Hugh Taylor: A punter’s perspective on wind ops

    With the British Horseracing Authority announcing that wind operations on horses will need to be declared from January 19 2018, the news has caused quite a stir among horsemen, punters and trainers. Here, Hugh Taylor gives his thoughts on the news from a punter’s perspective.
  • Thursday 23 November 2017
  • Blog

The wind operation issue has created lots of debate on Twitter, but even with the extended number of characters permissible (some may say especially since that number was extended), that’s not the ideal medium for in-depth analysis, hence this blog.

The main objection by the National Trainers’ Federation (NTF) (and most trainers whom I have seen quoted) to the compulsory declaration of wind operations has been the lack of information about the effectiveness of the varied, different operations and procedures which will fall under the generic banner of “wind operations” under the new directive.

In my opinion, it’s right and responsible that trainers are making this point, and many trainers have done punters a great service by highlighting the fact that there are so many differing procedures, that they are often ineffective or of limited effect, and that enough isn’t known about which procedures are most effective.

It’s also easy to see the sense in the NTF’s suggestion that a two-year trial be undertaken in which the BHA collect data from trainers on different wind procedures undertaken and their effect on performance.

What I can’t agree with, however, is the suggestion that, in the interim period, the current system should continue with no information given about wind operations.

Sprinter Sacre
Sprinter Sacre had multiple wind operations during his career.

Consider the following situation. I’m looking through the form of a handicap chase. There is one horse whose recent form under similar conditions is very solid, and I’m interested in backing him at his current price.

However, there are a couple of rivals who are returning from a short break who are troubling me before I back my selection. Both have run dismally on their last couple of starts under similar conditions to those they will encounter today. But both have form prior to that which suggests they would beat my selection if suddenly bouncing back to that form.

Their profile makes me very wary that one or both may have had some sort of wind operation since their last run. On their recent runs, I make both 50-1 chances. But if they have both had wind ops, even if the chance of that wind op being successful is very small, that possibility will significantly change my idea of a value price about my selection.

Under the current legislation, I have no way of knowing if my suspicion of a wind op is true, unless connections are kind enough to make an announcement before the race. But under the new legislation, if neither horse has had a wind op (assuming connections haven’t failed to declare an op), I will know that fact, and there’s nothing incomplete or confusing about the fact that a horse hasn’t had a wind op. That is going to have a significant impact on my betting confidence, and decision, in that race.

Of course, there are other possible reasons why a horse might suddenly bounce back to its best for a reason that’s not in the public domain after a short break, having been completely out of form. I’ve seen various factors cited such as change of feed, change of work rider, change of shoe type etc.

But I haven't seen multiple instances of connections citing such reasons when interviewed by the stewards after a much-improved and winning performance, whereas I was very quickly able to find 12 instances this year alone of connections attributing a massively-improved (or back-to-form from out of the blue) winning performance to wind operations. Those are just the ones where the transformation was so big as to trigger a post-race stewards’ enquiry.

As a punter, I recognise that the information we are set to receive from January about wind ops will be imprecise, and certainly not something to use as a single-issue punting strategy. But the decision as to whether or not that information is of use to me should be mine.

Punters need to listen, and listen carefully, to the very wise advice that has been shared by many horsemen about the varied range of wind operations and procedures, and the incompleteness of information that is available about them. But it’s important that relationship is reciprocal; sometimes there can be things to be learned from punters, too.

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