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.

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.

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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: Reviews and Remarks

Punting Confessional : Reviews

Punting Confessional : Reviews

The Punting Confessional – November 14th, 2012

by Tony Keenan

So you’ve got your video replays together, what next? You have to give each meeting the time it deserves. Broadly speaking, I would take about ten minutes per race so that’s an average of seventy minutes per meeting but some races/meetings will take longer or shorter depending on things like the type of race and field size. Down the years I have found most of my punting success coming from handicaps so I’m instinctively drawn to such races.

Handicaps by their nature are tightly knit affairs and things like pace, draw and race position tend to have more effect in such races than in conditions events where raw class wins out more often than not. Also, I would find I know more about handicappers than maidens and group horses having built up a view of them over time.

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As regards storing the notes, I began with using hardback copybooks but have since migrated to Word documents. They’re easier to access and you can share them with others if you so choose; also by using an application like Dropbox you can set it up that they’re easily accessible on your phone while mobile. I type quicker than I write anyway and documents stored on the computer can be edited more easily than hard copies should new information come to light.

Some punters are visual learners and can remember how a race unfolds without recourse to notes but I’m far from a natural in this regard and need to write things down for recall purposes; knowing yourself is important. Be careful to back your work up if choosing this approach; there is nothing as frustrating as losing a piece of work on a meeting as you can be guaranteed that the very horse you pinpointed in that review will pop up at a big price with none of your money on.

It can be useful to use some sort of horse tracker function on a website to ensure you stay up to date with your eyecatchers and it may even have the facility to store some of your notes. This can be especially important with obscure lower class horses; let’s face it, there is no need to put in an alert about a Group 1 horse as the world and his wife knows where it will be running.

I’m thinking more of an under-the-radar type that may have shown promise but been off a for a while and turn up at a big price or particularly for Irish horses that may have moved yards or be running in England as I don’t keep up with day-to-day racing there.

With any video review, you get out what you put in and certainly you’ll get a lot more from a meeting if you have studied it in detail beforehand; video analysis is but another type of form study and there must be overlap between it and a more traditional type of form reading, looking at the overall quality of opposition a horse has beaten and how a race is working out; that is what I mean when I say video is but one of my edges.

It must become a before, during and after process where one isn’t going into a review blind and have an idea of which horses may be worth watching beforehand for whatever reason; that said, one doesn’t want to be close-minded.

An expectation of pace is a huge part of this. By looking at the typical run-style of the entries beforehand, one can make an educated guess about how the pace will unfold though this can always change depending on things like connections opting to ride a horse differently or something as simple as bad break from the stalls. In terms of having horses to watch in mind beforehand, I would often be looking out for horses that are running over the wrong trip be it too far or too sharp (I find it is easier for horses to win over an insufficient trip than one that stretches them), horses that may confirm or – less likely – deny an attitude issue, runners that are drawn badly or may not be suited by the pace or those coming off a break that may need the outing.

All of this requires intense concentration, a certain quality of attention. As I wrote last week, it isn’t easy to do which is why it provides an edge as one has to keep many balls in the air; one would be looking out for things like pace, temperament, trouble-in-running, jockey error, race position, trapped on the wrong part of the track amongst others. To be honest, I haven’t been able to sustain it throughout this entire year; I kept it going up until the end of July but having gone through a rotten run around that time I simply lost interest and from August have only been doing selected meetings.

They have mainly been ones on good ground or the all-weather as I have found much of the soft ground this summer providing boring racing and small fields of the same horses meeting over and again. But in reality, the only way to really get an in-depth knowledge of the horses that are running is to review every meeting.

It’s important not to force the issue and demand an eyecatcher or eyecatchers in each race; some races and meetings are simply uninformative. I’d argue that was the case with the prolonged period of soft ground this summer though that may be my own inadequacies. Again, I prefer handicaps to conditions races and maidens in the main though one has to be open-minded about where the next winner will come from.

Stonking eyecatchers don’t come along all the often, those horses that were just miles better than the bare form and nearly have to win next time granted normal luck and suitable conditions. Still, I’d encourage taking plenty of notes even if it’s not coming naturally. One never knows when your analysis will be of use and in a horrible race a horse that has shown even a glimmer of promise becomes interesting, particularly at a big price, being the lesser of the evils.

The Punting Confessional: Further Notes on Form Study


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.

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.

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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: More of The Right Type

Punting Confessional: 17/10/12

Punting Confessional: 17/10/12

Last week, Tony Keenan started to explain to us how important it is to find "the right type" of horse to back and how to spot them. He expands on those thoughts in more detail in this week's instalment of...

...The Punting Confessional – October 17th, 2012

Last week we covered off some angles about finding the right type of horse to follow with four types of note being the good horse with a small trainer, the poor workhorse that keeps it for the track, the sudden, unlikely improver and the hold-up type that keeps winning. It isn’t rocket science identifying the wrong type as they’re essentially the flip-side of the right type, with one notable exception, the ungenuine horse.

I considered mentioning genuine horses among the right types last week but thought better of it; in the main, I try to ensure every horse I back is genuine though there’s no huge edge in this and one of my rules of thumb is never back a dog. Genuineness (is that even a word?) comes in a few forms; you can have horses that find lots for pressure which many people equate with gameness though I probably prefer horses that just do things right, like travel well without being keen or getting outpaced and can put races to bed easily without needing a master ride.

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Equally there are many ways a horse may be ungenuine, be it awkward or high head carriages, tail-swishing, horses that weaken or hang. Runners with such traits just don’t win as often as their ability suggests they should. Some dodges are more extreme than others; there are horses that simply will never win a race regardless of circumstances while others will win but only when things go right for them. Take a horse like Joe Eile for instance. He’s won four races in this life and has the world of talent but a series of races in which he has travelled well and found little or held his head high suggests that he’s one to be against in the main.

My feelings on temperamental horses have been on the record a while; I want to be against them all and there is nothing I hate more than discovering a horse I have backed has turned out to be a pig. There are many who would argue that there is no such thing as an ungenuine horse and that they are simply carrying an injury of sorts and this sort of thinking is supported by an uncritical media that is often unwilling to call a spade a spade; in some ways, I can understand that as the old saying about how you can insult a man’s wife but not his horse has plenty of truth in it.

But if you watch racing on a regular basis you soon learn that there are some more willing participants than others and if finding punting profit is what you’re at, then nursing a healthy cynicism is the way to go. In truth, I’m probably a little over-zealous in my quest to unmask a dog, where every cock of the jaw is interpreted as sign of waywardness but on the whole this approach has served me well. All that said, I do wonder of the ungenuine angle is quite the edge that it was and in uncompetitive racing, dodgy ones find it easier to win.

Onto some less obvious wrong types. If good horses with bad trainers are ones to follow, then bad horses with good trainers are ones to be against. The top yards in the land have masses of well-bred runners each season but some of them are bound to be duds and every year it’s the same with the likes of Aidan O’Brien, John Oxx and Dermot Weld. They have long-standing maidens where every variation is being tried, be it trip, ground, headgear, tactics or whatever and such horses are making the market each day they run.

The aim here is based in breeding with the object being getting a win to improve the page and the horses are thus having the living daylights run out of them and as such tend to provide multiple opportunities to get a score on one of their rivals. O’Brien’s After is a good current example; she has run 11 times this year without a win and while a few of them were at big prices, she has had 8 defeats at single-figure prices.

Horses that regress suddenly are also ones to oppose. In this case, you have got a horse that has a high level of form in the past but is not reaching that now yet the market overrates their chance of coming back to that level; the possibility of a return to form is overestimated. Good horses gone bad are excellent types to oppose as their reputation is overvalued and this can often by the case with a high-profile juvenile. Maybe is one that stands out from this year. She was unbeaten in 5 starts at two but has been turned over at odds of 13/8, 10/3, 5/1 and 4/1 this year, clearly not having progressed from last season. In her case and so many others, it pays not to forgive a poor return and concentrate instead on those horses that have form in the now.

Flashy homeworkers are clearly another wrong type and they’re the ones that people will be buzzing about at the racetrack and are continually attracting market support without winning. It’s amazing how often punters are duped by these morning glories though it isn’t surprising considering how often trainers make comments like ‘if only [insert name] showed what he did at home, we’d have a group horse on our hands.’ There are loads of such horses currently in training in Ireland with Wexford Opera and Word For Word (the gamble on him at Dundalk tends to be a feature of winter Friday nights) standing out.

Hold-up horses that flash home every day but rarely get up to win are also ones to oppose. It is well-documented that the last part of the race is often the easiest stage to make up ground but these cheap late gains are repeatedly overvalued by the market; many say that the horse has been given too much to do whereas in reality it may not have had the tactical speed to make a move when it was needed. Lazy analysts tend to lumps all these closers in together as eyecatchers but the sensible punter needs to be more discerning and use his knowledge of pace to determine whether the late move was meritorious or circumstantial.

Oftentimes, such horses are patently obvious from their run styles and win/run ratios with Lord Kenmare and Primalova being two good examples currently plying their trade on the all-weather and Dundalk.

The Punting Confessional: Finding The Right Type

Punting Confessional: 10/10/12

Punting Confessional: 10/10/12

This week, Tony Keenan starts to explain to us how important it is to find "the right type" of horse to back and how to spot them in the latest instalment of...

...The Punting Confessional – October 10th, 2012


Dundalk/Curragh – September 28th/30th

After a quiet few quiet weeks, there was some relief over the weekend with winners at this pair of meetings, notably All Ablaze and Bubbly Bellini. I wrote last week that as punters it is best to like bets rather than horses but there are certain animals that are simultaneously habitually underrated by the market and have found the winning thread and both of the above-mentioned fit this category.

They are by definition the right horse or as I sometimes call them ‘hero horses’ and finding this sort of beast can be the key to making a betting year. Spotting such animals isn’t easy and it’s not just a case of latching onto one racking up a sequence; they have to be underestimated by the odds in so doing.

Finding them at the start of the year can be particularly difficult as anyone compiling horses to follow lists will tell you; they can make anyone look thick and it is sometimes best to let the season unfold before selecting horses one wants to be with. Of course, one wants to avoid becoming attached to horses for sentimental reasons as to do so would turn one into a fan but it is also dangerous to follow horses just because we have won money on them.

As an aside, it is also important not to damn a horse just because we have lost money backing them. All that said, there are those runners that the market repeatedly ignores and knowing the reasons why this is so can help one identify the right type.

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Perhaps the first and most simple angle into finding the right type is the good horse/bad trainer approach and by ‘bad’ here I don’t mean lacking in talent but rather small or unknown. One pays a premium for supporting big yards, the Aidan O’Briens and Dermot Welds of this world and their horses are constantly shorter prices than their raw form credentials merit.

The converse of this is also true and while it is obvious that better known trainers win the majority of races I tend to believe that most trainers can do a passable job with a good horse; one need only look at Tom Hogan (who I would rate one of the worst trainers in Ireland on the basis of his last decade’s results) winning a Group 1 on Arc weekend.

This is a particularly good angle with jumps horses as the spread of good horses tends to be much wider than among the flat trainers. Galway Hurdle winner Rebel Fitz is a very good example for his trainer Mick Winters and when I played the jumps seriously a few years back I was always on the lookout for this type, Brave Right trained by Leonard Whitmore being one of the best examples, winning 5 of his 16 starts under rules notably a big handicap hurdle at Punchestown at 16/1.

It’s not so easy to find such horses on the flat with the concentration of talent in the better-known stables but the aforementioned All Ablaze fit the bill when supplying his trainer Damian English with the biggest win of his life in the Dundalk premier nursery. Bill Farrell, particularly when running horses in handicaps at the Curragh, is another one I like to watch out for and he has supplied good winners like Sharisse and Sedna at the track down the years.

Another right type is the poor workhorse that reserves its best for the track. As a rule, I’m not a lover of trainer quotes as they tend to be overvalued by the market; this is certainly true of those given in the run-up to the race as the positive ones in particular tend to lead to a market contraction though sometimes what they have said becomes more useful on subsequent starts as the majority have forgotten what was said.

My interest, however, is piqued by the mention of a horse being idle or showing little at home. I suspect far too much stock is given to homework by racing insiders and it often has too much influence on the market; I am not saying that this information is useless as it isn’t but by the time it reaches someone like me – a form-based punter with no ‘in’ with a yard – it will be of little value.

Often horses with negative reports surrounding them but good form on the track will drift in the betting and they’re just type I want to be with; I am reminded of Willie Mullins commenting on the notably poor homework of Blackstairmountain just before he won his Grade 1 novice at Punchestown in 2010 and how his price of 5/1 should have been much shorter judged by his form.

Sudden or unlikely improvers are also worth looking out for and Bubbly Bellini is a good if extreme example of this type. He started 2012 as a 5yo with 36 starts under his belt so no one could have expected he would rise 43lbs in the weights and win 5 races; there were however strong hints that he was on the up, notably the manner of his success at Limerick in June, his third win of the season.

With a horse like this, it is best just to trust the improvement as the market often doesn’t and this was the case with Bubbly Bellini as he won premier handicaps at 11/2 and 11/1 in 6 starts following his Limerick win (I’d love to say I’d been wise to all of this but the only times I have backed him this year was on his last two starts but thankfully I got paid on one of them).

There are plenty of horses where the reason for improvement will be obvious; a 3yo after a winter off could take a massive leap forward in terms of form but the market will often allow for this possibility on subsequent starts. It tends to struggle to correct so easily for less obvious improvers however.

One could improve for a mini-break of just a few months in-season (a result of a small injury or a much-needed wind-op perhaps) or for a host of other reasons, like the application of new kind of equipment. Wholelotofrosie is a 2yo who has improved markedly for a mid-season break in 2012 but the best type is the older horse where the progression seems to come from nowhere; Royal Diamond is another such horse this year though the less said about him the better!

My final right type is the hold-up horse that repeatedly gets there to win and doesn’t show their true superiority in winning and Maarek is the one horse of the last two seasons that stands out, his traditional late flourish allowing him to rise from a 69-rated handicapper to Group 3 winners rated 114 with the potential to compete at the top level.

Obviously horses like Maarek are reliant on pace but if you can latch onto one going the right way they can be a goldmine.

The reasons they are preferable to wide-margin winners are manifold. Firstly, they don’t get the rise in the weights to those that win easily and so can progress gradually rather than be forced through the grades ahead of their time. Neither are they taking as much out of themselves as the comfortably victor that often regresses off a big win.

Finally, their narrow wins are often undervalued by the market as against one that has won by daylight. Such horses are often idlers and while I wouldn’t be great at spotting such types I have a friend who swears by it and finds it a ready source of winners.

So to conclude, here are four right types of horse: the good horse with a small trainer, the poor workhorse that keeps it for the track, the sudden, unlikely improver and the hold-up type that keeps winning.

I’ll be back next week when I’ll look at the wrong type.

The Punting Confessional: Further Thoughts on Racing Fandom

Punting Confessional 03/10

Punting Confessional 03/10

Last week, Tony Keenan broached the subject of differentiating between racing fans and racing punters. It certainly caused some debate and Tony's back this week with some more thoughts on the same thorny issue in...

...The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, October 3rd 2012

Last week I wrote addressed the idea of racing fandom and I hope I didn’t come across as too scornful; there is nothing wrong with being a fan, per se, and I am a fan in many other walks of life, notably of sports like Gaelic Football and Athletics, there are teams and athletes I want to see do well and am biased towards. The problem arises when money and betting is involved. When your allegiances start to influence how you play the market, you have to pause and look at what you are doing.

I use the word fan as a dirty word, in a pejorative sense, much in the same way Alan Potts described mugs in his book ‘Against The Crowd.’ The fan is a specific kind of mug punter, much different from the jockey hater (‘That bollocks Moore/Hughes/Fallon – insert/delete name as appropriate – couldn’t ride a rocking horse’), the nearly man (‘I had three legs of an accumulator up and a 16/1 shot left me down when falling at the last 20 lengths clear’) and the conspiracy theorist (‘It’s all a fix’).

Any remotely decent punter has a condescending attitude towards such gamblers and thinks they are superior to them in terms of betting; one only needs to spend an hour in a betting shop or on internet forums to see the nonsense spouted – this can actually be a heart-warming exercise every now and then, even if you are going badly, and offers comic relief.

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The racing fan has his particular sets of norms and mores. One of these is believing and thinking in clichés. Clichés are everywhere in racing but whereas the sensible punter questions them and puts them to the test, the racing fan laps them up. Here are but a few with the reality in brackets: ‘He did it the hard way from the front’ (maybe he did but it all depends on the pace; the horse may have gotten a soft lead and been totally flattered), ‘I’m playing with the bookie’s money’ (there’s no such thing; money won gambling is earned and is now your money so treat it as such), ‘stamina doesn’t matters, his class will get him through’ (just complete rubbish, unless you’re talking about once-in-a-lifetime horses like Frankel).

Racing fans often align themselves with certain trainers or jockeys; I don’t believe in doing either. Sure, there are times with sentiment and sensible punting come together and you draw an extra personal satisfaction from the people involved having a winner. For instance, I like to see John Oxx or Johnny Murtagh have a winner because I find they come across well when interviewed in the media (though this could of course be a complete misrepresentation) where there are many others I am less fond of. You cannot let this rule your choices in terms of betting however.

If one must become a fan of a trainer, then tie yourself to one that is underrated in the market, a character like Ger Lyons or Andy Oliver though be aware such market under-reactions are transient. Trainers that are high-profile are best avoided as their horses tend to be underpriced; Nick Mordin once did some interesting research on Cheltenham Festival runners and their market position relative to the number of mentions they got in the Racing Post and there was a definite link between the pair – there is something of the self-fulfilling prophecy about this but it was interesting nonetheless. As a rule though, I don’t want to follow a trainer or jockey; following horses is much more my thing though I tend to like bets best of all.

My best memories in punting tend to be of bets made rather than horses, situations where the odds greatly outweighed the probability of an outcome. That said, there are some horses that repeatedly offer good value in the market while others are almost always underpriced. Finding such horses and becoming a fan of theirs (if you excuse the use of that dirty word) is a good punting method; an example from Ireland over the past few years is a horse like Solo Performer who is continually allowed go off at a bigger price than he should.

The horses one may really respect, the superstars that take your eye out, are often unbackable; Sea The Stars for instance – the greatest horse of recent years in my opinion – could not be backed after his Derby win.

As I alluded to last week, there are many fans in the racing media; indeed, most of our racing journalists are such. On one level, punters hate this as the level of insight into the sport is often poor but on the other hand we should love it as having a relatively uninformed media – who in turn misinform most of the racing public – allows horses to be underrated by the market as the wrong factors are overvalued.

Much of the coverage in the racing media is uncritical and while this is the case in many sports – one only need see the furore with Declan Bogue and Jimmy McGuinness after last week’s All-Ireland final to see the impact someone stepping out of line can have – it is especially so in racing where the incestuous nature of the sport means journalists and participants are too close for real analysis.

This promotes fandom and we often find journalists becoming simple mouthpieces for trainers and jockeys, both of whom will have their own agenda; trainers will often hype up their horses to increase buzz around a stallion or to simply sell one of their own on; Pat Flynn’s ‘sales talk’ around Designs On Rome since that one made its debut seems to have a degree of hype about it but he certainly used the available methods well to sell his horse on to Hong Kong though it remains to be seen if he will live up to his mark of 110.

A punter needs to doubt much of what is said in the racing pages.

The racing media will often guide fans towards certain types of races – notably Group/Grade 1s – but the reality is that these races aren’t the best punting medium. Mistakes from odds compilers are much less likely in such events and I often think that the media promote a situation where excessive time is spent by fans analysing races where turning a profit is difficult. Certainly I am taking broad strokes here and not all Group 1s are analysed to death but why not play in the less obvious races where the chance of gain is greater?

One final thing a racing fan in the media can do is promote hype horses, those runners that supposedly cannot be beaten. Such horses are few and far between and while James Knight of Coral has made an interesting argument that the true greats – the likes of Frankel and Big Buck’s – are often overpriced relative to their chances, I suspect that in the main it is good idea to question these supposed good things as almost every horse is beatable.

One need only look at the phenomenon of the ‘Cheltenham banker’ and how many of them get beaten each year; at times it seems as if such horses can’t get short enough for some gamblers, the shorter the better.

The Punting Confessional: The Follies of Racing Fandom

Punting Confessional 26/09

Punting Confessional 26/09

Tony Keenan maintains there's a great difference between racing fans and racing punters, a point not always recognised by everyone. Tony explains more about this in...

...The Punting Confessional – September 26th, 2012

Some horses are set to frustrate you. Royal Diamond has been my ‘frustration horse’ of this year and probably any other year too. He first came on my radar when I backed against him in a 1m6f handicap at Leopardstown in mid-April, supporting Rising Wind and Run With The Wind instead. They finished second and third though at a respectful distance behind Royal Diamond who looked one to follow given the manner of his success.

I backed up my opinion with a decent bet on him at 8s in a premier handicap on Guineas weekend; he led everywhere bar the line and traded at 1.13 having been 6ls clear going well entering the straight. It was a spectacular effort as he’d gone hard in front and burned off all the other pacesetters while form looked white-hot with progressive types involved in the finish; if he appeared one to follow after Leopardstown he was even more interesting now and I was convinced he was well ahead of his mark.

Down Royal for the Ulster Derby was next and though I played him at 5/1 the ground was a concern and so it proved as he managed just third. The Ebor at York however presented the chance of a big score. I backed him at an average of 36 and it was the Curragh all over again as he made much of the running but was nutted in the run to the line, a potential difference-maker in the year’s profits turned into a decent place return.

And so it was to the Irish Leger where I couldn’t have him; rated 104 and beaten in a handicap of 99 just 3 weeks previously, he was hardly going to win a Group 1 and so I backed the up-and-coming Massiyn at around 10/1. The result was hard to take. Massiyn picked up the running inside the final 150 yards and looked set to win, albeit narrowly, and traded at 1/100 only to be caught on the post by Royal Diamond, starting price 16/1.

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You couldn’t make it up. I still love the horse but he has tried my patience and I just needed to get that horror story off my chest.

I called the Irish St Leger a Group 1 above but in reality it was anything but, a decent Group 3 or average Group 2 masquerading as a top-level contest. The favourite Fame And Glory was the only Group 1 winner in the field but he’d only shown his best form once in the past two seasons; the second favourite Brown Panther had never won above listed company; the third favourite Hartani had been beaten in his last start by a horse sent off a double-figure price for the English Leger.

Of course, I simplify here but my point is that the front end of the market was very weak and this approach opens up the field and sees a horse such as Royal Diamond – who would have little chance in a true Group 1 – as a player at big odds. This sort of false Group 1 has been called a phony Group 1 by Make Watchmaker in the fascinating chapter 10 of the second book in the ‘Betting With The Best’ series called ‘Longshots’; he explains them much better than I ever could and is well worth a read. These races may not be classy but they are competitive and what more can a sensible punter want than competitive races to bet on?

There are many people however who would slag off such a race and argue they are in the right as how can a Group 1 have a bumper mare like Shu Lewis finishing less than 5ls off the winner? Such people are purists or as I prefer to call them ‘racing fans.’ It’s a tough life for racing fans in punting as they find it very hard to make money at it. I mean fan in the strictest sense of the word, the idea of a person marked by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm for a cause or subject. The key word here is unreasoning as racing fans often lack logic, a crucial part of the make-up of a successful gambler.

I am not a racing fan but a punter and there’s a world of difference. My aim is to make money and the sport is a means to an end and if that lessens my enjoyment of some aspects of it, then so be it. I don’t enjoy the sport for intrinsic reasons and my motivations for following it aren’t pure but mercenary. I enjoy the mental challenge of analysing a race, the questioning of thing, the doubting, even the cynicism.

Racing fans tend not to do these things and thus struggle to profit from their gambling. They are credulous, even gullible, and if you want an example just think back to the pre-race talk about Camelot on this very day. Let’s look at the thoughts of two high-profile ‘fans’ Richard Hughes and Ryan Moore; remember, jockeys can be fans too, it’s more about attitude than position held in the sport.

Neither could countenance Camelot getting beaten and doubt never even entered their head; punters know doubt is vital and is what makes the odds. Hughes in the Racing Post described Camelot as a ‘proverbial good thing’ and for him stamina was irrelevant, despite both the visuals in the Irish Derby and the horse’s breeding suggesting otherwise.

It could be pointed out that it is easy to be wise after the event when the 2/5 shot was turned over and he becomes a great example in hindsight but I did put it in print beforehand on by Betfair blog and it didn’t help me profit from the race; I may have called the favourite right but I backed Ursa Major and lost. My point is not that Hughes called the race wrong but the whole tenor of his arguments which were utterly dogmatic.

Moore in his Betfair piece made strikingly similar points to Hughes even going so far as to say ‘in my book he fully deserves to be a 1/2 shot’ (he probably wouldn’t have backed him at 4/9 in fairness) which begs the questions what book is this? Are jockeys pricing up races now? Such blogs would be best advised to stick to what they know and with jockeys it certainly isn’t odds lines.

Racing fans in wider public love these jockey columns but in reality they provide the illusion of insight, not insight itself. A reader may think they are getting some sort of insider knowledge whereas it is often a combination of uninformed comment, blandishments, biased chat and plainly wrong ideas with the rare gem. Yet jockeys’ views are extremely popular as seen by the proliferation of such blogs/pieces; off the top of my head there is Moore, Hughes and William Buick on attheraces and I’m sure there are more.

Jockeys dominate panels are Cheltenham Preview Nights where the aim is to find a few winners for the audience; surely it would be better to employ someone more skilled in the area? Jockeys know about horses but not betting and their real use is in talking about things that they really understand such as ground conditions.

I’ll conclude with a final point though I suspect I’ll be back on this issue next week. Hughes opined in his column that ‘the first thing any racing fan has to do is applaud connections [of Camelot] for attempting to climb a mountain that has not been conquered for 42 years. Then you have to salute the colt.’

The wording here is crucial – again the term ‘racing fan’ is used – but forgive me for not following his advice. Punters don’t cheer the horses they have backed against. I hoped Camelot would be beaten as I was backing against him; I thought he was underpriced. You can accuse me of lacking sentiment but what sort of crazy supports something against his interests?


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.

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.

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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

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.

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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: Back to Business

The Punting Confessional: 29/08/12

The Punting Confessional: 29/08/12

Last week's Punting Confessional told the tale of Tony Keenan's decision to take a two-week break from betting, this week he explains more about his time off and how he intends getting back to business.

Wexford, August 24th

This was the final day of my planned break from punting outlined last week and I hope to get back rolling for the two-day meeting at the Curragh on Saturday and Sunday. In the last article I wrote about my reasons for opting to take a break and looked at some possible causes of my losing streak; this week I’d like to finish out those points and look at how best to deal with coming back off a break.

As I mentioned previously, racing is a sport that can promote obsession and that seems to be the way of it regardless of what level of the game you are involved in, be it as a trainer, owner, jockey or simply punter; Mick Channon’s response to the question ‘How do you relax away from racing?’ in his Racing Post Q&A this past Sunday was enlightening in this regard: ‘Does anyone? It’s a way of life.’ I think that having other interests away from the sport are vital to retaining balance and this applies whether you are on a prolonged break from gambling or simply need a release after a day of punting; the idea is that the game should not become all-consuming.

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Personally, I would have three main ways of relaxing away from the sport. Exercise is number one and by far the most effective; all the scientific benefits have been researched by people much smarter than me but simply put, it works extremely well at clearing the head and producing endorphins and a feel-good factor that keeps your thinking fresh. Running would be my poison of choice and when you’re climbing up a hill, sweating profusely, at the end of a 10k run the last thing on your mind is the relative merits of the contenders in the 5.45 at Gowran Park!

Reading is another excellent one though obviously you need to avoid gambling subject matter when you’re looking to get away from punting; there are a number of excellent books on gambling out there but they have a time and a place. Finally, going to the cinema is a great way to relax and I find if much better that watching TV at home; when in that position, racing-obsessive that I am, I’m inclined to boot up the laptop or flick through the iPhone in search of some prices and form-lines which is not what you want to be doing. In the cinema, you’re part of a captive audience for the two-odd hours you’re there and other patrons tend not to take kindly to someone scrolling through Betfair markets on their iPhone for the duration of the film.

All these distractions are important parts of a successful punter’s make-up but – if you’re really serious about making money from gambling – one does have to be careful about rationing your time properly among punting and other interests. This past summer of terrific sport with the Euros and the Olympics has been a good example of how external interests can overwhelm all the best intentions to gamble seriously. London 2o12 was without doubt the great sporting event of my life and as someone that has a huge interest in sport it is natural that I’d want to watch as much of it as possible.

It can become a major distraction from gambling however as it would be never be a case that I could just watch an hour or two of the Games but rather would attempt to watch the lot, even having it on in the background when attempting to study a card which was a bad habit I tried to give up years ago, preferring now a few hours away in a quiet office space to go through a meeting. That’s not even to mention the draw of having a bet on these other sports and during the Euros I was certainly succumbed to the temptation of playing on soccer, a sport I know next to nothing about.

I often think that multiple-sport punters are what the bookmakers want, lads going in having their scores on soccer, golf, racing or whatever but serious punters need to avoid this sort of thing as we cannot be masters of all trades. By the time London 2012 came around, I’d done enough money in Poland and Ukraine to not have a bet but I certainly watched enough to compromise my routine.

So when coming out of a break, how do you move back into punting mode? The mental side of gambling, i.e. how you deal with winning and losing, is so important and probably more so than any actual skill in studying form or picking winners. Positive but realistic self-talk is always a worthwhile exercise; you need to have confidence in yourself without it spilling over into over-confidence but if you have got past records that prove you are profitable then these assertions are based in fact.

The idea of recency bias, whereby up-to-date events are given a privileged position over the bigger picture, has crept into racing of late but it can also have an insidious influence on a gambler’s mindset. By this I mean the sense that what you have done in the past weeks sums you up as a punter; if you’re having a good run, you’re a genius, if you’re losing money, you’re a terrible punter. Again, the bigger picture is what is important, how you have done over a long period of time, and this sort of all-or-nothing thinking is best avoided.

When coming off a break, remember that the likelihood of getting all your losses back in one fell swoop is negligible. If it happens, brilliant, but small steps can work too and you want to stay away from forcing the issue. Focusing on process rather than outcome is a good way to go; be thorough in your methods and try to enjoy the form study for its own sake rather than simply relishing the results. To do this is to put the cart before the horse and you can increase the fear of failure by so doing; as I mentioned in my previous column, scared money doesn’t win.

Finally, and this is a difficult thing to do, plan what you are going to do if things continue to go wrong. Sit down and actually write down how much you can lose and stick to it. In gambling, as in life, it is okay to fail but you want to put yourself in a position where failure won’t be ruinous and you can bounce back from it.

The Punting Confessional: Break Time?

In this week's Punting Confessional, our warts and all look at the life of a "professional punter", Tony Keenan begins to explain why it isn't always prudent to continue betting all year round. Sometimes it's better to take a step back, have a fresh look at things and come back recharged. Tony has very recently decided to take a break from betting and here, he starts to take us through his thought process, all starting at...

...Gowran Park – August 15th

Racing was cancelled at Gowran this evening but it didn’t matter to me as I’d opted to take a break from punting for a time after the previous Friday’s meeting at Tipperary where despite giving the card a thorough study and finding a number of horses I felt were overpriced, none came close to winning. It had been the culmination of a really poor punting period over the past 6 weeks since the start of July with only Galway providing any sort of relief and I was haunted particularly by the two meetings on July 12th at Dundalk and Leopardstown – hereafter to be known as Black Thursday – where to put it mildly, I’d done my brains.

I’ve written about losing before but clearly it is something one could return to again and again, being a constant in any punter’s life, and having just had probably the worst period of losing in my gambling life it seems as good a time as any to come back to the subject.

So what were my reasons for taking a break? Firstly, I wanted to protect some of the profits which I made up to June; having worked hard for them, I didn’t want to give them back in a period of losing or at the very least limit my losses. Playing with scared money is never a good way to be and as I’ve said before the best punters tend to have a certain blasé attitude to the money they play with but there are times when the fear factor can creep into anyone’s game and it had certainly crept into mine.

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Also, I was quite tired of the game and not really enjoying it; when you’re punting every day, there are going to be times when you’re just not feeling it on a given day but my lack of enjoyment was a little more sustained than that which suggested a break was called for; sometimes in life, you can hate the things you love. I suppose this sort of break may not an option for someone reliant on gambling for their sole income but thankfully I am not in that position and can afford to take pause.

As to the causes of this prolonged losing streak, my first port-of-call would be the most obvious one: it’s simply a product of randomness. I back a lot of horses that are away from the front end of the market so longer losing streaks are inevitable and really the hot first half of the season when I could do little wrong was unsustainable; these things do balance themselves out in the end.

As I wrote about a few weeks back, the soft ground certainly hasn’t helped and this has been one of the main differences from this summer to previous ones; we often get rain in Ireland but not to this extent. There is a degree to which it has turned the formbook on its head a little and made it difficult to read and given that’s the source of my bets it was always going to make life difficult.

Of course, I’ve had a bad punting summers in the past though the very nature of gambling means that is not predictable when you will make money from one year to the next; May could be a brilliant month one year, a shocking one the next. Sure, there may be times of the year when one seems to do better than others consistently but in reality it’s best to treat each race, meeting or month as an independent entity with the potential to go totally right or totally wrong or more likely something in between.

Consistency of profit may be a chimera but that said summer is a time when I would like to be making a turn as my other work commitments are lessened and with lots of racing on, there should be many betting opportunities.

The huge amount of racing could in itself be part of the problem and though many would argue differently, personally I think that there is too much racing on and I say that as someone who follows Irish flat racing only; I find it just about manageable as it is but perish the thought that I’d have to do jumps racing as well as that and really I don’t know how anyone who follows English racing with the amount of it on survives. My ideal punting week would be a scenario of three or four meeting where one had time to analyse past events, study the upcoming races, get on and still have a semblance of an ordinary life. In the summer, this becomes difficult with racing on five, six or maybe seven days a week.

Most of this is bookmaker-driven where they want to create a situation of constant betting opportunity where there is always the lure of action and knock out any period when a punter may take time for considered thought. This is particularly true of the racing calendar at the height of the summer but thankfully we are not entering a period when the number of meeting slows which should suit my punting temperament better.

Racing has a 24/7/365 structure that can promote obsession; with the few exceptions of Good Friday and Christmas Day, you can almost always have a bet on a horse, be it in Britain, Ireland, America or Australia. I tend towards being an obsessive type so over the years I have tried to counteract this by focussing mainly on Irish flat racing so racing doesn’t become the only thing I’m doing.

In the main, I’m not the sort of punter who can open the paper or pull up the laptop for five minutes, do some reading and have a bet; I like to have more information than that with my racing analysis combining form study, video replay, pace and tissue prices and when you’re applying all those variables there’s a lot of mental intensity involved, so much so that I can’t realistically sustain it the year round and instead choose to focus on just one type or area of racing and even then I still need to take breaks within that.

I’ll be back next week to develop this point and hopefully come up with some ideas to break back into form.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

The Punting Confessional: The Luck of the Irish? It’s not all luck!

Princess Highway: one that got away!

Princess Highway: one that got away!

Tony Keenan's weekly Punting Confessional comes on the back of his own experiences at Royal Ascot and explains his reliance on Irish stock. There's far more to the Irish than spirit and luck, you know!

Royal Ascot, June 19th through 23rd

The five days at Royal Ascot weren’t unkind with winners like Duntle and Dawn Approach along with losers like Emulous and Saddler’s Rock not to mention missing out completely on Princess Highway but more of her anon.

If you’re thinking that there appears a bias towards, if not a total obsession with, Irish horses among my bets above then you’d be correct and while it probably wasn’t a bad week to wave the tricolour with 8 Irish winners the idea of this patriotic punting is worth exploring.

I have to admit that I find Royal Ascot week quite trying much as I love the meeting, by far the best flat racing fixture of the year. All the best horses are there and there is a supreme buzz around that draws the punter in; I know one should be preaching discipline here but even we are all flesh and blood and it is impossible not to be excited, if not by Frankel then at least but the betting opportunities that abound.

But my problem here is that as a punter who concentrates almost totally on Irish flat racing I know I have to go through the Irish cards that are on the same days as Ascot; this is a no brainer as they contain the horses I know.

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During this past week, there were meetings at Sligo (Tuesday), Leopardstown (Thursday), Limerick (Friday), Down Royal (Saturday) and certainly one would be torn about what to study. The middle two cards of that quartet were particularly unappealing with few betting races and one felt somewhat unfulfilled having studied them ahead of the Ascot cards which seemed thrilling in comparison.

It could be argued that I could study both meetings but in reality this is difficult; the sort of mental intensity needed to focus properly on more than one card is hard to achieve – I am not talking about simply picking out a horse I fancy but rather working form, video, pace and tissue prices all into the mix, keeping many balls in the air.

Friday at Royal Ascot was a particularly galling day as I watched Princess Highway bolt up at a Betfair starting price of 11.90 in the Ribblesdale and she really was one that got away; I’d been keen on her after both her maiden and Group 3 wins but hadn’t really studied the race properly and had been put off by the trainer’s comments pre-race that the ground would be against her, the very thing I’d warned about in the most recent of these columns.

The ground was a doubt for sure but it was more than compensated for by the big drift in her price in the hour before the race and I suspect had I studied the race properly I would have been flexible enough to make a play on her at the prices.

Studying an English meeting takes me much longer than studying an Irish meeting as I have no background knowledge of most of the horses involved. My routine for studying an Irish meeting is simple: I start with my notes on every flat meeting run in the country which I have reviewed on replays and will work through the card from a form point-of-view, cross-checking my notes and re-watching replays if necessary, before applying pace to the race and giving each horse a tissue price and finalising a short list of horses I think are likely to be overpriced.

Doing this for an English meeting is not as easy as I simply don’t have the depth of knowledge available to me; I have to watch the videos from scratch with no knowledge of the worth of the horses or likely pace beforehand while my tissues are unlikely to be as accurate. With form study, routine is all-important, doing things in logical order, and this knocks out routine.

Studying racing from other foreign countries – not Britain – is even more difficult and this is an area I’ve wanted to cover for a while in light of a few bets I’ve made in the French classics this year: Amaron in the 2,000 Guineas, Up in the 1,000 Guineas and French Fifteen in the Derby.

The first two went close but that’s not the point as I found it hard to back them with any real confidence as I didn’t know what they were up against; many commentators have pointed out that the big French races have been particularly farcical this year because of how they have been run but for me that hard part about punting on these races is my inability to get a real grasp of the form and it gets to a stage where I’m trawling through YouTube for replays of the races in the hope of gleaning something useful which is not where you want to be. These comments also apply to the Breeders’ Cup which is just about my least favourite meeting of the year.

My default position is that I am largely left with a reliance on Irish horses when they race abroad. Of course this could be said to be a narrow, parochial attitude but on the other hand at least with the Irish horses I can have a strong view on them. They can provide a way into a race, whether you are with them or against them, particularly at a big meeting like the Cheltenham Festival or Royal Ascot. Also, I am in the fortunate position that Irish horses go very well abroad, at least at the moment.

Unlike our soccer team, we are competitive, in fact world leaders and it’s not just false optimism. A punting friend of mine often jokes that the tab on the front page of that lists the Irish runners in Britain each day is the best free tipping service around and he’s not far wrong!

I don’t really know the reasons why Irish horses are so good. I don’t really buy into all this heritage stuff about our ‘natural affinity’ with the horse but it is fair to say that our breeders have access to some of the best bloodlines around. I’m no lover of Ballydoyle for a number of reasons but they are big drivers of Ireland’s international success and perhaps a rising tide lifts all boats.

Certainly, our racing at the lower reaches is more competitive than the equivalent fare in England (the larger field sizes being the most obvious example of this). I also think that the layers in other countries often don’t know what to do with our horses outside of the top ones; they’re not going to overlay the likes of Camelot but may make a mistake with a 75-rated handicapper.

Finally, one can point to the belief that a trainer’s willingness to travel with a horse is a signal of intent in itself, a sign of wellbeing, though this applies to some trainers more than others.