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06/12/2007 No.30
Chris Cook
Thurs December 06, 2007
  Smart punters know that getting an edge is the winning formula

Finding an edge on other punters was easy 100 years ago. You just set up a training yard, stopped the stable lads from gossiping by keeping them under lock and key and quietly circulated disinformation about which of your horses would be trying in the Cambridgeshire.

Possibly such practices are not entirely a thing of the past but getting that precious edge is certainly harder these days, thanks to the unprecedented amount of data in the public domain. The betting market is sharper than ever, there are fewer false favourites and punters who don't do their homework are doomed. Two recent developments underline the trend - the publication in the Racing Post of sectional times for all-weather races and the release of a new software package from Timeform, developed by their new owners, Betfair.

Sectional times, assimilated by American horseplayers a long time ago, are used by very few people here as yet. In time, though, they seem sure to become part of the racing landscape, helping us to see why one winner should be followed whereas another should be treated with suspicion.

'Timeform i' is an amazing toy for gambling geeks, allowing them to choose their own way of analysing a vast amount of form data. Betfair's website is integrated into the software, along with exclusive betting tools that offer an advantage over the exchange's other users. Particularly fascinating is a 'weight of money' indicator that shows whether punters are more keen to back a horse or bet against it.

Traditionalists will be suspicious of such novelties but it must be odds-on that those who make use of them will do better in the long run than those who plough on as before.

Then again, Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup was a good example of how better access to information can, on occasion, make life harder. Finding the winner used to be a simple matter of focusing on the second-season chasers, who would often be miles ahead of the handicapper, and ignoring the older, more exposed types.

It worked because the veterans made up most of the field - when Ever Blessed beat Spendid in the 1999 Hennessy, they were the only second-season chasers among the 13 runners. Sadly, that seems to have been the point at which trainers cottoned on and younger horses have made up an increasing proportion of the field since.

Eleven of the 18 who set out in Saturday's race were aged six or seven. Naturally, they filled the first four places but punters still had to work out which of them to back - combining 11 horses in trifectas doesn't seem a very likely route to fun or profit.

Denman was so impressive in victory that he now heads the market for the Cheltenham Gold Cup but taking 2-1 for a race that is still three months off seems absolutely crazy. Here's hoping he has a long, uninterrupted career but any horse of his size is vulnerable to leg injuries. If you must lump on, at least wait until he shows up on the day.

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