The Punting Confessional: Horses for Courses

Tramore Racecourse

Tramore Racecourse

It’s an old adage that often rings true and Tony Keenan explains the benefit of following certain horses at certain courses, as this week’s Punting Confessional shuns the Epsom spotlight in favour of a trip to Tramore!

Tramore, June 2nd

There is a certain irony to Tramore staging a flat card on the same day as the Epsom Derby with the two tracks sharing similarities, being undulating and at times tight and generally perceived as being somewhat unfair to horses though those comments are often levelled by losing connections and punters; we all know the demands of the tracks beforehand and have to factor that into our pre-race analysis.

With Irish horses thin on the ground at Epsom, I had only one bet at the meeting – Bonfire in the Derby – and would have played in stakes eight or nine times higher at Tramore. I know there is something perverse in that and I realise this will be anathema to many as Tramore is widely reckoned to stage the worst class racing in Ireland and by some distance too but at least I know the horses that run there very well and have some chance of making a profit.

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And make a profit I did with four winners on the card and to be honest, after Dundalk, Tramore is one of my favourite tracks to punt at in Ireland. My methods seem to suit lower class races better and certainly such events excite me much more; it was good to see a top-class winner of the Derby from a purist’s perspective on Saturday but I’m not a purist, unless pursuit of profit can be described as pure, and I was much more excited by the win of Forest Minx in the 1m4f 0-65 handicap at Tramore.

The old adage about keeping yourself in the best of company and your horses in the worst was used to describe ownership but there’s truth in it from a punting point-of-view too as there really is an edge to be found in such races. So how does one get ahead at Tramore, or indeed any of these low-grade, idiosyncratic tracks?

Well firstly, an old one but a good one: respect previous course form. If we consider the new tracks that have been birthed in Britain and Ireland in recent years, the likes of Dundalk and Ffos Las, we see big sweeping bends and flat straights that are in the main a very fair test to a racehorse. No one in their right mind would build a Tramore or a Ballinrobe or even a Galway now if they were starting from scratch but it is because these courses are so unique that they beget specialists. Some horses simply don’t act around such venues and if you find such an animal at the head of the betting – or even  big galloping sort that has been running well at the likes of Curragh and is unproven at such a track – then you have a race that is worth playing.

Benefit Of Porter was an extreme example of a course specialist at Tramore on Saturday – she is 211211 at the track in both codes – while Clarach was another that at least had experience of venue, running placed in a maiden there the previous season. Both of those were returned short prices but the one that really made my punting day was Forest Minx who despite being an 8yo that had never won in 15 starts before Sunday had run her only good races at the track. She was in a terrible race and wearing first time blinkers and had caught the eye last time and looked a good bet at the morning 7/1, returned 11/2 and winning 11 lengths. I had been waiting for her to run back on the flat at Tramore for 9 months after she had stayed on in a slowly-run handicap there last August and the patience paid off; on the whole though, and I’ve written about this in the past, such long-termism rarely plays much of a role in my handicap punting though in this case it was good for plan to come together.

Another thing to consider when playing around the gaffs is the presence of ungenuine horses in the fields. On Saturday, there were a host of such runners declared including the likes of Flying Light, Dante Inferno, Stuccodor, Sinetta, Passion Planet and Mamma Rosa and that’s only to mention the first four races! Trainers are keen to run such horses around tracks like Tramore as the racing there is weak and they reason that a win will be easier to come by but I’d be all for opposing them en masse; one or two may win but let them as they will likely be woefully underpriced in doing so. Ungenuine horses by their nature have decent form – they go close to winning without actually doing so – and with the paucity of form available in races around the gaffs they are often short prices (only 1 of the sextet of horses listed above returned bigger than 9/2) but I would much rather with be a limited sort that is genuine than a temperamental horse with talent.

The idea that every dog has its day does have some truth in it however and there are times when such horses cannot help but win. The final race won by Habesh was a case in point where each of the four runners was tricky to one degree or other and the winner benefitted from being out in the front; I backed Roman Locket in this race with the belief that he was the least ungenuine of the field (never a good call to be making) but in such cases you just have to take your medicine and realise that in the long run such horses lose more often than they win.

With low grade racing, lowering your standards is important. I have never had any problem with this, a point my friends often reference when judging my female company! But seriously, you can’t expect to find the same sort of bombproof selection, a horse that handles ground, trip and caught the eye last time, as you would have in a group race or even a good handicap as the racing around the likes of Tramore is so uncompetitive.

Often you have to base your betting around finding a bad favourite and getting something to beat it (I much prefer to go for paydirt and back something to beat a weak market leader than lay the jolly); oftentimes, that horse will simply be the lesser of the evils in the race, though preferably genuine. I always love a big price, perhaps too much, but around the likes of Tramore the fields tend to be small and you may have to take a short price but remember they can be value too.

Finally, a word on in-running punting at Tramore. It’s not something I do a lot of – my reactions aren’t quick enough, particularly for flat racing – but it is certainly something that I want to look into. The tight circumference of the track means that they start racing very early, often five and six furlongs from home when only turning out on the last circuit, and there can be in-running carnage with early leaders that have pressed on too early often falling in a hole in the straight and getting done at short prices on the run-in. I would have no problem with a horse coming of the bridle early as they can often find their momentum and keep galloping for pressure, the likes of Forest Minx and Security Breach being good examples of winners on Saturday that came off the bit early and hit decent prices in-running.

As always with in-running punting it pays to know your horses – Security Breach seems never to be on the bridle in his races before running on and Forest Minx stays further – and while you are playing against professional in-running with fast pictures they may not know the proclivities of the Irish bottom feeders as well as they do the English horses, playing as they are in so many races during the day. We’d all love level playing field scenario where all pictures were available at the same time but a shrewd player has some chance of negating that disadvantage by knowing his horses well.

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