The Punting Confessional: the Flat is back!

Flat is Back

Flat is Back

Everyone has their own particular favoured type of racing, many people prefer the gritty battles of winter jumps racing, watching the old warriors plough through miles and miles of mud sodden races. Yet for others, the almost serene appeal of the flat season is their preference. Tony Keenan prefers the latter and he now explains why in…

The Punting Confessional – Wednesday, April 3rd 2013

I have a preference for flat racing over jumps racing so it’s a pretty good time of the year; Dundalk may keep one ticking over during the winter but the return of the turf season is something to be cherished and hopefully we’ll have some decent ground this summer. I am confident that I could make it pay over jumps – I have in the past and got a few quid this winter ‘tipping away’ at the national hunt – but it suits my personal life to concentrate on the level.

The impact of what goes on in one’s ‘real life’ should not be underestimated when thinking about punting; if one’s gambling runs contrary to what is going on elsewhere in one’s life, it won’t be long before both areas suffer. With my other work commitments, I have plenty of time off during the summer which is flat racing’s peak time.

In general, the flat season has more of a flow to it; in England, you have the Guineas and the Derby through to Royal Ascot and the weight-for-age races of the high summer before all of the classy backend stuff like Champions Day. It’s similar in Ireland with the early trials leading onto the classics before Galway and the packed Group One calendar of the autumn.

Though an overused term, the flat campaign has more ‘narrative’ to it and though this has no major effect on one’s punting the lack of focus on a single meeting – as with Cheltenham over jumps – is better.

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Flat racing has more complexity that jump racing and for the good punter this is a plus; if things were easy, everyone would be making money. While over thinking can be a problem (and one I suffered from in failing to back Our Conor at Cheltenham), in the main the complicated should be valued as an edge; the impact of factors like pace, draw, trouble in running and breeding tend to have more of an influence on the flat than in national hunt racing.

By the nature of the code, a punter also has less time to get to know flat horses than with jumpers that have greater longevity; this can be a good thing as the market can cotton on over time to form angles and preferences for the latter group.

On a simple level, it takes much longer to analyse the replays from a national hunt meeting as I found when I went back through the tapes from Cheltenham recently; time is valuable for punters and its worth should not be underestimated. Also, analysing the two codes are different beasts entirely and I have to admit to having forgotten how to analyse jumps racing replays; while I may still be able to spot a form angle with a jumper I tend to struggle with the video approach.

With the flat horses, I am better versed and know what to look for; things may unfold quicker and be more difficult to spot but again complexity is a plus.

It’s no harm to make the broad point about specialism again here; no one can know everything and the advantage the punter holds over the layer is that he doesn’t have to bet on every race. One needs to take a break too in order to recharge the punting batteries. The idea of not even trying to know everything is central to good risk intelligence; the wise punter will admit to having no opinion on many occasions and give up any hope of knowing everything but when he has a strong view he will back it accordingly.

My own speciality is handicaps and one of advantages of flat racing is that it has more handicaps than jump racing. The reason for this is simple: there is only one code. In national hunt racing, you have bumpers, hurdles and chases and horses need maidens and novice race to run in each whereas there is no such need on the flat.

At the mid to low levels, Irish flat racing is woefully under-analysed despite being more complex than jump racing and there’s plenty of it too with even racing through the winter at Dundalk; jump racing has long been the preference of the Irish nation as a whole. What analysis there is tends to be quite poor and as ever Ireland is behind Britain in this regard; there is certainly no Hugh Taylor equivalent, at least not in the public domain, which is a good thing.

What scant attention Irish flat racing gets in the mainstream media extends little beyond Aidan O’Brien hagiography and coverage of the Group 1 meets; while much of the Cheltenham Festival analysis is wrong-headed, it is at least analysis and some of it is of interest.

Flat racing in Ireland is more competitive than jump racing where Willie Mullins is having a record-breaking season; Aidan O’Brien may dominate the Group 1 events but there are only ten such races each year and there’s certainly more depth below him on the trainers’ table with the likes of Weld, Bolger and Oxx, not the mention some gifted mid-level guys like Lyons and Oliver. With Mullins, you’ve also got the complicating factor of applying the worth of French form with so many of his runners sourced there.

As pointed out by Brian O’Connor in a recent blog, the idea that the small man has always been a feature of jump racing has a mythic quality; there were probably a lot fewer Solerinas and Danolis than we recall in our memories. That said, the seam of following a good horse with a low-profile trainer over jumps – as I did with likes of Brave Right (Leonard Whitmore) in the past – seems to have dried up a little and if anything the edge can be exploited more on the level these days.

In general, the quality of trainer on the flat is superior to their jumps brethren and the likes of Ger Lyons, Tommy Carmody and Andy Oliver certainly know what to do when they get a good one. A low-profile handler can do particularly well with sprinters; after all, Tom Hogan trained a Group 1 winner in Gordon Lord Byron last year while Damien English looks to have a 5f specialist on the up in the shape of his recent Dundalk winner All Ablaze.

Of course, it’s probably easier to train a flat horse; at least there is less time to wait for a return as they can race from two years old and are less injury-prone as they don’t have to jump obstacles. For a trainer looking to make a quick impact, the flat is the way to go and there is plenty of room for winners at the low to middle grades. This immediacy also plays out in punting as the horses run more often; a punter gets a chance to back his opinions sooner which suits someone who is being diligent and following racing closely.

There are probably fewer plot horses on the flat too though this may be naivety on my part but having watched flat racing intensely over the last few years, I think it is largely straight in Ireland; at very least, such thoughts play little part in my considerations of a horse’s chances.

A final advantage the flat has over the jumps is the greater number of ungenuine horses. This makes total sense; flat horses are younger, less likely to be gelded and race/train at faster speeds, all of which contribute to finding out one with a suspect temperament.

There are those that would tell you there is no such thing as a dog but they are also likely to be losing punters. This is not to say such horses cannot win but rather that they win less often than they should. Spotting them early in their careers is vital and show no mercy in judging them; they are the market makers that provide a way into a race.

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