The Punter’s Blog – It’s Time To Put In The Hours

1st September 2019:
It’s Time To Put In The Hours

SO HERE we are again with a new Punter’s Blog, the first on the new website. It was touch and go whether there’d be a site up at all for a little while in February and March, but here we are.
 
Okay, I have the first paragraph. What’s the second? I think writer’s block just struck. It’s Saturday the thirty-first of August 2019, I spent longer than I’d have liked accompanying Mrs rwsteeplechasing round Tesco – other supermarkets are available – and I don’t know what to say next.
 
However, much as I want to, I can’t blame Tesco for a lack of ideas and inspiration. I can, however, blame – given that this is the Punter’s Blog – a lack of bets. Summer’s my ‘off’ season, but I usually go in on the Flat a couple of times, and because I’ve been constructing the new site, form study has taken a back seat.
 
It wasn’t a bad idea, given the chain of events in recent months. My Mum had passed away, I couldn’t get Cheltenham Festival week off work, the DVD deck on my hard drive recorder broke, I’d been hit and miss mentally, and for sure from April onwards, the betting site of things wasn’t great.
 
They say you’ve got to put the hours in, and that’s right. I’d put in ‘some’ hours, but not always ‘the’ hours. It wasn’t the usual Roy, crunching the numbers and watching the videos. All the cack in my head – website, Mum, Cheltenham – oh, and did I mention that I had an infection? Somewhere I’d rather not have had one – I’m going no further there, except to say that it’s been gone for months.
 
I did have Aintree week off, which I didn’t in 2018, and it was an ultimately costly week. Losses were handle-able, which they always should be. Day one was okay. The rain poured, and it resulted in a less competitive Aintree Hurdle than looked likely to be the case overnight. The 2017 and 2018 Champion Hurdle-winner Buveur D’Air was allowed to take his chance, but beforehand he didn’t appear to be firing at the top of his game – he hadn’t for a while, his jumping worsening before his fall at the third in the 2019 Champion.
 
This brought more of the field into contention. If the line-up for the Aintree Hurdle had comprised the field for the race in 2018, I would have overlooked it as betting material, as the Buveur D’Air of 2018 was the top-class one that racing fans were familiar with. As it was, you had the now 11-year old Faugheen, who’d become a lot less consistent with advancing years; Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon, who looked unlikely to stay the two and a half miles, and Champion Hurdle third Silver Streak, who if he could stay had claims on his Cheltenham form.
 
Two Nicky Henderson-trained runners were withdrawn as it continued to tank down, subsequent Scottish Champion Hurdler Verdana Blue and International winner Brain Power. This forced a re-jig of the spreadsheet after the Betway Bowl, won by Kemboy, was run.
 
Supasundae, who’d get into the shake-up at his best of 2018 but wasn’t on his A-game in the Stayers’ Hurdle behind Paisley Park, was not backed originally, but it looked a slip-up when he was left on 10/1 after the withdrawals and he was in, the bet struck at around 3:06pm. County Hurdle-winner Ch’tibello (also a course-and-distance winner over this particular two and a half miles) and Silver Streak stayed in from the morning’s wagering.
 
After Melon fell at the third last, Supasundae stayed on under a typically strong ride from Robbie Power to hold off Buveur D’Air and Ch’tibello, who had his chance at the last, his run justifying the bet. That was as good as it got for the day, some throws at the Red Rum Chase returning nothing – I didn’t even consider runaway winner Moon Over Germany, who’d finished weakly on his two previous runs.
 
The biggest mistake on the Friday was to totally overlook Three Musketeers in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle. He’d been switched from Dan Skelton to the Gordon Elliott’s stable, was a tasty 18/1 in the morning, and got his first win since January 2017. Everyone who follows National Hunt racing can tell you by now that Elliott is a miracle-working trainer, much like Martin Pipe who he used to work for. The change of yard was all Three Musketeers had going for him, but that was enough.
 
The only other race I went in was the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, and the favourite Champ took a steadily-run renewal. Fourth-placed Walk Away was the one to take out of the race for the future, but having backed him, that was no good on the day.
 
I’d slipped into defensive mode. Little betting was going on, and on the Saturday I was only in one other race besides the Grand National – the race before it, the three-mile one-furlong handicap chase over the Mildmay course. Three were backed each-way, but nothing happened, the winner Kildisart too short for me to back at 6/1.
 
Grand National Betting Influenced by the Virtual World
Someone mentioned on Twitter that some of the prices for the Grand National had been changed following the outcome of the ‘virtual’ version of the event, shown on ITV4 the previous evening. It correctly predicted Tiger Roll would win in 2018 and Rathvinden, Ruby Walsh’s last National ride, was the virtual winner in 2019. On the strength of CGI-Rathvinden’s ‘win’, the real one was shortened to a general 9/1 second-favouritism behind Tiger Roll, at around 4/1.
 
Bookies can price them up how they like, but it’s the Grand National and they should have been going 10/1 the field. Or am I stuck in the dark ages?
 
None of my bets completed the course. Lake View Lad, Ramses De Teillee and Joe Farrell had disappeared into the background coming up from second Valentine’s, but Pleasant Company was up with the leaders on that line of fences before the home turn – I’ve said before that it’s one of the greatest feelings, your horse in contention from second Valentine’s to the third last.
 
Trouble was Tiger Roll was travelling over everything, and you could have called him the winner as early as the fourth last, the final ditch, at which point my hopes of Pleasant Company hanging on for second were dashed when he unseated Paul Townend.
 
It’s not all about the betting side, however. We were long overdue a dual Grand National winner, and Tiger Roll’s second Aintree success was great not just for horse racing, but for sport in general. We’re in times now when racing only makes the sports-segment on TV news broadcasts around four or five times a year – Radio 5 Live honourably continues to cover it week in, week out on Sports Report – and who knows, it could well be thanks to Tiger Roll if Britain as a whole continues to anticipate the arrival of the Grand National every April.
 
Don’t expect me to start dressing up in a tiger-onesie, though, for two reasons. One, it’s not my thing, and two, this influence that CGI now has on the Grand National worries me. After the programmers and graphic designers have done all the algorithms, formulas and complicated mathematical calculations that would probably leave Bobby Seagull puzzled, I’m worried that what I’ll land on in the real National will win the virtual version, get halved in price, and throw me onto lesser-fancied rivals before I look for bets on the Saturday morning.
 
And all this happening now that, according to some cynics, they’ve turned the National into an ordinary handicap chase through all the modifications to the course and the fences. There were only two fallers on the first circuit – unheard of for the Grand National, although it must be acknowledged that one, Up For Review, was sadly a fatality.
 
The race has changed. As others have stated before the element of risk can never be totally removed, but it has changed for the better, as injuries are rarer. You’d rather the public embraced the National, rather than staying away from it. My beef is the presence of this virtual National, which presumably will return in 2020, and bookmakers using the result of it to shape the betting market.
 
It’s an even-money chance that I turn up at Chepstow next Grand National day.
 
Where’s Roy gone?
How do I know if I’m an out-of-form punter? I don’t get anything out of the Scottish Grand National-card at Ayr, which I usually have done for as long as I can remember. The two-mile handicap chase wasn’t any good, I didn’t play the novices’ handicap chase and Verdana Blue bossed the Scottish Champion Hurdle at odds that were too short for me.
 
With confidence lacking I didn’t go near the Scottish Grand National for betting purposes. After Takingrisks won I regretted not getting involved. I’d had Takingrisks in mind for the Eider Chase after his fast-finishing second at Haydock in November, when for all the world he shaped as though wanting an extreme test – he didn’t run in the Eider, but you should think to yourself at the time ‘or something like it’. The Scottish National is more competitive, but it still presented the test Takingrisks needed. An opportunity missed, no two ways.
 
Finale meeting at Sandown was similarly poor on the betting front, and so was the following week’s Staffordshire Plate at Uttoxeter. The novice Cesar Et Rosalie didn’t look good enough to be competitive in this Class 2 handicap chase, but I’d once given him a rating of 127 over hurdles. If it’s 127 on one piece of form within the last two years, and the horse is a seven year-old, then it’s 127. He duly proved that he was well treated, while I looked elsewhere.
 
The Staffordshire Plate coincided with the last day of the Punchestown Festival, and I got involved in the Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase. Finally something went my way as I landed on Heron Heights, the 2018 winner going in again, but this was one of those races which left you forever doubting whether or not the right horse won. There were three plausible outcomes – Young Paddymc led going best turning for home and looked the most likely winner when falling at the second last, Onefortheroadtom was staying on strongly and – presented with a chance – might well have won but for blundering badly at the last, and as for Heron Heights he was staying on well and, at least, would have closed the gap on Young Paddymc had he stood up.
 
That’s only two winners in April and May, one of which wouldn’t have happened if there had been no withdrawals from the Aintree Hurdle, and the other one possibly fortunate.
 
Time away from betting was badly needed, and with the new website to do plus a holiday to the United States, I had that time.
 
I don’t think I need to change the method I’m using in this coming season, but I do need to be more decisive. If I’ve rated a horse 127 on something or other, it’s 127. If a Takingrisks-scenario turns up again, do something about it. If I think a horse should be favourite, then it’s priced up accordingly on my spreadsheet. Before starting the spreadsheet on a Friday, put in the hours.
 
There’s a lot of analysis to be done during September, so that’s when the putting in the hours will start – a lot of racing to watch back, before the hard drive recorder is despatched to the loft (unless the next time I use it the hard drive-part goes as well), in preparation for betting activity to resume later in the month.
 
Put in the hours… I might get a T-shirt printed. At least the writer’s block’s gone.

Copyright Roy Waterhouse 2019. All rights reserved.