Sunday, 27 November 2016

Saturday formula

There is a certain formula that guarantees a successful winter Saturday’s racing.

The perfect day has to start with a bit of a lie in. Nothing ostentatious. I’ll stagger downstairs, rubbing gummy eyes in time to pay only partial attention to The Morning Line. An ailing, safe preview vehicle these days, I’ll mostly be distracted by making some fantasy football transfers (like dropping Leroy Fer today just before he bags a brace against Palace) or following an England sub-continental collapse, ball-by-ball, on Cricinfo (having finally ditched the Sky Sports package on the basis of outrageous price hikes).

I’ll walk the dog - unless it’s raining - because I know there’s little chance of me doing so in daylight hours once the racing has started.

On return, I’ll feel like I’ve earned a toasted bagel with marmite, or maybe an English muffin topped with runny fried eggs.  Dammit. Maybe both.

By the time the second coffee is washing down the late breakfast, I’ll be deep into my form tools of choice: At The Races and the Racing Post online. Maybe if I’m feeling indecisive. I’ll be looking for good betting races, not just the big TV races. I’ll goggle at the spread of action across three or four decent meetings and I know I’ll struggle to wrap a staking strategy around it all. What might start with discipline and focus will inevitably descend into lob and scatter as the day rolls on. But that’s OK, because it’s a winter Saturday. Indulge. That’s the point.

I might even stroll out to the bookies to catch some of the non-telly action. There’s always punt-per-view with all the online bookies, of course. But sometimes I’ll prefer to pass 15 minutes or so with the hard core Corals massive down the High Street. Since I was there for Dave’s £60-grand Lucky 15 plot, there’s always someone with whom to exchange opinions.

Then I’ll wander back for a couple of hours in the company of Lucky, Fitzy, Richie, Graham  and Jim.  By the time the last race completes in fading light, I’ll be left to the mercy of Final Score and some assorted rugby internationals. 

These are the characteristics of a perfect winter Saturday. It can’t happen like this in summer. There are too many competing social, sporting and meteorological drivers. And the racing isn’t so cosy, personal or embracing either. 

Truth is, it doesn’t really happen very much in winter. A bit like George Orwell’s essay on the perfect pub, it is often just out of reach. There’s always something else going on. So when the stars align, I like to take full value.

Of course there’s a crucial element missing from this winning formula. Winners. Everything else is just prep. Set up. Context.

I’ve been working on a winning formula, as it happens. It remains a work in progress though. I needed something to inspire me across the vast, mediocre reaches of the flat season. I’d even taken to looking at tipster websites. Some were worth a read because at least there was some substance to the selections. Others were simply scams of one sort or another. That way lays ruin. Following other people’s tips is not where my passion for racing comes from.

I dabbled with a loose system to identify winning handicappers that were returning to underfoot conditions on which they had significantly better form. I played about with other criteria, which in my embryonic system I deemed were secondary but relevant – distance and track wins. Keep it simple.

The system paid its way over the fag end of the flat season. But it hasn’t had a proper test. It’s lacking what you’d call a statistically significant sample:  20 bets, 4 wins, 1 place. Net profit +£67 to £68 stakes, ROI 98%.

I used it to help find the winner of the Portland and the Cesarewich. The returns look great at first sight, but are skewed by a Lucky 15 combi on 4 qualifiers on the same day. The profit level would have been a good bit lower without the acca element, though I haven’t worked out how much lower.

But it’s encouraging. There’s something to work on. Isolating one or two factors can never provide a perfect system. But as one of a number of tools, used selectively, it should have a value. There’s very little to compare in racing to backing a big priced winner of a massive handicap. If this approach can put up me on to a few of those every so often, I’ll be happy. 

I’ve been licking my lips at the prospect of applying my new box of tricks to the jumps season. Guess what. It’s not working. At least not very well. Not yet. I need to refine the criteria around number of races completed and win ratios. I’m not finding enough horses who qualify. It makes sense that underfoot conditions are less of a significant factor than on the flat when there are additional variables to consider: fences and hurdles present an obstacle my embryonic system can’t yet grapple.

Keep tweaking. That’s the mantra. If there’s a reasonable ROI to report, after a bit more fussing, I’ll start posting records on here. If not, this discussion will never be mentioned again and the search for the ideal Saturday formula will continue. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Home Front

Mrs A has been away visiting her sister in Tenerife again. It’s an oft repeated and enthusiastically enjoyed trip. She came back refreshed, relaxed and retanned having enjoyed some quality time with Auntie Sue and plenty of pleasant 28-degree November sunshine.

Each time she goes I write a post on here explaining that Mrs A calls the break a long weekend and I describe it as a short week. This time, even my barber agrees with me.

“Thursday morning to Tuesday night? That’s a week, mate. A week.” 

We have some great chats, me and Bardo. None of that bravura birds-and-football chat that Trump would call Locker Room Banter. Not at all. Bardo was soon showing me pictures on his phone of his a rabbit hutch that he had crafted with his own hands. Less of a hutch, more of a villa: three sheltered storeys and a large, enclosed run.

Bardo is quite a flashy name for a barber. He’s from Italian stock. His brother owns and also works in the shop. He’s called John, which is much more befitting. Odd that Bardo has such an exotic monicker. Maybe I’ve just misheard it and he’s really called Barry…

Whilst Mrs A was readying for departure on Thursday morning, I had bumped into J at Berko station. Our train’s arrival time began to slip ominously. It became apparent that overhead line damage just down the track would put at risk my meeting in Waterloo. J and I were eventually shunted to Platform 2 and squeezed on the first available train after a spate if cancelled ones. It was four carriages. Why does London Midland insist on four car units in the middle of the day? They are busy enough even before any incidents.

My furious texts to work colleagues declaring my lateness went unanswered. Then a response from the bloke who had called the meeting arrived. He was ill and still in bed. It was by then past the scheduled start time. Would he have mentioned his incapacitation without my prompting texts?

I left J to the rest of the journey and turned round at Watford. Another text pinged in. Mrs A this time.

“I thought I was flying from Luton but it’s Gatwick. And the trains are up the spout. Aaagghh.”

The following scrambled taxi and rail journeys got her to Gatwick with a little time to spare. Later, she texted again from Tenerife South.

“Arrived. Phew. Waiting to be picked up by Bootsie.”

“Did you tell him the right airport?” I quickly and wittily retorted.  No answer.

J is my allotment buddy. For 6 ½ years we’ve shared a plot off All Saints Road. We’ve finally given up on it this Autumn. The site has always been hard work with heavy clay soils and deep rooted thistles. The wildlife on this exposed spot has been a persistent challenge too. This season, even J, who is far more dedicated than me, said that enough was enough. This was after the fallow deer rampaged over the plots most of the Summer, eating everything edible and trampling the rest. We’ve had a succession of other incidents. Badgers ate my sweet corn, rabbits scoffed my cabbages, slugs polished off my lettuces and birds picked clean the currant bushes. There have been rumours of Gallapagoan racer snake attacks and Christmas Island-like red crab marches. I hear the final episode in Planet Earth II may be a special on our allotment.

By Friday night, pot noodles were earmarked as the dinner choice for Daughter No 2 and me. And pretty swiftly I was down to two clean mugs and one moderately clean pair of  ‘Where’s Wally’ boxers before anything got washed.

There was just me and daughter No 2 here all weekend. Not that I saw her much in between the job at Tesco’s and the boyfriend. She says I don’t write enough about her in these blogs. I’m flattered and moderately surprised that she reads them. The job at Tesco’s seems to be going well. There are a lot of hours to juggle with college, but she enjoys the wage packet. The company are not bad payers, despite other criticisms of them. She doesn’t even mind friends and family coming in to see her at work. Not even when Fay and Adrian waved at her maniacally through the window, dressed up in dinner jackets and cocktail dresses before our party. Everyone else in the store did a double-take, however.

Daughter No 2’s boyfriend is a good lad: plays lead guitar and wears classic metal t-shirts. We’ve met his Mum and Dad a few times. On the first meeting, we asked Tom what he wanted to drink.

“I’m Polish. I drink anything.”

We liked him immediately. On the second meeting he got me smashed up on ‘Polish tequila’ that by tradition had to be drunk in multiples of three shots. I think it was a vodka liqueur derivative. ‘If this is six’, I thought, ‘things will be messy’. It was 12.

I was back at Berko station on Saturday night. This time to watch the fireworks. Speaking to GC on the phone earlier in the day, in between my impatient shouts to the dog of “Wait!”, “Heel!”, “Come!” and “Oh, piss of then!”, he had suggested beers, fireworks and a chilli that night. Parts 1 and 3 of the plan went very well. There was a good few of us in the pub and it was only another round of beers making us late for the fireworks that prevented a successful part 2.  Instead, I make a quick trip up to platform 4 to access a nearby (free) vantage point. A couple next to me were doing the same thing. Or so I thought. When a London-bound train arrived, they got on and held the doors open for me.

“It’s OK, I’m only here for the show.”

Their looks betrayed nothing but contempt for a cheapskate.

Anyway, after a few more beers, we went back to Bex and GC’s place for a stonking (free) chilli.

Most of Saturday had been taken up with racing.  Uncharacteristically, I’ve been a slow starter this jumps season. The fixtures that afternoon featured some decent action from Aintree and Wincanton, plus the flat finale from Doncaster. Later that evening, after my night out, I watched the climax of Breeders Cup meeting from Santa Anita. An epic day with some thrilling races.

After a range of imponderable win, each-way and combination bets over a seven hour period, I finished £7.50 in profit. Daughter No 2 would scoff at that £1.07 hourly rate. Quite rightly. That was slave labour even when I was 16.

Racing has had a strange feel about it the last few days. Freddie Tylicki’s horrendous fall and paralysis, coupled with the death of Vautour who was one of the most talented horses and electrifying jumpers of recent years, has brought the gut-wrenching fragility of the sport to the surface.

But we go again. We will heal. Today is the start of the Open Meeting at Cheltenham, one of the crown jewels of the season. Sport is escapism and there’s plenty to be fleeing from right now. I wonder if Trump could outrun a racer snake?