An enigma …

November 16th, 2023 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Hi there!

If ever I were asked to nominate just one golden rule for betting, and believe me I have dwelt on this long into the wee small hours, then it would be to follow a yard in form and, conversely, be wary of yards out of form.

I remember many years ago, when I was with the Sunday Times long before the days of dedicated racing channels, I attended most of the meetings on the southern circuit and a few of us liked to wait for Dick Hern’s horses to hit form.

They started to appear at the Greenham meeting at Newbury, finishing their races just off the frame, before a week later others began to get placed.

It was then that the floodgates opened, with his horses winning the divided maidens at the major meetings and usually maintaining their form and progressing throughout the summer.

I am sure the same would apply today with top yards were I able to get out and see the paddock more, and we have had two examples of stables in fantastic form in the last couple of weeks.

In last week’s Weekend Card I wrote the following:

“I reckon that I can ‘read’ most trainers, having honed my craft in the 80s with a handful of canny northern operators, but Venetia Williams has driven me to distraction over the years. Yes we all know her horses generally like stamina-sapping conditions, but they can occasionally run absolute stinkers only to return to winning form without obvious notice.

“She can, though, be reliably expected to have her seasoned handicappers fit enough to win on their returns and when they drop to what is deemed an appropriate mark they will often go close.”

Well you won’t need me to tell you that since writing that last Wednesday Venetia’s horses have been in tremendous fettle, with nine of her last 21 runners winning at a strike-rate of 43%. Of the nine, all but one were making their seasonal debut, the other being Eceparti who was carrying a 7lbs penalty for his success a few days earlier.

One of the great tests of any trainer is whether they can get a horse fit at home, and Venetia has shown time and time again that she excels in this respect. Her horses can, though, lose their way, often towards the end of the season, sometimes finishing tailed off or pulling up.

She does, though, remain an enigma and will forever intrigue me. My life would be duller without her.

Just to bolster the maxim about horses in form we had another example last week with Jimmy Moffatt, who trains down the road from me in Cartmel.

Jimmy has had a well-deserved reputation as a Cartmel specialist – he is usually the course’s top trainer – but I know from talking with him he has been working hard to acquire more ‘winter horses’ as he calls them, and thanks to the arrival of a couple of wealthy patrons he now has a well-balanced team split between the two categories.

Before last week he had sent out nine winners from 56 runners but last Friday and Saturday he ran five horses, three at Hexham and two at Kelso, and they each won. It is a reflection of the degree to which his horses are respected these days that the longest priced winner was 3/1, with each of them attracting market support.

I have seen enough evidence over the years to know that Jimmy is a very good trainer, but he does not have a very big yard – just over 30 boxes I believe – and this may curb his ambitions.

Two of his three winners were quite expensive, at around £70,000, but he has shown on many occasions that he can improve cheaply-bought horses from bigger yards and we saw a shining example of that with Secret Secret, who hacked up by 14 lengths on Saturday having been acquired for just £1,500 in May.

He also does particularly well with cast-offs from Godolphin and Nicky Henderson.

I am not closely enough involved with a stable these days to know how or why the horses suddenly find, or lose, their form. Obviously their wellbeing, level of fitness and handicap marks are major factors, and perhaps blood counts provide a few clues, but the maxim holds true at every level – as we have witnessed with these two contrasting yards – and, as I said earlier, the principle would head my list of golden rules for the punter.

Looking to the next few days, in the absence of my Dark Horses Annual my Premier List nominations have appeared with a few Sleeper qualifiers in this week’s Weekend Card.

Also the hugely popular three-day Cheltenham November meeting starts on Friday and you can read my thoughts and insights in the Daily Bulletin, which I am releasing for each day of the meeting.

Bye for now