The Punting Confessional , Wednesday, June 12th
Last week I looked at some ideas around non-triers and inside information and before exploring the issue further it’s worth mentioning a couple of tweets I received on the subject since. Declan Meagher (@declanmeagher76), an Irish professional gambler, mentioned that it is only the ‘dunces’ who get caught and I can’t think of a better way of describing them.
I also asked Kristian Strangeway (@KoosRacingClub), syndicate manager for Koo’s Racing Club, where he stands on assessing non-triers in his punting and he responded ‘depends on the race type really, but I don’t overly worry about it. If you spot an obvious one they get overbet anyway.’ Short and sweet, but also accurate and I couldn’t agree more.
One of the errors made by punters is to believe that only the insiders can win, that there is some sort of golden circle that have access to the information that will lead to punting nirvana. I’m reminded of a day at the Curragh in August 2011 when I backed a Bill Farrell mare called Sharisse in a six furlong handicap.
The case for the horse was simple: the trainer (at the time underrated by the market but not so much now) loved a winner at the track, the mare won a good handicap over the same course the previous June and was just 7lbs higher, she had shaped well in a listed race last time on her first run of the season. She won and directly after the race I spoke to a punter beside me who had also been cheering her home.
He went on to tell me that he’d backed the horse because Gary O’Brien of attheraces had put it up and O’Brien had access to all the right information because he spent time the sauna of some Kildare hotel with all the jockeys beforehand. Leaving aside any homo-erotic thoughts for a moment, and without wishing to cast any aspersions on O’Brien’s tipping as he’s an excellent judge, this is just the sort of faulty thinking that has punters beaten before they start. While O’Brien may well have access to much more information than the average punter (and there is no way we can ever get that information lest we rise the ranks of the racing media), his presentations on TV and the attheraces website reveal a diligent form student who puts in the work like any other sensible gambler.
Without wishing this to turn into one long anecdotal piece, I’m reminded of a recent Racing UK interview with Alex Ferguson. Apart from all the obvious fawning, the former manager made a great point about what he admired most in trainers of racehorses, their capacity for hard work, pointing out that it is a talent it and of itself that is all too often undervalued in the modern world, something punters would do well to remember.
All this privileging of inside information works off the belief that trainers and connections are all-powerful whereas in reality they’re just as fallible as the rest of us; one only need to look at Aidan O’Brien, widely regarded as the best trainer in these islands, and how he believes that Camelot is the best horse he has ever trained despite all the evidence to the contrary. That’s an extreme example, and one to be taken with a pinch of salt given the bloodstock concerns with the horse, but it shows how even the best can get it badly wrong.
Just because a horse is working well does not mean it will translate to the track and quite often punters are best backing horses that reserve their best for race-day. Even if the horse does produce its best on the day, a better-treated rival from another yard may do the same or any number of other things may go wrong.
One also needs to think about how the market reacts to plot horses and inside information. We have to accept that we don’t know connections’ staking patterns; some may back in the morning, some may wait until the off, some may want €500 on, others €50,000, some may not even want to punt it. A punter can get some sense of how a yard may play the market over time but it is very much a skill for the experienced gambler and even the best market reader is bound to get it wrong plenty of the time.
There is also a herd mentality at play with punters piling into a horse that may not even be fancied (which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be backed by the way) but experience can at least go some way to revealing the difference between meaningful and meaningless market moves.
A lot has been written in the last year or so about how accurate the market has become and that sometimes one would be better having more on a horse when the money comes for it than if not. I can’t help but feel there’s an element of confirmation bias at play, a tendency to favour information that supports their belief, i.e. remembering the gambles that won and ignoring those that lost.
Over time, I can’t see how this approach can pay as you’re backing horses at shorter prices than you think they should be and any sort of sensible value betting approach means one should be having more on a drifter.
In the main, I want to be against gambling yards, stroke horses and dodgy owners. It’s much better to be with proper trainers that a playing with a straight bat and while acknowledging that all yards are to one extent or other gambling yards, there are certainly those that pull strokes more often than others. Such stables often have their charges overbet, whether strongly fancied or not, and I like to be against them as a rule as they often leave the other runners underbet and get beaten often enough to make it pay. These trainers prefer to make the crooked pound over the straight pound but there are many more that opt for the latter approach.
This brings me on to one of my great pet hates in racing, the idea that Irish racing is bent. It’s probably fair to say that this is the perception abroad amongst the betting shop masses and also I might add among bookmakers, who much to my chagrin are reluctant to lay a semi-civilised bet to a form-based Irish punter as they seem to believe it’s all hooky. As someone who watches a lot of Irish racing, nothing could be further from the truth and I feel I have to stand up for it.
Irish racing has excellent prize-money (in contrast to Britain for instance) which maintains a fair level of integrity and while the authorities have been slipshod in their policing of the sport with a number of recent integrity budget cuts, the natural competition between those involved means that it’s pretty straight. Those that point to gambles and touches being landed would do well to remember that it is possible to get an edge on Irish racing because it is not as well-analysed as its English equivalent; there is a smaller pool of horses and fewer punters playing so it is much easier to move a market with little money.
I’ll close with a question that every punter needs to ask themselves: where do you stand morally on non-triers? I find it a difficult one to answer and can’t give a full answer. They’re a fact of life for any racing follower and expecting it to change is foolish. They happen a lot less than people think but it doesn’t make them right. And never forget some perspective, there are a lot worse things going on.