Monday, 11 August 2008

The question......

One of the most commonly asked questions I’ve been asked over the last 10 years or so with regards to horseracing form is “when do you stop backing a well handicapped horse?”

I remember the first day I asked my granda this question. I must have been about 6 years old and I was reading the form in the Racing Post. I’d found a horse I’d backed about the 3 previous times and it was running again. I remember asking “granda, is this still a well handicapped horse?”

When I was younger, I used to always have a little red diary for my horses to follow. The diary was basically a diary given out by Ladbrokes every year and it contained a list of all the meetings that takes place that year. Every time I found a horse to follow, I’d put it in this diary and it was my bible. It also had draw statistics for all the flat racecourses in the UK and importantly, it had an area for notes at the back.

Every so often, my granda would write a few lines at the back and I’d memorise these and he’d always tell me to learn these as they would help me out once I learned what I was doing. One thing about my granda is that he always said I knew nothing about form. Even though I could pick winner after winner, he’d never let me believe that I was any good!

So what was my granda’s answer to my question above?

“A well handicapped horse remains a well handicapped horse until Joe Punter knows that it is a well handicapped horse or until you have reason to believe that you were wrong to think it was well handicapped in the first place.”

Even though I put the above in quote marks, it isn’t a direct quote as the diary is in the loft at my dad’s house. It’s not far off what he said though!

So, how would a 6 year old understand that? Being honest, for the next 10 years, I don’t think I really did understand it. Every time a horse I thought was well handicapped last time out and didn’t win, I’d always rely on my granda to tell me if it was still well handicapped and worth a bet when it ran again!

I’m not exactly sure when the penny dropped to be honest but it was maybe just before my granda died. Instead of telling me when it was worth a bet, he’d tell me to work it out myself. That’s when the penny dropped I assume……

So, what does the quote mean?

As everyone knows, I always specialise in finding well handicapped horses which are difficult to find. These are the ones that are worth a bet. As soon as Joe Punter knows a horse is in form and well handicapped, it’s not worth a bet. For example, if you find a horse that’s well handicapped and finishes 2nd or 3rd or maybe even 4th, everyone will spot that it is well handicapped. Hence, it will be no price next time out and won’t be worth a bet.

That’s what I’ve learnt he meant by the first part of that quote.

The second part is where it gets very tricky. How do you know when you are wrong about a well handicapped horse?

I sometimes laugh when I talk to people about well handicapped horses. Over the years, I’ve heard people talk some real shit. For example, one of the national newspapers tracks horses that are below their last winning mark by at least 5lbs. Some days, you see horses which are 28lb lower than their last winning mark.

Does this make it well handicapped?

If it was as easy as this to spot well handicapped horses, it would make everyone’s life much easier!

One day, I was discussing a race with a guy in the pub and he was shouting about a horse who was 18lbs below its last winning mark and why it was a near certainty and was napped by Spotlight. I spent 5 minutes with the Racing Post and looking at the form of the last 3 runs of each horse and I found 3 others in the race who were better handicapped.

As usual, an 18 year old working behind the bar telling a 40+ year old that he’s talking rubbish didn’t go down too well and nearly resulted in a bar brawl. Anyway, when the race came along, one of the 3 that I said hosed up by 5 lengths and the other one he fancied was 4th (I didn’t pick the first 3 – I wasn’t that good!).

As usual, the next hour in the pub became like a “symposium.” One day, someone called me Socrates since I appeared to know everything about racing and when I gave out tips on a Saturday afternoon, it became known as a “symposium” in the pub. Every weekend when I worked, I would go through the races with my selections and a crowd would gather to listen to my analysis and why I fancied each horse. The pub would then empty as they all ran to put on their multiple bets with my selections!

I’m getting off track a bit here……..

Oh yeah, that 28lb well handicapped horse! Basically, if it was well handicapped 28lbs lower, was it not well handicapped 27lbs, 26lbs, 25lbs, 24lbs, 23lbs etc. lower?

Clearly, any horse which drops 28lbs is not the same horse it was in the past. Hence, it is totally irrelevant that it won off such a high mark in the past. That comment applies to every handicapper running in the UK today. Just because it won off a higher mark in the past does not make it well handicapped. Joe Punter seems to forget this fact I find…….

I think my initial question was “How do you know you are wrong about a well handicapped horse?”.

In my opinion, the only way to know this is once the horse has run over its optimum conditions and has no excuses. If a horse has run fully on its merit and got beaten, it can’t be as well handicapped as you thought and you need to admit you were wrong and stop backing the horse.

I think this leads us nicely on to Golden Prospect……

Deep down, I was really hoping that Golden Prospect would either win today or finish last so that I can either say that I was right or I was wrong!

However, as usual, I’m left in limbo and I’ll need to again back it when it runs next time I suppose.

There are 2 key themes to today’s race in my opinion. The relationship between the It’s a Dream and Golden Prospect and the relationship of these two horses with the betting market.

Being honest, when I went in town to place my bet at lunchtime, I decided to back Golden Prospect and have a saver on It’s A Dream. As I said in the last post, on form, I had Golden just ahead of this and therefore, I wanted to cover myself just in case.

I backed Golden Prospect at 10/1 and I backed It’s A Dream at 13/2.

The first interesting point is the fact that Golden started at 13/2 and It’s A Dream started the race as 3/1 fav. Golden opened on track at 8/1 but It’s A Dream opened at 6/1 and was heavily punted to 3/1.

Therefore, my conclusion would be that some people read the same formbook as me clearly and therefore, both my bets were great value!

So, based on my reading, I thought Golden would just be able to turn the form around even though it needed to find a few pounds on the formbook. My rationale was based on the fact that Golden was more likely to act on the sand.

Was I correct?

Here’s the result:

Golden finished 5th and It’s A Dream finished 6th. 2 lengths separated them at the line and I’m assuming Golden was finishing the race off better, so it’s maybe slightly exaggerated the distance between them.

Hence, I was 100% correct in my reading of their form line.

I’ve now managed to find two very well backed horses that ran to their previous form line to the pound and yet, I’ve still managed to lose (again!). Why?

Being honest, I haven’t watched the race but I heard a commentary and after 4f, Golden Prospect was 12th of 12th and I was shaking my head. That was the last mention it got from the commentator and I was shaking my head in disbelieve when it wasn’t called in the first 3 home.

“Donkey” I said!

However, Andrew then dropped me a note to say it stayed on very late to be a never nearer 5th and this is backed up by the comment from the Sporting Life analyst above.

One form analysts’ comments I really hate in horseracing is “Towards rear, some late progress”. In my opinion, this sounds like it never had a bloody chance of winning the race which I’m assuming is probably a fair assessment in this case.

The fact the first 2 horses were 6 lengths clear tells me that they had the run of the race from towards the front and therefore, a horse sitting 12th of 12th after 4f had absolutely no chance of winning the race IMO.

Hence, I’ll continue to back Golden Prospect until it either runs well or gets beat fair and square. The fact it was backed again tells me that it’s no ‘donkey’ and I’m sure it’s ready to win a race again as it remains well handicapped!!!!!

Put it down in the notebook………


Anonymous said...

Great post mate !
Just a few comments/thoughts...
I suspect that Joe Punter isn't as ignorant nowadays as he was when your granda was making a killing. Golden Prospect had a row of duck eggs next to his name (apart from the fourth in the Nottingham race), yet went off at 13-2...
Conversely, Wisdoms Kiss last 5 runs on the AW resulted in the following form figures: 11521 - simlarly, A Big Sky Brewing has raced twice on an artifical surface finishing second and first (and second again today)...
The RP and RUK (not so much ATR !) have resulted in punters being so much better informed than in the past, a well handicapped horse is priced accordingly (regardless of what it's form figures look like). From a value perspective, I'm not sure that finding a well handicapped horse gives you the edge it did in the past...
That's not to say it's not important in winner finding - just that it's factored into the price (plus some maybe...).
If you can find a well handicapped horse which the punters haven't latched onto - then I'm sure it's worth a bet (even if just with a view to hedging when the others catch on). But in my experiece, these are few and far between - and getting more rare as more info becomes available.
Conversely, sometimes it's better to go for the obvious (ie .the horse that has already won over half it's starts on the surface) - especially when the SP is almost the same as that of more obscure option !

Graeme Dand said...


It frightens me at times how much we are on the same wavelength with regards to horse-racing form!

After I’d written that post last night, I spent a bit of time looking at the race again. As you know, I didn’t look at the race at all beforehand, so I had no idea what price Golden Prospect should have been or even the strength of the opposition.

The points you make about the first two finishers in the race are absolutely 100% bang on the mark. Looking at the starting prices, there is no way that Golden was a bet at 13/2 and being honest, what the hell It’s a Dream was doing at 3/1 fav I’ve no idea.

As I said in a comment to Markomar, it does appear that the front two are very well handicapped and they will go on to win more races IMO.

Pre-race, the winner had bolted up in 2 AW handicaps but ran very poorly back on turf. However, if we assume it doesn’t like turf, then it was only 6lbs higher than winning a handicap on the bridle.

The 2nd, A Big Sky Brewing, had only run on the AW twice as you say and last time, was beaten by a rapidly improving handicapper who has since won again. Hence, it is clearly well handicapped and was certain to run well.

As we both know, reading horseracing form is very easy with hindsight. I still buy in to the argument that Golden Prospect is well handicapped but it’s bumped into another 2 very well handicapped horses in this race.

The main issue with Golden though is the starting price of 13/2. I asked for 17-22 on Betfair the previous night and it started at 8.2. Hence, either I was miles out with my tissue (was finger in the air admittedly but I’m never that far out!), or it was too low a price and Joe Punter has cottoned on the fact that it is well handicapped.

At Sandown last week, the guys on the RC said they fancied it to run well and you said the guys were talking it up yesterday pre-race also. Hence, Joe Punter definitely knows it’s well handicapped now.

Therefore, that’s part one of my granda’s criteria met. Golden Prospect needs to be removed from the notebook with immediate effect……..