Paul Jones: From Soba to Moldova (Book Excerpt)

Something a little different today, and hopefully of great interest. Here’s a short video introduction:

Paul Jones’s excellent new book, From Soba to Moldova, is out now. It contains 20 chapters of top class betting insight gleaned from two decades as one of the most recognised horse racing authors courtesy of his brainchild, The Weatherby’s Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide. From Soba to Moldova is a brilliant read: I’m not the quickest reader but I devoured this in less than a week (very fast for me, believe me!)

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it, because Paul has very kindly agreed to allow me to publish a chapter, which I’ve done below. Moreover, he’s agreed to offer any reader who wishes to purchase a copy of the full book – it’s a printed book, not a digital download – a tidy discount. Which is nice 🙂


Paul Jones’s book, From Soba to Moldova, features 20 chapters packed with punting wisdom and specific tactics.
To order a discounted copy, please click here. [NB: remember to quote ‘geegeez‘ to secure your discount]


Over to Paul now, and here’s Chapter 6: Betting Angles…

Betting Angles

I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been a great one for the term ‘betting systems’ as such, but I do have plenty of angles in trying to find an edge, some of which I have listed in the paragraphs that follow. If you put your mind to it, there are literally thousands of them.

Backing top weights in nurseries is probably the one that gets wheeled out most often but you don’t often hear the chasing equivalent of top weights in novice handicaps which is the one I prefer. Or top weights in juvenile handicap hurdles which also seems to work well. Why shouldn’t exactly the same principles apply? Take that 20-runner example of the novices’ handicap at the Cheltenham Festival for example which has been won by the top weight in three of the last seven years at 16/1, 12/1 and 13/2.

As with all angles, they have to be constantly monitored, tweaked or even got shot of altogether when the market catches up with them which, if successful, it eventually will. Horses switching to stables that have a proven record of finding plenty of improvement being an obvious example of this (David O’Meara, Dan Skelton and Gordon Elliott being the vogue trio at the time of going to press) to the point that they often then become over-bet.

Ten of the Best

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Or more to the point, ten of my best, and in no particular order. Around half of these are likely to change in a couple of years and should also not be confused with the type of horse that I like to look for more generally as described in the chapter on Keeping The Faith.

  1. The French Abroad – I’m generally a fan of French-trained horses on their travels, especially fillies, and I liked James Willoughby’s summation that they “train class into the horse and not ruthless efficiency”. Their record at The Breeders’ Cup is on a different level to the British and Irish. I have been a massive Andre Fabre fan in the UK down the years and I especially like to take note of French-trained, well-fancied fillies in Group 1 races on the Rowley Mile. Although yet to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, I’m also a sucker for a Japanese-trained horse racing outside of their home land.
  2. Switcheroo Horses – Horses whose connections’ stated intention was to run in one race but then ended up in another. Willie Mullins at the Cheltenham Festival in particular after Vautour (Gold Cup to Ryanair), Black Hercules (NH Chase to JLT) and Nichols Canyon (Champion Hurdle to Stayers’ Hurdle) at the last two Cheltenham Festivals alone. Fiveforthree (Supreme to Neptune) was another of his.
  3. Class Factor in 1m4f+ All-Aged Handicaps on the Flat – Three times as many top weights as bottom weights win handicaps. The progressive horses struggle to get in the leading handicaps these days and that is because there is a bigger class factor than 20 years ago when the horse population was smaller. You would have done very well indeed backing the higher-weighted horses in the valuable, all-aged handicaps over 1m4f during the first half of the 2017 season.
  4. Novices in Spring Handicaps – I have touched on this when discussing the record of novices in handicaps at the Grand National Meeting but I’m a fan in general, especially in handicaps over around two miles more than most, be it over fences or hurdles, as their record in the Grand Annual, Red Rum, County Hurdle and Swinton testifies.
  5. Jumps Trainers in Big Staying Handicaps on the Flat – The market is catching up with this angle but not quickly enough. Their fitness is on a different level, the best two examples being ten Cesarewitch winners going back to 1995 from primarily jumps-based stables and, even more eye catching, twelve since the turn of the century in the Ascot Stakes.
  6. New Headgear for Big Races – Be it first-time headgear or a switch of headgear, it can make all the difference to finding the required improvement for the day that really matters. On Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival in 2014, there were only three horses wearing blinkers, a visor or a hood for the first time and, incredibly, all three all won at 25/1, 20/1 and 16/1. Therefore the following year I dedicated a chapter purely to that potential new angle and following the successes of Western Warhorse (first-time hood) in the Arkle at 33/1, Holywell (switching from cheekpieces to blinkers) in the 3m handicap at 10/1 and Jezki (first-time hood) in the Champion Hurdle at 9/1 on the Tuesday, the new headgear was the main talking point of the day. I prefer this angle for big handicaps and also with certain trainers, David Pipe and Jonjo O’Neill in particular.
  7. ThreeYear-Olds in Staying Handicaps from September onwards – This is an angle that has survived the test of time and is the flat equivalent of backing novices in handicap in the latter months of the season.
  8. Backing Individuals or Teams with a Point to Prove – There is something personal involved here and it is amazing how being desperate to make a point can focus the mind. Football teams who have a new manager is an obvious example as they are now playing for their place but also big-name clubs coming off a heavy loss and individuals being written off too early etc. There is no greater example of this than Phil Taylor down the years who relished the chance to shut up the doubters who kept writing him off.
  9. British-Trained Horses in Irish Sprint Handicaps – An angle I was alerted to in one of Kevin Blake’s columns on Attheraces which caught my imagination. The argument, backed up by results, being that they are more hardened from a vigorous and developed sprinting programme back home than in Ireland.
  10. Horses that ran in the National Hunt Chase in Valuable Handicap Chases – Not forever of course but up until at least half-way through the next season. The 2016 running was a stellar one with the 1-2 filling the placings in the following year’s Gold Cup but, before then, its contenders went on to win the following big handicaps up until and including New Year’s Day; Scottish Grand National, Listed Handicap Chase at the same meeting, Pat Taaffe Chase, Hennessy Gold Cup, Becher Chase, Rowland Meyrick Chase, Welsh Grand National, Paddy Power Chase and BetBright Chase. Dealing with big handicap winners later in the same season only and the ‘Four Miler’ has also featured four Irish Grand National winners, two more Scottish Grand National winners and a Bet365 Gold Cup victor in fairly recent years.

Racecourse Angles

One of the things I ought to put towards the top of my punting-to-do list is compile an ongoing set of angles to look out for at each racecourse. Not the obvious ones like low draws in sprints at Chester as the market will have already factored that in, but a handful of potential ‘ins’ to keep close at hand, i.e. two-year-olds with experience in maiden races at tricky tracks like Goodwood, Epsom and Brighton that can catch out debutants, or prominent racers drawn near the stands’ rail on soft ground at The Curragh, for two examples straight off the top of my head. With a little research for each racecourse, I think you could come up four or five so that’s 300 potential angles in Britain alone.

Also on racecourse angles, there’s the horses-for-courses tracks where courses with slightly different configurations have more than their fair share of specialists like at Ludlow for example with four fences in the space of around 600 yards in the home straight or three hurdles in around 500 yards. There are plenty of repeat winners around that Shropshire course.

Then there’s the courses that favour front runners where I would nominate Haydock over the jumps and also on the flat on fast ground and Ascot’s chase course as being my particular favourites and I absolutely have to be with a prominently-ridden horse in one-lap races over the Grand National course. I prefer hold-up horses on courses where there are no obstacles on long, sweeping bends like Aintree and Chepstow so they can make their ground without having their momentum broken. It is also hard to make all at Sandown over hurdles and it’s notoriously difficult for front runners over hurdles on the New Course at Cheltenham with just two flights to be negotiated in the final three quarters of a mile as there is half a mile to get organised for those in behind between the penultimate and final flight and then a long, uphill run-in.

The effect of the draw is very well covered these days but there can sometimes be a ‘Golden Highway’ on an individual day that we are unaware of until a couple of races into a meeting. I was aware of a draw/ground bias even in my teens. Before one boys’ cross country race in which I was set to compete, I performed a reccy of the route beforehand looking for an advantage and I’m confident that no one else for the first mile took a diagonal right for 50 yards to run on the pavement for a mile rather than through the sodden fields! Not that it helped me finish any higher than mid division. I was an honest, one-paced plodder in horse racing parlance.


Paul Jones’s book, From Soba to Moldova, features 20 chapters packed with punting wisdom and specific tactics.
To order a discounted copy, please click here. [NB: remember to quote ‘geegeez‘ to secure your discount]


Trainer Angles

Growing up I used to follow Luca Cumani, Geoff Wragg and Robert Armstrong on the flat, Toby Balding, Tim Forster and Reg Akehurst over the jumps and Peter Easterby under both codes. Pat Eddery and Hywel Davies were my favourite jockeys but, inexplicably, I didn’t back the Forster-trained, Davies-ridden Last Suspect when he won the Grand National at 50/1. Here and now, and outside of the blindingly obvious, I have plenty of respect for William Haggas, Ralph Beckett and Robert Cowell on the flat and Richard Newland, Harry Fry and Neil Mulholland over the jumps.

Trainers are usually creatures of habit so I like to break their stats down to help find areas where they excel and fare badly. If something has worked for them before, the more likely it is that they head down the same line of thinking again. Some trainers have their favourite courses to start off their best maidens on the flat or their novices over jumps and of course, many trainers like to prep in the same race before a big target that has served them so well in the past. If we look hard enough then we can come up with literally hundreds of examples but here is a handful that make me look twice:

Flat: Luca Cumani’s three-year-olds at Doncaster, Andrew Balding’s handicappers at Chester (and overall at the May Meeting), Richard Hannon and Aidan O’Brien with second-time-out two-year-olds, Mark Johnston in high-summer middle-distance races and on turning courses, Marco Botti abroad, Dermot Weld in April, Godolphin in conditions races and Marytn Meade with two-year-olds. Johnston is far better on undulating courses having made a level stakes profit at Beverley, Brighton, Carlisle, Goodwood and Leicester which takes some doing over a long career, but plain rubbish on dead flat tracks like Ayr, Doncaster, Haydock, Nottingham and York where he shows a massive level stakes loss.

Jumps: David Pipe with chasers at midlands tracks and when he moves his handicappers from 2m4f up to 3m+, Alan King at stamina-based tracks with his young horses and first time out over hurdles with horses from the flat, Harry Fry with novice chasers generally and novice hurdlers at Ascot, Nicky Henderson’s handicappers at Warwick plus his horses returning from long absences and all runners at Kempton, Philip Hobbs in non-handicap hurdles at Sandown, Tom George in novice handicap chases, Nigel Twiston-Davies in handicap chases around 2m4f at Cheltenham plus with novices in handicap chases, Neil Mulholland in handicap chases at Cheltenham, Warren Greatrex across the board at Wetherby, Venetia Williams with handicap chasers at Ascot, stamina-based slogs in January/February and all novice events at Haydock, Henry de Bromhead’s two-mile chasers, Willie Mullins’ second strings at the Punchestown Festival and Gordon Elliott in valuable handicap hurdles in Britain.

Jonjo O’Neill is somewhat of a marmite trainer for many punters but in my opinion he is is top of the shop when it comes to training stayers and has won the Gold Cup, Grand National, two Irish Nationals, two Welsh Nationals, two Stayers’ Hurdles, four Pertemps Finals, five NH Chases, three Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chases, the RSA and two Albert Bartlett Hurdles – strong tests of stamina all. It can be argued though that we should treat the J P McManus horses and all the rest in his care as two entirely separate stables as the way they are placed and perform is like chalk and cheese. In reality, one stable is run by O’Neill and the other by McManus’ racing manager.

You don’t win ten trainers’ championship titles without constantly adapting and there is nobody better or faster than Paul Nicholls at making changes when things aren’t going to plan. Be it a wind operation, new headgear, a change of headgear or new tactics, he is faster than most to realise that he will only get the same results if nothing changes and was quick to admit after Solar Impulse had bounced back to form to cause a 28/1 surprise in the Grand Annual in first-time blinkers that it was a last-minute decision purely for change’s sake. During the season when he had televised winners for 18 consecutive Saturdays, a good number of those winners were down to some kind of tinkering.

We can also turn a trainer’s atrocious stats in our favour by laying, or place-laying if that’s your thing or, my preference, look for an alternative horse trading at bigger odds than they should be given the bad stats of an opposing big stable. A couple of years ago I researched some trainer trends ahead of the jumps season for my website and when you combine certain aspects together, it didn’t make pretty reading for some big names.

For example, over a ten-year period David Pipe had just a 3% strike rate with handicappers at Aintree and one of those was Comply Or Die winning the Grand National! Also at Aintree, Paul Nicholls handicap hurdles’ record read 1-53. Compare that to having trained the winners of nine handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival alone in the same time period, let alone other races of the same genre at Cheltenham’s many other race days. Jonjo O’Neill has struggled terribly at some West Country/Southern speed-based tracks with his novice hurdlers where they were a combined 1-63 at Wincanton, Plumpton and Taunton and Gordon Elliott was 1-52 in handicaps at Leopardstown and Galway combined, and there were ten courses in Ireland where he had run handicap chasers but he had yet to train a single winner notably Gowran Park (0-13) and Roscommon (0-12). Highlighting how things can change, Elliott has since won the biggest handicap chase at Leopardstown with Noble Endeavor, Galway with Lord Scoundrel and Gowran Park with Monbeg Notorious.

I like to look at Philip Hobbs’ runners in Pertemps Final Qualifiers as I think that he makes a point of targeting some of these races in the knowledge it’s a means to an end for some other stables just wanting to qualify for the Final. Over the last decade he is operating at around a 20% strike rate in these races, which is eye-catching for handicaps, helping towards a big level stakes profit.

On the flat I take a close look at Sir Michael Stoute in middle-distance group races for older horses (or all-aged) in Britain in the first half of season. Of what I would view as the biggest 11 such races up until Glorious Goodwood, Stoute has won 71 of them during his career to date; Hardwicke (10), Princess of Wales’s Stakes (9), Brigadier Gerard (9), Jockey Club Stakes (8), John Porter (7), Eclipse (6), Ormonde (6), Yorkshire Cup (5), Coronation Cup (5) and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (5). The only blip being a sole victory in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot with Stagecraft.



My thanks to Paul for allowing me to share the above.

If you enjoyed it, I think you’ll really enjoy the rest of the book too. To order your discounted copy, click here to visit Paul’s website. [NB: remember to quote ‘geegeez‘ to secure your discount]

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