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.
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.