The Punting Confessional: Avoiding “expert” nonsense.

Punting Confessional: Avoiding Nonsense

Punting Confessional: Avoiding Nonsense

Tony Keenan believes that the vast majority of advice doled out by racing "experts" should at least come with a caveat or taken with a pinch of salt at best and that we need to apply our own thoughts to what we get told, as he explains here in...

...The Punting Confessional – February 6th, 2013

On the wall of my office, I have a quote from Buddha: ‘Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.’ It’s one that applies to racing where so much of what is written or spoken on the subject, well-intentioned though it may be, is wrong-headed and needs to be questioned. Holding doubts, and applying them to the odds, is central to punting and we saw a good example of this on Festival Trials Day with Oscar Whisky and whether or not he stays three miles.

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That question hasn’t been conclusively answered with the Cleeve Hurdle having been run in a much slower time than last year’s World Hurdle; the former was run in 5 minutes 44 seconds, the latter in 6 minutes 32 seconds. Does this mean he stayed because the ground was very deep and it was a true test of stamina or was it run at a slow pace that allowed him to get home? I can’t answer that and the odds in March would have to dictate the play; there are too many grey areas here to hold a strong opinion. Racing has many more black-and-white cases and that’s what I’d like to explore now; racing clichés that the need to be queried and what I perceive as the truth behind them.


‘He did it the hard way from the front.’

This one reared its head on RTE Racing on Irish Champion Hurdle Day at Leopardstown where the inclement conditions had Ted Walsh saying how it difficult it was for Pont Alexandre to make all in the sleet and even mentioning how it was like cycling and getting some cover would help. Getting cover is an aid in terms of settling a horse and not having it do too much, too early, but this concept of drafting and slipstreaming just doesn’t apply; wind is a largely irrelevant factor in racing, even in extreme circumstances.  Unlike cycling, horse races don’t go on for long enough for this to have an impact.

To say that it is hard to make the running shows a misunderstanding of pace which is an all-important factor. There is nothing difficult about sitting on the front if the horse is getting a soft lead, pace pressure – where a number of runners battle for the lead – is the key thing. With this in mind, punters should look pre-race at the likely front-runners and prominent racers to see if a horse may get an easy lead and be flattered by the form or whether there’s going to be a battle for the lead.

A linked comment to this is ‘the pace wasn’t strong enough for him.’ It’s nowhere near as bad as ‘he did it the hard way from the front’ but it is often used in a throwaway fashion as a catch-all excuse for a poor run. Certainly there are horses that do need a strong pace, particularly hold-up types or those that need a test at the trip, but one needs to differentiate these from the ones that are getting a twee excuse. Punters should avoid the response to this that horses that want a good pace should make their own running; it’s more complex than that as run-styles cannot be changed easily.


‘The owner/trainer is in attendance; they must fancy their runner.’

Such a comment is beyond irrelevant, the worst kind of insider nonsense. The fact that ‘Willie [Mullins] is here today’ matters little; he may have had to meet an owner or prospective owner, oiling the social wheels of racing often as important as results on the track. Also, this is what owners and trainers do, they go racing because they enjoy it or it’s their job. I won‘t even dignify the statement about backing a runner from the first trainer or horsebox you see with a comment.

Also, I place little stock in how far a trainer has sent a horse to run in a race; in Ireland, a relatively small country, this matters little. That Willie has sent one to Downpatrick, probably as an out-of-the-way track as one can find for the Closutton trainer, is more a product of him trying to find a race so bad that one of the lesser lights in his stable can get a win. Punters should base their views on the formbook, not on inside information, as the vast majority of same has had the value squeezed out of it by the time it reaches their ears.


‘I was at Navan when horse X won impressively.’

The availability bias or heuristic is a mental shortcut where people make judgements about the probability of events by how easy it is to think of examples and being in attendance at a race meeting and seeing a horse in the flesh is a good example from racing. That a punter saw a horse in high-definition at the track is neither here nor there; nothing says that it would have been any more impressive whether one was in attendance or not. In any event, watching a replay of a race on TV or a laptop is much better than live from a punting perspective as you will learn more; you now have the rewind function so you can watch it back over and over and make an informed decision on what happened while doing it at a later date means you now have more information to hand and have critical distance.

I like going racing as much or more than the next person but I attend for the social aspect and I simply enjoy the atmosphere at live sport and it gets me out of the house as being a follower of racing can mean a lot of time in front of the TV and laptop. The truth is that you learn little new at the track however, apart from perhaps speaking to some good punters on various subjects but the idea that there is some sort of inner circle at work at racecourses needs to be put to bed.

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7 replies
  1. IanF
    IanF says:

    Food for thought about Oscar Whiskey staying 3 miles or not.

    On Myths and Cliches:
    I have seen it said that front runners do best on the AW – because of the ‘sand’ that gets thrown up in the faces of the following horses and jockeys. For myself, I can see that in some cases it might be a factor, but surely equally so on turf in heavy conditions when the following horses and jockeys look as though they have had a mud bath.

    One that I think is often true is about horses known as ‘professional losers’. There are quite a few horses which idle when in front. When this type of runner is not under a very skilled/lucky jockey they will rarely win though often place. This is because they are too far behind, or too close to the lead at the crucial point in the race.

  2. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I’m surprised at your comment regards learning little new when attending a race meeting. Do you not go to the paddock? Some of my most succesful bets have been struck purely on matching a horses physique and action to the prevailing conditions or assesing past performances on what I now see.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m no conformation expert, but just seeing how tall/small, strong/slight a horse is gives you an insight into the type on conditions and distances they will do well in.
    We have all heard the phrase “a chaser in the making”, but actually seeing a horse in the flesh allows you to make that judgement. It doesn’t always works, Amberleigh House was a classic example which I considered way too small for the National fences. But others have such as Iris’s Gift who everybody said was a chaser. I took one look at it and decided it just wasn’t built for chasing and so it proved.

  3. Peter Bell
    Peter Bell says:

    Something has to fill the pages and airtime. After a while you get to know those that are worth listening to or are thought provoking and those that live on bluster, cliche, intimidation and past glories.

  4. Alan B
    Alan B says:

    The Buudha Quote is going in my racing diary…thanks for a great read. How many times do we follow the ”In form tipster” with selections that make no sence.

  5. Robert Grimes
    Robert Grimes says:

    Hi Tony, Matt.
    First class comments as usual, top hole boyo.
    Liked the Buddha quote, wise old sod that Buddha.

    all the best

    Bob Grimes

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