'Bristol' ready to bounce back at Cheltenham
I hope people won't feel I'm being self-congratulatory, and regular readers will know I don't hide behind the couch when I've had a stinker of a day with the bookmakers.
But I was particularly happy with a couple of bets from last week, which pushed the column into the black for 2018.
There are two I'd like to mention; The Dutchman which won the Peter Marsh Chase at 13/2 for my regular Betting Ring column, and Hareth which won a handicap hurdle at Navan at 8/1 for my Irish racing piece.
In my first article of the year, three weeks back, I wrote about the importance of getting the best price possible - and that's very often found on the exchanges. However in this case, to my surprise, the prices were almost as competitive with the bookmakers.
My own anecdotal evidence suggests that bookmaker prices can be quite poor comparatively, so I had a look through the stats to see if things are changing or not - and unfortunately, the gap between bookmaker and exchanges prices is still quite big, despite the positive experiences I had with Hareth and The Dutchman.
Since 2008, had you backed the favourite in every single race with the bookmakers you would have lost, on average, 7.3 cent for every euro staked.
Using Betfair SP, you would have lost just 3.3 cent if you were on full commission. But in 2017, the gap was similar to the 10-year average, suggesting very little is changing.
Indeed, losses last year were particularly high to SP in Irish racing, with 13.8 cent lost for every euro staked. On outsiders, bookmakers are even less competitive.
No matter what platform you bet on, the message to punters is clear: understand the over-round, seek the best price - and stay away from individual markets where there is very little value.
The over-round is the bookmaker's cut from the bet, and the higher it is above 100pc, the more of a cut they're getting. Take the toss of a coin for example, where a bookie might offer even-money on heads, and 4/5 on tails.
Even-money is fine as a coin has a 50pc chance of landing on heads, but the other option at 4/5 has a margin built in.
Odds of 4/5 suggest tails has a 55.5pc chance of winning which is wrong. Add the 50pc and 55.5pc together and you get 105.5pc. Therefore, the bookmaker's theoretical cut in this market is 5.5pc, and the book is said to be at 105.5pc.
Of course, bookmakers need to make money and have an over-round, we all accept that. But any thoughtful punter should learn how to spot a book with a seriously large over-round and stay away from it.
The Grand National is often an example of a poor-value book. In 2015, when Many Clouds won, the book was 165pc, which is a cynical practice for a race that attracts lots of once-a-year punters.
Regardless, I'm glad to get into the black at this time of the year, as I find the build-up to Cheltenham a little tough.
Lots of trainers have one eye on March, and you can never be sure if a horse is primed for the race he's entered in, or if he's warming up for the festival.
But we'll give it our best and we have trials day at Cheltenham to get stuck into, with the festival itself now just over six weeks away.
Having just mentioned value, some readers might be tempted to call the men in white coats for me for putting up Bristol De Mai at 6/4 in this afternoon's Grade Two Cotswold Chase (2.25 Cheltenham) considering he ran no sort of race in the King George.
I was as upset as anyone about that performance having staked far more money than was sensible on Nigel Twiston-Davies's charge, but he has excuses, and was treated for stomach ulcers afterwards so may have been under the weather.
He was a Betting Ring selection when winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock previously, and if you ask me, that was the real Bristol De Mai.
He put some hugely talented sorts to the sword winning by a massive distance in tough conditions, and if he's anywhere near that form today, he'll surely take all the beating.
For something at a bigger price, consider backing Beer Goggles, which is expected to go off around 6/1 for the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle a little later (3.35).
I've a friend I meet for a pint occasionally - but depending on what mood he's in with a few jars on him, you could have a brilliant night or else end up in a row. You just never know.
It's a bit like that with Pilgrims Bay and he can often put in some really good efforts if he's in the humour. But if he's not, he'll let you know.
His quirky nature is built into his 12/1 price for the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster (3.15), and a rating of 137 leaves him in with a fighting chance of a place at least under regular partner James Best.
1.30 Doncaster: Sceau Royal
2.05 Doncaster: Calett Mad
2.25 Cheltenham: Bristol De Mai
3.15 Doncaster: Pilgrim's Bay (e/w)
3.35 Cheltenham: Beer Goggles
3.45 Lingfield: Carouse
Do the double
Peterborough claimed a big result when beating Aston Villa 3-1 in the FA Cup third round earlier this year, and they can put up a fight against Leicester in the fourth round this afternoon under the guidance of Grant McCann. Leicester's form is reasonably good with three wins from five in all competitions, and the draw makes appeal here at odds of 10/3.
Cosmic Glow will probably go off as favourite for the Play Starburst Slot At sunbets.co.uk/vegas Maiden Stakes on the Polytrack at Lingfield (3.45), but I'm quite keen on Carouse, which was available at 9/2 in the early markets yesterday. Trained by Andrew Balding (left), the three-year-old is yet to win in five attempts, but put in some good efforts as a juvenile. His experience should give him an edge here provided he takes to the artificial surface.