Simon Rowlands: Will you be 'Ascotted' this weekend?
Harbinger wins the King George at Ascot
"It is one of Ascot’s biggest meetings of the year this weekend. I fancy Makfi to win the featured Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday, for which he is currently [3.15]. "
With an exciting card at Ascot this Saturday, Simon Rowlands explains how punters can profit from the Berkshire track's Tales of the Unexpected. Meanwhile, why Racing United have got it wrong...
"Ascotted" - that's what they call the phenomenon whereby performances are made to look much better or much worse than they really are at Ascot, one of Britain's premier courses.
Ascot form should be taken with a pinch of salt, or so some lead us to believe. Like many received wisdoms in racing - such as that which states that Ascot suits horses with polytrack form - this assertion deserves to be questioned. So I did just that.
I looked at how performances shaped up at the course under standardised conditions - Flat handicaps of nine to 15 runners which took place on good going or firmer - and found evidence that both supports and undermines the theory.
If you compare the expected and the actual ratings of horses - the Timeform master rating going into the race and the performance rating in the race itself - it points to Ascot being an unremarkable track, taken overall.
16.7% of horses at Ascot ran 30 lb or more below expectations, which places the track twenty-second of 33 courses surveyed in terms of unpredictability. For interest, the most "erratic" courses were Newcastle (31%), Epsom (26%) and Nottingham (23%).
The average number of pounds below expectation for Ascot was 15.1, which placed it twenty-first. Epsom leapfrogged Newcastle to the top by this criterion, as it did by standard deviation, a measure of variance by which Ascot moved up to a far-from-heady twelfth.
Things look different, however, if you split Ascot's races into those that started on the straight course and those that started on the round course (but for which the last three furlongs are still on the straight course), though there is a danger of small samples as a result.
26.8% of horses ran "poorly" on Ascot's straight track, and the average shortfall from expectation, as well as standard deviation, would have had it in the top three in terms of unpredictability compared to other courses overall.
It would appear to be wrong to question form achieved in round-course races - such as Harbinger's Betfair King George - simply because it occurred at Ascot but it would be considerably more justified if the race had taken place entirely on the straight course. The official going at Ascot sometimes differs markedly between the two.
While Ascot's straight course specialises in Tales of The Unexpected, backers and layers alike should see greater unpredictability - where it can be anticipated! - as an opportunity, not just an obstacle.
It is one of Ascot's biggest meetings of the year this weekend. I fancy Makfi to win the featured Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday, for which he is currently [3.15].
The horse flopped the only time he ran here (also on the round course) previously, but there was a valid excuse for that which had nothing to do with the track. I will not be claiming to have been "Ascotted" if he fails again.
Last week saw the launch of an astonishing "charter" by a body calling itself "Racing United". Astonishing, not just because the group demands that British racing should get roughly double the subsidy it gets at present, or that it should be entitled to a cut of money wagered on events which it neither provides nor pays for. Or even that it believes that betting exchanges are not providing a fair return (flatly contradicting past reviews into the matter). But because the individuals involved have in effect admitted that, for them, "racing" is synonymous with just a small faction within the sport.
How else is it possible to interpret the barefaced claim that "racing unites to secure a fair return from betting" and that "racing has launched a campaign" to this end?
On closer inspection, it becomes apparent that "racing" means a caucus of The BHA, the Racecourse Association and the group that calls itself The Horsemen. The rest of us - which I am guessing means the vast majority of you, as well as me - are expected to like it or lump it, no matter how closely involved with the sport we are or have been.
There is again no consideration of the wishes of the customers, which include millions of punters and racegoers. They are just expected to keep coughing up the money with no questions asked. That is not the way to encourage a sense of belonging and loyalty among the sport's followers.
Although probably well-intentioned, "Racing United" is likely to fail by its own terms of reference. A levy settlement significantly less than that being asked for, or non-delivery on other key points, will show that the authors of this charter - and those naive enough to sign up to it - were being unrealistic.
In the meantime, "Racing United" can pretend to speak on behalf of racing as much as they want, but they do not have that authority. They speak for themselves, not in my name.
Read More Horse Racing
The week just passed was something of a calm before the storm of the Melbourne Cup and Breeders' Cup, but there were still some big efforts in evidence. Head of Handicapping Simon Rowlands explains what they meant in terms of ratings......
The first British Champions Day was well received in nearly all quarters. Regular blogger Simon Rowlands considers the day's various aspects, including the welcome return of sectional timing and of a certain horse called Frankel......
Sectional timing at Ascot's British Champions Day gives racing enthusiasts a chance to measure Frankel's brilliance like never before. But will he match up to Black Caviar on the clock? Simon Rowlands gives guidance on what to expect......
Ascot's QIPCO British Champions Day sees the return of not just Frankel but of sectional timing to a British racecourse. Simon Rowlands sees great potential in this exciting development....