Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Knack Of Winner-Finding By The Horseracing Pro

There is a story that concerns a man who owns a factory that makes components for motor bikes. A vital piece of machinery malfunctions. Without it, he is unable to manufacture the pistons and valves that are the focal point of his business. So he calls in an expert, a man who mends intricate pieces of machinery for a living. When the man arrives at the factory he circles the offending piece of apparatus, looking at this, looking at that and tutting the way tradesmen do. After a few minutes, he delves into a bag of tools and produces a hammer. Then, to a hushed ensemble, he lifts the hammer high over his head, bringing it down sharply on a nut.

He asks the owner to press the start button; and low and behold, the machine kick-starts into action.

Once the factory floor churns back to production, the owner calls the hammer-hitter into his office and asks how much he charges for his services.

            ‘’£1,000,’ is the reply.

            ‘That’s scandalous,’ retorts the owner. ‘You have only been here for five minutes. Would you care to itemise your bill.’

            ‘Certainly,’ says the tradesman. ‘£1 for hitting the nut: £999 for knowing which nut to hit.’

            In other words, the man had a knack known only to himself. He knew how to restore the machine to working order. How he arrived at this was somewhat incidental.

            Possessing a knack for anything is a precious commodity. Actors can be taught how to act, footballers how to score goals, jockeys how to ride horses. But what lifts the good from the very good; the very good from the excellent, is something that cannot be taught and that is a knack. After all the theory has been exhausted, it is the person that can operate without recourse to a manual, the one that can improvise, the one that has an in-built auto-pilot, that will be the best.

            Some professional punters try to narrow winner-finding down to a fine art. They approach it as if they are architects that need a blueprint. To a degree, there are certain elementary things you need to know. Just as the actor has to look natural and listen for his cue, the punter must be conversant with his script. He needs to know that a high-numbered draw at Chester is hard to overcome as it is on the round course at Thirsk. In a sprint, it is handy to know where the pace is likely to come from so that a selection is not likely to be cast adrift in the middle of the ocean. A view needs to be formed when a selection is tackling a trip it is unproven over. If dealing with a steeplechaser, an impression of the horse’s jumping capabilities is required. Knowing a little about breeding is desirable. That will help evaluate whether a certain horse is likely to handle the ground it faces.

            It is also advantageous, particularly in non-handicap events, if a punter can segregate the quality of a race he has watched. He needs to know whether it is poor, moderate, good or top class. That way, he will be able to read how dangerous future participants from such a race are likely to be. He will then know whether to overlook them with a degree of safety in favour of horses that appear to have contested better events. Sometimes finishing sixth in a good maiden is preferable to having been second in a moderate one.

            Many of these points are basic but it is surprising how many times you hear so-called pundits falling into the various black holes espoused here. ‘That was a really good effort last time,’ they will often say, ‘So and so was only beaten a length at Newmarket.’ But how many winners came from that race and, more importantly, if the race was recently run and nothing has surfaced from it, what sort of a race did it look to be to the naked eye?

            Now we are taking knack. Successful punters need to be good race-readers. They need to spot when a horse fails to stay; therefore, it is possible to forgive a disappointing finishing position. Similarly, they need to notice a horse staying on at the end of a race that was patently too short and make sure they pay special attention to its chances when a more suitable trip is presented.

            So, let us return to the punter that takes the blueprint approach and wants to cover every angle. I know one enormously successful punter who takes this approach. Actually, I have worked for him on and off. I have read races on his behalf, helped compile sectional timing, assisted in surveys on ground analysis at various tracks but, largely, I thought most of it was piffle! I cannot argue with his results and some people like to be doubly sure before they bet. It is the belt and braces approach and if that gives them comfort then fine; but I contend if you do not know what you are looking at, then you should do something else.

            I should say here that plenty of successful punters do not know what they are looking at. They employ people like me to tell them. That is a different matter. They have accepted that evaluating form and watching the confirmation of horses in the paddock and scrutinising the worth of races is not their forte. What they are good at is collating all information put before them and acting accordingly. They make successful decisions regarding betting in the same way managing directors take judgements based on expert opinion.

            But unless you are in a position to employ a work force to feed you data, and then have the courage to act accordingly, we have to assume as a fledging pro-punter, you reach most decisions yourself.

            Personally, I feel sectional timing is nonsense. Once you start introducing such clutter into the winner-finding process, you then have to agree an accurate going description, measure the wind direction and, Oh Lord, by the time you have worked it all out, you might as well have gone to university for five years and qualified as a lawyer. Forget that nonsense! Use your eyes!

            I once told the punter I was describing; I thought Notnowcato would win the Juddmonte. ‘Couldn’t back him,’ was his reply. ‘He’s never done a decent time.’ He only won by a short head but he won and I backed him at 8/1 with the pro punter choosing to disregard the opinion he paid me to supply. I also told him to ignore news from Newmarket that Soviet Song had been working badly prior to her win at Ascot, as four-year-old fillies can often doss at home. This is something I know because I understand, in part anyway, how racehorses function.

            He did not. If it was not there in some wad of paper, then it was not worth bringing to the table. Of course, on plenty of occasions, he was right and I was wrong, but the point I am trying to make is that not everything can be quantified. Some things have to be the result of intuition and often they are the best decisions we make in life.

            Think back to all the good and difficult decisions you have made: perhaps regarding buying or selling a house or a car. There is no way under these circumstances you can cover every eventuality. Ultimately, some thought process has to kick in and you make a decision often based on scant information. But it is information you trust allied to a general feeling. If buying a house, you like the fact that the neighbouring houses all have well-tendered gardens, that there is not a rusting fridge stuck out on someone’s back yard and three doors down there is not the sight of a car jacked-up on bricks. These are positives but do not ensure the house you are contemplating buying does not have dry rot, is not haunted, infested with rats or that that well slanted lawn is not about to succumb to subsidence. However, they are clues.

            I started with a story and will end with one. It just happens to be true and as a tale is nothing more than an example of Lawrence Olivier’s inflated ego. When Dustin Hoffman [a very fine actor] worked with the great man on Marathon Man, he needed to appear out of breath for one scene. Hoffman set about running up several flights of stairs prior to the take, eventually bursting in on the set gasping. After the scene, Olivier asked Hoffman why he had put himself through such a vigorous rigmarole. ‘So I was genuinely out of breath,’ Hoffman replied.

            ‘Why don’t you try acting dear boy,’ replied Olivier. As I have said, I can imagine him saying such a thing in that supercilious way the British cultivate when they feel they are superior. But the point is well made; it just would have been more dignified had Larry kept it to himself!

            Bugger the times! If you think Notnowcato can beat Dylan Thomas over ten furlongs and on ground that is ideal for him, back him! Don’t wait for some boffin with a slide rule to confirm what you suspect may be right.

            Try to winkle out a knack, be it for racing or for hitting the right nut with a hammer. The man with the knack will always sit down to eat at night. And who knows, in the coming winter months that could just be important.

Source: Horseracing Pro