Good evening from the Major who writes from a crisp Worcestershire night under a spectacular heavenly orb. The cold is biting enough that the sand coloured grit has been scattered across the roads. The Major has the fire crackling away, delightful popping and sizzling sounds – All is well with the world.
The Major had a decent enough Cheltenham Open weekend. I had the pleasure of attending course on the Friday and the blog performed to a profit over the three days. With the benefit of wisdom emerging during the time lapsed, some thoughts have incubated. Of the performances, my old friend Taquin du Seuil stands out well. While the race was a farce, he always looked to be besting Oscar Whiskey in travelling speed and jumping accuracy and now with a taste of Cheltenham fences on his CV, I am hoping for bigger things later this year – He remains a key horse in focus for me.
I am often asked (when I say often, I mean rarely) how I arrive at a set of tips. While the results may suggest a haphazard and drunken lurching from one week to the next, the reality is probably even less comforting. I have a system, strecth to deep analysis and recognise the futility of it too.
At heart, I am a value based punter. If I think something is overpriced, I back it. I remember suggesting to a racing virgin at Cheltenham (hospitality guests) that a 33/1 shot was my selection. When he backed the horse, he sought me out ticket in fingers and checked he had the right selection… ‘So, you think it has a real chance?’… I wish he had not asked, the inevitable disappointment in my answer when I told him that I thought the horse had little chance but one that was better than 3.3%.
Most of my activity and energy are focussed nearer the top of markets. I prefer to invest in discerning the chances of the shorter priced horses than I do seeking value in an all-weather long shot. Do not get me wrong I have had my moments but generally if we are to get rich together, it will because one week, I land all selections, the mothership.
I do use some online tools, a rating engine (which I have adapted to my own preferences) coupled with a detailed stats analyser. These provide a foundation. I like to read trainer comments and I like to watch a lot of racing too – I feel much better if I have a good working memory of how a horse races and how previous form on which I based decisions panned out.
There is the context of history too. The thousands of bets I have placed, the yards, the jockeys, the courses, the ground. All of it not only exerts an influence of trend but it informs a deeper wisdom, a knowledge you think you have. Intuition, neither to be ignored or trusted.
I use all of this to build up a story about a horse, the patterns in the numbers, the quotes, the memories, historic context, a wisdom builds, it underpins an overall profile I build in my mind. While not necessarily sophisticated or entirely consistent, it is fair to describe it as complex.
Identifying winners is the same about identifying anything, you have a pattern you expect to see and you match as much data as you can before making a prediction. The ancient philosophers were concerned with how we identify anything. That a horse has four legs, a mane and a shape we recognise, that it moves a certain way, that it neighs and brays and has a lolloping tongue, all these things we use to call a horse a horse. When we glimpse in a field, from a fast moving train, the general outline of a horse, we might not have all of the sensory information we need to confirm what we saw, but we know what it was… or at least we think we do, there is some degree of certainty, sleight or great.
In the same way, we all seek our racing winners, I might know the general shape of what my mind seeks, the attributes I like, the course form at Brighton, Bath, Southwell and York. I look for a strong jockey, this above most other things. I want class in the form, or at least potential. I don’t mind freshness as long as the trainer has a good record with it – You see, this adds more complexity, as some of the data, of which this last point is an example, has relationships. I want the yard to be in form… It goes on and on and on and on and on…. Ad infinitum – The things we seek are close to indescribable, far too complex – Making sense of it, the swirling vortex of it all, it is baffling, exciting, exasperating, enticing and downright scary.
Yes, I know a rough shape of what I am looking for but the disturbances in what I think I see and the mental model I am comparing it to, are numerous, much noise around the signal.
Am I even receiving the right evidence, are the trainers comments accurate and did I witness and recall the last run with some diligence? Secondly, once the profiles have been created in my mind, they are rarely well-defined. Interpretation is needed, as though you were looking at an animal through a badly focussed lens or from that fast moving train, you know the model you expect to see, 4 long legs, you see what might be a mane, could it be a horse or is it a donkey?
This is the most sensitive part of the process. Glimpses of something. The data and the stories I have told myself converges into a mass. The pattern matching process, it is infuriating but addictive. A test of your mind.
It has not made me rich but I don’t do too badly. Plus, I enjoy it and I know you do too. If there is one thing I would offer to you, one piece of wisdom that would help in all this, though I am a poor sage. There is just too much complexity for you to know anything. There is also too much opportunity for the data to be polluted and irrelevant. Most of all, your ability to understand the model you should see and to be able to see through the cloud itself, you will never have certainty.
All I am saying is the obvious. Cultivate a healthy mistrust of your personal ability to match patterns. Then enjoy trying.
To the sports my good friends, daub thy war paint and sharpen that lance point. Fall on parade soldier, we are for battle.
The Betfair Chase
What an unbelievably fantastical renewal of the Betfair Chase. You know this, so I shall not bore you repeating the obvious. Rather, let us decide on the likely winner.
I will not consider The Giant Bolster, he is an over-rated horse in my view, the Gold Cup he was runner-up in was poor and these are not his conditions. I am also not a Tidal Bay fan, he is a grand old servant but this is top top class and I cannot see him improving at his fine age. Roi du Mee may have beaten Sizing Europe is some style but I do not think that form will stand up given the stamina challenges of the latter.
Then, there were 5.
Long Run is a horse I have backed for a long time. I love him. His long beautiful legs, the trouble he gets into at fences but the tremendous heart, ah how I love him. I also felt he has been under-rated by many for some time but now think it was my own warm feelings that were the error. That he needs a professional jockey is obvious. More bothersome, he is not the horse he was. I am not sure where he goes from here. He is young enough to still be a player but I feel his lot will be a tragedy not a romance. Plus, he needs another mile.
I have no doubt that Cue Card is a damn fine horse and the big question is whether he will stay. The King George is the critical piece of evidence for this where he evidently threw the anchor out. However, a closer inspection of that race reveals an intriguing element. He smacked the first two fences which brings into question whether his falling away was a lack of stamina or as a consequence of his early mistakes. I am not against this horse because of his ability and I have less problem with the stamina than most, my concern (and it is a big one) is the form of the Tizzard yard. They have placed just 4 runners from 23 runners in the last fortnight.
Dynaste is the Pricewise horse and this is an excellent chance for us to assess whether this is a genuine Gold Cup horse. He did not do a lot wrong last year and I thought it was interesting that Pipe swerved last weeks Paddy Power which looked an easier assignment) for this. Of interest.
Silviniaco Conti looked to be travelling as well (if not better) than Bobs Worth coming down the hill in the Gold Cup. Sadly, we do not know if that was due to translate into a genuine challenge due to the crashing fall he took. However, it is clear that both he and Bobs Worth are the proven Gold Cup protagonists on the scene. I see no reason not to focus on these two. If Cue Card is to get involved, he has to run better than the yards recent runners. Dynaste needs to step up slightly. These two need only run to form.
They are joint favourites as I write and this leads me to an easy choice, I just have to decide the likelier. Bobs Worth is a proven act and has been likely raced, I worry he might need a bit further. Last year he was straight out to win the Hennessy, he has Geraghty on board – God, it feels good. Silviniaco Conti won this race last year and gets Fehily in the saddle – He is class but so is Geraghty. Oh it is close, so close. Conti. Bobs Worth. Conti. Bobs Worth. The class of Bobs Worth. It is Bobs Worth.
The fixed brush hurdle on the same card is interesting. Personally I am looking to be on Gervey Chambertin, it is not so much the Pipe record in the race (although that is inspiring) but more the early performances of this horse. Clearly the spring was not his time, although backed off the boards at the festival, something was wrong. Aintree was no better. I am assuming all is well again, which is a danger considering they have gone for cheekpieces at the tender age of 5. I am getting on at 7/1.
Gullinbursti rates a danger but I am bit perplexed as to why after a successful chase victory they are coming back to these easier obstacles.
In the 1.50, I am taken with the profile of More of That a 4/1 shot. He was not fancied when he won his maiden and was injured shortly afterwards. Returning this year, he looked very very good when winning the Wetherby reappearance and with the Jackdaws operation in such unbelievable form, I am more than happy to climb aboard at 4/1.
Saturday Ascot Tips
I was frustrated with myself to miss the reappearance of Drumshambo, a horse that had a lot of improvement last year and was on my watch list. Another 9lbs up in the weights and it bothers me so I am now looking elsewhere. With just seven runners, I am hoping Saved By John a general 5/1 shot can gain compensation for a decent reappearance in which he was mugged. His running style makes him vulnerable to that but I like him.
I like Volt Face in the Ascot bumper running for Pipe. Although the Henderson horse brings franked form into the race, I think the Pipe one might be smart.
Captain Chris is also on my slip because I think there is only a paper between him and Al Ferof on form. Throw in that my selection has less of a doubt over him regarding injury and the expectation that Captain Chris is primed for this in a way that Al Ferof is unlikely to be and well…
I know Annie Power is 8/13 but she should hose up.
In the football, I like Arsenal at 8/13, Newcastle at 4/5 and Wigan at evens.
The Martin Hill combination is a Wigan and Annie Power double with a separate Trixie on Saved by John, More of That and Gervey Chambertin.
I hope your own dinner is magnificent, a delectation of taste sensations, fine claret, finer company and the comfort that no matter how expensive the brandy you order, the uncomfortable lump in your ribs will barely be dented.
Courage, roll those dice.