The Punting Confessional: The Luck of the Irish? It’s not all luck!

Princess Highway: one that got away!

Princess Highway: one that got away!

Tony Keenan’s weekly Punting Confessional comes on the back of his own experiences at Royal Ascot and explains his reliance on Irish stock. There’s far more to the Irish than spirit and luck, you know!

Royal Ascot, June 19th through 23rd

The five days at Royal Ascot weren’t unkind with winners like Duntle and Dawn Approach along with losers like Emulous and Saddler’s Rock not to mention missing out completely on Princess Highway but more of her anon.

If you’re thinking that there appears a bias towards, if not a total obsession with, Irish horses among my bets above then you’d be correct and while it probably wasn’t a bad week to wave the tricolour with 8 Irish winners the idea of this patriotic punting is worth exploring.

I have to admit that I find Royal Ascot week quite trying much as I love the meeting, by far the best flat racing fixture of the year. All the best horses are there and there is a supreme buzz around that draws the punter in; I know one should be preaching discipline here but even we are all flesh and blood and it is impossible not to be excited, if not by Frankel then at least but the betting opportunities that abound.

But my problem here is that as a punter who concentrates almost totally on Irish flat racing I know I have to go through the Irish cards that are on the same days as Ascot; this is a no brainer as they contain the horses I know.

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During this past week, there were meetings at Sligo (Tuesday), Leopardstown (Thursday), Limerick (Friday), Down Royal (Saturday) and certainly one would be torn about what to study. The middle two cards of that quartet were particularly unappealing with few betting races and one felt somewhat unfulfilled having studied them ahead of the Ascot cards which seemed thrilling in comparison.

It could be argued that I could study both meetings but in reality this is difficult; the sort of mental intensity needed to focus properly on more than one card is hard to achieve – I am not talking about simply picking out a horse I fancy but rather working form, video, pace and tissue prices all into the mix, keeping many balls in the air.

Friday at Royal Ascot was a particularly galling day as I watched Princess Highway bolt up at a Betfair starting price of 11.90 in the Ribblesdale and she really was one that got away; I’d been keen on her after both her maiden and Group 3 wins but hadn’t really studied the race properly and had been put off by the trainer’s comments pre-race that the ground would be against her, the very thing I’d warned about in the most recent of these columns.

The ground was a doubt for sure but it was more than compensated for by the big drift in her price in the hour before the race and I suspect had I studied the race properly I would have been flexible enough to make a play on her at the prices.

Studying an English meeting takes me much longer than studying an Irish meeting as I have no background knowledge of most of the horses involved. My routine for studying an Irish meeting is simple: I start with my notes on every flat meeting run in the country which I have reviewed on replays and will work through the card from a form point-of-view, cross-checking my notes and re-watching replays if necessary, before applying pace to the race and giving each horse a tissue price and finalising a short list of horses I think are likely to be overpriced.

Doing this for an English meeting is not as easy as I simply don’t have the depth of knowledge available to me; I have to watch the videos from scratch with no knowledge of the worth of the horses or likely pace beforehand while my tissues are unlikely to be as accurate. With form study, routine is all-important, doing things in logical order, and this knocks out routine.

Studying racing from other foreign countries – not Britain – is even more difficult and this is an area I’ve wanted to cover for a while in light of a few bets I’ve made in the French classics this year: Amaron in the 2,000 Guineas, Up in the 1,000 Guineas and French Fifteen in the Derby.

The first two went close but that’s not the point as I found it hard to back them with any real confidence as I didn’t know what they were up against; many commentators have pointed out that the big French races have been particularly farcical this year because of how they have been run but for me that hard part about punting on these races is my inability to get a real grasp of the form and it gets to a stage where I’m trawling through YouTube for replays of the races in the hope of gleaning something useful which is not where you want to be. These comments also apply to the Breeders’ Cup which is just about my least favourite meeting of the year.

My default position is that I am largely left with a reliance on Irish horses when they race abroad. Of course this could be said to be a narrow, parochial attitude but on the other hand at least with the Irish horses I can have a strong view on them. They can provide a way into a race, whether you are with them or against them, particularly at a big meeting like the Cheltenham Festival or Royal Ascot. Also, I am in the fortunate position that Irish horses go very well abroad, at least at the moment.

Unlike our soccer team, we are competitive, in fact world leaders and it’s not just false optimism. A punting friend of mine often jokes that the tab on the front page of that lists the Irish runners in Britain each day is the best free tipping service around and he’s not far wrong!

I don’t really know the reasons why Irish horses are so good. I don’t really buy into all this heritage stuff about our ‘natural affinity’ with the horse but it is fair to say that our breeders have access to some of the best bloodlines around. I’m no lover of Ballydoyle for a number of reasons but they are big drivers of Ireland’s international success and perhaps a rising tide lifts all boats.

Certainly, our racing at the lower reaches is more competitive than the equivalent fare in England (the larger field sizes being the most obvious example of this). I also think that the layers in other countries often don’t know what to do with our horses outside of the top ones; they’re not going to overlay the likes of Camelot but may make a mistake with a 75-rated handicapper.

Finally, one can point to the belief that a trainer’s willingness to travel with a horse is a signal of intent in itself, a sign of wellbeing, though this applies to some trainers more than others.

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