Sunday 18 August 2019

'Star' can make stamina count for Mulholland

Betting Ring

Coeur Blimey, with David Probert up, on their way to winning the Compton Beauchamp Estates Ltd Silver Bar Handicap at Newbury yesterday. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Coeur Blimey, with David Probert up, on their way to winning the Compton Beauchamp Estates Ltd Silver Bar Handicap at Newbury yesterday. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey

Well, my woeful betting record in the Grand National continued last week, but no-one can begrudge Tiger Roll's connections his historic victory.

Michael O'Leary says a shot at next year's renewal may not happen, but provided Tiger Roll is fit and well when it approaches, I'm sure the temptation to go for an unprecedented three-in-a-row will be too hard to resist (Red Rum won three Nationals, but not consecutively).

Regular readers will know I thought Tiger Roll was far too short, and while a few people have smugly said to me that a 4/1 winner is better than a 100/1 loser, that's not the point. My main gripe was with bookmakers, many of which won't take any chances these days. Not just on Tiger Roll, but on the other runners too.

Of course, we had a few bookmakers giving us the sob story saying Tiger Roll was a disastrous result, but I'm not so sure. In theory, the bookmakers made the right call to keep him short, and that decision was vindicated by the result - but the theory also goes that if you shorten one horse to stop people backing it, you should increase the price of the others to attract punters to those instead.

But that simply didn't happen as it should have, and the over-round on this year's National was once again shocking at 163pc, lower than 2018's 165pc. So they had their backs covered on the other runners too.

For casual readers unfamiliar with the over-round, it's simply the theoretical profit margin the bookmaker makes on a race. While individual races can cost a bookmaker money, every price he offers on a horse has a built-in profit margin, so he can make money in the long term.

I've explained the over-round before on these pages using the toss of a coin as an example. A coin has a 50-50 chance of landing on heads, and a 50-50 chance of landing on tails. The 50pc chance of each outcome added together would be 100, so the book is said to be 100pc.

However, a bookmaker wouldn't make money over time in this way, and may offer 4/5 on each option. Odds of 4/5 suggest the bet has a 55.5pc chance of winning, an overestimate. If both heads and tails were priced 4/5, or 55.5pc, the book would add up to 111pc. We all accept that bookmakers need a margin, and they have to cover costs and make a few bob like the rest of us - but an over-round of 163pc on the biggest betting race of the year is pure greed, and is opportunistic. They know the casual once-a-year punter is not going to have much understanding of the odds they are getting.

I do concede that we have never had it better as punters, and there were plenty of offers in the shops and online around Cheltenham and Aintree for those that shop around. But on this occasion the on-course bookmakers, who determine the SP, did not increase the prices of the outsiders by much as the money arrived for fancied horses, including Tiger Roll.

In this day and age of online betting, perhaps it's time to look again at how SPs are determined, and in fairness to the shops, it seems some of their money wasn't hedged on course. The National is the sport's biggest advert every year, and we shoot ourselves in the foot when people discover they are not getting at least reasonably good prices.

The Scottish National hasn't been quite so bad, with over-rounds in the 140s recently, and it'll be interesting to see if there's much value to be had this afternoon (3.35 Ayr). I'll be happy to take 16/1 about Impulsive Star, which can be forgiven for his latest race at Cheltenham in which he was pulled up in the National Hunt Chase.


On that occasion, he met a load of trouble and was badly hampered in a race which turned out to be a total mess with just four of the 18 runners finishing. He's best judged on his previous race when taking a valuable Grade Three handicap chase at Warwick off 133, and a 6lb rise in the ratings doesn't seem too restrictive for Neil Mulholland's nine-year-old.

He proved he has stamina when fourth in the 2018 renewal of that Cheltenham race, and Sam Waley-Cohen's 3lb claim will certainly help today. Others worth a mention are Beware The Bear and Big River which were first and fourth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham respectively, and Alan King's Dingo Dollar, which has been aimed at this race all season.

The Flat season is kicking on too, and I'm looking forward to backing So Perfect in the Fillies' Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury (2.10). Trained by Aidan O'Brien, she was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs, but her third place in September's Group One Cheveley is her best piece of form and the 7/2 available early doors is a fair price.

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