, and Ballydoyle have to shoulder much of the blame for this. Such is their strength of numbers they can choreograph Irish group races which is not something that can be achieved in England and further afield where the competition is much stiffer.

The best example of this was last year’s Irish 2,000 Guineas where the Aidan O’Brien-trained Roderic O’Connor defeated the best horse in the race Dubawi Gold by dint of tactics, something Dubawi Gold’s jockey Richard Hughes was well aware of in his Racing Post column on the morning of the race; the winner finished the season pace-making in the Irish Champion Stakes while Dubawi Gold was in the frame of Group 1s with Excelebration and Frankel.

Pacemakers are another complicating factor in Irish Group races as one never knows what Ballydoyle are going to do with a race; sometimes they want a breakneck gallop, other times they want to slow it down for a suspect stayer and there are even occasions when they hardly know what they want. Getting stallion prospects is the raison d’être of the yard and it seems that any horse can be sacrificed at the altar of bloodstock, or at least a sire you can charge at least €50,000 a nomination for.

With the Ballydoyle horses, their run styles change markedly from race to race; what a horse did when a short-priced favourite for a Group 3 bears no resemblance to what it is likely to do in a Group 1 next time at 50/1 when the yard has a fancied horse they perceive needs a certain pace. I suspect this sort of chopping and changing  is not good for individual horses are they are not allowed to get into habits on the track and stunts their development and I am sure it is bad for punters who simply don’t have a clue how each horse well be ridden.

Another factor that keys in with pace is track configuration; some tracks favour certain run styles and horse types. The problem with Irish group races from a punting point-of-view is that the vast majority of them are run at the Curragh or Leopardstown, a pair of tracks that are in the main very fair. This is important when one is trying to further the breed and simply find out which is the quickest horse but it reduces the complexity of races and thus makes them less interesting betting mediums.

Personally, I would find pattern races much more interesting if they were run on the Naas sprint track on soft ground (high numbers all the way), at Tipperary (a front-runner’s paradise) or even around the up-and-down Western gaffs like Galway and Ballinrobe (chaos rules).

With the top group horses, punters often need to ask themselves how much more they can know than the market; here are a coterie of talented horses who make up about 10% or less of the equine population yet take up about 90% of the column inches on horse racing (rough figures I know, but you get my meaning).

You may hold a low opinion of the standard of the racing media (I know I certainly do) but the more information they have the more they are likely to spot value and point it out to the public and the few good analysts there are among the media soon spot pricing errors in the top races. With handicappers, it’s a different story.

The proclivities of exposed handicappers may be clear to someone going through their form in detail but they are not covered in media in any great detail and this is where a shrewd punter can get an edge on the market. It seems no coincidence that a number of the punters and analysts I respect – Hugh Taylor, Tom Segal and Dave Nevison in his prime – do a lot of their backing/tipping in fields of older handicappers. Personally, I would have every confidence in playing my knowledge of Irish handicappers against most punters and certainly against the odds compilers.

I suppose an awful lot of this boils down to an old chestnut of punting: specialisation. A punter simply cannot know everything and one has to find races that suit your style. I don’t want to rule out group races entirely as I’m sure some punters swear by them and one should never be dogmatic about rules in racing as one never knows when a good betting opportunity will arrive. It may well be in a Group 1 but somehow I doubt as handicaps have provided most of the best bets of my life.

Coping with Losing Runs

McCarthy knows all about losing runs...

McCarthy knows all about losing runs...

The Punting Confessional: Losing Runs and how to deal with them... 

Dundalk, April 11th

Another losing day among many at the start of this  current flat season so now seems a good time to address losing streaks and how to respond to them.

This early stage of the year is a time when I tend to lose money but I am wary of falling into the trap of cliché and saying things will turn when the form settles down; I often do well at the backend, another supposed time of form chaos, and odds compilers and layers make mistakes in March and April as often as they do at other times of the year.

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We can all look back over the years and see periods when we tend to do well – Cheltenham or Galway or Christmas, say – but I often wonder is this just a self-fulfilling prophecy brought about by a positive mental attitude to a particular time of the year rather than our methods working better at different points in the season. On balance, punters need to be open to a profit seam arising at any stage of the year and not wait for a time when things should improve; past performance is no guide to future success.

The first thing to know about losing streaks is they are inevitable; this doesn’t make them any easier to handle but it should somewhat leaven the feeling of failure they bring. Losing means different things to different people; for a selective punter who places only a bet a day or even a week it could theoretically go on for months but for me when I talk of losing I don’t mean that I haven’t backed a winner for weeks but rather that I have had a period of consecutive losing days.

My approach would be quite scattergun – in a seven-race card I could easily be playing at least six races, if not all seven, and would have no aversion to backing more than one horse in a race – so I wouldn’t have a losing streak in the traditional sense of a long period without a winning bet.

It all comes back to matching your punting style to your temperament; if you really struggle to handle backing losers then playing a series of outsiders probably isn’t going to be your thing as losing streaks are more common with such an approach; I have no numbers to back up the likelihood a long string of losers but Hugh Taylor had some very interesting analysis on the Form Factor (the best racing programme on television and always worth a watch) recently and showed that with an average price taken of 10/1 losing streaks of 20 bets and more are common.

When losing, self-doubt kicks in and one needs to be wary of recency biased thinking; just like when on a winning streak when seemingly everything we touch turns to gold, it now appears that we will never back another winner. Such black-and-white thinking leads to sweeping generalisations and should be avoided.

Again the brilliant Taylor springs to mind. When interviewed at the start of the Form Factor the invariably clueless presenter asks him how his punting has been going and regardless of whether he is winning or losing, Taylor adopts a sanguine attitude and replies that all that matters are the figures at year end. I can only dream of achieving such punting equilibrium but it should certainly be aspired to.

Perhaps the key to overcoming a losing streak is routine. Consistency is vital and returning to past methods (assuming, of course, that these methods have proved profitable in the past) a must. One must do what needs to be a done whether it is form study, pace analysis or tissue prices; now is not the time to change. This is not to say that your methods should not be questioned; of course they should but not now.

In the midst of a poor run of form one is inclined to view everything in the negative whereas such questioning of performance really needs to be done in the cold light of day, perhaps even during a time when one is not punting seriously, an off-season if you will. This analysis should be backed up with data and not undertaken piecemeal; major punting decisions should be governed by the head not the heart.

A further point on taking a consistent approach; this applies to staking at least as much as to form analysis and perhaps even more so. Ask yourself how much you would have on the same horse in the same situation during a good period and if the answer is different it’s time for a rethink. Striking the balance is important here; too much on and you are chasing, too little and your money is scared and both have their pitfalls.

Past records can be a very useful source of information at these difficult times if only because they will allow you to take a more logical balanced view of your current situation. This of course assumes that you have past records to call on and if you haven’t it is probably time to start keeping them. Spreadsheets are probably the way to go now but I have to admit to being a troglodyte in this regard and being the owner of piles of hardback copies with reams of bets inside; everything else in my punting life may be digitised but records are not as yet.

Finally, a word on having horses get done on a line or coming with a late rattle and just failing to get up. These are good things for a punter particularly if like me you play away from the front end of the market; it means you are getting something right and the time to really get concerned is when your fancies are running up the track and getting beaten by the ambulance.

When they are going close you are reading the form well and the worm may be about to turn; this can be a danger point for punters as they may go on tilt when luck appears to be swinging against them. Accept that luck is a myth and on the whole will even itself out over the course of a year.

Planning Your Betting

The Punting Confessional

The Punting Confessional

The Punting Confessional

No Racing, April 1st through 3rd

There was some downtime early this week with no flat racing in Ireland so I used it to set about planning my betting for upcoming flat season; ideally this should have been completed before the first day of the turf season but I had been drawn by the action of Cheltenham and had spent much of my time in early March preparing for the Festival and either way it would be a while before the turf really got up-and-running.

I don’t particularly like this sort of strategic planning which probably makes me like most other punters; I would much prefer to be cracking through races and betting away. It is however a necessary, if boring, part of improving your game and requires not a little soul searching and research but hopefully it will pay off by season’s end. In terms of planning ahead I looked at four important areas of my punting – profit targets, staking, routine and getting on – though I’m sure there are other angles that could be explored.

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I began by deciding what sort of profits I wished to achieve over the coming months and to do this I looked at my figures for the past 6 years. Rather than simply pull a figure out of thin air – there is no point in taking a ‘this time next year Rodney, we’ll be millionaires’ approach – I took an average of my profits over the past four years as a guide and decided I wanted to achieve that figure plus 20%.

There were a couple of reasons for this; firstly, I think I’m a better punter now than over those years as I have changed my methods slightly and secondly, during one of those years I was working on a book about the Galway Races that took up a lot of time and meant that my punting suffered. External factors like this can of course affect your betting but it is important not to use them as excuses; in this case however I feel justified in putting some of the blame on another project.

Staking is always an interesting issue and broadly speaking I work off a points-based system that runs from one to six; this means that on horses or races I have a strong view on I will play six times heavier than on one where my opinion is weakest. At any stage, I am unlikely to work on a bank of less than 200 points so my staking is always small relative to my overall bank; I tend to play a lot of races and am more about turnover than selectivity while I also tend to oppose the front end of the market so this gives me the security I feel I need to work best.

I never go all in on a race in terms of my overall betting bank, it’s just not my style and I’m all for punters finding their own individual approach. This method has been a constant for me in recent years but this season I plan to make a change by increasing the size of the point staked by 20%; I have punted to that sort of stake in the past back in 2008 but that was when I was only really playing at weekends whereas now I am punting most days during the flat season. I have a slight concern, as should every punter, about raising the stakes as it can put you out of your comfort zone but I have been there before and I feel it is necessary if I want to achieve my profit targets.

Nor do I want to up the stakes immediately as I often find this period of the season a hard one to make money on; I will probably wait until the beginning of May by which time the form will have settled down.

Broadly speaking, I have good routine going for studying racing that includes two main areas: video reviews of past meetings and form analysis of a specific meeting the day before. I had a tendency last year to let the reviews build up on me and do four or five in a single day but I felt that this was too draining; it takes about ninety minutes to review a meeting and I invariably write about a thousand words on each and it requires quality of attention.

This season I want to do them within 3 days of the meeting itself; I have always been better at working gradually through things rather than cramming at the last minute (again, finding your own punting style is vital here) and I feel that things about that meeting such as the likely pace of each race will be fresh in your mind at this point rather than trying to recall these things two weeks after the event.

Another point I want to include in my betting routine this year is a regular look at the Turf Club excuses (published weekly on their website) and rating updates (on the HRI website, posted on Monday) as they can be an important tool; too often in the past I have taken a piecemeal approach to these areas and need to be more systematic. Given that I tend to do my writing for this site and Betfair on Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesday seems the best day for this.

For any remotely winning punter, getting on is the most frustrating aspect of the modern game; we have more information than we have ever had before (this is not to say we wouldn’t like even more!) but we also have more hassle in getting our bets on. I don’t want to turn this into an anti-bookmaker rant – we all know that they don’t really want to support the opinions of their odds compilers and much less so to anyone who has any clue – as we simply are where we are with this and have to find ways around it.

During the past years, I have played a lot at early prices and used all sorts of chicanery to get on but there is a point where it begins to wear on you and the legwork and otherwise becomes more than a minor irritation. So over this winter, I put some time (ok, a lot of time) into comparing the early prices I took last year with Betfair Starting Price (BSP) and I was surprised to see that the difference between the two, despite all the hassle of getting at early price, was minimal.

I would classify myself as fairly good at reading a market yet much of my trouble was for nought and it is worth remembering that BSP is only one reflection of the market and there can be a lot of fluctuation in these prices in the minutes before the off so in most cases one will be able to get the money one wants on at the right prices. So this season, I intend, where possible, to push my business towards the exchanges to negate much of the hassle of getting on.

This brings up two further issues that I need to be aware of. Firstly, patience will be vital as the real money on Irish racing only comes into the exchange markets in the 15 minutes before the off and it is very hard to watch the price of a horse you fancy collapse in the early markets as you wait for the exchanges; there will however be times when your selection drifts. Secondly, there is the risk of becoming a slave to the machine as it becomes harder to maintain discipline and a slot machine mentality could possibly kick in.

In this regard, it is important to stick to your broad staking plan for the day while still allowing room for flexibility, a pair of issues I hope to return to in the future.

The Punting Confessional 28th March 2012

Editor's note: In the first of a brand new series of features, Tony Keenan, Betfair's Irish racing writer, brings his 'punting confessional'. Part diary, part teaching module, I'm really looking forward to this series, as I very much enjoy Tony's frank and generally contrarian outlook. I hope you will too.

The Punting Confessional

Cheltenham, March 13th through 16th

The Punting Confessional

The Punting Confessional

I’ll leave the Dickensian allusions about the meeting to the site owner and simply say the Festival was edging towards the worst of times for this corner; bar the momentary relief provided by Teaforthree and Riverside Theatre it was a disappointing punting week with near misses for Fruity O’Rooney and Tanks For That particularly galling.

The only other bright spot over the four days was Son Of Flicka landing the Coral Cup as it meant I copped on a special bet placed with Ladbrokes around the time of the Open meeting that any horse running in the Paddy Power or the Greatwood would win at the Festival.

The price of 3/1 was a silly one as the bet would have been landed in two of the past three years – odds-on surely more accurate – and called for a decent wager and in fairness to Ladbrokes they did hold the price for much of the day and take the medicine for their error.

There was something poetic about the horse that landed the dough having essentially been lapped in the Greatwood but that was the selling point of the play; one simply had so many horses running for you at the meeting. These bookmaker specials are for the most part unviable for punters with the only special thing about them being they are especially quick to drain your bankroll and should be ignored in the main.

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However, every once in a while a gem does pop up where the odds compiler has had a rush of blood to the head and not done his figures and so can be exploited; the biggest issue then is reacting quickly as the offered odds can be pulled quickly.

Punting at Cheltenham can be fraught with problems, not least the information overload that we are faced with about the runners, especially those in the feature races and we seem to know about every misstep, schooling sessions, racecourse gallop, breathing op and heaven knows what else in the run-up to the Festival.

To be honest, I don’t want to know any of this stuff and am reminded of one trainer’s comment – I think it was Edward O’Grady but am open to correction – that you would never back a horse if a trainer told you everything that went wrong with them at home. Much better to focus one’s attention on racecourse evidence rather than hearsay about events off the track; it is after all the crucible they will be tested in and action from there is much more meaningful.

Shutting off the constant drone of Cheltenham information is nigh on impossible before the meeting as one inevitably has a host of half-baked opinions about races before you have looked at them in real detail and I much prefer approaching a card fresh and without preconceived ideas. Should any reader have a solution to avoid this information, please feel free to comment at the bottom, but I’m not holding my breath.

This meeting may demand a somewhat different approach to exclude extraneous information but it is worth remembering that the Festival horses are still horses and have the same predilections as their fellows running at ordinary meetings; for instance, they are still prone to the bounce factor and tend to perform best off a recent run.

I would put forward those ideas as reasons for the defeats of Hurricane Fly and Grand Crus respectively, a pair of horses that failed to live up to their banker status, a mythical quality ascribed to some horses that seems to make them invincible until we discover, usually post-race, that Cheltenham tends to be much more competitive than to allow bankers free reign.

To these eyes at least Hurricane Fly bounced off a big first time out effort in the Irish Champion Hurdle, a run that surprised his trainer as he didn’t think he was that forward and that was right up with his very best runs in terms of ratings.  Yet because he was a supposed banker he couldn’t be beaten at Cheltenham.

Did Burton Port bounce?

Did Burton Port bounce?

The Racing Post ran a really interesting piece by James Pyman in the lead-up to the meeting about the possibility of Burton Port bouncing where the figures all suggested that it was a distinct possibility, an idea surprisingly supported by a number of industry insiders including vets and trainers who usually would have scant time for punting theories.

In the end, Burton Port probably didn’t bounce – he was a bit below his Newbury form in the Gold Cup though not much – but the significant aspect of the bounce theory is not so much that a horse is sure to regress after a big run off a break but rather that the chances of that happening are underestimated by the market.

This is where the bounce and recency bias (a thinking bias that privileges the short-term over the long-term) intertwine: if a horse puts up a big effort last time it is invariably factored into its price on its next start but it should be much less so if that run came off the back of a break.

And so to Grand Crus who for me could have done with a run in between his Feltham win and RSA disappointment. Yes, I realise he has scoped badly since and is probably better on softer ground than prevailed on the Wednesday but either way he is just the sort of horse I love to oppose in any race, a horse coming back off a break.

There are some horses that are best fresh but on the whole horses run best off a recent run and as a rule I want to be against any horse coming off a break and all the more if they are a short price. These mini-breaks in season are often the product of some sort of training setback and if Grand Crus was really in peak-form in January and February, there were plenty of suitable targets for him to get a prep run in for the Festival.

He didn’t and that was probably his downfall though it must be said it didn’t help me back the winner of the race; I couldn’t have Bobs Worth on my mind after how he’d jumped at Ascot and ended up backing Lambro and Cannington Brook so the less said there the better.

Even so, being against horses coming off a break mid-season is a good stance to take, particularly at the lower levels where I do much of my punting, as they win a lot less often than they should and we might try not to forget it when playing in better races too.

- Tony Keenan

Editor's note: Do leave a comment and say hello to Tony. Like me, he loves feedback, so if you've any thoughts on issues related to betting you'd like covered, feel free to share them in the comments section below. Or just say hi! Thanks. 🙂