Good Coup Bad Coup

Good Coup Bad Coup

Last week saw a £2m betting coup involving horses with connections to Barney Curley. As ever, this divided opinion, and produced some extraordinary commentary. The usually excellent Paul Kealy said in Friday’s Racing Post “If the coup didn’t leave a sour taste you’re not a proper punter.”

Starting with the fundamentals – as any punter with some basic knowledge of the game knows, (and as a top class tipster, Kealy knows very well,) horses are not put in every race with winning as the primary objective. Connections try to avoid giving horses hard races, especially at the start of their career or on their first run of the season. For example, if you have a Festival class novice hurdler, you don’t bottom it by having it at its peak for its seasonal debut in November.

In other words - horses regularly have their chances of winning a specific race they contest reduced, because they aren’t trained and ridden to the limit as if it were the Gold Cup.

Equally, horses are often run in less than ideal conditions, for longer term benefits. For example, Willie Mullins often runs his top staying novice chasers around 2m to teach them to jump at speed. In his novice chase season Cooldine ran in the 2m1f Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas, in which he had little chance, rather than the 3m Grade 1, in which he would have had a favourite’s chance. When he bolted up in the RSA, much was made of his ability to jump at a fast pace, which his rivals, (who’d been running in steadily run staying races,) couldn’t.

Once you accept these legitimate tactics, you can’t escape the fact that handicap plots will occur. If its acceptable to have an inexperienced horse brought along gradually; or to leave plenty to work on, on a horse returning from a lay off or with a bigger subsequent target – you have to accept that horses will be raced when less than fully fit and given considerate rides, simply to get an attractive handicap mark.

If it’s acceptable for Willie Mullins to run novice chasers at much shorter trips than their optimum, to teach them to jump at speed so as to improve their chances in the Festival Grade 1s - it’s inevitable that horses will be run at the wrong trip to get attractively handicapped. The same principles apply to ground conditions, going left or right handed, and so on.

Some commentators have complained that it’s the previous races that are the problem - punters have been conned because the horses involved weren’t being hard trained/ridden in those previous races. Every day plenty of horses run to try and get themselves well enough handicapped so as to pull off a coup at a later date. If that’s the definition of punters being conned, punters are conned every day.

The reality is that every trainer plays this game. Unless you own a top horse, its career will mainly involve contesting handicaps - and if you don’t get your horse decently handicapped, you’ll probably never win a race. For many small time owners, getting their horse handicapped to win a little race, and backing it, is a way of paying the training bills. Every week a few such coups are pulled off at a low level.

The only difference here was the scale of the coup. It’s hypocritical to argue, as some have, that a coup is morally acceptable provided only a modest sum is bet, or provided the horse has only dropped a certain amount in the handicap. How much are you allowed to win? £1,000? £100,000? £2m? How many pounds down the handicap is it acceptable to get your horse? 5? 10? 50? Those sorts of arguments are absurd.

I have some sympathy with the argument that the headlines are bad for racing’s image – that’s an arguable point. However, the average person on the street, who doesn’t follow racing, doesn’t understand the complexities of handicapping. What puts them off is stories about people stopping horses. Stories of big gambles landed probably attract as many people as they deter.

One bizarre argument put forward by Kealy was that it’s distasteful because it was a private coup, rather than a public one inspired by a top tipster like Pricewise. Last season, this column spotted that Tony Martin had plotted up Ted Veale for the County Hurdle. According to Kealy’s logic that’s fine because readers got on at 25/1, but connections of the horse having a bet at that price would be wrong, as that would be a private coup.

In actual fact, Kealy isn’t quite right about it being only a private coup – once word got out in the morning, ordinary punters jumped on the bandwagon, (albeit at shorter prices), forcing the prices down much further.

In any case, it was perfectly possible for ordinary punters to work out what was going on. Curley only had a small number of horses in training when he retired. There are several websites that alert you, (via eg email,) when any horse you’ve entered into their system, is entered for a race. If you’d put all the ex-Curley horses into such a system – then when you saw 2 were entered on the same day, alarm bells would have rung.

If you’d checked the trainers who used to work for Curley and noticed that Des Donovan also had a couple of runners on that day, (his only 2 so far this year), those alarm bells would have been ringing louder. Didn’t do that? Me neither. Looks like we don’t have the patience and attention to detail that those who organized this coup have. For my part, I reckon that’s my own fault, nobody else’s –I’m certainly not complaining that this was a private coup I couldn’t have spotted.

If anyone can work out a better system of races for the vast majority of ordinary horses than handicaps, I’d be delighted to hear it – but I won’t hold my breath. Once all the huffing and puffing has stopped, we’re back where we’ve always been. Every trainer tries to get horses well handicapped so they can arrange a coup and win a race. Curley and the people he’s mentored just happen to be very good at it and bet on a bigger scale - but it’s hypocrisy to only complain about the people who do it most effectively. If you eat sour grapes, you will end up with a sour taste in your mouth.

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Cheltenham Countdown

Welcome to our exclusive betting blog focusing on the 2014 Cheltenham Festival.

For the third year running, we welcomed National Hunt expert Matt Tombs to blog all things Cheltenham through the winter. The highlight was Jezki's Champion Hurdle win, which was a vindication of a long-term plot and went some way to ensuring another Festival in profit. Click through to view the archive of 2012 and 2013.

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2014 Results:

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Western Boy - Supreme Novices - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Zamdy Man - Supreme Novices - 1pt 33/1 - N/R

Ted Veale - Arkle - 1pt e/w 25/1 NRNB - U/P

Felix Yonger - Arkle - 1pt 16/1 - N/R

Jezki - Champion Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - WON

Cockney Sparrow - Mares Hurdle - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Foxrock - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 9/2 - U/P

Gullinbursti - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 33/1 NRNB - N/R

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Rathvinden - Neptune Novices - 1pt e/w 16/1 - 3rd

Corrin Wood - RSA Chase - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Ifandbutwhynot - Coral Cup - 1pt 28/1 - U/P

Arvika Ligeonniere - Champion Chase - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Balthazar King - Cross Country - 1pt 33/1 - WON

Modus - Champion Bumper - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

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Mozoltov - JLT Novices Chase - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Champagne Fever - JLT Novices Chase - 1pt 7/1 - N/R

Benefficient - Ryanair Chase - 1pt 9/2 - U/P

Baily Green - Ryanair Chase - 1pt e/w 20/1 NRNB - N/R

Salubrious - World Hurdle - 1pt e/w 25/1 - U/P

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Captain Cutter - Albert Bartlett - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Arctic Fire - County Hurdle - 1pt 16/1 - 2nd

The Giant Bolster - Gold Cup - 1pt 16/1 - 3rd

Dynaste - Gold Cup - 1pt 25/1 NRNB - N/R

Certain Flight - Foxhunter Chase - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - U/P

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Gigginstown - Top Owner - 1pt 7/1 - WON

Good Ground - Official Going - 1pt 10/1 - LOST

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Advised Bets:

Sizing Gold - Aon Novice Handicap Chase - 1pt 7/1 - U/P

On The Fringe - Champion Hunters Chase - 1pt 7/4 - WON

At Fishers Cross - World Series Hurdle - 1pt 5/1 - 3rd

Balder Succes - Ryanair Novice Chase - 1pt 11/4 - 3rd

Art Of Logistics - Three.ie Handicap Chase - 1pt 12/1 - 2nd

Lyreen Legend - Punchestown Gold Cup - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Shanahan's Turn - Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle - 1pt e/w 33/1 - U/P

Mozoltov - Boylesports.com Champion Chase - 1pt 9/1 - U/P

Western Boy - Champion Novice Hurdle - 1pt e/w 10/1 - U/P

Mullaghanoe River - Irish National - 1pt 18/1 - U/P

Mozoltov - Powers Gold Cup - 1pt 11/2 - U/P

Quito De La Roque - Grand National - 1pt 40/1 - U/P

Salubrious - Liverpool Hurdle - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Ted Veale - Maghull Chase - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Saint Are - Aintree Handicap Chase - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Ballynagour - Melling Chase - 1pt 7/1 - 3rd

King Of The Picts - Top Novices Hurdle - 1pt 33/1 - 3rd

Themanfrom Minella - Sefton Novices Hurdle - 1pt 50/1 - U/P

Giorgio Quercus - Topham Chase - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Dynaste - Betfred Bowl - 1pt 15/8 - 2nd

Turn Over Sivola - Red Rum Chase - 1pt 8/1 - 2nd

Uxizandre - Manifesto Novices Chase - 1pt 9/2 - WON

Mossey Joe - Aintree Fox Hunters - 1pt 13/8 - 3rd

Baby Shine - Reynoldstown Chase - 1pt 7/1 - U/P

Grumeti - Kingwell Hurdle - 1pt 5/1 - U/P

Bog Warrior - Red Mills Chase - 1pt 9/4 - U/P

Lord Windermere - Irish Hennessy - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Vautour - Deloitte Novice - 1pt 2/1 - WON

Tammys Hill - Hunters Chase - 1pt e/w 5/1 - WON

Vendor - Betfair Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Boston Bob - Cleeve Hurdle - 1pt 5/1 - U/P

The Giant Bolster - Argento Chase - 1pt 7/1 - WON

Unioniste - Sky Bet Chase - 1pt 9/2 - 3rd

Hidden Cyclone - Clarence House Chase - 1pt 7/2 - 2nd

Captain Chris - WH Chase - 1pt 2/1 - WON

The Liquidator - Tolworth Hurdle - 1pt 5/2 - U/P

Lord Windermere - Lexus Chase - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Hey Big Spender - Welsh National - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Shantou Magic - Challow Hurdle - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Morning Assembly - Topaz Novice Chase - 1pt 9/4 - 2nd

Cue Card - King George - 1pt 7/2 - 2nd

My Tent Or Yours - Christmas Hurdle - 1pt 5/4 - WON

Defy Logic - Racing Post Novice Chase - 1pt 6/1 - WON

Salubrious - Long Walk Hurdle - 1pt 9/1 - 2nd

Totalize - The Ladbroke - 1pt 9/1 - U/P

Ma Filleule - December Gold Cup - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Prince De Beauchene - Hennessy Gold Cup - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Grumeti - Fighting Fifth - 1pt e/w 10/1 - 3rd @ 9/1

Sizing Rio - Drinmore - 1pt 5/2 - U/P @ 3/1

Jezki - Hatton's Grace - 1pt Evens - WON

Roi Du Mee - Betfair Chase - 1pt e/w 20/1 - U/P

Ballynagour - Paddy Power Gold Cup - 1pt 8/1 - U/P

Gift Of Dgab - Paddy Power Gold Cup - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Cash And Go - Greatwood Hurdle - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Cotton Mill - Elite Hurdle - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Cue Card - Haldon Gold Cup - 2pts 11/8 - U/P

Benefficient - Charlie Hall Chase - 1pt 9/1 - U/P

Sizing Europe - JNwine Champion Chase - 1pt 3/1 - 2nd