I was bereft of anything entertaining/informative/interesting to write this week and was going to leave the ‘Weekly Diary’, but then along came Charles Byrnes. Wallop.
I will start with my finishing sentence, it might lure you in… 🙂
I suppose my gripe is with the view that ‘you had to be in the know’ in order to back any of these horses, or to back the treble. Well, for me, that is bollo*ks. They were not impossible to find.
As I start this article I’m not sure what direction it will take but in essence I want to see what I, as a horse racing enthusiast and small time bettor, can learn from this episode. Can I improve my own punting? Could I have found them myself, or did I need to be connected to the yard?
I may also say the odd thing that I haven’t thought through fully – but that may be more entertaining and often your initial thoughts are best. No doubt the odd readers’ comment may lead to some deeper reflection. I am one for changing my mind, when the facts the change and after more thought!
Let’s get to it.
My initial post gamble thoughts…
Firstly, it wasn’t a situation that made me angry.
I am not sat here now shaking my head in dismay, wondering if us poor little punters will ever be able to come out in front in this great sport of ours. What chance do we have? How bent is the game? I wasn’t in the know.
Utter Nonsense. Very little time for that view, at all.
I have just read one sentence on twitter (I think possibly from a column in the RP) … ‘Bookmakers will survive these coups, but what about the people who’ve backed those three horses in previous weeks, or those punters who backed other horses in those three races?’
Yes quite, what about those poor losing punters who picked the wrong bloody horse. I will get onto the horses in a moment. But, the first one was in a weak 2m Maiden Hurdle. I mean heck, if you are relying on weak maiden hurdles for your income/entertainment then I don’t know where to start. In races like that, you pays your money and take your chance. More on that later.
If truth be told my initial thought when the third went in was… damn, why wasn’t I on??
I bet I wasn’t alone.
I had seen a tweet from Kevin Blake in the morning highlighting the three horses and their contraction in price. Even a cheeky £10 note on all three at that time would have paid for my September holiday to Croatia. (maybe around 50/1 at that time)
Why didn’t I spot it?? Could I have spotted it? What did I miss?
(that is my usual thought process, normally when a horse I have tipped has, you guessed it, dropped out the back of the tv and I failed to back the winner) Well, I rarely look across the Irish Sea at their racing so in truth I didn’t give myself any chance.
But, that isn’t the point. Shortly I want to try and picture a scenario where I, or you, could have found them, all by ourselves, the evening before.
My other thought was ‘well done Charles’.
These coups don’t happen very often and I wonder why. I suspect because they are bloody hard to pull off. Getting three animals all to perform on the same day is quite something. We have had the Barney Curley gambles of recent years but they are rare.
We also had that Lucy Wadham ‘gamble’ where a few horses were smashed off the boards. I believe they are all still running. Maybe Charles has bought them and is just biding his time. 🙂 Or Barney.
I didn’t hear the bookies crying then. Boo bloody hooo.
You, Mr Coral, when you won’t accept a £2.54 wager on a 7/1 shot because I won £300 over a 4 month period can just f*ck off to be frank. I hope you were taken for plenty. I am sure your FOBTs income ensured you didn’t have a sleepless night. (I don’t know if they did any public moaning on the situation but I imagine they did,and they don’t have my sympathy)
What is this game about?
Part of the attraction of this great game are the stories, the characters, the history. Gambles and coups like this are part of it for me. What a boring game it would be without them. They provide good discussion points every few years, if nothing else.
And, what is punting about?
My approach to a race is all about reducing the unknowns. You want as much information as possible at your disposal. You want as few unknowns as possible. You want to ask questions about the horses, ‘do they have the form in the book against race conditions?’ ‘are they doing something different, a reason why they may improve on recent form?’. ‘Is there a reason they may repeat some old winning form?’. Etc etc.
This great game is a mixture of what we know on paper, in the form book, and what we don’t. What we have to make an educated guess about. It is a constant challenge.
And what fun that puzzle is.
It is in this context that I mainly stick to handicaps. There is more information. It is for these reasons that you want to play in races with as few unexposed horses lining up as possible. Not too many 3 year olds in a 3yo+ sprint handicap for example. Not too many, what I call, ‘could be anything types’. That reduces the risk for me. It’s still bloody difficult though.
The less information there is, the more you are guessing; the more likely you are to get it wrong and/or be ‘surprised’ by a result.
And my overriding view is that I will get it wrong many many more times than I get it right. BUT, depending on the odds you play at, you only need a long term win strike rate between 15-25% to both make this game pay, and make it enjoyable. Some do very well with a 8-10% strike rate.
There is enough information, race types, different approaches etc to make that possible. I suppose it is in this context that odd big gamble like we saw at Roscommon don’t bother me too much. Not in the sense of screaming ‘oh this game is impossible, how are we to survive’.
It isn’t. Get over it.
So, what to the horses and the race results? What can we learn? Were they predictable, what were the horses doing differently?
Now, I will read the stewards reports but I didn’t want them to cloud my judgement/view point. I dare say there will be a few gems in there that can help with our understanding.
But for now, I will try and put myself in a position of attacking the race cold. Of course I know they have won, and subconsciously that may have some impact. But, here goes…
Race 1: 6.40
Firstly, a general point. By this stage of the day, before this race, it was obvious that something may be in the pipeline. If you had gone big/bet on another horse in this race, or any of the races, would you not have had something on them, as cover? This one actually drifted out just before the race I believe, from 4s to 6s.
Right…this race…a 16 runner, poor quality, 2m maiden hurdle. Nothing in here looked to have much form and looking at the card now- many horses have many numbers next to their name. Far from easy to predict, at first glance.
It is also a maiden hurdle. I don’t play in maiden/novice hurdles, especially at a low level. Why? Because the unknowns are too great. And for good reason and not in an unfair way.
Many trainers will use these races to start to teach their horses about racing, about jumping , about learning to settle etc. Many are not here to win. Shock horror. Many may not be fully tuned up, or nowhere near fit. They may be running over a distance too short, on ground unsuitable. They may have no idea about racing. They may be running to get a handicap mark. Fine. No issues with any of that at all. These are races for the unknowns, races for development and notes for the future. (and finding trainers adept at winning with handicap debutants can be quite profitable)
The perfect scenario for a gamble maybe.
What about the horse… War Anthem…
Well he was formerly trained on the flat and had 9 AW/turf runs. There is some ok form there, placed form at least. He ran Ok in moderate flat races, but this was a moderate jumps race. Some solid 3rd placed finishes, esp at Galway, suggesting there may be some ability there.
The breeding… half-sister to a bumper winner, from the family of useful chaser up to 3m Highfrith. So, safe to assume that there is some stamina there. I can see why the trainer would buy him for the jumping game, on that basis. I can see why he may not have been so great on the flat. So, reasons to think at some point he will stay this distance, and even further.
Oh but he had no recent form, how were we supposed to know? How come he has improved so much?
Well, let’s assume that on his first run after just over 7 months was needed. His second run he was always towards the rear. Now, at this stage I would be thinking he may be running for a handicap mark, to mop up on handicap debut. He was 40/1 on his last run, he kind of ran as you would have expected. This was his third maiden hurdle run.
Now, it is possible that the horse was learning on those first two runs. AND it is always possible that a trainer is learning about their horses through racing them.
So, what changed here? What could us punters have used to help us?
Well, what we can see is the jockey change. That is the biggest eye-catcher. Davy Russell in the saddle. Any astute students would see that their record when teaming up is quite decent… in non-handicap hurdles… 24/103, 52 places in the last 5 years. A loss to SP of -24 points … suggesting many are well backed. Who would have thought it?!
So, there is circumstance there. The jockey booking would have been the main thing for me there. It would have raised an eyebrow at least. Now, it may have been hard to know when he was at his biggest price- but at least as punters we would have clicked when the odds started to come down. That has some impact, especially if you have played on something else in the race. No excuse for some sort of evasive action. And, maybe every excuse to have a nibble at 6s.
What of the skulduggery?…
Well let’s not be naïve. It clearly looks like he may have been trained a bit harder leading up to this race! (or, as one comment I read..had been trained!) He was clearly here to win, when he clearly wasn’t on the other runs, for whatever reason.
I suppose to some that leaves a sour taste. But, it happens. We can’t predict that as punters the evening before, albeit maybe we can try. But there is lots in this great puzzle that we can’t predict. I accept that as part of the game really. I would never have found him as I would have never looked at the race.
He may have been hard to find, but not impossible . When a lot of horses are not there to win, for legitimate reasons. it makes any race tough. (I mean why would you blow a good handicap mark, where you may get a couple of wins, for winning a poorly paid maiden hurdle- and the races are used to teach horses etc, all fine to me)
It does look like Byrnes decided not to wait to mop up in a handicap, but simply to get this one fit here. If you had predicted that scenario – ‘what if the trainer gets him fit’ his past flat form, his breeding, and the jockey booking, would indicate he could win. That is something new for me to more actively consider when looking at past poor form – ‘what if the horse wasn’t fit’. As always, everything then falls into the context of the race and the price.
We could get hooked up on whether it is right or wrong trainers running horses when not fully fit. But, it is part of the game. We have to deal with that. There are many pieces in this jigsaw and we just have to try and piece enough bits together.
No one said this game was easy, but you can reduce the risk.
So, that’s him. If you are going to play in poor quality maiden hurdles you make your bed and you lie in it. And if you are, maybe check things like trainer/jockey record, significant jockey bookings, and take note of the market. I don’t play in them, because over time I suspect they would be too hard for me to fathom, a bit too much guesswork/joining the dots- too many stabs at bigger priced ones that don’t perform. That is a reality for me, and not one I get to hung up on. There are plenty of other races to attack.
I don’t have the ‘you get what you deserve in Maiden hurdles mantra’ excuse for the other races so let’s dive into those…
Could we have predicted their improved performance the evening before? That is what it is about for me…
7.10 Mr Smith
Well, I am not sure what any fuss is about here really. It all makes sense to my eyes.
Firstly we have the jockey booking AGAIN. Russell and Byrnes were 8/43, 20 places in handicap hurdles, last 5 years, before this race meeting. They are solid enough stats. Nearly half winning or placing is pretty decent. It would suggest Russell is usually booked on horses expected to go well. They lose 10 points to SP, again suggesting that money usually arrives.
The horse… Well he had a few flat runs back in 2014 for Gosden and is out of Galileo. I mean that is always interesting in itself. He has sired plenty of decent jumpers.
What form did we have to go on?
Well, this was only his 5th handicap hurdle to start with. He was ‘allowed’ to improve at some point. The odds of his maiden hurdle runs… 33/1, 12/1,66/1,33/1… not there to win, clearly. (in sense that it is apparent from this yard at least that many are well backed. Clearly some dot up at big prices- again, the nature of those races for me)
In November 2015 he raced twice over hurdles – the first on handicap hurdle debut, having been on the flat for a few runs since his maiden hurdle run. He ran ok. 21L 4th. That was his best hurdle run to date. Promising.
He then ran over 16 furlongs at Thurles- he was outpaced there I think, pushed along some way from home. He faded tamely. Maybe too tamely. BUT, he was only 4 at this stage also. It could be that he just wasn’t very strong as well. He could have still been maturing/learning.
He returned in March this year- during the stronger winter season- again he ran ok- 22L 5th. He was keeping on that day and it was his first run for some time. He went off at 11/4 and clearly underperformed against those odds. But, it wasn’t a terrible run.
He then returned 4 month later in July at 16/1 (maybe a problem came to light or they decided he needed more time). 1- he could have needed the run again. 2 – this was the quickest ground he had run on over jumps and was over 17f. Given he had looked a bit outpaced over similar trips before, it’s not impossible to think that was the same again there. And not impossible to think he would come on for the run?
So, why would we have backed him here? Well, he came out under a month since his last run. He was still unexposed over hurdles and had shown glimmers of promise. He was racing over the furthest he ever had over hurdles – doing something different. He had first time blinkers on -doing something different. Davy Russell was booked –doing… you get the idea.
The pieces of the puzzle were there to my eyes. The ‘story’ makes perfect sense to me. At the evening/morning prices I can see why some would have backed him.
That kind of profile/horse must be winning weak handicap hurdles every day of the week, each side of the Irish Sea. They can be found, if you can be bothered to look for them. They are not easy to find, but it isn’t impossible. You DO NOT have to be ‘in the know’.
8.10 – Top Of The Toon
My word. I’m sorry, but what the hell was so odd about this one dotting up?
This horse was having the 12th start of his life. Firstly it is not impossible to think at some point he may show more.
BUT…well, this one had form in the book. Blimey. What a shocker.
Last year… he came a 1L third at Kilbeggan over 25f in a handicap hurdle. He ran well enough NTO and then won a maiden hurdle over 23f. That best form was on a sound enough surface and also came wearing a hood.
He ran well enough for the rest of the year, possibly on ground too soft on his final two starts. After nearly a year off he returned at Limerick and ran no sort of race. No hood on. No shock.
Next run was at Tipperary, the run before this win, over 20f. Well, he had the hood off again and all known form to date suggested he may need a much stiffer test of stamina- his best form had been around 3m in his career to date. He kept on steadily, 9/20, beaten 21L. Not an awful run, and showed that a step up in trip may help…
Roscommon- Oh well, what do we have here?? He steps back up to 3 miles, the hood returns (all his best form in that headgear, not on the last twice) and…wait for it…for the first time ever he gets Davy Russell on top.
I mean come on. Come on. He was far from impossible to find if you were looking the evening before.
I realise I have been going on. BUT, I like that dissection of a horse/race as it helps me learn about the game, and to try and develop my own thinking.
I started writing this article not having looked at the horses’ past form. I didn’t know what I would find. I was hoping I would be able to explain why they won, what we could have used as punters to help. Why, at the early odds, they wouldn’t have been mad pokes.
Well, they have been explainable. At least in the way that I look at racing, which may be very different from others and is in no way a ‘correct approach’, obviously.
On a horse by horse basis, they were explainable. More so the latter two, but even so.
Credit to the trainer for lining them all up on the same day, on the same card. That takes some doing. IF all three of those had won separately, over the space of a month, at different tracks, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. And not many would have seen their wins as out of the ordinary.
To moan about this gamble is just ridiculous for me. It is laziness on everyone’s part. Does it question the integrity of the sport? well, maybe there is a case for the first winner in the maiden hurdle IF just looking at the horse and not asking certain questions. For the handicap winners, no way.
NONE of those were impossible to find. Difficult, yes; challenging, yes. Having looked at them I don’t find myself in shock that any of them won. Not one bit.
I know that is easy to say, and I have looked at them after the Lord Mayor’s show. But, the ‘stories’ of the horses, (in the way that I now look at racing, and how my mind has developed over the last few years) more than make sense to me.
Now, you have to be willing to put the work in for sure. And, with that approach, especially in the handicap hurdles, that would have taken some time, to do it properly. I rarely play in handicap hurdles. Regularly looking at 16-20 runners in that way is tough, and mind boggling.
I suppose my gripe is with the ‘you had to be in the know’ in order to back any of these horses, or to back the treble. Well, for me, that is bollo*ks. They were not impossible to find.
p.s if this article has you spitting out your tea and ruining your computer/phone, then do comment away. You may make me think in a different way. Maybe I will see what Geoff Banks has to say. I don’t think he will agree
They make for interesting reading. Use of an inexperienced jockey for some rides, and how the trainer felt his horses were generally in better health stand out as two takeaway points. Nothing new there- horses running poorly because the yard have been out of form.
p.p.s Oh and if you wouldn’t mind sharing this article with the links below that would be great 🙂