Marten’s Perspective: Notable Gambles

September 14th, 2012 | Marten's Perspective

Last week I said I would bring to mind a few cases of touches landed by low-profile trainers which, on initial impressions, defied all logical explanation.

There are not many examples which fall into this category. More often than not the horse which was backed can be seen to have improved or have returned to its ideal conditions on the day.

One tactic which has been used effectively over the years is to land a touch with a horse returning from a lengthy break. This enables connections to offer the explanation that the horse is best fresh, or had responded favourably to some kind of treatment. Work on the horse’s back, or wind, is often cited in such circumstances.

Moving on to specific cases, there was one touch landed last season which left me scratching my head for quite a while afterwards.

The race took place at Southwell last February where Changing Lanes, a nine-year-old who had won three times in the past, was running in an extended three-mile 0-95 handicap hurdle. He went into the race with singularly uninspiring seasonal form figures of P05PP but that didn’t stop him being backed from around 14’1 to evens.

Just over a month earlier he had been pulled up after tailing off after the eighth flight in a 0-110 contest at Ffos Las. He was also pulled up two months earlier at Hereford, also when tailed off.

By contrast on this occasion Changing Lanes made steady headway from halfway and kept on well under strong driving to win all out by two lengths.

Those who argue that the horse had claims on the book have a case. His mark had slipped from 112 in September to 88 and he had won previously from marks of 93 and twice off 103, although they were in 2009 and 2010. Also he had worn cheekpieces when successful and they were refitted for the first time in that season.

The Racing Post comments afterwards made for interesting reading, starting with the statement that this was ‘a race that will be remembered for a major gamble on Changing Lanes – a result that will have left a bitter taste among many punters.’

The analysis pointed out that the horse had only raced five times for the stable, and had been pulled up on three occasions, yet had been dropped 24lb in that time. It was then stated that the horse was on a good mark judged on his best form, and there had been a glimpse of promise three starts previously, plus the cheekpieces were refitted, yet it was ‘still staggering there so much market confidence behind a horse with such a profile.’

The stewards interviewed the trainer’s representative, who stated that on the horse’s previous run he had failed to handle the soft ground, while the day after he was pulled up in November he exhibited signs of having bled. He added that they had changed the horse’s training regime and with the ground riding good, and good to soft, they had been hopeful of a good run. The explanation was forwarded to the BHA.

The horse, who started life with Jonjo O’Neill before being sold to Tim Vaughan for just 1,000gns at Doncaster in October 2007, then spent time with John Flint. He won for both Vaughan and Flint before joining David Rees.

I suspect the thing that stuck in the craw for many punters about this particular touch was that the horse had been pulled up, within five weeks of this run, on his previous start. Also, is appears that a considerable sum of money appears to have been placed on the horse, with Paddy Power reporting afterwards that the coup had cost them alone £150,000.

I did notice last season that there were a number of gambles landed by trainers in Wales. A few horses seemed to change hands quite frequently, raising the suspicion that perhaps in the odd case the ties between them had not necessarily been severed.

It is quite common to see a horse improve for the move to another yard. Generally this would apply to a horse relocating from a low-profile trainer to one with a higher profile. Martin Pipe, for example, had a well-founded reputation for bringing about improvement in horses. More recently the same comment would apply to Tim Vaughan.

The more interesting switch is when a horse moves from a high-profile trainer to a lesser-known one.

This could provide connections with the opportunity of getting a better price about the horse. For example, Changing Lanes would not have been available at such long odds in the morning if he had still been trained by Tim Vaughan.

There was one occasion many years ago when it was alleged that a well-known owner, who enjoyed a tilt at the ring, had an unraced bumper horse moved from his trainer to a virtually unknown lady permit trainer. The horse was ridden by a lady amateur with known links to someone close to his former trainer’s team.

The horse opened at a double-figure price and duly did the business, reputedly landing his owner a six-figure win.

The Am I Blue coup at Hereford in September, 2010, also sticks in the mind.

This was a horse who had failed to win in 16 previous outings although she had shown ability on the Flat for Harry Dunlop and then over jumps for Tim Vaughan. In the summer of 2010 she moved to a Mrs Delyth Thomas and ran down the field twice, beaten 75 lengths and 88 lengths in the August of that year. Up until that point Mrs Thomas had trained just two winners from 173 runners over jumps and was better known for her training of Arab racehorses.

Just a fortnight after the second of those runs, the horse appeared in a 2m 4f handicap hurdle at Hereford and was backed from 25’1 to 5’1. Richard Johnson, who had ridden the horse before, was a late replacement for conditional rider Dean Coleman who was apparently unwell. Under a positive ride she made most of the running to win by 19 lengths, with something in hand. Afterwards the trainer said the horse has been given spinal therapy and there had been a change of tactics.

The Integrity Department of the BHA later held their own investigation into the events surrounding the running of the mare and found no evidence of any breaches of racing or codes of conduct. They considered the fact that the horse had been heavily backed, the replacement of Dean Coleman by Richard Johnson, the possibility that the horse was trained by Tim Vaughan and not Delyth Thomas and the apparent improvement in the horse’s form.

In all of these cases a number of varying factors came together, putting them in a class apart from horses which are backed on a daily basis such as public gambles inspired by tipping lines, newspaper columnists or people stepping in to back a trainer of jockey in form.

How easy is it to spot these special gambles?

One thing to watch out for is sustained support. By this I mean the occasions when a horse is heavily backed in the morning, either with the bookmakers or Betfair, and then attracts further support in the build-up to the race in the ring. This most certainly happened in the case of Changing Lanes.

The other is if the gamble is taking place on a horse which has recently moved yards, either from a low-profile one to a better-known one or, even, the other way round.

Gambles do take place on unexposed horses, or even racecourse debutants, but for every one which is successful many more come unstuck. The ones to note, especially over jumps, are on horses which have dropped back to a mark off which they have shown they can win. A substantial backer will feel safer backing horses which have, so to speak, done it before.

Next time I will look at the recent history of Barney Curley who has, during the course of my lifetime, proved himself a class apart when it comes to preparing a horse for a touch.

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