The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, June 5th – The Non-Triers
Recent weeks have been black for racing with a high-profile corruption case and the Al Zarooni/Sungate steroid scandal; the latter is certainly the darker cloud at present and there remains a strong suspicion we’re nowhere near the bottom of it yet. This column aims however at the punting angle and I have to admit to being clueless as how to apply anything relating to drugs to playing the horses.
Non-triers are another thing entirely however and I have strong feelings on the issue and how it applies to the average punter; by average punter I mean a punter without access to any sort of inside info.
The verdicts released by the BHA in the aftermath of these corruption cases always make for fascinating reading and one was struck by the amateur nature of the whole Ahern/Clement conspiracy. Though not quite so lax as the methods applied by Andrew Heffernan/Michael Chopra earlier in the year, here was a pair that were in contact via their own mobile phones and were laying horses through their own (or their wife’s ) exchange accounts.
There are those that would say that Betfair and the other exchanges have a lot to answer for and that problems with non-triers increased when punters, and not solely licensed bookmakers, could lay horses to lose. I couldn’t disagree more. Firstly, why is it that just a coterie of high-fliers (bookmakers and their friends) could lay a horse in the past? I’m for equality in all its forms and the exchanges provide a service and saw a niche in the market that was previously unfilled.
One is reminded of the ending of the film Trainspotting where Renton steals the drug money and says that his ‘friend’ Sick-Boy would have done just the same if only he’d thought of it sooner, a sentiment that applies to all the big bookmaking firms in terms of the exchange model. Not only that but the likes of Betfair have provided the BHA with the sort of information into the activities of corrupt individuals that was previously inaccessible.
When going through the details of such cases, one cannot help but feel that there are much more sophisticated operations at work that the authorities are struggling to get to grips with. Surely the real villains at work at a higher level are applying more smoke to their machinations using a complex series of mirrors with mobile phones that leave those at the centre unconnected from the dirty work as well as a host of ghost exchange accounts that cannot be traced back to the main participants?
At the very least, laying all the bets through a single account, often to figures exponentially larger than the average stake on the account, seems amateurish. Though speaking hypothetically, one would like to think that anyone with any more than rudimentary knowledge of how betting markets and ‘getting on’ works would be able to make a better stab at laying non-triers than some of those convicted by the BHA.
Interesting, and frightening, as such speculation may be, the average punter needs to ask: do you want to be dealing with these sorts of crooks? Or would you prefer to back proper trainers and proper owners whose campaigning of horses is largely straight and whose formbook cases you can trust? The corrupt connections are people who would stop at nothing to make a profit and trying to second-guess them is risky in the extreme.
We often hear stories, possibly apocryphal though some ring true, of owners laying a horse out for a touch, missing the price because others punters got on ahead of them, and then stopping the animal because they didn’t get on despite it being initially well-intended.
One of the big problems with the whole spotting of non-triers is that it’s just so intangible; one only needs to look at the BHA’s use of expert witnesses and their study of races to see how difficult it can be to prove that one hasn’t been trying. Recalling the Heffernan/Chopra case from early 2013, it was interesting to note that the panel ‘was not able to say one way or the other’ whether the loss of ground at the start by one of the stopped horses, Wanchai Whisper, was caused by the jockey.
Even in this most open-and-shut of cases, it was hard to call and it is easy to see how difficult it would be to spot, much less prove, that a more sophisticated operation was cheating. Comparing the ride given to a horse on different days, perhaps with a mind to market moves either positive or negative, is one way to go – the panel applied this method with reference to Wanchai Whisper – but it is hardly bombproof.
Picking out one that isn’t ‘off’ is not a task for the beginning punter as there are so many complications. Is a horse being given an easy time because it’s ungenuine and finds little off the bridle? Is it being stopped or simply getting a bad ride? It is worth remembering that many jockeys, even the best, give incompetent rides. And there are so many ways to stiff a horse: go off too hard in front like Ahern; drop one out off a slow pace; use up energy by making a mid-race move; no effort from the saddle; intentionally missing the break; riding into traffic; even changing a horse’s habitual tactics, say by dropping a front-runner out in rear could be enough.
And that’s not even to mention all the stuff that could be happening on the gallops pre-racing as well as the basic things like running a horse over the wrong trip or on the wrong ground.
Gamblers need to ask themselves what sort of punter they are and for the average punter the answer has to be a form-based player who makes up their own mind by whatever means possible. The inside information the normal punter unconnected with a horse can get will invariably be second-, third- or fourth-hand and by this stage it will be largely useless as they’ll have missed the price.
Instead of taking the whole inside information route and buying into every conspiracy theory going, the typical gambler would be better served to dispatch with the paranoia and assume that the game is straight, applying logic to his selections, an issue I’ll explore in more detail next week.