By Chris Deadman
There are few worse feelings (other than imprisonment in a Soviet POW camp or similar) than tipping a horse to all and sundry only to see it run with all the alacrity of a heavily sedated wardrobe. That was the position I found myself in last week when Blue Zealot made her debut for the Anthony Honeyball Racing Club at Wolverhampton.
Surely in statistical terms, her no-show was nothing more than an ‘outlier’, an occasional deviation from the usual unbroken pattern of well-backed winners? Surely as the club’s racing manager I am party to an unremitting torrent of privileged inside information which has enabled me to purchase a house constructed entirely of platinum and myself to be clad entirely in gold leaf? No? Why on earth not?
I like to think that I enjoy a good working relationship with Anthony and I speak to him most days. I am naturally party to a few things not in the public domain but none of these should be confused with the sort of information that can turn paupers into princes overnight. I will not bore you with the 'horses are not machines' argument as we all know that a small number of people make a very good living from owning and backing horses. Nevertheless, there is an obvious disconnect between the skill it takes to train racehorses to run quickly across a field and the mentality needed to profit from the outcome of those contests. A professional punter of my acquaintance who has several horses in training with a prolific yard could not give a tinker's cuss for his trainer's view on the prospects of success. He merely wants to know when his horse is 'flying' and having had that signal, will look to find a suitable opening in the programme book, choosing to rely exclusively on his opinion of the formbook.
It is understandable that punters seek the reassurance of 'inside information' before striking a bet. I am, however, continually amazed to receive calls from club members seeking Anthony's views on horses that are trading at 350/1 on Betfair and have no earthly prospect of success even if they cut across the middle! There is a type of false comfort that can be gained from consulting the professionals, a sense that they will always know something that you do not.
The reality is that most horses are trained to reach peak fitness and then they are entered in races that the trainer believes are commensurate with their ability. There is no great plan for most horses. And because there is no great plan, the trainer can only ever give you their view based on their knowledge of the formbook - the very same book to which you all have access. In addition, very few trainers of my acquaintance are ever prepared to put their heads on the block and offer a candid assessment of their horse's chance. Training racehorses is mostly concerned with long periods of gloom punctuated with the occasional shaft of sunlight. Trainers are therefore likely to do everything they can to avoid being proved wrong and instead will default to oft-used phrases like 'small each way chance.' This catch-all term is equivalent of the punter's phrase 'just about breaking even' which can cover every eventuality from just about breaking even to financial ruin of Weimar Republic proportions. It represents a sort of ‘After The Event’ insurance policy -if the horse wins then well, I told you to have a few quid on; if it loses, then no harm done eh?
Of course useful information does exist but it is important to evaluate the context of the information and, if possible, the source. There is a saying in racing that jockeys are the worst judges. That is something that I have not found to be true as several years ago I was in regular contact with a journeyman jockey who has since retired. His strike-rate and level stake profit over the course of the flat season was nothing short of miraculous.
Context is also hugely important. Consider these two propositions and evaluate which you think would have the greatest impact long-term (for the purposes of this exercise, you should assume that the information is genuine) Ignore any questions about race conditions and value for the time being:
- A message concerning a Paul Nichols trained hurdler at 8/1 running in one of the feature races at the Festival. Your guy says that Ruby schooled him last week and he is in tip top shape. His long term plan concerns a race at Aintree but he is bouncing out of his skin at the moment and Paul thinks he will run a massive race.
- A message for an Alan Jones trained horse running in a selling hurdle at Taunton. He hasn't run for 479 days and was pulled up last time. Your guy says the owner has backed it to win a hundred grand.
There is no right or wrong answer to these propositions, nor are they ‘either or’ scenarios -I have merely used them to illustrate that so-called information comes in many guises and each must be evaluated on its merits.
What I am trying to convey is that useful information does exist although it is not nearly as prevalent as you might think. Most of the so-called ‘inside information’ that you might encounter is merely opinion, the basis of which is readily accessible in the public domain. Occasionally there will be something that quite clearly does represent information that is not widely available and in those circumstances you should stop to question not only the provenance of that information but also whether knowing it actually enhances or clouds your view of a particular race.
- Chris Deadman