In last month’s PPM we listed and scrutinised a number of common pitfalls and mistakes made by the average punter.

We also re-examined a number of racing’s so called golden rules of the past, to see whether they still held credibility in the contemporary racing of today, where the landscape has considerably changed since their inception. In this edition we will continue further examination in both areas.

“I saw a horse win brilliantly first-up, so on the strength of that run, loaded up on him at his next start; unfortunately he performed well below par, I should have known better,  about horses failing second-up.”

It would seem that the notion about horses performing poorly second-up from a spell, is about as old as the game itself.

It is generally applicable to horses that win or perform well first-up, then inexplicably fail at their second run in. This failure is more often than not attributed to “The Second-Up Syndrome”. It is probably, in the broad sense, one of racing’s biggest furphies, although it does hold a strong degree of credibility in one area.

When staying or middle distance gallopers perform well when returning from spells, particularly over sprint distances, that performance is generally much more taxing than their specialised sprinting counterparts, resulting in a flat performance at their second run in.

This type of occurrence is commonplace and was highlighted recently when top class middle distance performer Maldivian sprinted very well to run second over 1200m at Moonee Valley first-up, then flopped badly next start when favourite in the 1400m C.F.Orr stakes at Caulfield when favourite.

Punters need to be very wary about horses falling into this category; conversely, if a sprinter fails second-up within its optimum distance range, then there could be a myriad of reasons why it failed and one of them is certainly not, that it was racing second-up!

“In the race that my star bet is in, there are numerous scratchings, leaving only five runners, he should be a moral now in this small field.”

Ever noticed how many times an outsider seems to prevail in small fields?  This occurrence is even more prevalent in small fields over sprint distances; there is a very sound reason why this happens. It is all to do with how the first sectional of the race is run.

In average and large fields the first sectional of the race is generally truly run, this is generated by inside horses being pushed early to hold prominent positions from many horses drawn wide who are ridden forward also looking to race prominent.

In small fields, the horses quickly slot into positions, which on many occasions results in a slow first sectional, which generally contributes to the overall time being slow. Relative speeds are what separate class performers from average ones, if the overall race time is slow then really, any runner in the race can win if the breaks go their way.

Punters need again, to be very wary about taking short odds in small fields, particularly in sprint races.

“A friend of mine has got a tip from one of his work colleagues who knows the trainer of a runner in this weekend, sounds good I’ll be having a substantial wager on that information.”

Tips, honestly, in my punting lifetime I must have had a million of them, all of course from impeccable sources, to which I can tell you the number of winners they have produced could be counted on one hand.

Firstly, in many of these cases there is the snowball effect to contend with. The trainer may have merely stated that his animal is fit and should be very competitive, however, as this information travels by word of mouth, at a further destination point it generally ends up as the trainer says “put your house on it”.

The other factor of consideration is even if you get good information first hand, there is probably another five trainers in the race equally as confident and sourcing out similar information to friends and clients. Generally recipients of such information tend to overbet in these situations because they think they are privy to special information.

These days I tend to take on board more the negative stable information, that a horse is off his feed or has gone poorly at trackwork, rather than how well they think he is going to go. For the average punter on the street, the best advice I can give is forget the coat pullers and work on improving your own analysis.

“I heard one of the media tipsters give one out this morning, but when I looked at the guide its form read 0887 for its last four runs; I don’t think I’ll be backing one with figures like that.”

This is another common mistake that I attribute to quite a significant band of the punting fraternity I term “form glancers”. It is a comment born out of little or no real form analysis. Form glancers are those punters who just can’t seem to get past the first page of a formguide and only look at the figures and tips on page one which encompasses the whole meeting.

A number of years ago I backed a West Australian horse named Lady Belvedere in the 2002 Newmarket Hcp at Flemington; it was a 33/1 chance. I backed it each way and on the line it was only beaten ¾’s of a length, so  you’re thinking I had a nice place collect at those odds, wrong, the horse ran 8th!  It ran a cracking race to finish so close in a Group 1 event. The race was won that year by Rubitano, and there were less than two lengths between the first 10 horses.

Punters need to ignore finishing position numbers and pay more credence to beaten margins and race class. I’ll back a horse any day with 0887 form that was in group company and each occasion the margin was under three lengths, opposed to any animal that had three wins beside its name but all in restricted company.

“One really stood out when I first saw the acceptances early in the week, but now the final fields are out, I’ve studied the race for nearly two hours and have come up with a host more chances.”

Just as many punters pay the price for not paying enough attention to form detail, at the other end of the spectrum, over analysis of any race can be equally detrimental. In my time I’ve generally found that horses that “jump out” at you at first look, are the ones most likely to wager on in the long term. When punters examine a race for more than an hour and still cannot isolate a selection, then clearly this is going to be a poor betting vehicle, a race laden with too much risk.

Punters, who start sifting through data for hours on end, looking for patterns, will eventually find them, as any data sample if sufficiently analysed can be shown to exhibit patterns of regularity. The value of these not so salient patterns for the most is highly questionable however.

The advice I offer in this area, yes, certainly be thorough with your analysis, but if the issue is no clearer after the best part of an hour, then move on, the race is likely to be no good for you. Don’t spend long periods searching for something that is probably not there and even if it was, its value in the overall picture is probably negligible.

Hopefully in this, and last months issue of PPM, we have been able to highlight and examine some of numerous pitfalls that confront the average punter week in week out. For most, the biggest problem is failing to identify each little pothole along the road and consequently coming to resultant grief.

The dynamic of racing’s wagering model, has, in recent times been a changing and very much evolving model Keeping abreast of changes and on-going self education, is the best way of being able to identify pitfalls associated with the many new concepts.

I’m sure many Betfair players have had a hard taught lesson about some of the pitfalls associated with laying horses. The punting fraternity is indeed a strange brotherhood, with many repeatedly falling into the same traps, so I guess it would be a fair comment that a sizable portion of its membership learns from history, that they learn nothing from history.

Click here to read Part 1.

By Ken Blake