Brian Blackwell (BB): The aim of this chat is to go over some of the fundamentals of the betting life, and I thought we’d concentrate on your side of things, but I’ll pop in a few thoughts now and then. It’s a sort of “you live and learn” chat.

The Optimist (TO): That’s fine, Brian. There are any number of important points we can talk about, and what better than to start with track ability and how much importance it has or hasn’t on how a horse will go.

BB: It IS an important form factor. Take the case of Dandy Kid at Moonee Valley, and Delvecchio at the same track. Some horses just love quirky tracks.

TO: What you want for course performers is a win or at least a very good placing. Be wary when there’s been a flying finish after interference; this may not mean that a horse can handle the track at all. It may mean that the horse mishandled the track at a vital point, maybe coming down the hill at Sandown.

I like to see that a horse has a “C” after its name, meaning that the horse is a winner at the current distance at the current track. I do like a horse to be proven on the particular track and preferably over the distance.

BB: In a perfect world, we’d land winners every day with this angle but, as we know, the world ain’t perfect, but I agree that it does provide some comfort to the anguished soul to know that a selection has actually been around the track and over the distance and has won! If it comes down to the choice between a “C” runner and a horse who has no experience at the track, and perhaps over the distance, then I’ll go for the “C” horse more times than not.

TO: Which brings us to what we call distance performance.?If a horse is not proven as a winner over the distance I like it to have a past performance record that suggests it can handle the distance. Go back to, say, 1991 and no-one really knew if Let’s Elope could run 3200m but everything she had done suggested she could, and she did.

BB: Yes, as punters we must face the fact that are always going to have to speculate on whether a horse will do this or do that. Sometimes, I feel very confident a horse can, say, make the leap from winning at 1600m and then winning at 2000m. It’s all down to how the horse handles itself in a race, and whether it can do it hard at the end of a race. Look at the replays and if you have a keen eye you can see the strong-looking types who simple cry out that they will handle more ground.

TO: Let’s move on to winning form. Or winners. One of my rules is never to fall for horses with very low win strikes; you know, two wins from 36 starts, that sort of thing. They MAY win but they are much more likely to lose. But people continue to fall for them.

BB: Done that myself! But I take your point. The better the win strike the more confidence we can glean. It’s not the be-all and end-all but it’s another of those comfort zone factors that provide us with another little edge.

TO: I have to mention jockeys here, Brian, but I don’t want to say too much because this, to me, is an easy matter. Why would you want anyone other than a top jockey on your horse? It simply makes sense. So I’m always looking for the jockey factor. I hate entrusting my money to riders of, shall we say lesser ability than the blokes in the top ranks? End of the matter for me.

BB: Well, I’ve seen a lot of my tips absolutely slaughtered by top-name jockeys, and I’ve seen lesser rated jockeys ride fabulously well to bring them home. To me, it’s not a real issue. I am prepared more or less to take pot luck, though if things come to a crunch and I have to split a couple of runners I will pay some attention to the jockey.
I mean, if it’s a choice between Damien Oliver and a 3kg claiming apprentice I am much more likely to go for Ollie’s mount. That’s just percentage commonsense.

TO: Guess we now go on to trainers. They are difficult to separate in many States but there are always two or three at the top. My thinking is always is that if I have a top trainer, I have a top chance, generally speaking.

BB: I have my favourite trainers and I will invariably give them any edge that’s going when I am making final selections. (See the September PPM, page 21 for my favourite trainers in Victoria.)

TO: I know that over the years, Brian, we’ve run articles on punters having a special “stable” of horses to follow. I usually have my own list. I add and delete as the weeks go past. If a horse shows me something in an early run, say 1st, 2nd or 3rd-up, it often comes into my stable and I follow its path to a win. It isn’t that simple but sometimes it’s surprising the prices you can get.

BB: I maintain the Video View section of the PPD Club and I often leave horses in there for months and months, even after they have gone for a spell if I fancy they can win when they return. A recent example is Pompeii Ruler; I had him on my list and left him there and I tipped him when he made his return to racing and he won at $31.00. So it pays to have some patience and to exercise some discretion.

TO: I know you’re a value man and I know, because you told me, just how much money you won on Pompeii Ruler! That was a great bet and a bold one because no-one was giving that horse a chance of winning the Liston, me included. So what about value in everyday betting.?What do we make of all this value stuff?

BB: I’d like to say that I demand 3/1 or better, but it doesn’t always work out that way. A PPD Club subscriber recently complained to me that I’d tipped a horse in the Balaklava Cup at 5/2 (it lost) and where was the value in that?

Well, he was right; at 5/2 the horse, Plans, wasn’t value. But early on it was much longer than that but the trainer was on TV and radio talking up its chances, so people were leaping from the trees to back it. By the time the race started, Plans was 5/2, and not any value in a big field.

This points up the fact that at 10 o’clock in the morning you can have a terrific value bet, but at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when many others have twigged to what you twigged, that value bet has disappeared and you’re looking at a 7/4 chance when you thought you’d get 7/1.

TO: If I can’t get 3/1 or better, I usually don’t bet. Of course, there are exceptions, especially in smaller fields, or when I am as sure as I can be that there are no other chances. I’ll take a shorter price then.?I got 9/4 about a horse I thought was a near certainty in Sydney one day. Generosity personified.

BB: Are you still a stickler for betting on races at certain distances? I recall you once told me you were dead against betting on races below 1200m.

TO: Yes, still pretty much against betting the short-coursers. Too many things can cause the kind of minor trouble that spells doom in a short helter-skelter affair. The longer the race the more chance your horse has of overcoming problems in the running, unless they happen very late in the race.

BB: Let’s mention barrier positions. Now over the years I have swung back and forth in my attitude to barrier positions. I’m sorry to say that chucking a horse out because of a so-called terrible draw has cost me a lot of winners. I’ve got to the point now where I normally just ride the luck. There are exceptions but in 90 per cent of instances I’ll ignore the barrier and just let them get on with it. How many times do we see the perfectly drawn horse in barrier #1 get bottled up on the rails with nowhere to go?

TO: The barrier is crucial in some races. I firmly believe this. I do not believe it is of much interest in races over 2000m or further but at other shorter distances it can be murderous. My pet hate for barriers is Caulfield, while Warwick Farm and Canterbury are to be very carefully watched.

BB: Do you have any sort of pet spot-play theories, things you do that have helped you knock off the odd windfall win, that sort of thing.

TO: I’ve always liked top weights if they are to be ridden by an in-form apprentice, the kid who’s on the crest of a wave so to speak. And if the top weight has a nice placing against its name, or is a nob at the track, then I’ll often jump in.

BB: I suppose you are looking at the claim…3kg being ideal if the apprentice is a good one.

TO: Exactly. These days a good apprentice is often as good as the senior riders, so getting 3kg off the horse’s back is an absolute bonus. Ben Smith’s an example in Melbourne, and Kathy O’Hara was a steal 3kg claimer until recently.

BB: I have a few pet ideas myself. In races at 2000m or further, I like to get rid of any runner which has not had a win and a place in their last four starts, and also axe any runner over 33/1 in the pre-post market. Then it’s a case of adding the form of the remaining runners and the one with the lowest total from its last four starts is the selection.?

I stuck in the minimum distance requirement many years ago and I daresay the idea will work just as well on races under 1600m. This is only a spot play system, and I’ve nibbled at lots of them over the years, and they can be helpful in finding horses to stick in trebles and doubles and trifectas.

NEXT MONTH: The Optimist and Brian Blackwell continue their chat, with the emphasis on major races at the big carnivals.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

With The Optimist and Brian Blackwell