Clichés remain racing's most frustrating stayer
Horse racing is full to the brim of clichés, banalities and assumptions. “Anything he does over hurdles is a bonus”. “He lost nothing in defeat”. The list is endless.
Everyone will have one that particularly tickles them or gets on their nerves, but one that really does my head in more than any other is “they knew!” This relates to the perception that those most closely involved with horses know with reasonable certainty what will happen in races before they are run.
Do "they" really know?
This plays out in one form or another in pretty much every single race that is run. Every well-backed winner is assumed to have landed a touch for their connections and every drifter must have been unfancied by those closest to them. “They knew” is the cry around the betting world when the result matches the market moves. But, are those assumptions reflective of reality?
This is a narrative that is reinforced and indeed encouraged in the coverage and discussion of racing, with pundits and commentators hamming up the “they knew” angle. Indeed, racing insiders regularly add fuel to this fire themselves, as there is a notable tendency for trainers, jockeys and owners to be much more all-knowing after the event than before it.
For example, after having a winner at a big price and being asked in the post-race interview whether they fancied the horse, it isn’t uncommon for them to run with it. This allows them to benefit from the perception of shrewdness they get from leading people to believe that they did indeed really fancy the horse rather than admitting the more likely reality that no one was more surprised by the win than them.
In the case of one prominent Irish trainer, his long-established post-race line of choice of “he/she did what we expected them to do” has become a highly-valued addition to any game of racing bingo, especially when the horse in question is sent off at a big price having been absolutely friendless in the market!
Of course, it goes without saying there are cases where strongly-fancied horses duly go and win. It is also true to say some trainers and their owners put a particular emphasis on betting, hence the market can be a better reflection of the expectations of connections than most. However, the notion every well-backed winner across the board was strongly fancied by connections is a long way off the mark.
Serious market money talks, not chump change
It should also be said that how early market movers are widely covered is a frustration. As most will know, overnight and morning markets on horse racing are notably volatile, particularly on lower level racing. The standard of odds compiling has also taken a notable dip during the last five years or so. These factors combine to lead to a significant number of “ricks” that are routinely corrected in early-price markets without a great amount of money changing hands. To describe such moves as significant indicators of a horse being fancied or unfancied is misguided. It is merely a correction process in very light markets that often swing back in the other direction when the more serious trading begins closer to off time.
An extension of this discussion is the extremely common tendency of both pundits and the public to correlate late market moves as mirroring the expectations of those most closely associated with the horses. Again, there are cases where this is accurate, but in the majority of cases, the late market moves are reflective of opinions from the biggest players on the betting exchanges, which are primarily guided by skilled interpretation of the form book rather than inside information.
While on this subject, let me know what your favourite, or indeed most hated racing cliché is. God knows, there are enough of them out there!