Tackling Cheltenham

The Punting Confessional: Pace and Position

Punting Confessional: Pace & Position

Punting Confessional: Pace & Position

Last week, Tony Keenan began to take us through the process of making our referral notes/videos, now he goes on to explain how he analyses those races in terms of pace and position in...

...The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, November 21st 2012

By now you’ve got your replays stored and have set up some way of storing your notes so let’s get down to the nuts-and-bolts of the process itself. Essentially you’re looking for eyecatchers, positive and negative, and both can work to providing bets in the future. I don’t believe in adopting the rose-tinted view of so many in the racing media and tend to view with a cynical eye, if anything being more negative than I have to be.

One wants to ignore efforts the obvious in spotting these eyecatchers and by this I mean the sort of superficially positive run that any attheraces presenter can spot in the 30 seconds following the race when needing to fill up airtime. Three obvious examples of these that spring to mind are the supposed non-trier given an easy ride, the horse motoring at the finish or the impressive wide-margin winner.

All three can easily be turned on their heads and read entirely differently: the one that wasn’t off may be a dog that needs tender handling, the fast-finisher could have made cheap late gains and been suited by the pace scenario while the wide-margin winner may have had the race fall apart or be vulnerable to the bounce. Crucially however, because their efforts were so falsely positive and flagged up by all and sundry, they tend to be overbet next time.

Let’s start with pace which is a key factor as it’s underrated by the market; as far as I can see, the likely run of a race has little to no bearing on the pricing of Irish races. The reason for this is simple: in Ireland (and the UK for that matter), we have next to no access to sectionals so the exact pace of a race is hard to quantify. That’s unsatisfactory for the intelligent punter on one level but on another plane it’s a good thing as it provides an edge; one has to go with some educated guesswork in understanding the pace and while there will inevitably be many times when one calls it wrong, the lack of market awareness to this approach means the prices offered leave room for manoeuvre.

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In terms of gauging the pace, it’s important to have some sense of what is likely to unfold pre-race, an idea of the number of front-runners and such like in the race. Yes, tactics can change but it is better to have some knowledge prior to the event than none. In the race itself, look at how many horses are battling for the lead and how hard does the eventual leader have to work to get there. Do the runners get spread out early – indicating a likely decent pace – or are they racing in a bunch? How many of the runners are keen or fighting for their head?

If this is so, the pace is likely to be slow. Be aware of how pace works in relation to certain tracks; I’m not completely sold on this and suspect that the key thing is not the track but how the horses run but there do seem to be some courses where front-runners are at least marginally favoured; Ballinrobe with its tight turns and the round track at Tipperary spring to mind. Pace can also impact a horse’s trip preference; if there is a strong pace over 7f, a miler may get away with the distance but not if it is slowly run. Should the latter circumstances unfold, be willing to forgive said horse a seemingly bad run.

Race position and draw location are factors that link in with pace. There has been a rising consensus among English pundits of late that the draw has been done to death and become all too mainstream and the value is now in going against perceived biases; Tom Segal as Pricewise has advocated backing ones that seem to be drawn badly and are overpriced as a result.

I’m not so sure this is the case in Ireland as we’re backward in almost every aspect of racing and thank god for that as it provides no end of punting angles. Certainly, Irish punters can continue to look for ones that are favoured or unfavoured by the draw though an awareness of how such biases can shift depending ground is important; at Naas and Tipperary for instance, soft ground can see the high numbers favoured.

Race position – i.e. where a horse sits in the race – is a product of the draw; where one starts has an impact on where it races. Being trapped wide is something to look out for. When a horse is wide races on the outside of the pack, it may get a clear run but this one positive is heavily outweighed by negatives. Firstly, the horse racing wide doesn’t get cover and this increases the chance of it racing keenly which in turn expends vital energy necessary for the finish.

Not only that but the horse on the outer tend to travel further which is simple maths; as a fellow columnist Kevin Blake once said if you go around a track four horse-widths off the rail with a trundle wheel and do the same tight to the rail, you soon see the significance of this. At some tracks, often those with sweeping bends, such a race position can be fatal; Dundalk is a good example.

How a horse travels in its races is another thing to note. This can be determined by the trip and/or the pace and looking at how it moves and whether or not it is keen can tell you if it needs to go up or down in distance which is always useful to know; one that is off it from a long way out when most of the field around it are going well within themselves but runs on in the finish is almost certainly looking for a step up in trip but I prefer to base this on how it went through the race rather than the gains it made late.

I tend to like habitual strong travellers – something like one of this year’s progressive sprint handicappers An Saighduir is a good example –  as they make life easy on themselves and can h0ld race position at little cost. There are however horses that are keen over every trip and off every pace; such horses are to be avoided as lack the strength for a finish and with quite a few races in Ireland being slowly run tend not to get the breakneck gallop they need to show their best.

Obviously how horses are travelling will give an insight into the pace.

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1 reply
  1. Mike says:

    Just caught up on your last few articles after several weeks away. Very interesting and thought provoking stuff, thank you!

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