Last month I wrote about the absolute basics of racing. I touched on the subject of horses' names and how the use of names allows one to maintain accurate records of a horse's form.
The names of the horse's ancestors will indicate the horse's blood lines and this in turn may help in evaluating what a horse is likely to do under certain conditions and over specific distances. This leads me into the next topic of this article, namely breeding.
The genetic heritage of a racehorse is the sum total of its ancestral blood lines. Depending on which genes from which ancestors a horse inherits, he will usually have some inherited advantages over specific distances.
If the dominant genes are for pure speed, it is most unlikely that the horse will win a Melbourne Cup, or indeed any race requiring a preponderance of staying ability. Conversely, if the horse has inherited a dominant set of staying genes, it is equally unlikely that the horse will ever win a 1000m race against good company.
Now, that's the rub here. One often sees a good horse with staying lines winning over sprint races early in its career and this is frequently taken as a sign that the horse has inherited speed despite its breeding. Usually, anyone who believes that will be dead wrong. The real fact is that the stayer winning over the sprint is doing it because it is meeting poor-class horses.
This brings me to a set of statistics, which is frequently overlooked by many racing people. The majority of racehorses that actually race on a racetrack will never win a race. They are simply not good enough and in point of fact were probably short changed by nature when they were handed out their genetic heritage at conception.
Frequently, those who actually do win a maiden race, never win again. The harsh fact is that in winning their maiden, many horses have now raced themselves into a class that will be too strong for them to ever win again.
A lot of horses which do have ability will be weeded out of contention very early in their career, sometimes by injury, by immaturity (i.e. being raced too early), or by trainers with little ability. Top racehorses win because they are born with above average ability and are trained by trainers with above average ability.
Which brings me to my next point. A horse may be born with specific genes for speed or for staying, or as is most usual, they will be born with a mix of genes, resulting in more good milers racing at any one time than stayers or good sprinters. But we must recognise that what the horse is born with is only a potential, and whether or not the animal reaches its full potential depends on how it is handled and trained. Good horses are not only born they are also made, by good handling and care and attention to their health and well being.
One has only to look at the record of trainers of the calibre of Bart Cummings.
Bart Cummings and half a dozen other top trainers dominate the big races. This is no accident. Other trainers often get horses with real ability but are, sadly, unable to bring out this ability.
I have seen horses with ability come in to the city and win in the weaker class races, often ridden by a bush apprentice. The horse looks good, and frequently it would be good if it were in the hands of a top trainer. At its next start, against better horses ridden by city-class jockeys, it fails, often by a short margin. Why? Could it be that the jockey was outclassed and not the horse? Could it be that the horse's condition may have been misjudged by the trainer?
Often, you will see a superior jockey replaced by an inexperienced apprentice to gain a weight advantage, or because of the trainer's preference for his own hoop. It matters not, the reason, but it is a fact that very few apprentices are good enough to compensate for their inexperience simply because of some supposed weight advantage. Professional punters laugh all the way to the bank when they see a top hoop replaced by an inexperienced apprentice and watch the horse's odds shortened by the drop in weight.
Weight is not always right. Weight is only right when it is accompanied by other advantages such as fitness, suitability over the distance and proper training techniques, and when the horse is piloted by a fit, experienced, in- form, top hoop.
If you want to win, one should have a good system. A good system is when you have a good horse, trained by a good trainer and ridden by a good jockey in a good suitable race. Remove any one of the "goods" in the previous sentence and the likelihood of you being a good successful punter is lessened.
There is an old saying in racing, and when I say old, I mean just that. It has been around for years and years. It is short and to the point. It is the following:
WHEN A HORSE WINS A RACE BY 3 LENGTHS OR MORE, IN GOOD TIME ON THE DAY AND WAS TOTALLY UNWANTED IN THE BETTING, IT IS AN EVEN MONEY SHOT AT ITS NEXT START, PROVIDING IT STARTS AGAIN WITHIN A WEEK OR TWO AND IS NOT RISING TOO FAR IN DISTANCE OR CLASS.
This system works. I have used it. It does not turn up often, but when it does it has a surprisingly high strike rate and frequently at good odds. What is the logic behind this system? It does have logic, you just have to think about it for a few minutes.
What this system is saying is that the horse is most likely trained by a very poor trainer and when it won, it won well, but the trainer was not smart enough to recognise that the horse was fit and ready to win. Frequently, such a horse will have a very poor win record, mostly due to the fact that its trainer does not train it well and does not know when the horse, by some fluke, has trained itself. The fitness and native ability is attested to by the calibre of the win, the margin and the time. The trainer's inability to recognise it is attested to by the long odds available, (no stable money here). Often, the horse will be ignored at its next start simply because the majority of punters will ignore the win as a pure fluke.
At its next start, if soon enough and in a suitable race, it is quite capable of winning again, often at the juicy odds of anything up to about 10/1. And often it does win, but this time it is frequently just an average win, for you see the horse is not in control of its own destiny, it cannot dictate its training methods and by this time the trainer thinks that he has a top-class horse on his hands. It will be rising in class. It will be being trained poorly, if at all, but at its next start it will carry the trainer's money and the money of many small punters. It will start a short-priced favourite. It will be a "False Favourite".
At this time, you and I will have bailed out. We will have had our win and we will know that this is probably all that we can expect from this horse. This game is called "Spotting the Ready to Win Racehorse" and its corollary at its third start is "Spotting the False Favourite". The third part of this is
Don't expect a horse to train itself to win when it is up in class, or indeed racing in its own true class.
This brings me to the question of class. In my next article, I hope to go into this important aspect of racing. I hope to differentiate between the actual class a horse is born with and the official system of classifying a horse by the amount of prize-money won. I will try explain something about the class system which governs the rules of racing and which changes from country to country. I will talk about the American system of claiming races and how this system forces connections to actually class their horses via the amount of claiming money a horse will be claimed for if someone decides to put in a claim to buy the horse.
This system tends to, as Don Chip once remarked about politics, "keep the bastards honest", and, surprisingly, there are a few trainers and owners in Australia who would be forced to be a bit more honest about a horse's true ability if the American system of claiming races were to operate in Australia.
As I mentioned last month, I welcome inquiries from readers about anything I mention in this series of articles, or indeed punting in general. If I am able I will try to answer any queries.
Correspondence to George Tafe, P.P.M., P.O. Box 551, Dee Why, N.S.W. 2099.
By George Tafe
PRACTICAL PUNTING - JANUARY 1993