Deane Lester has spent a lifetime in the racing industry and has a big following from his work with RSN, Sky Sports Radio and many other media outlets. For a number of years now he has been widely respected as one of the best form analysts in the country. He joins us on the Betting 360 podcast to discuss his approach to finding winners and value.
[powerpress] Punting Insights You’ll Find
- Each step of Deane’s form analysis process
- How to assess gear changes, trackwork, trials and sectionals
- The best betting races to get involved in
- His favourite trainers and jockeys
- An early look at the Cups and some horses set for a big Spring
Today’s Guest: Deane Lester
Get the Transcript:
[reveal heading=” >> Click Here to Read the Transcript” id=”id1″] David Duffield: Thanks for your time today, Deane, it’s great to have a chat. I wanted to start with the form analysis that you do. You cover a lot of meetings in your role with RSN and other radio stations, so what’s the process that you go through each day? Deane: Yeah, my starting point for any meeting, especially the Saturday meetings, is the speedmaps. I put together where I think horses are going to be in running, and try and get a visual of how a race might be run both in tempo and where horses are going to position, and then work through their recent videos, recent comparative runs if horses have run a race against each other. Then of course you’ve got your weights and measures, et cetera, but my first point of reference is the speedmap to start with. David: How do you actually go about doing that? Are you basing it on positions in run recently, is it through the work you do with Vince in terms of the data and the sectional times? Deane: Yeah, I take on a bit of everything. Riders have characteristics where their default position is two lengths closer or two lengths further back, so if there’s a change of rider you may see a different interpretation of how a horse is ridden. These are things that you learn through experience, but position in running and more importantly take note of where a horse has drawn at its previous run. It may have positioned well back in its three previous runs and drawn beyond mid-field, and then it comes up with an inside barrier four, say, and you can map it a lot closer because the natural positioning of it from a good draw will happen that way. David: You talked about the video work that you do. You’ve probably already reviewed those races straight after the meeting, so what are you looking for the day before or a couple of days out from a race when watching those videos again? Deane: Another two weeks down the track the form may have played out a bit. You just remind yourself of something that happened in a race or you’ll see a horse that has subsequently won, and it can just jog your memory that this form line is starting to work out or conversely that these three horses that finished right beside the horse that you’re reviewing have all failed since. You may take that on board with an eye to lining it up for the race that you’re doing the form for. David: What about gear changes? Do they play much of a role for you? Deane: Yeah, blinkers mainly. Blinker gear changes interest me the most. There’s a lot of gear changes that I don’t think should even be in the form guide, you know stallion chains and things. They’re more for the administration of the horses. Certainly bar plates on horses I find 99% of the time is a negative. You’ll get the odd one that performs with bar plates on. Yeah, blinkers I take fair bit of notice of. Certain trainers have gear changes that they work with effectively. Peter Moody has great success with putting nose rolls on horses, and when he uses the nose roll on a horse that often triggers a bit of curiosity in me. David: With the blinkers, does it matter which trainer is doing it? Actually, probably gear changes in general. You mentioned Moody and the nose roll, so it’s not just the gear change that’s important it also depends on which trainer is doing it? Deane: Yeah and the stage of preparation. You’ll often see a horse, it might be a middle distance horse that’s had three runs in say and it’s had a run at 2000 meters, and then its next run at 2000 meters they’re putting the blinkers on. That, to me, if the horse is showing a little bit of form that might be the finishing touch it needs. Conversely, if it’s had three runs in and it’s really battling for form, they might be grasping at straws trying to get the horse to be stimulated into action. I think, again, you’ve got to take on board the timing of when the gear change is made and for what purpose. You’ve got to try and think like a trainer, and work out why they’re putting the blinkers on at this stage. That’s the thing I try and marry up. David: With the speedmaps and the tempo, in a race where there doesn’t look to be a lot of tempo, sometimes a lot of jockeys see the same speedmaps and things go a little bit haywire. What’s your approach to finding the most suited horses in a race where there doesn’t look to be a lot of tempo? Deane: I think they can be very dangerous betting races, because exactly what you said. The modern punter is well equipped, but so are the modern trainer, jockey, owner. They go there with the mindset, “Gee, we don’t want to be left out of this race where there’s no speed,” and some of them will take their chances and you get the total reverse to what you were anticipating. They can be, I think, dangerous races to assess. You’ve got a race where four or five horses look like speed horses, even if a couple come out of the speed battle there’ll be still two or three to generate a genuine speed. Yeah, I’m very, very reluctant to get heavily involved in a race where it looks no speed on paper, unless there’s such a devoid tempo and the horse is so exposed that they haven’t even got the tactical speed to go forward. Maybe we saw a case in point on Saturday, even though she was the best horse Gregers led and no one really took her on, but there wasn’t anything on the pre race that would suggest that they were. Maybe Esprit Rossa could have been ridden more aggressively, but in saying that the best horse got the lead. That was a rare case in point for me where a slow tempo would be a good betting opportunity. David: What about on the other side, where there looks to be a lot of tempo and you’re thinking of having a bet, where would you want your horse to be in the running, mid-field or would you…? Deane: Again, a case-by-case sort of scenario but mid-field. Yeah, you don’t want to have to do too much chasing from the back but you want to be in that… there’ll be maybe a second wave just off mid-field or just off to claim the leaders. The one thing about fast-run races, I have no problem with covering ground in fast-run races from back in the field, because you know the leaders are going to come back and if you can keep your momentum going, horses that make their run down the center of the track in fast-run races I think are well suited. Conversely, in slowly run races I don’t mind horses that can be three back the fence because the leaders are going to kick at some stage and they might just get that fluky run through. Again, it’s a little bit speculative but it’s not beyond the realm of coming from the back in a slowly run race if you keep creeping through close to the inside. David: You’ve learned the ropes, and had a lot of involvement early on as a track watcher and clocker. What did you learn from that and what do you still apply these days? Deane: What l learned from that was that I was watching gallops that I thought … from probably before I started doing the public clocking, I’ve probably been clocking horses for 10 years and working in the industry with trainers. I was clocking these gallops that I thought horses would just be winning, and they were running sixth, seventh, eighth. They were probably running to their wok, but they just weren’t well placed. That was there the form then had to really kick in and learn how to do form. Thanks to a great form student in David Price who helped me a lot in the early ‘90s, that’s where I started to develop the techniques that I use today. With regard to track work, it’s changed so much because racing was essentially a Saturday and Wednesday city sport and there wasn’t a lot of … when I first started clocking the horses it was just Tuesday and Thursday were gallop days, but now they go six days a week because of the different racing and the different training techniques that trainers use. I don’t know if the track work columns provided are as relevant as they were in days gone by. David: What about trials? Do you still find some value there? Deane: I think so. I think as long as you know what you’re looking for. You’ve got to realise that a trial is the tool for getting a horse fitter, or a better skillset for an unraced horse for instance. You’ve got to hope that that improves a horse after a trial. Some trials you’ll see that are visually impressive, but you know within yourself that that’s what they’ve got to offer and that’s what they’ll do on race day, and yet there’s horses that were three or four lengths behind them that might be seven or eight lengths better on race day with added fitness and a bit more experience. Again, that’s something that you learn with experience. I’m very strong at using the trials. Because I think essentially horses in their first couple of runs in a campaign, up to 1600 meters, they hit form within two or three runs mainly. That’s when you want to be with them. David: What about weights? Some people think the importance is decreasing from a value perspective anyway, it’s already baked into the cake, other people are still a big believer. Where do you sit? Deane: Look, I take note. I think there’s a lot of ways to win on the punt and people that followed the weights I think were very much advantaged in days gone by. I think with the advent of ratings systems and horses having a figure placed on them, that races, the scales are fairly compressed. The big weight swings usually come with a big rise in class, so I think you’ve got to equate that. You don’t see big swings very often with the horse staying in the same grade, because of our rating system. They don’t lose many points in a hurry. I think that the handicapper, as well as punters and, as I said, everyone’s a lot more savvy now and has a lot more information at their disposal. David: Sectional times, it’s obviously great to have really accurate times available through someone like Vince, but how do you then apply that to your form analysis? Deane: Yeah, I think that’s probably the tool I’m developing the most. I’m very interested in, and always have been, in the early section times, because that helps me set up my speedmaps, which I think gives me the vision to hopefully work out how a race is going to structure up. Whereas when sectional times had first sort of been developed and even in the newspaper now they only show the last 600 metres, where I think the first part of the race can be so much more important. You can’t win in the first 400, but you can certainly lose a race. I pay a lot of interest in that. Vince Accardi’s data and his way of thinking has made me look a lot more at the middle section of a race where horses have the big increase. You often don’t see it visually watching a video, but it’s there on the figures. That’s something I’ve really learned from Vince. Yeah, I think it’s the most developing tool that the modern punter can use, is the sectional times. The closer we get to the accurate data the better. David: Do you take any notice of breeding? Deane: I do, to an extent, but it doesn’t sway me in particular because you see too many anomalies. In recent years we’ve had stallions from New Zealand like Lord Ballina or O’Reilly throw great stayers, and yet on the race track they were sprinting horses, so you’d be very locked into the mindset that they would throw sprinters. You can’t be guided completely by breeding, and with regard to wet tracks I don’t have really any firm opinion about that either. I would just prefer to go individually, but I take it on board and it is of some interest to me. David: So you’ve done all the form and then you get to the mounting yard. What are you looking for there, both positive and negative? Deane: You’re looking for a horse to maintain its regular mannerisms. Now, that is something that the best thing is to be there or to be able to view them, whether it be on course or off course, every week. There might be a horse that’s free sweating. If he does that every time, I don’t have a problem with that. That’s his way of getting through the race day experience. In general, I like to see a nice, relaxed, calm horse that’s just taking in the environment pretty comfortably and not too stressed. They are different. The colts are often very high energy. A very good colt last season, Rubrick was a very high-energy horse in the mounting yard. I don’t think it affected his performance, but you just knew that that was him. I think you’d be more worried on the day if he came in very quiet and relaxed. David: So you’ve done the form, been to the mounting yard, then what types of races interest you most from a betting perspective and where do you think the best opportunities are to find value? Deane: I’m of the opinion I like the races obviously with the most exposed form, with a lack of maybe first-up runners. I think current form. You’re probably looking at the 1600m and 2000m category to categorise that, because most sprint races you’ll have a degree of first-up runners. Even though you can watch them trial, you’ve just got that degree of whether they’ve come back. I usually seem to gravitate towards those probably 1400 to 2000m races, anywhere in between, and recent exposed form. The horses I tend to like to bet on are horses that are relatively early in the campaign, even if they’ve won that doesn’t worry me, but if there’s still a growth or development in that campaign. David: Are you happy to back more than once horse a race? Deane: Yeah, very much so. I don’t have a problem with that at all. I do price up my own horses, I price up my own market, and they’ve got to be over my price before I’d entertain having a bet. David: Would the bets be at all into the odds spectrum, or do you concentrate on favored runners? Deane: I have no problem as long they’re over my odds. This is one thing where, probably a lot of the things that when I grew up the literature I read was the Don Scott books, and a lot of the class system and things like that with the Don Scott books are outdated but I don’t think that the idea of betting on a horse, if you mark it $5 and it’s $21, you don’t back it like a $21 chance you back it like a $5 chance. You back it to your odds. I don’t think that sort of maxim has changed. David: What about track bias on the day? There can be a lot of talk of it early and sometimes a little bit too early, but there are other times where jockeys can overreact later in the day and it almost reverses. How do you factor in track bias throughout the afternoon? Deane: It’s a frustrating thing, because the races programmed early in the day are usually the smallest and the shallowest races. A lot of people are very quick to call a track bias on a field of seven out of form horses, and I’m very reluctant to do that. If I have a fault I may call a bias or see a bias a touch late, because I’m a little bit forgiving. Especially a leader’s bias, I’m not in a hurry to call a race like that. It is something that you do have to watch very closely, and probably my biggest rule in not so much biases but if there’s rain falling on the day, I’ll nearly shut up shop because I think the track often doesn’t even give a rating that you could accurately describe. Because it might be firm on top, but with having rain—firm underneath but with rain just loosens it on top, it probably gives it a very uneven feel. I think those meetings are fraught with danger, both to bet on and to use as reliable form references later on. David: You’ve been involved in the planning and preparation of various horses, some good ones and some lesser lights as well. What are the challenges of trying to plan or help plan months in advance? Deane: You’ve got to try and be realistic in what the horse can achieve. You can be ambitious, but you’ve got to be able to plot a path that you’re going to get into races consistently. There’s no point in planning a preparation where you’re borderline whether you’re going to get a run in the lead-up races, because it can throw your preparation out. You’ve got to be realistic in your early ambitions and aim at something long term down the track that you can get through the grades to. It is getting that assessment of the horse right, is the biggest thing. You can fall short of the mark, and that happens, but sometimes when it comes off it’s very satisfying. David: What about jockeys? If you were having just one good go at something in an afternoon, one big bet on a race day, which jockey would you want riding? Deane: That’s a good question. I like to match up jockeys that I think will suit horses, so it’s a little bit of an individual thing. For mine I’m very comfortable betting on Noel Callow, Damien Oliver, Michael Rodd. They’d probably be the three I’d probably be most comfortable with. I’m a friend of Nick Hall’s. He’s a very good rider as well and I have no problem, he’s ridden a lot of winners for me with my own horses, so obviously I have no problem punting on him. Often it can be a situation where you’ll be betting on a jockey that is outside of those four that I’ve just mentioned but really suits the horse that you’re going to bet on. David: What about trainers? Is there a particular trainer that stands out as you’d be extra confident when they’re in charge of your bet? Deane: I define trainers a little bit by my own form. The trainers I like to bet on are those that regularly when you think their horse is going to run well, it does, or conversely when you think, “Gee, this is only sixth or seventh best,” and it runs to about that spot. You can actually recognise their form patterns. I’ve got to say, not that they’re operating in Melbourne at the moment but the one I’ve had the most success with are the Snowdens. I’ve been able to assess their horses well, and I think their horses run to their form better than any trainer I’ve seen. David: What about Darren Weir, how do you explain his rise? Because it hasn’t exactly been overnight, but it’s been very impressive. Deane: Well, it’s been a constant development of his skillset. I’ve got a couple of horses there, and I’ve never met a trainer with such an open mind to any sort of development of his business. Watching it grow over the last 10 years has been amazing, not only increasing the numbers but the efficiency of the operation and the use of modern technology with training horses, like treadmills and like the uphill track at Ballarat, and he’s just embraced it all. What we’re seeing is a bit of the finished package in the past year, with just phenomenal success. David: We’ll finish up talking about the spring. Is it a good time of year for you betting wise? Deane: Yeah, I tend to think so. I think Flemington’s always very kind to me. I think the horses, really what you’ve got to pick up on is the ones that are still going strongly come Cup week and what I was speaking about earlier, whether they’ve had the peak of their preparation and they’re on their way down. They can have really great form, they can have 111 next to their name, but they’ve spent their petrol at Moonee Valley or Caulfield in the lead up and they’re out of gas. I think Flemington’s a really good week to assess horses, and you can get it right more often than not. David: We’re still a fair way out from the cups, but are there any horses that you’re particularly keen on at this stage? Deane: I think the Melbourne Cup, I think whichever horses jump on the plane and come over create great interest because there’s nothing … with The Offer being the favorite and he’s a progressive horse, having won a Ballarat Cup and then a Sydney Cup, it’s not … this time last year Fiorente was the Melbourne Cup, and he’s not Fiorente, so I’d be looking to see who comes over. I was very taken with Spillway, both in appearance and performance on Saturday. I think it was a low grade Group 2 WFA for 1400m, but going forward I think Spillway could be a contender. I just think a horse like Fawkner who we saw in last year’s Caulfield Cup, he’s such a seasoned horse now and those good seasoned horses do well in Cox Plate. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fawkner was right up to the mark in a race like the Cox Plate. David: Is there another horse, away from the cups or the Cox Plate, that you can’t wait to see return to the track? Deane: Actually, another one of Lloyd Williams, Divan who should have won back on Anzac Day at Flemington. I think he’s probably a horse gearing up towards the Derby. From Sydney, the horse that ran very well on Saturday, Washington Heights, he’s been one of the stars in the trial segment quite a few times and I think he showed on Saturday that as the races get longer he’ll be a significant player and he might be a real Guineas horse, Washington Heights. David: We’ll keep an eye on him. All right, appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us today, Deane, and keep up the good work. Deane: Thanks so much, David. [reveal]
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