The Punting Confessional: Ascot Debrief

Getting The Basics Right

Ascot Debrief

The Punting Confessional , Wednesday, June 26th

After Cheltenham, I wrote about some lessons that could be learned from the flagship jumps meeting of the year and it’s worth doing the same with Royal Ascot.

Many of the pointers apply at both events; for instance, hype horses or handicap blots can get overbet in competitive, maximum field races; for Sam Winner in the Pertemps, read Wentworth in the Britannia; here was a horse that at 7/2 was just too short in a field filled with potential and while perhaps given too much to do that’s a factor that needs to be considered when facing 26 rivals.

Minor factors can get overvalued at Royal Ascot also; much like the Twiston-Davies stable form was overdone at the Festival so too was the draw accorded too much value in the Coronation Stakes, the market at the off presenting the strange picture as both the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas winners Sky Lantern and Just The Judge were available at 9/2 and 5/1 respectively whereas in the average year one could easily see them 9/4 each of two.

There are new lessons to be learned however and there is certainly a good argument to be made that Royal Ascot is a better punting meeting than Cheltenham.

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Certainly, there is not the same buzz about the meeting months in advance and punters get the chance to bet into immature markets; two weeks before the fixture, there was betting available on the Queen Anne, the King’s Stand, the Gold Cup, the Golden Jubilee and the two feature handicaps along with the St. James’s Palace and Prince of Wales’s at a stretch.

There were Group 1 races like the Coronation that had no betting until the five-day stage whereas prices on the lesser group races were not available until final declarations. With most of the handicap entries not out until the five-days, punters had a real edge in races that weren’t analysed to death and the compilers had a much smaller window to correct their errors.

The use of 48-hour declarations on the flat are an edge in themselves and one I’m unused to as an Irish punter, such methods only being used for Sunday cards here. It gives one time to study and while a punter needs to be prepared and have his study completed a few days in advance there is the opportunity to get on at advantageous prices ahead of the main tipsters.

There were some right ricks during the week, perhaps the early price of 8/13 about Battle Of Marengo for the King Edward being the most obvious, his SP of 10/11 much closer to the mark and that meant value in the likes of winner Hillstar and third Mutashaded. Such an approach may not be ideal for living in the moment but it does provide a price edge for go-ahead players.

As a keen follower of Irish flat racing, the strength of the Irish challenge provided a personal edge with the eight winners coming from five different yards; now is certainly a good time to follow Irish flat racing with a view to punting in England as one can have a strong view on a horse or form line though, as ever, patriotic or parochial putting needs to be avoided.

It’s fair to assume that English punters just won’t know as much about Irish horses as Irish gamblers (the reverse also applies, obviously); for example, it may not have been widely known that Queen’s Vase winner Leading Light was one that comes off the bridle and finds plenty and he traded much bigger than his SP in-running, that Roca Tumu won the hottest 3yo handicap of the year at Curragh on Guineas weekend or that the Irish 2yo fillies looked a poor crop.

The availability of a quarter the odds each-way all races was also a boon and while I’m not a mathematical punter, preferring instead to find an edge in form study not numbers, it is certainly a help in the smaller field group races. The Prince of Wales’s is a good example as was the Duke of Cambridge where I backed Dank each-way at 5s and still turned a profit, something you can’t do at other meetings.

The pick of the them all was the Battle Of Marengo race however where you had the dead eight along with a bad favourite and there was real each-way value available, allowing that it is more difficult to get on in such races.

I alluded to draw biases when mentioning the Coronation Stakes above and in the main I found them overdone at this meeting (and others, in the main). It is something the mainstream media have latched onto and hence it is overrated in the market; every time I turned on Channel 4 Racing on Friday, the draw of the fancied pair in the Coronation seemed to be being discussed.

If we learned anything over the week, it is that the draw should not be overrated as tool for pre-race analysis; as pointed out by James Knight on Twitter, just because there is pace in a part of the track over another does not mean that that side will dominate the finish. Instead, the important factor is what pace allows the horse to race optimally and there is simply too much chaos at play here – predicted pace often doesn’t work out – to do anything other than look for the most talented horse.

None of this is to say that there aren’t draw biases but in general they are most apparent post-race rather than pre-race and that is the time to use them to get ahead.

To conclude, a word on the juvenile races which to my eye were dominated by the potential rather than proven horses. The most impressive 2yo winners of the week were War Command, Kiyoshi, Berkshire and No Nay Never and that quartet were all debuting in pattern company and had a combined five starts between them.

It’s worth reiterating that the reason they hadn’t run to big figures beforehand is they hadn’t had the chance to and it is something that is worth bearing in mind the next time the market plunges on a 2yo like Coach House of Sandiva because their form is standout.

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