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.
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.