Friday, 28 August 2015

Sedgefield

I wouldn't say the jumps season is up and running yet but it was good to have an outing to blow away a few of the cobwebs.

It was just a shame that Thommo, the resident MC, was doing his best to spoil the occasion.

There were one or two horses of interest on the card and just a couple of decent looking betting opportunities that went west.

Viens Chercher was all the rage in the opener to give Danny Cook a winning return from suspension and the French exile looked the part before galloping all over decent yardstick Raise A Spark, who was fit to run his race.

While it looked a poor race the odds are the winner may be half-decent. Third-placed Jumpandtravel looked burly for this debut for the quiet Hammond yard.

Another novice hurdle saw D Pipe's Vayland go off favourite but after a couple of spills he looked a bit short on confidence as were his supporters, who allowed him to go off quite weak despite little opposition.

The market determined that Prince Khurram would provide the danger and was backed accordingly to follow up his win here in the spring on decent ground.

This very one-paced animal was there to be shot at but was in receipt of a stone all told and that mattered in the final analysis as the Pipe horse could not get past on the run-in. The three 'runners' all looked well.

An interesting six-runner handicap chase came next in which the majority were very opposable, most notably the jolly Dynamo who has yet to convince physically, mentally or ability-wise. The Skelton yard is also having a quiet time.

Nothing particularly took the eye beforehand, the Smith's Alba King arguably the pick but probably in need of further, while Sleep In First was well turned out although a market drift is a often a big worry from the Ewart kennel.

D Cook made a winning return from suspension on Viens Chircher
In the end it was The Bay Bandit, who has won some very weak races in Jersey, who took the spoils, but this is not form to get excited about.

A ghastly 0-100 saw The Bay Bandit's stablemate Strictly The One drift in the market and they came for two regular losers in District Attorney and Jebulani, the latter predictably failing to stay.

We nearly found the winner in 8/1 poke Park House, who looked fit and well and had shown bits of promise, was down in the weights and had B Hughes replacing A Thornton (surely worth half a stone).

We just got run out of it by Craigdancer, who got pretty stressed in the paddock and was easily opposed after bombing out last time with a wind issue. It was another feather in the cap for trainer Jo Foster.

The 0-120 was easily whittled down to the two market principals Grams And Ounces and Waterclock and it was difficult to split them.

The former returned to form last time and clearly takes his racing well as he carries plenty of condition, while the latter is a decent flat type and looked sure to benefit from having the hurdles down the back omitted due to the low sun.

There was plenty of money for 'Grams' while Waterclock was solid, but this clearly talented individual missed a huge opportunity to win again here and he looks very much one to oppose in future.

A second handicap chase had some of the intrigue taken out owing to the low sun, meaning the four down the back were omitted. This turned it into something of a lottery and not a betting opportunity.

The unexposed Smith pair were strong in the market but Alf The Audacious is a big sort in need of a trip while Optical High may be ordinary and he showed very little here. Both looked fit enough. Caspian Piper headed the market and you could easily make the case for a third win in four for the southern raider.

Three that looked really well were The Backup Plan, Champagne Agent and Joyful Motive, although it was hard to make a case for the trio on form.

The Backup Plan had proved really disappointing thus far but has clearly benefited from having three months off, although this was unexpected having been allowed to go off such a big price in a weak affair.

With this not being much of a jumping contest, however, the form should be treated with caution.

The finale saw the bet of the night in Derryfadda, who had won two Irish points before moving to the R Ford stable. I was very happy with the horse's condition and well-being and he warranted a good bet to see off the slow Supapowers over the marathon trip.

I failed to account for two things...a return to form for the gritty Omid on ground faster than looked ideal, and Derryfadda running with the choke out for much of the race.

As such, it is surprising that they would run the beast over an extended trip first time up, they must surely have known it is a free-going sort.

Anyway, he travelled like the winner before emptying in the straight and, although we can claim a moral victory, that won't feed the family tonight.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Spreading some happiness

All this chatter of punters struggling to get on - of bookies not taking a decent bet on the nags any more - ‘Britain at the Bookies’ and travails of Andy in the cap and Steve Palmer’s roller coaster betting, has got me thinking of a time when things were simpler for the discerning punter.

I’m talking of the pre-internet era, or at least the late-90s, early-noughties were for me, unless I was at work of course, which at the time meant a mixture of Sky Sports, Ceefax and other less-reputable media establishments.

I’m talking more of spread-betting - its introduction, growth and rising popularity of that time. It was something I embraced with open arms – once I got my head around the concept, which for an idiot like me took weeks if not months.

It was the first time the ordinary punter could take a horse on that he didn’t fancy, plus I liked the fact that the more right you were, the more you win. And obviously we know the flip side of that zero-sum equation.

There were also more exotic options like match bets and, whisper it quietly, indices such as distances, top weights...you could even ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ a jockey’s performance at a certain meeting. These were epic developments, ones I lapped up on a daily basis.

What made these bets all the more exciting, at least for me, was that you only found out which races the firms were betting on by turning the TV to Ch4 and hitting the ‘text’ button. Depending on what other sports were taking place on that day, you could be waiting for more than 10 pages to scroll through before you picked up the (usually) three races per day Sporting Index were trading on. Woe betide should you step out for a moment to put the kettle on or forget to press 'pause'.

Obviously I could have phoned up head office but that would have meant asking the operative to run through the whole list of horses for each race, and a spread for each. Always thought that was a bit rude.

I realise if you are under 30 this is probably news to you. But this is how it was for many of us back then. Maybe it’s because I was young (ish) but it was bloody good fun.

But the bet we latched onto were the distances on jumps racing. I say ‘we’ – in a nutshell I was hanging out at the time with a well-known commentator who wasn’t a huge punter, but I dragged him down to my level for a time and we punted gloriously together for a year or more.

It became apparent to us, if not everyone, that many of the top jocks at the time were in some way involved in playing the distances, none more so than a young P Carberry, who for a while was contracted to ride for Robert Ogden, who had many horses stabled with Gordon Richards.

Names such as Buddy Marvel, Disco Des Mottes spring to mind but there were countless others that would win often by a handful of lengths or less having been heavily eased after the clearing the last a mile in front.

We were probably only playing fivers and tenners a pop but were collecting day in, day out. I remember working in a pub in Farringdon to help make ends meet around 97-98 and one time calling in a distances bet for a certain meeting from a public phone at the station, knocking off a few hours later and rushing back to the same phone to close down the bet before the last, pocketing five times more than I’d just working my arse off for.

These were obviously the days before mobile phones were widely used, so if you were out and about you had to plot your day so that you would be near a public phone at certain times of the day. I know I started this ramble by saying life was simpler back then, but it really was. Logistics were the only problem. At least Sporting would take the bet no questions asked, rather than making you wait while you were ‘referred to a trader’.

I miss playing the spreads. I honestly don’t know if I’m up or down with the firms over the years. I used to win on the jumps and do it all back on the flat and on lazy sports bets back then. Which is why I don’t play on the flat now unless I’m at the track.

I remember one cricket bet where England were playing NZ at Lord’s, a green top on which the home side made batting look all-but impossible and were skittled on the first day for around 200 – in those days a pitiful score.  

So in I went with a sell of the NZ runs at something like 250 (memory a bit hazy 18 years on) and I wasn’t best pleased when they reached stumps without loss. The one thing about spread betting – it’s almost impossible to make yourself take a loss when things go against you.

So play resumed on the Saturday morning and of course the pitch had dried out and conditions were perfect for batting, but in my mind there was still hope. I was still playing (not for England, you understand) back then so as we took to the field I was able to forget about the bet until the break between innings, when to my horror I saw the opener (Horne I think his name was) was still batting and on his way to a first Test ton! (You may want to check those facts).

I remember this bet vividly because it was with IG and I didn’t have an automatic stop with them at the time....by this point every run scored was costing me three quid! I felt like I was being stripped bare. This must have been a couple of years later as I was able to bite down and call a stop to the madness with my mobile. But it was a costly four-figure lesson that, clearly, I wouldn’t forget.

I haven’t really played the spreads since I got back into the fold. I called IG once a few years ago looking for a trade, only to be told I could now only bet to 25p a point. I thought they were taking piss but no, they were telling me to piss off. Cantor Spreadfair was a bit of lark for a while, but the liquidity was never there and when there was it was clearly put up by the firm.

Spreadex are great and if I do want a bet they are happy to accommodate. This should last for some time as the half dozen or so match bets I had last winter all went tits up. I might try to play the indices a bit more but to be honest it will always play second fiddle to Betfair.

But you never hear anyone talk about spread betting any more, which is sad, although clearly there's a market for it as the indices are more plentiful and exotic than ever. It was a brilliant innovation that not only never hit mainstream, it never seemed to take off amongst hardcore punters. I suspect too many of them did their dough in double-quick.

But at least you can still get on.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

To place or not to place, 'tis the question

I've never been much of an each-way punter, that old conundrum of whether to halve your stake or double it to incorporate the original win element.

However, since I've been taking this game more seriously it's clear that there are some occasions that merit an each-way bet, or more pertinently a place only wager on the machine.

After a couple of months on the sidelines I decided to skip up to Ripon on Tuesday night for a slice of the action, armed with a few Timeform comments and a handful of Racing Post ratings. I'll admit I had only heard of half a dozen of the horses names.

The reason I wanted to write this post was that I had a couple of bets that got me thinking about the merits of each-way betting, and how best to utilise it.

Firstly, you may wish to go here to read James's eloquent post on when and when not to delve into the murky world of place betting. Don't forget to come right back though!

Let me say right now that I understand for many winning punters the each-way market is pretty much dead; A, because you can't get on with the firms and B, the place markets are not liquid enough. Which is another reason why I still like to bet on course, but more of that in a bit.

So, back to Ripon and the first bet in question was a 9/2 poke called Athollblair Boy in the opening maiden. De Sousa riding for N Tinkler was a good starting point and he was a big, strong horse who looked sure to build on a recent run at York that yielded an RPR of 65 - the best of those with experience.

The market was headed by Godolphin's By Far at 5/2, but he looked a bit green and on the small side and I figured if he'd shown a great deal at home he would have been much shorter against this lot.

There were others of interest including Dreaming Of Rio, a nice looking horse who had been backed throughout the day, and newcomer Best New Show, who looked fine without perhaps being strong enough to go in first time.

With Candy Banter and More Kudos being notably weak in the market it looked like there were four live runners. In fact, after much deliberation I came to the conclusion that Athollblair Boy was near banker material to hit frame. Which gave me a dilemma - a traditional each-way bet, a lump in the place only market, or go win-only.

On reflection an each-way bet was the sensible play with an unraced juvenile making the market, and with nothing more than fair value of around 1.9 offered in the place market. After all, there's nothing worse (well, I suppose there is) than having a nice place bet only to see it hose up. Which is exactly what it did.

I was happy throughout the race that I had made the correct play, only towards the end feeling a twinge of regret at not having something on to win. But this is not about the result, it's about looking at the thinking process behind doing what we do, and finding ways to improve.

* As it happens, the internet connection at Ripon is notoriously poor in places and while trying to get £300 on in the place market the line was contracting and with the wifi playing up I was only matched to £110, copping me about £90 on the race. Even more reason to leave me wishing I'd had something like a ton each-way with the bookies!

The second bet was on Belle Travers in the mile handicap. With eight runners heading to post I was keen to find some each-way value particularly as I wanted to take on the hot favourite Ajaadat, whom I had not taken to at Thirsk the time before last. The only issue would be the price.

Belle Travers had been 8/1 all day but was down to 6s by the time I hit the ring, and at that price I was a bit reluctant. However, one layer who clearly didn't have her in the book went 7/1 even though she was only 7.8 on Betfair. Value!

Again I was very happy to have made the bet (she returned 5s) and would have been even happier if T Hamilton had kicked on two out, possibly resulting in a different outcome!

I can give you another example of each-way betting that drives you a little bit mad. There were three occasions I can recall in the winter when I backed 9/2 chances each-way even though I fancied them very strongly. (The reason I remember the bets so well is because they did all win.)

I was probably calmer during those races knowing I had some insurance, if you like, even though part of me was screaming that I should have had more on to win as I was sure each of the horses would go very close. But I felt that at odds of 9-8 or 9-10 the place element was tremendous value.

I suppose the bottom line is that we all have our comfort levels and we each need to set our own parameters regarding place betting.

Personally, I feel I need to be better at maximising profits so unless there are races that offer great value in terms of each-way or place betting (and there will be) I'll be looking to concentrate more on the win side of things. In the long run I fancy my chances.

Food for thought anyway. If you'd like to add your views please do use the comments box.

Good luck.