The Punting Confessional: The Follies of Racing Fandom

Punting Confessional 26/09

Punting Confessional 26/09

Tony Keenan maintains there’s a great difference between racing fans and racing punters, a point not always recognised by everyone. Tony explains more about this in…

…The Punting Confessional – September 26th, 2012

Some horses are set to frustrate you. Royal Diamond has been my ‘frustration horse’ of this year and probably any other year too. He first came on my radar when I backed against him in a 1m6f handicap at Leopardstown in mid-April, supporting Rising Wind and Run With The Wind instead. They finished second and third though at a respectful distance behind Royal Diamond who looked one to follow given the manner of his success.

I backed up my opinion with a decent bet on him at 8s in a premier handicap on Guineas weekend; he led everywhere bar the line and traded at 1.13 having been 6ls clear going well entering the straight. It was a spectacular effort as he’d gone hard in front and burned off all the other pacesetters while form looked white-hot with progressive types involved in the finish; if he appeared one to follow after Leopardstown he was even more interesting now and I was convinced he was well ahead of his mark.

Down Royal for the Ulster Derby was next and though I played him at 5/1 the ground was a concern and so it proved as he managed just third. The Ebor at York however presented the chance of a big score. I backed him at an average of 36 and it was the Curragh all over again as he made much of the running but was nutted in the run to the line, a potential difference-maker in the year’s profits turned into a decent place return.

And so it was to the Irish Leger where I couldn’t have him; rated 104 and beaten in a handicap of 99 just 3 weeks previously, he was hardly going to win a Group 1 and so I backed the up-and-coming Massiyn at around 10/1. The result was hard to take. Massiyn picked up the running inside the final 150 yards and looked set to win, albeit narrowly, and traded at 1/100 only to be caught on the post by Royal Diamond, starting price 16/1.

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You couldn’t make it up. I still love the horse but he has tried my patience and I just needed to get that horror story off my chest.

I called the Irish St Leger a Group 1 above but in reality it was anything but, a decent Group 3 or average Group 2 masquerading as a top-level contest. The favourite Fame And Glory was the only Group 1 winner in the field but he’d only shown his best form once in the past two seasons; the second favourite Brown Panther had never won above listed company; the third favourite Hartani had been beaten in his last start by a horse sent off a double-figure price for the English Leger.

Of course, I simplify here but my point is that the front end of the market was very weak and this approach opens up the field and sees a horse such as Royal Diamond – who would have little chance in a true Group 1 – as a player at big odds. This sort of false Group 1 has been called a phony Group 1 by Make Watchmaker in the fascinating chapter 10 of the second book in the ‘Betting With The Best’ series called ‘Longshots’; he explains them much better than I ever could and is well worth a read. These races may not be classy but they are competitive and what more can a sensible punter want than competitive races to bet on?

There are many people however who would slag off such a race and argue they are in the right as how can a Group 1 have a bumper mare like Shu Lewis finishing less than 5ls off the winner? Such people are purists or as I prefer to call them ‘racing fans.’ It’s a tough life for racing fans in punting as they find it very hard to make money at it. I mean fan in the strictest sense of the word, the idea of a person marked by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm for a cause or subject. The key word here is unreasoning as racing fans often lack logic, a crucial part of the make-up of a successful gambler.

I am not a racing fan but a punter and there’s a world of difference. My aim is to make money and the sport is a means to an end and if that lessens my enjoyment of some aspects of it, then so be it. I don’t enjoy the sport for intrinsic reasons and my motivations for following it aren’t pure but mercenary. I enjoy the mental challenge of analysing a race, the questioning of thing, the doubting, even the cynicism.

Racing fans tend not to do these things and thus struggle to profit from their gambling. They are credulous, even gullible, and if you want an example just think back to the pre-race talk about Camelot on this very day. Let’s look at the thoughts of two high-profile ‘fans’ Richard Hughes and Ryan Moore; remember, jockeys can be fans too, it’s more about attitude than position held in the sport.

Neither could countenance Camelot getting beaten and doubt never even entered their head; punters know doubt is vital and is what makes the odds. Hughes in the Racing Post described Camelot as a ‘proverbial good thing’ and for him stamina was irrelevant, despite both the visuals in the Irish Derby and the horse’s breeding suggesting otherwise.

It could be pointed out that it is easy to be wise after the event when the 2/5 shot was turned over and he becomes a great example in hindsight but I did put it in print beforehand on by Betfair blog and it didn’t help me profit from the race; I may have called the favourite right but I backed Ursa Major and lost. My point is not that Hughes called the race wrong but the whole tenor of his arguments which were utterly dogmatic.

Moore in his Betfair piece made strikingly similar points to Hughes even going so far as to say ‘in my book he fully deserves to be a 1/2 shot’ (he probably wouldn’t have backed him at 4/9 in fairness) which begs the questions what book is this? Are jockeys pricing up races now? Such blogs would be best advised to stick to what they know and with jockeys it certainly isn’t odds lines.

Racing fans in wider public love these jockey columns but in reality they provide the illusion of insight, not insight itself. A reader may think they are getting some sort of insider knowledge whereas it is often a combination of uninformed comment, blandishments, biased chat and plainly wrong ideas with the rare gem. Yet jockeys’ views are extremely popular as seen by the proliferation of such blogs/pieces; off the top of my head there is Moore, Hughes and William Buick on attheraces and I’m sure there are more.

Jockeys dominate panels are Cheltenham Preview Nights where the aim is to find a few winners for the audience; surely it would be better to employ someone more skilled in the area? Jockeys know about horses but not betting and their real use is in talking about things that they really understand such as ground conditions.

I’ll conclude with a final point though I suspect I’ll be back on this issue next week. Hughes opined in his column that ‘the first thing any racing fan has to do is applaud connections [of Camelot] for attempting to climb a mountain that has not been conquered for 42 years. Then you have to salute the colt.’

The wording here is crucial – again the term ‘racing fan’ is used – but forgive me for not following his advice. Punters don’t cheer the horses they have backed against. I hoped Camelot would be beaten as I was backing against him; I thought he was underpriced. You can accuse me of lacking sentiment but what sort of crazy supports something against his interests?


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