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Plog 45 - 11/10/15:
New Season, New Hope
(And Hopefully, No Nicknames)
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I'M AWARE that I haven't done a lot of Plogging over the last few months. Hopefully you'll have seen by now that I haven't neglected the rest of the website, and I'm ready to go for the 2015/16 season.
It's been a transitional last 18 months or so. In that time I've given up working the night shift, so no more watching Ludlow or wherever's on through half-closed eyes during the midweek; changed the way I bet so such an extent that I didn't make a single each-way bet during the Cheltenham Festival (more of that later); and I've done something unthinkable ten years ago, possibly five years ago - I've taken more of an interest in Flat racing.
Let me deal with the betting side first - after all, this is supposed to be the Punter's Blog, and I am a punter.
Betting two or more horses in a race against a tissue
In August 2016, Roy Waterhouse Steeplechasing will be ten years old. It's safe to say that they have been, where the website is concerned, ten years of evolution. That's also the case where my betting is concerned.
The traditional way of betting was, is and always will be, filtering a race down to one selection which you bet on. What Dave Nevison said in one of his books - that this method will eventually lead to you going skint - now makes sense. You get winning runs, losing runs - and a losing run in late 2007 led to three things for me: losing money (obviously), wondering what I had to do to get a winner again, and a series of stroppy emails from one individual who couldn't compliment me enough when it went well, but then became the polar opposite when it went badly, and whose emails I eventually blocked.
It was late in 2010 that I eventually concluded 'this isn't working'. One thing was clear to me - what I was good at more than anything else, in those races I studied where I wasn't singling out one horse, was predicting which ones would run close.
Between Christmas and New Year I started to experiment with backing more than one horse in a race - 'dutching', kind of. I enjoyed some success too, landing on a couple of 16/1 winners. I wasn't having a large amount of money on those, though, and that methodology couldn't be sustained in the long term.
Writing in the Raceform book Counter Attack, punter, journalist and Racing UK pundit Eddie Fremantle explained how he would devise a tissue for each race, and back two or more horses against a 'false' favourite. I'd heard of punters using tissues before, so maybe this was the way for me to go.
So I employed some of the skills I'd learned in my job as a Presentations Operator, primarily with Microsoft Excel, and started to build my own tissues. The 'books' had to come to 100%, because they had to be my idea of the true odds, not those with a bookmaker's overround on top.
I constructed a few simple formulas. If I put my estimate of a horse's chance of winning into a cell as a percentage in one column, then that percentage expressed as a number - the true odds - automatically appeared in the next column. Then that price multiplied by one-point-something would appear in the next column, and if I could get at least that price, I would back it.
But it still needed work. The 'system', which was still under development - I was still thinking it over, in other words - was landing on plenty of horses at prices less than 7/1. In the early days of my constructing tissues, I was still playing ordinary novice hurdles at midweek meetings - I got my three hours' sleep after night shift (four if I was lucky), me being a bad sleeper anyway, awaited the 1:00 at wherever was on and hoped I could get 3/1 about the second favourite. I'd just about had enough of this sort of race as a make-money opportunity, so I decided to cut those out.
There was now a bias towards larger-field handicaps, and I enjoyed a nice success when Midnight Cataria took a mares' handicap at Ludlow in February 2014 at 20/1. The basic idea remains, of course, to back horses at longer odds than they should be, and that mare definitely fulfilled the criteria, as did Berkeley Barron at Sandown and Crookstown at Market Rasen during March. In all those races, and most others in which I had a bet, I didn't back just those horses.
My giving up the night shift in early April that year was more or less coincident with the fall in field sizes at midweek meetings, which is still very much present. The Berkeley Barron-race at Sandown actually had a single-figure field. If I was going to bet on Saturdays, the odd Sunday and the Festivals only, then I had to go for the big handicaps on these racedays - whatever the BHA do to address the smaller fields-problem, these are nowadays the only jump races where you're still more or less guaranteed a double-figure field.
I needed the upcoming new grass roots-series of races, just announced by Jockey Club Racecourses at the time of writing, to have been going on when I worked nights - for all we know they might only draw six or seven runners a race, of course, but hopefully the initiative will work.
For last season, I decided that I wouldn't bet at less than 7/1. Now I was getting somewhere - in the bigger handicaps, where you can never narrow it down to just one, I was hitting a winner or two at good odds. One race that's mushroomed in recent seasons is the Imperial Cup at Sandown, and I was on Ebony Express at 33/1. However I was also on several others, and they were nowhere.
I made a profit on the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, but boy, was it messy. On day one, at least apart from the Supreme, Arkle, Champion Hurdle and Mares' Hurdle, in which there was no point taking on the Willie Mullins-trained hotpots, enough nowheres were backed in the handicap chase and the National Hunt Chase. Irish Cavalier saved the day in the last to put me just in front - how many punters were in front on day one who hadn't backed anything trained by Mullins?
Qualando on day two and Uxizandre on day three put me further ahead, but because I was still having the smaller amounts of money on the larger-priced horses - I got 28/1 and 22/1 respectively - I wasn't actually that far ahead. My PC crashing on Thursday evening, just before the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir was run, meant that no more form study would be done for the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.
The only race I'd studied in depth was the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle, an annual event. I'll always go large on this race, whatever methodology I'm using, however flawed that might be, because I think it's the most winnable handicap at the Festival. Because it has a ratings ceiling of 145, the top weights tend to be good enough to contest the Coral Cup while the middle- to bottom-weights might not be. Something towards the head of the weights, which is bred to stay 3m or has proven stamina at that trip already, is the way to go. Only trouble was I had no tissue because of the computer-crash.
Noble Endeavor almost landed the bet, indeed probably led for a few yards up the hill, but Killultagh Vic - who'd almost certainly been under the odds I'd have wanted had I made a tissue - nailed it close home. But, after three and a half days of assembling 'teams' of overpriced horses - and no each way bets - I'd made a profit on the meeting. The crash might well have saved me from going under.
My method for this season will hopefully reduce the amount of horses backed, while concentrating on backing the horses who, at the prices, will give me the best return. It involves backing horses only if they are two things: available at 8/1 or bigger, and available at a price which is 160% of the price I have set.
An 8/1 shot which is only 145% of my price, will be let go. An 8/1 shot which I made 4/1 would be available at 200% of my price, and it would therefore be backed.
I'll be studying fewer races, too. There still won't be many Class 3 jumps handicaps with ten or more runners during the week, but every Saturday from October 24th to the last Saturday in April will be a big one, and I'll be having a crack.
Already in business
I've had a couple of successful dry runs, too. I decided to 'come in early' and play the Prelude-races at Market Rasen on the last Saturday in September, given that - unlike their July counterparts - they would have 'Winter' horses in them. In the handicap hurdle Cloonacool was available at 10/1 in the morning and was backed - as was Queen Alphabet (8/1), giving me a 'fallback' when she made her way into second on the run-in. Everyone else I fancied in the race was 'under', as in under the odds I'd wanted for them.
In the handicap chase, the only one backed was Claret Cloak at 12/1, with all others I fancied being under. In some races there is a bad favourite, but in others there's a good one - and this contained a good one in Oscar Rock, the only one winning it once he loomed up to challenge Claret Cloak at the third last. That's how it goes - sometimes the good favourites fluff their lines, but this wasn't one of those times.
The following week Fontwell had a Class 2 handicap hurdle on their Saturday card, but it drew a single-figure field, and when that happens you're more likely to get a winner at a single-figure price. That's what I want to move away from.
I'm not afraid to try stuff. When I first took Timeform Perspective in 1992/93, the only Irish races included were the biggest ones. Fast forward 23 years and every Irish race is televised, as well as covered in full in the best-known computer form publications. My jump-race handicap also includes all Irish racing since the beginning of May.
Gowran Park had a 17-runner Grade C 3m handicap hurdle on its card. On the Friday night I fired up my 1TB hard drive recorder, and watched videos of 16 of the runners in their most recent previous races - the only one I didn't need to watch was Guess Again, who'd raced at the Cheltenham Festival and in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, so I had a snapshot of him already. He was going to be favourite, and a good favourite at that as he was well treated over hurdles. Added to which, most of the rest of the field had been on the go over the Summer; but having said that, Summer jumping in Ireland is stronger than it is in Britain. I previewed the race on the website.
The race worked out. I didn't think it was going my way when Misty Lady, going up from 2m to 3m, had Willie Mullins's Escape Footwear, as well as Guess Again, all over her going to the last, but she's a tough nut, and pulled out more on the run-in. Now I know I can pull it off I'd like to incorporate more Irish races into my study, and look for more bets in them. These would make it into my PDF Previews on the website too (the previews, not the bets).
However you bet, you know that disaster is just round the corner. I played in each of the three races I previewed on Chepstow's Saturday October 10th-card, and the winners of each of them weren't backed for different reasons. Tea In Transvaal, in the four-year-old handicap hurdle, was underestimated by me - subsantial improvement was needed, at least going by my ratings, but there was no fluke in the filly's defeat of Karezak, and she's now up from 114 to 134.
All I had to think where Court Minstrel was concerned was would he stay or not in the Silver Trophy - despite his weight I knew he was well treated but, unlike with Misty Lady the previous week, I concluded that he wouldn't get the trip. There is such a fine line sometimes. Letting Drop Out Joe go in the handicap chase was easier - he was under. He was 8/1 in the morning and I did have him as joint favourite, but I made it so competitive a race - as I'd done with the other two - that the back price I set for Drop Out Joe was 9/1. No 9/1 meant no bet.
One horse I'd like to be on the right side of in future was the third to Drop Out Joe in the handicap chase, Doing Fine. An earlier blunder - there's normally at least one per race from him - set him back, but he did some great late work to get a place. Some may think his chances of getting round Cheltenham are extremely remote, but if he runs and his jumping holds I can see him doing something in the 3m3f110y (or whatever the trip is now post re-measurement) handicap chase at the Open meeting.
With the wins the previous two weeks though, I felt that I remained in a good place, and with feelings of optimism for the coming weeks and months.
Somebody tweeted me a while back and suggested that I should study one of Pontefract's series of staying races. I have had it in mind to have a proper serious crack at middle-distance-or-longer Flat racing at some point - why not? Jump trainers have Flat licences. At the time of writing the Cesarewitch has just been won by a jumper, Grumeti, trained by a jump trainer in Alan King - and that's far from a first for the race.
Studying Chelmsford City for the Essex Chronicle, which I've been doing since January, has kind-of got me used to the study-aspect. Now it's back in action, that's my nearest racetrack. Over the last few months I've got better at it - there was one meeting where I tipped six of the seven winners.
The logical next step was to have a proper bet on a Flat race, so during June I did. I wanted the chosen race to have much of the same criteria that I'm nowadays looking for in a jump race to bet in, so basically that meant a big handicap. The race I chose was the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle - if this was going to be the last running of the Plate on turf, then if I could find the winner I'd have something to remember the next time I have a Flat-bet.
I didn't win. Not to worry, there'll be other times. Ironically, of the horses I backed it was a jumper, Max Dynamite, who did best, staying on into second. Mistakes in the County Hurdle prevented him from bettering his fourth place-finish in that, and I felt that a race without obstacles in it would help him out. Nobody should be surprised by his second in the Plate, his win in the Lonsdale Stakes at York, or that he's being aimed at the Melbourne Cup.
As for me, I can see myself betting on the level in the future. One year from now, two years maybe. I'm provisionally pencilling in the mile-and-a-half handicap that follows the Derby at Epsom.
I'm Not In The Horseracing Bettors Forum
Congratulations to all those who got on to the BHA's Horseracing Bettors Forum - I applied, but didn't make it on. But when I saw some of the names of those who did, including such as former Stan James PR man Rory Jiwani, that illustrates the calibre of people that I and all other applicants were up against. It's got enough of the right people on it.
I've got issues though. The bios of some of the folk who made it on to the Forum included 'annual member at Cheltenham' and 'annual member at Ascot'. I hope these weren't picked ahead of 'annual member at Catterick', and/or 'annual member at Worcester', particularly if 1/ there were any of the latter who applied, and 2/ their racing and betting knowledge knocks that of Ascot-member and Cheltenham-member for six. Which it may well do.
It has annoyed me to my core for some time that the big tracks carry more kudos for some narrow-minded people. If it's Newbury it means something, if it's Nottingham it means nothing. Have you forgotten that Countrywide Flame, Triumph Hurdle winner and Champion Hurdle third, made his hurdling debut at Cartmel? A Cheltenham Festival winner can come from any track, not just the big ones. Sometimes racing and races at the smaller courses is more meaningful than at the bigger tracks and it seems that some people haven't grasped that fact yet.
As for the Horseracing Bettors Forum, time will tell if it proves to be influential. The Horsemen's Group - does that actually still exist? - had little or no impact, but it's early days for the HBF.
Did You Know I Hate Nicknames?
Fans of EastEnders fondly remember the character Heather Trott, played by actress Cheryl Fergison, who turns up on the odd reality show nowadays. She was affectionately nicknamed 'Hev', or 'Ev' by her best friend Shirley Carter, the permanently drunk woman who was in a relationship with ex-drunkard Phil Mitchell.
'Ev' made a comeback at Chepstow on October 10th, whether trainer Evan Williams, who'd enjoyed a big-race double with Tea In Transvaal and Court Minstrel, liked it or not - and I'm guessing not.
He was interviewed by Luke Harvey on At The Races - Harvey's style makes a hyperactive three-year-old child who's high on tartrazine look sensible and employable. Twice during the interview with Williams, Harvey called him 'Ev'. Dear oh lord. If I was Evan Williams at that moment, I'd just have wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.
I hate nicknames, if I'm honest - 'Ev' Williams, 'Dicky' Johnson, 'Choc' Thornton, 'Shark' Hanlon and so on - if I talk to someone I'd rather use their full first name. Is the name 'Evan' that hard to say?
I hope the standard of interviewing improves over the next few months. How you achieve that is very simple - don't let Luke Harvey do the interviews.