Last month, we only managed to get halfway in this discussion.

Incidentally, I wonder if you noticed that in the November issue of PPM, both Brian and I made six final selections for the Melbourne Cup. And we only had one selection in common, and that selection was Viewed.

Sometimes horses can make absolute donkeys out of otherwise intelligent people and, where racing is concerned, I like to think that most of the time I act intelligently (some of my readers probably think differently!), but how I could commit myself to that extent, and then be left with only two of my final six selections on the actual day . . . and not follow it through might represent a learning point for all of us.

We are never too old to learn, but it brings me to one of the angles I was going to raise anyway.

This angle is the one about sticking. Regular readers know that Brian and I share light-hearted banter quite often about my sticking to my horses in a manner somewhat reminiscent of chewing gum stuck on your shoes (or for that matter, something far worse attaching itself). I’m the first to admit that this is one of my strengths or failings (I’ve yet to decide which). It brings its own rewards at times, such as Sirmione in the Mackinnon Stakes last year (I got more than 100/1 early, and again 100/1 in the week leading up to the race).

It also leads to some enormous disappointment, as it did for me in 2006 with Magic Instinct, and also this spring with Riva San, which I think it’s fair to say simply didn’t come up. It could be, in fact probably might be the truth of it, that she is a far better racehorse in wet conditions; in fact, the only run she put in that was anywhere near decent this campaign was when she went to Sydney and struck a wet surface.

There is no question she should have won that race, but even then the gods were against me. If you want to know another piece of irony which I guess is attached to this angle of “sticking”, my only very early double of any real size for the two Cups was a combination of Riva San into Viewed. The double would have been substantially better odds just before the Caulfield Cup (I took it in early September), and, given Riva San’s run in the Caulfield Cup, I thought little more about it.

Until about three days after Viewed had won the Melbourne Cup. I can’t tell you how sick I felt at that stage, putting myself through the agonies of asking why I hadn’t stuck. So a decent angle, no, a very important angle to keep in mind, is the “sticking” angle: when do you hang in there and when do you jump off? Fortunately I only have to raise the question of the sticking angle with you, because after all the years that I have had in this business, I still find great difficulty in eliminating a horse from the picture after I have made my commitment in the first place to put my money on it.

Class is probably the most misunderstood aspect of horseracing, probably the most misquoted aspect of horseracing, and I am quite sure something that so many punters accept unquestioningly from the “gurus” who tell them about it. Well, this guru has always preached that class is a matter of opinion and it is in the eye of the beholder. When enough people believe that a horse is “class”, the likelihood is that the horse’s actual monetary value will increase quite dramatically.

So far as its price is concerned when it races, the likelihood is 100 per cent the reverse! If the bookmakers can get you to believe the horse you support is a “class animal”, one of the things you can be confident about is that you will take a lower price about it. If you go up to Mr I. Layem, standing there looking all serene and knowledgeable, and enough people of your opinion are convinced that the horse you are interested in is a class animal, the one thing on this earth of which you can be certain is that Mr Layem has got there ahead of you, and that the price is unlikely to represent what anybody other than the keen punters would regard as “value”.

It’s the way of the world, somebody trying to sell you something at a profit to himself. If enough people have already decided beforehand about the class, then your only chance of dignity (not to mention sanity!) is to stay out. That isn’t easy, of course, when you want to have a bet on a horse, but it’s what you must do. And it brings us to our next angle.

Value is, as we have said so many times, also in the eye of the beholder. One of the greatest single angles of all is to never take “unders”. I’d go a step further than this and add my own angle, which is in brief to “always take overs, or don’t bet at all”. When you think about it for more than a moment, I think you will agree with me that there are few things more logical in racing than trying to get what we call an edge, or to put it another way, to do a little bit better by some judicious shopping. I shop around the Internet and when I am at the races, although I have a couple of accounts with bookmakers, that won’t stop me going somewhere else.

These days, if you have a regular bookmaker, I think you may find that he or she is quite amenable to providing you with a couple of extra turns of the decimal board. After all, there isn’t a great deal of difference between 5.10 and 5.30 (a fifth of point, in fact, and not even a quarter of a point in the old language). Bookmakers will often, when interviewed, say that they have had an enormous plunge on certain horses, and they may well have; but I have noticed occasions when their reaction to these “enormous plunges” is to drop the horse’s price from perhaps $5.20 to $4.80.

That’s not even half a point! Mostly hype at work. The bookies have it all their way with the new decimals. I don’t know one newspaper writer who remains immune to the con that we have all been sold on this. “How it would be that much better for us, etc etc”, was really a very subtle way of introducing an insidious scheme to allow the odds to be manipulated in tenths, instead of in quarters and, very rarely, in eighths. That may not seem like an enormous amount to you, but it only represents one half of the con. The other half was that (and this is where I’m still waiting to read anything by a really astute pressman) “price” was corrupted so that it now includes your stake.

A vitally important angle for you is to reinterpret every bet you make on your own terms, and not those of the TAB or the bookmaker. In other words, when you are told that the price is $8.00, you must think to yourself, as you used to in the good old days before the pirates took over the ship, “This is 7/1 that I am being offered, it is not 8/1. The 8/1 includes my stake!” Remember that, and you have mastered a vital angle in the 21st century struggle.

Some issues we have covered so far include the vexing question of handicaps versus set weight races, the significance of claims and allowances (usually none, or negative – bet that upset a few readers last month), the vital nature of the win strike ratio, plus, of course, class, knowing what price really is, sticking (or not), and so forth, but to conclude this series I’d like to go back to another one of these. It’s the question of the barrier draw.
After the Flemington carnival, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on barrier draws and their effects. I went back further, to the Caulfield spectacles and then across to Moonee Valley, the smallest of the Melbourne tracks and arguably, at some starting points, a total graveyard if you draw the wrong barrier.

I cannot ever remember a series of great races so affected by the barrier draw. I didn’t particularly mean for what I wrote last month to be prophetic, and anyway it didn’t manage to find you until after the carnival had been completed, but that doesn’t alter the fundamental thrust of the argument. The angle concerning barriers was vital beyond all my expectations. I counted no less than eight certain races which, at least in my opinion, would have had different placegetters had the barriers been reversed. The way I decided to test my opinion was simply to “mirror image” the barrier draw, so that, in an 18 horse race, I reversed the barrier allocations.

To explain a little further: if a horse drew barrier 1, it was allocated barrier 18, and if it drew, say, barrier 14, I allocated it barrier 5. Get the idea? Instead of it starting five in from the outside, it started five out from the inside.
I was startled by the results, especially when I looked at horses which had won several of the big races; but even more so when I looked at the placegetters and I checked the very close fourths and fifths.

As I have said, in my view there were at least eight major races, mostly to 1600m, decided by the barrier draw. This is an angle which I have tried to examine from every conceivable viewpoint over the years, but I’m becoming even more convinced, the older I get, and the more experienced I get, that supporting horses from demonstrably bad barriers cannot be compensated by any additional odds which are offered.

You can’t argue that a few points extra will compensate, when the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter if you are offered $6 or $60, the horse still won’t win!

I really believe, with the intense closeness of racing these days, that it might be time for the average punter to make a very simple and arbitrary rule about bad barriers. They are OUT. It’s a radical step but it might be more massively significant than most punters are prepared to acknowledge. If they won’t, well, be that on their own heads!

Click here to read Part 1.

By The Optimist