The festival where patience is a virtue
Making a profit can prove difficult for punters at Ballybrit but a little self-restraint in the betting ring can pay dividends, says Wayne Bailey
SIR John Major, who served as British Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997, once said that "the first requirement of politics is not intellect or stamina - but patience. Politics is very much a long-run game and the tortoise will usually beat the hare". I'm not sure if Sir John has ever visited Ballybrit - but if he were looking to make it through the seven-day marathon that is the Galway Races without losing his shirt, he'd need both stamina and patience in abundance.
As the author of the Betting Ring column, it's my brief to focus on the gambling side of things and as usual at the big festivals, the strongest piece of advice I can offer is to be patient and not have a bet in every race. That might sound obvious enough but with tips flying around like they are going out of fashion, it's all too easy to get sucked in, especially after a few pints. It depends on what you are after, I suppose. Some people are just out for a bit of fun at Galway and there's certainly no harm in that - but if you take a serious approach to your betting, you should know that it's almost impossible to make a profit without being selective. Coming home with money in your pocket on the Sunday evening feels great but it's a very hard thing to do.
The dogs on the street know that Dermot Weld is the trainer to follow around these parts but some other big names also have decent strike-rates at the festival, including Aidan O'Brien, Kevin Prendergast and Tony Martin. While the prices are getting tighter each year on runners from those stables, their horses still deserve the utmost respect. When it comes to jockeys, those that have plenty of experience at the course tend to win more than rookies, and that's no surprise considering the uniqueness of the track.
The Plate and Hurdle
THE highlights of the week include the Galway Plate on Wednesday and the Galway Hurdle on Thursday. The Galway Plate (a 2m 6f handicap chase) has a long history and was established in 1869. It's usually very competitive, which makes it tricky from a betting point of view, and since the turn of this century 10 winners were priced in double figures.
One way to narrow down the field is to concentrate on horses that are in good form. Almost all recent Galway Plate winners had finished in the top five last time out. In fact, the latest four winners had finished second in their most recent race so it might be worth taking a chance on an up-and-coming younger animal that is possibly ahead of the handicapper, rather than a seasoned campaigner. For example, seven-year-olds have quite a good record here but horses over the age of nine have won just twice since 1996.
The Galway Hurdle (a 2m handicap) has been reasonably punter-friendly in recent times and Thomas Edison was a welcome winner for racegoers last year during what turned out to be a good week for the bookmakers. Four of the last five Galway Hurdle winners were priced in single figures, which is encouraging, although it is the type of race where anything can happen and we've also seen the occasional big outsider win, such as the 33/1 shot More Rainbows for Noel Meade in 2005.
Interestingly enough, Gordon Elliott is one of the more successful trainers in the race, although he has never actually won it. He has saddled 13 runners in the Galway Hurdle and six of those were placed. For the past three years, he has provided the runner-up, which must be frustrating, although he has had a cracking year so far and it will be interesting to see how he gets on throughout this year's festival. Dermot Weld won the Galway Hurdle in 2001 with Ansar but has sent out 13 losers since, with just one of those placing. Finally, keep an eye out for dual-purpose horses: the latest two Galway Hurdle winners had raced on the flat previously.
ONE of my favourite betting strategies that constantly produces the goods at the Galway Festival is to back horses that are making a very quick return to racing, having previously had a run at the current festival. For example, the horse might race on the Monday, and be sent out again on the Thursday. But to sort the wheat from the chaff, I only concentrate on horses that finished in the top four in their initial race. It works well in both handicaps and non-handicaps and if a trainer is willing to race the horse again in such a short time, it's usually a good sign.
So to summarise the strategy: back horses that finished in the top four in another race at the current festival. Since 2003, this approach produced 54 winners from 231 bets - a strike rate of around 23pc. Had you stuck a tenner on each, you'd be €937 richer today, which is a very healthy return indeed. As I say, it's one of my most reliable earners at Galway and has produced a profit in nine of the last 13 years. In 2014, there were four winners from 17 bets, namely Baraweez (4/1), Botanical Lady (9/2), Aranhill Chief (7/1) and Ridestan (7/4).
QUITE often, a fuss will be made about a British-trained horse that is being sent to Galway to raid some prize money but they tend to do poorly at the festival. For example, in the past three years 49 British-trained horses made the trip to Ballybrit but just two of those won. It just goes to show that at courses like Galway, a little local knowledge can go a long way.
GALWAY Festival favourites have a 29pc strike rate since 2003 but if you exclude the handicaps, that strike rate rises to 38pc. If you like to back the jolly, it is worth noting that market leaders in flat maidens have a strike rate of just under 50pc and actually show a very small profit if blindly backed.