Media personality Deane Lester is one of the most respected form analysts in racing.
Data vs Gut
Very much a combination of both. I like to try to grab information from wherever I can. I’m a lot more into the breakdown of a race using actual figures than I probably was five years ago. I used to have notes about high pressure or low pressure races but with the advent of the sectional times through someone like Vince Accardi you get an actual figure that you can place on a race and I’m using that a lot more. I’ve still got probably the thing that got me into this industry: working hands-on with horses for fifteen, twenty years, so I wouldn’t want to let that go to waste, that sort of information.
Most Important Skill
I’d go back to looking at the animal, if I had to choose I would go back to what I know about horses and looking at them in the yard, because there’s some days you go to the races and you’re very confident about a selection and you get very deflated when you see them in the yard, whether they’ve sweated up or they haven’t quite got to the peak that you’ve expected. You can be very disappointed and very rarely do they let you down or run above expectations of what you see in the mounting yard.
Through the week I’ll be playing races that I think I can really zero down on and get right. The Saturdays, or the races where you’re probably looking at better quality horses in general, I’m keen to play them.
I think the thing that narrows my area of punting down is track conditions. The one thing I have refined in the last ten years is betting less and less on wet tracks; it’s too much guesswork because there’s too big a difference between the way tracks are prepared and what constitutes a wet track. You’ll see a horse with a W next to it’s name and it might have won on a summer wet track where there was rain but underneath, the ground was still very firm. On a winter wet track it’s totally different and they just don’t perform. The way I probably narrow down my punting over the last five to ten years is certainly track conditions.
I’m quite happy if the track is at a rating that you expect when you’re doing the form. If you’re putting a lot of hours into it and you’re expecting a good track… if there’s any deterioration in a track – say a good three to a soft five – I just don’t know, especially if you’re on course, if you have the resources with you to accurately access what’s going to happen. A hard and fast rule for me is if there’s a track downgrade I tend to shut up shop.
Probably my biggest thing with horses is that they’ve got to have good strength. Often horses that steam home, you think they’re strong but they don’t have that capacity to race on the pace, so I do penalise them more than I probably ever have. I think in general probably twenty, twenty-five years ago you had fields that nine times out of ten were running at a really good speed.
There was too much speed and you’d see horses from the back win a lot. Where now, I just think the way race shapes are put together is a lot more refined, and jockeys tend to maybe go too steady in front or are too scared to make bold moves. We see the hardened and seasoned riders like a Glen Boss or a Jim Cassidy not afraid to make bold moves because they can back what they’ve done for thirty years, but I think the younger riders are a little bit apprehensive at making bold moves.
The ideal thing for a backmarker which a lot of people wouldn’t get, is a slowing up mid-race where they just track into the race. They keep the momentum going and the leader has to pick up and go again.
I’m not so much a person that penalises jockeys in the A-grade sense, whether they are in or out of form. I tend to look at the skill set of a jockey; I’ve got my own opinions on what some of the riders can and can’t do, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and have the connections actually matched up the best rider for their horse? Sometimes you’ll see an absolute high profile rider and they might not be on the right horse because that might be the one little missing link in their skill set. Whether they’re not good on front runners, or whether they’re not good at settling a horse.
The general public would be thinking, well this is a match made in heaven, we’ve got an in-form horse matched with an A-grade rider, but it mightn’t be the right rider for the horse. That’s a subjective thing but that’s something that I think years of experience have taught me pretty well.
With lesser known trainers, if they’ve followed a path that’s logical with a horse and they land in a metropolitan race or they land in the right race, as long as they’ve taken what you can see as a logical path to that race, I don’t penalize that at all. I’m interested in trainers … Trainers are very much creatures of habit; if they’ve won a race doing a certain thing a certain way, they’ll go back to try to strike gold doing the same thing.
There are very much patterns in leading trainers in all different ways. They don’t have the same pattern by any means, but they certainly have patterns. The other thing is form within a stable. I do take notice of that because you can see when the stables have runs. Now whether that’s because they’ve got three or four in-form horses and they can compare their other horses to those by working with them or what they’re doing and that lifts the level of the stable.
If the stable’s having a bad run, maybe their best horses are out of form and they’ve got absolutely nothing to compare with and they’re just probably throwing the horses into races a little bit at will, and not necessarily with the right thought process.
I was, very much into weight when I started doing form assessments. We’re talking twenty-six years ago now, and handicapping wasn’t as refined as it is now and there were glitches in the system. One, there was a spread of weights a lot more than there is now and two, handicapping, for instance in Victoria, wasn’t centralised: it was from district to district, so horses could get weighted, especially in the provincials, differently if you went to the North-East or you went to Gippsland. There were glitches in the system then.
Now it’s centralised, now horses have ratings. There’s not many that sneak under the system and it’s more about seeing horses that have got that ability to advance through grades, because the handicapper can’t really penalise them too much.
Again, it’s a little bit habitual with trainers. There’s some trainers you see them trial them right up and they know that they’re ready to go. One thing you don’t know in watching a jump-out is what weight the horse is carried. You can sort of make an assumption if you see a rider that you know the style of, (for example) if they’re a heavy weight that the horse might have heavy shoes on.
Once they start producing information data that you can assess them at, the only time I’d have an issue with breeding is if you know of a breed that are a bit temperamental. More temperament than what their capacity is to run a distance, because there’s too many horses that defy genetics in that regard. I’d be more interested in horses that I think may be a little bit frail mentally, there’s breeds that you can see they just don’t quite go to the next level, and that’s the only time I take breeding into account.
Provincial / Country Racing
You’re not betting race to race but you’ll scan the fields. There might be a race that you’re anticipating will be a good form reference, whether it be because of a fast time or the way the race was run. A horse may drop in grade or it might be the first to come out of that race and it’s at the provincials, so you back your judgement in that you think it will be a good form race.
You want to get ahead of the curve in that situation, back your judgement and start winning on them and they might appear at the smaller venues. I’m certainly not Monday-Tuesday as forensic as you’d like to be later in the week, but with all the races on you’ve got to draw the line a bit. If a horse has come under the radar, popped up in a race, then you try and break that race down and see if you can get a dollar out of it.
I bet mainly to a price that I might assess to, and bet to win to my price to a figure. Not to bet to the market price … As long as there’s an advantage, I’ll be to my prices and say bet to win x amount of dollars off my prices and that’s when you get that bit of overlay as you know. That would probably be my staking plan.
I think the only time a bet would increase is if I’m reading a track right and I’m getting the play right in that regard. I’m pretty standard with my bet sizes, but if I thought I was getting a track reading right and it mightn’t be evident for a couple of races and you might be ahead of the curve a little bit, I probably tend to back my judgement that I’ve got a track right more than anything.
I think if you’re betting race to race, day to day and something just isn’t right in the market, you’ve got to factor it in: whether something with no form comes up five or six dollars and you think “gee maybe I’ve overlooked this”, or I haven’t got the intel that’s made this five or six dollars. You’re probably best to have a saving bet on that or incorporate it in some way. That’s when I’d use market intelligence.
Backing Multiple Runners
I’m flexible on that. If I think I’ve got a race pretty right and I’ve got one of a reasonable quote then I might back it as the strongest, then the two main dangers I might back to break even so that I don’t lose on the race. Or conversely if I’m strong on one I’m happy to bet each-way, but it’s got to be at a fair advantage.
I’m quite happy to bet early and see how the market unfolds, because with the amount of options with corporate betting and the early fixed odds with the TAB, there’s certainly good prices to be had if you think you’ve got the variables right, that there’s not going to be a dramatic change closer to the race.
I’m a Quaddie player, because I’m sort of trying to assess a race at who’s going to win. I think you’ve got to have a different imagination again with the multiples filling places like trifectas, first fours. You’ve got to know your limitations and it’s something that I have tried and I don’t think I’ve got the imagination as good as some players would have to get trifectas, first fours right. I’ll play Quaddies and I often play Quinellas if I think there’s only two or three chances to try and narrow it down that way. I’ve found trifectas I’ve had a couple of good results but it’s not my strongest point.
Check out Deane’s full interview on the Betting 360 podcast here.