My take on “dodgy” drifters

You feel a bit of a fraud raising these trivial issues given what happened in France on Thursday night but that old chestnut of dodgy drifters — obviously, that is dodgy losing drifters — raised its’ weary head once again in an article this week, and I am continually surprised at the ill-informed guff on this subject.

The piece focused on the defeats of the easy-to-back duo of Usherette and Outback Traveller last week so, before we delve a bit deeper, let’s set out the betting facts around the two horses named in the article.

The first was Usherette, who undoubtedly proved weak in the market on Betfair for the Falmouth Stakes on Friday, and therefore she was weak on-course, too. Whatever happens on the exchange is simply mirrored at the track, often with a fair margin attached.

That’s fair enough, as if I were an on–course bookie with plenty of expenses to pay, I’d do the same, too.

Betfair’s ante-post market on the Falmouth was suspended at declaration time at 10am on Wednesday morning with the filly trading at 1.8, and she went off at 2.23 in the Betfair SP (BSP) win market and 1.31 in the place.

Hardly what I would call a stunning drift, but undoubtedly weak compared to her price in the ante-post market all week, especially with 12–1 chance Euro Charline announced as a non-runner on the Thursday, reducing the field to just seven.

The big punt of the race was Alice Springs, who was available at 13–2 in the morning and heavily supported into a low of 9–4 near the off, before returning at 4.47 at BSP, drifting nearly a point on the exchange in the last five minutes or so.

And, no, the late drift on Alice Springs had nothing to do with “profit taking”, as you may have heard elsewhere — i.e. punters who had secured a big price about Alice Springs locking in a green, or flat, book by laying her back at reduced odds — as the highly-liquid Betfair market near the off simply doesn’t work like that.

Any profit-takers wouldn’t make a dent in the market, just as the drift on Usherette had nothing to do with her initial backers taking a loss.

Whether it was Usherette’s weakness or Alice Springs’s strength in the market that caused the two to converge in the betting so much is anyone’s guess, though the place price of Usherette held up, which leads me to believe the latter scenario, as does the relative lack of support for the other form horse, Amazing Maria (8 ISP v 8.7 BSP).

That’s just speculation on my part, though and who knows the prompt for the Alice Springs punt?

It could well have been a pre-race rumour concerning the favourite but we will never know. But what I do know is that if one horse is heavily-backed in a near-100 per cent book, then it is obvious that other horses — or at least one other — have to drift to compensate for the punt. In this case, it was the favourite who took a stroll in the market.

Usherette was never at the races, and was subsequently found to have bled. But we can’t back-fit the argument after discovering that ailment, and she was similarly weak in the market when winning at Royal Ascot previously, going off at 9–4 (and a BSP of 3.37) having been edging 3–1 at one point close to the off before shortening in again late.

At York on Saturday, Outback Traveller was fancied by some to take the step up in class, and the drop down to 5f for the first time in his career, in his stride after his Wokingham success.

The late Betfair market didn’t, and he drifted out to a BSP of 15.68 — the big players, betting to their tissue, arrived close to the off-time and took him on, just as they do with horses in every race, every day — and therefore he went out to 10–1 on course. He finished last of nine.

He was very weak, undoubtedly. But not as weak on the exchange as he was when he went off at the same price of 10–1 for the Wokingham, He returned at a BSP of 18.81 there — and won.

Yes, you are beginning to see where I am coming from. Winning drifters, and they are plentiful — as you expect at this time of year when we have at least four UK meetings a day — are never the subject of such faux-outrage articles.

You only have to look at Von Blucher’s win at Newmarket on Saturday to see that. He was very weak in the market, but as he won — and his trainer John Gosden actually admitted afterwards to having one of his rare bets, each-way, on him, so there is the supposed importance of stable money/confidence for you in a nutshell (i.e. it rarely registers on a vibrant market) — not a dickie bird.

But let’s deal with some specific points raised in the article.

The journalist seemed surprised that there was a “late avalanche of money” into the Falmouth market — for the record, there is in every race on Betfair, roughly starting about 10 minutes before the off when the big-hitters, and therefore liquidity, arrive — and concluded “surely the real reason for a supposed gamble like that these days is word gets out there is something wrong with the favourite, in this case Usherette”.

He then said that “the BHA should be looking into instances like this…as it seemed to me that the world and his wife knew Usherette wasn’t going to win”.

Whooa there, big fella.

This is a horse who people were backing at 5–4 at the off, and at 3–10, to be placed. The world clearly didn’t tell his wife, or his mistress. Or a few thousand others.

The piece then, remarkably, managed to take a turn for the worse. It name-checked Outback Traveller and said that the BHA should look into this drift, too, as “if the whole punting world knew that Outback Traveller was going to run deplorably then surely those closest to him knew as well.”

Well, if I were connected to the horse, then I wouldn’t take too kindly to that, frankly ludicrous, assertion which I am surprised made it into print. So I contacted someone who is, and they were decidedly unimpressed.

They went further, but let’s leave it at that. But I can report they were devastated by the run, and surprised at the way the horse ran, even allowing for the class upgrade and trip doubts going into the race, though they did admit to being surprised by the SP.

But, of course, the BHA look into betting patterns on a daily basis. That’s why they have betting analysts looking at every race. every day, and why all bookmakers are duty-bound to report any suspicious betting activity to the gambling Commission, if not the BHA as well, in the first instance. It’s a two-way street.

And the BHA is hardly going to broadcast that they are investigating a race though, for obvious reasons.

And, similarly, you can’t conclude that the BHA don’t look into possible offences on-course — such as offences that don’t have a bearing on the placings — just because they don’t publicly announce a stewards’ inquiry? Of course, they do. It’s a regular occurrence.

So let’s have an end to this selective nonsense — and of course there are occasions when the betting needs to be thoroughly looked into to, history and common sense, and recent successful BHA enquiries, tell us that — and have a balanced view.

I could go on and on — and even touch upon the issue of dodgy shorteners, win or lose — but let me end with this stone-cold, personal fact.

Some of the biggest wins I have had are when horses drift wildly, when I go in again and again — I don’t subscribe to the view of some that a far bigger price than you were expecting should put you off, quite the opposite in fact, and a personal highlight was Old Guard winning at a Betfair SP of 10.5 at Cheltenham last December having been as low as 3–1 in the morning — as are some of the losses.

That is why it is called gambling, funnily enough. Because no-one really knows.

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