Experience is one of life’s great learning tools. For those wishing to fast track to success in their desired field, textbooks and classrooms will take them to a point, but the real movement and momentum in most cases will not happen until the individual transcends the theory stage and engages in the practical side of their chosen craft.

Paradoxically, it is those who have encountered numerous small failings along the way, who are the most likely to find success at a more accelerated rate than others. For the fledgling punter, the road to financial viability in horseracing is a veritable minefield, very much like a game of snakes and ladders. Except in this game, the ladders are at the very end of the street and to get there we need to navigate our way past an abundance of snakes, whose attack is invariably aimed at the hip pocket.

Punters who have encountered many of these slippery slides back to square one, are those most likely to get to the street’s end, because these failings and setbacks will act as powerful identification tools in avoiding similar such negative experiences.

On a personal front, I can tell you that I slid down these snakes for the best part of two decades, and it wasn’t till the early 90s that I finally started to climb ladders in this game. I  consider myself more than qualified to pass on how to identify and more importantly, avoid punting’s numerous pitfalls that seemingly latch upon the less experienced in the game.

The punt is a game that has generated plenty of so called golden rules and maxims, but many of these have been generational hand downs.In a game where the landscape has changed considerably over the last few decades, many of these rules may not carry the same weight they did many years ago.

Over the next couple of issues I will re-examine many of these rules and also look at what I consider common pitfalls and mistakes made by many of the punting fraternity, particularly newcomers to the game.

“A horse I have been following is in today, but never raced over 1400m, but by the way it has steamed home over 1200m at its last two starts it is screaming out for this distance. I’ll be loading up over the extra journey.”

This is one of the most common mistakes made by many form students . . . an assumption that horses that finish on strongly over a certain distance will automatically get a longer distance that they are untried at.

Many horses do not have the early tactical speed to be able to take up a forward position and are ridden a lot more quietly in the first sectional of a race, thus having more in their energy reserves at the end of a race than
horses that burn early fuel to race forward.

This enables many of these backmarkers to finish their races off strongly. Many punters misconstrue this as some sort of indication that the animal requires, or is screaming out for extra ground. This, in many cases, is untrue because what we are witnessing here is merely the horse’s racing pattern.

Whether a horse can run a certain distance or not is largely governed by genetics, and in many cases, the  tempo of the race on the day. In some instances, fairly safe assumptions can be put forward. It would be more than reasonable to expect a horse sired by Zabeel that finished hard over 1400m to be looking for more ground.

Punters need to be wary of horses bred along sprinting lines that finish hard in sprint races and are starting to push up into a middle distance range. There is a real danger here that the horse may not be able to perform over the extra ground. Remember, all horses have distance limitations and punters should never have a substantial wager on any horse that is unproven over the ground.

“I was going to have a bet in the 1800m event today, but my fancy is racing first-up and no way will I be backing anything first-up over 1800m.”

This is a prime example of what I alluded to in the lead in paragraphs about racing’s changing landscape. When I first starting punting on a serious level back in the early 70s, backing a horse first-up over 1600m and beyond was a definite no-no.

Training regimes were fairly regimented back then and most middle distance and staying gallopers followed the traditional path of starting their preparations in sprints then working up to their respective distance range. Over the years, though,  training structures in the southern hemisphere have slowly aligned themselves with that of the northern hemisphere, where it is commonplace to see horses race first-up after long breaks in distance races, start short priced favourites and win.

Back in 1999, King Of Saxony won the 3200m Perth Cup first-up after a 251 day spell, beating Rogan Josh who went on to win the Melbourne Cup later that year. Pantani won the 3200m Duke of Norfolk Stakes at Flemington off a 133 day spell and later won a 3000m race at Sandown off an incredible 464 day spell.

Many punters are still loathe to back horses in anything first-up outside of sprint parameters. The point is, if a horse is trained to win a race first-up, then irrespective of the distance, if it has the class it CAN win. Generally speaking, the market still remains the best barometer of any horse’s chances regardless of distance and day’s break between runs. In today’s racing, punters should certainly not be deterred by horses racing first-up over a middle distance.

“Wow, I see my fancy ran 2nd to the champion Miss Andretti last start; she’s not a starter in this race today so my horse should brain them.”

This is a widespread mistake made by many form analysts, whereby the act of running 2nd to a champion seems to inflate the prospects of any runner more than if it had won the race and the champion had been taken out at the barrier.

It is basically a mind set problem where the deeds of the champion seemingly take precedence in the mind and overshadow the actual form of the selection in question. This generally leads to over confidence, which subsequently leads to over betting the animal.

The best way for punters to offset this kind of thing is to forget who finished in front of your selection and pay more attention to the quality of animals it beat home.

“I picked out a couple for today, but unfortunately they’ve all drawn outside barriers, I’ll probably stay out.”

Far too many punters surmise that wide barriers are an automatic hindrance to their preference in a race. This is not necessarily true, and there are numerous factors that should be considered before any definitive statements are made on barrier draws.

In some cases it is better to be drawn wide than near the rails, and this quite often comes into play on rain affected tracks, where normally the better going is toward the outside of the track and also on days where there is a noted detectable negative bias for horses racing against the running rail.

When dealing with barriers, the first thing that the punter needs to ascertain is where his horse is likely to end up in the run. If the horse is a backmarker, then the draw is really of little consequence as he is going to drop straight back to the rear. If the horse has an abundance of early speed, then again whether they have drawn inside or outside is not going to be a major factor, as their early turn of foot will guarantee they’ll end up in the first two or three.

The remaining group is the group of concern; that is, horses that neither go forward nor drop out are the ones that are most inclined to be caught wide. If your horse falls into this category, then you need to examine the speed and racing pattern of those drawn inside the horse.

This is where good speed maps can be very helpful.  Even if it is established that your fancy may race wide, it may not be overly detrimental, depending on the layout of the course. The Caulfield 1200m course, for example . . . horses regularly race wide and win and this is because there is a long run to the first turn, which is the home turn, and that is the only corner that runners negotiate.

Punters should not be put off by wide barriers, but need to examine the points raised here in detail.

“I’ve just noticed in the steward’s report that my selection for this race was held up for clear running from the home turn till inside the final 200m at its last start; sounds like it was pretty unlucky, and perhaps could have or should have won.”

This is a common conclusion that many punters are drawn into when reading reports of this nature. Although many future winners are sourced from the stewards wrap of a meeting, in many cases the reports alone are somewhat inconclusive and do not portray an accurate account of whether events mentioned were truly detrimental to any horse’s winning chance.

Certainly, a horse may have been blocked for clear running from the home turn until well into the straight; however, what the steward’s report will not tell you is that when the opening finally presented itself the horse in question never had the ability to take the run and win.

One of the best tools the punter can have is to watch race replays. Stewards’ reports should be used to highlight certain runners and then these runs should be watched a number of times via the replays to get a true perspective on any situation. Punters need to be very wary about drawing false conclusions from stewards’ reports alone.

** In next month’s edition we will continue on looking at some more of the numerous pitfalls that punters and form students are likely to encounter at some stage of their career. Hopefully, the many from the punting fraternity who have already encountered many of these traps will have learned a valuable lesson; after all, I’m sure each of these lessons has been well paid for.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Ken Blake