What was it an early mentor told me about betting horses? “If you lose,” he said, “there’s always another race coming up somewhere.”
He never claimed that he lost much – except maybe every April 15. He also has been around the game for so long that I seriously doubt he was making bets in the middle of the night on 1970s races in Australia, because that might have required a good long-distance operator, an expensive toll call and an insomniac for a bookie.
Now it is the 21st century, when we can spread live racing around the world faster than we can conjure up a distasteful comparison to what has changed our planet. Yes, Virginia – and the other 40 states that may or may not include Nevada where we may bet from home on the races – we have an opportunity to money Saturday during British Champions Day at Ascot.
Research suggests that the very mention of international racing sends American horseplayers running and kicking for the “off” button. But we should not feel so xenophobic. It was the same when I was living in Australia, where the very mention of U.S. racing sent eyes rolling and mouths yapping about illegal drugs. Never mind that they were shoving medicated milkshakes and later cobalt into the bloodstreams of their horses.
Cheap shots aside, the common constructive denominator of criticism is a lack of familiarity with the horses that are in the foreign fields, not to mention the way their past performances are expressed. Anyone from near or far who has never studied the Daily Racing Form looks at them the same way as they grumble through those endless legal forms at the doctor’s office.
It is no different, then, for American bettors who run headlong into Racing Post when trying to handicap the horses in England. Even when races over there are converted to what looks familiar over here, all that blank space leaves a lot to be desired.
Take Saturday’s £750,000 Br … –
See? Right there. There is that “L” thingy. Pounds. Which they lose from their wallets over there, not their waistlines. All right. The race is worth $970,796. So call it the million-dollar Group 1 Br … –
There’s another one. “Group 1.” What is wrong with “Grade 1”? Well, what is wrong with hood rather than bonnet? And lift rather than elevator? That Irish lad named Shaw said that Americans and English are separated only by a common language. Other than the fact that they refuse to pronounce Barack Obama correctly over there, let’s move on.
It is the million-dollar, Group or Grade 1 British Champion Stakes. Sorry, metrics, the race goes 1¼ miles on the turf, which will be soft thanks to rain this week, although the weather at Ascot is supposed to be nice this weekend. All this we understand.
Go to RacingPost.com, call up the “Cards,” go to Saturday’s choices, click “Ascot” and then “3:40,” which translates to 10:40 a.m. EDT. Suddenly there is a name that should be familiar here in America. That would be Magical. Remember her? The 5-year-old mare trained by Aidan O’Brien finished second to Enable in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. And word out of England is that she may or may not show up at Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup Turf in three weeks.
Magical won last year’s British Champion Stakes, which we learn by clicking her name and seeing her past races open in a separate tab. It was Oct. 19, when we see that the ground was soft (“Sft”) that day, too. No wonder she is the 2-1 favorite to repeat, which we learned on the previous page when selecting “Best Odds” where it says “Bookmaker.”
Looking at this year’s form for Magical, it shows that she is “1/6,” “2/5,” “1/6” and “1/5” in her last four races. That means she finished first out of six last time out, second of five, first of six and first of five, all since her season started in June with a victory in Ireland’s Group 1 Pretty Polly. We know that by scrolling the cursor over the date of the race to see its name.
We see that Magical has run in four Group 1s (“G1”) in 2020, the first being just against females (the “F” in “G1F”), all on turf that was good (“Gd”) or good to yielding (“Gd/Y”). Each of her races at age 5 has been at or around 1¼ miles – or one mile and two furlongs (“1m2f”).
Her last time out Sept. 12 she carried odds of 9-2 (under “SP”) in winning the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes by three-quarters of a length over Ghaiyyath. That is perhaps the best horse in training now and the would-be favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Turf if Godolphin sends him.
All those figures to the right – official rating, top speed and Racing Post rating – are the English versions of Beyers and BRIS figures and such. If whole books have not been written to interpret those, they should be. Let me know where to find them on Amazon.
Now click a race date itself, say, “12Sep20.” Up pops another tab with the race chart. This is where activating the “Comments” leads to an opening of the riches of information in the minds of many. Or a Pandora’s box of frustration.
Rather than a series of numbers like “3 2 2 2 1” to show that Magical was running third, second, second, second and first at each call, Racing Post and its ilk offer trip notes, the likes of which are found at the bottom of Equibase charts over here.
For Magical it says, “Tracked leader, close 2nd at halfway, ridden almost on terms near side under 2f out, led narrowly inside final furlong, stayed on well to assert towards finish (op 11/2)”.
“Tracked leader” means that she stalked the pace. “Close 2nd at halfway” means she was less than a length from the pace set by eventual runner-up Ghaiyyath, under whose name it has the easiest-to-decipher term “Led.” Then it says “ridden almost on terms near side under 2f out.” That means she and Ghaiyyath eyeballed each other on the grandstand side of the course inside the last quarter-mile. “Led narrowly inside final furlong” should be self-explanatory. “Stayed on well to assert towards finish” means she kept fighting. The “op 11/2” means that she opened at odds of 550 before closing at “9/2,” or 450.
By comparison, look at the fourth-place horse Sottsass, the winner three weeks later in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Everything should look pretty straightforward. “Held up in behind leaders in 4th, pushed along in close 4th over 2f out, ridden near side under 2f out and soon under pressure in 5th, kept on and went 4th inside final furlong, just failed to get up for 3rd, never troubled leaders.”
The trick in reading European past performances is to get a feel for the writing just as it is for readers of our PPs to get a feel for the numbers. Is the information as deep there as it is here? No. Not even close. But that does not mean that betting from here on the races over there is a waste of time and money.
If the turf is going to be soft at Ascot on Saturday, then it stands to reason that players should look for horses that like, as the Europeans say, some cut in the ground. Magical has proven that succeeds under those terms, especially when she does not have to face the now-retired two-time Arc winner Enable, the horse that beat her in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The promise of soft going explains why 3-year-old colt Mishriff (3-1), a stablemate of Enable, has shortened into the second choice for the race. His last start was on heavy ground in a Group 2 win in France, plus he has star jockey Frankie Dettori. But will he get too close to the pace that is likely to be set by Magical’s stablemate Serpentine, whose comments have words like “in touch,” “prominent,” “made all” and “rushed up early.” They all mean he will want the lead as he did when he won this summer’s Epsom Derby as a 25-1 long shot.
Maybe the race sets up for a closer like Lord North (8-1), a 4-year-old gelding that, like Mishriff and Enable, is trained by John Gosden. He has won on heavy ground going this distance, but not in this class. He did win the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s during Royal Ascot over 1¼ miles, but the ground was good that day. His loss to Ghaiyyath and Magical in the Juddmonte International this summer could be written off to his losing a front shoe.
If Lord North has too many excuses, especially being the “other Gosden,” then maybe Skalleti (10-1) fills the bill. The 5-year-old French gelding has comments like “held up” and “raced in final pair” in his past performances. He also had a win over 1¼ miles of heavy going at Longchamp in the Prix Dollar during Arc weekend.
If the drying weather makes the turf a little less deep, Skalleti may not be the choice. For now, though, he is on my ticket, especially at the 10-1 price. I will certainly include Magical, Mishriff and Lord North.
O’Brien said as recently as Tuesday that Magical could still go to the Breeders’ Cup even though Nov. 6 and 7 come so soon after Saturday’s race. “It’ll be whatever the (Coolmore owners) decide,” he told England’s Racing TV this week. “I imagine if everything was well with her she could go to the Breeders’ Cup.” Translation: O’Brien will decide for the Coolmore owners next week.
Oh, one more difference between here and there. When watching coverage of British Champions Day starting Saturday at 8:20 a.m. EDT that prices are shown as “win” and “place” but no “show.” In England, “place” means second or third. So an “each way” bet there is like win-show here.
Now if someone will get to the bottom of why we race mostly on dirt while they race mostly on grass, then we are really getting somewhere.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On the current episode, British Champions Day is previewed by Racing Post’s Lee Mottershead, U.S. races are handicapped by DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello, and a photo mystery involving Man O’ War is unraveled by his biographer Dorothy Ours. The RFRP is available at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.