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On the Flat it pays to go against the crowd and to focus your betting attention on the toughest races on the programme….

The big-field valuable handicaps are referred to as benefit races for the bookmaker. But that so-called ‘received wisdom’ completely misses the point…

If there is a race to be run on a British or an Irish racecourse, the bookmaker is almost honour-bound to price it up, form a market and to lay bets.

It would be a peculiar bookmaker that refused to do so. I certainly can’t remember the last time that scenario – or one even remotely like it – unfolded.

A bookie who doesn’t want to put up a market for a horse race is a bookmaker who will pretty soon be out of business.

We can look at any day’s cards and we can take a view on the races we want to play in and the races we want to leave alone.

So it might surprise you to learn that every summer that ever comes along I choose to play in the races considered most advantageous to the bookmaker – the races referred to as the toughest on the racing programme….

If you were to ask me what’s my favourite kind of horse race to bet in then I would have to be honest and tell you that I like the big-field valuable handicaps on the flat – especially those run at trips between 5f and 9f….

Flat handicaps are considered something of a lottery. Big fields of well-matched horses – all with similar levels of ability – belting up a straight track present an impenetrable puzzle as far as most punters are concerned….

Another group will assure you that anybody betting on the outcome in such races might as well set light to their money before the race starts….

The big flat handicaps are seen by many as ‘benefit races’ – races run purely for the benefit of the bookmaker….

And I can’t argue with the fact that the bookies are awfully keen to sponsor such races and to put up valuable prize pots.

They certainly don’t show such largesse for nothing. Such races must prove profitable – covering the cost of the sponsorship effort and more besides – or the bookie wouldn’t be putting his hand in his pocket in the first place.

And I have to concede something else. The big-field handicaps give the bookmaker an opportunity to bet to over-round percentages so big – increasing the notional profit the bookie makes on the race if he can balance his book – your toes curl up.

But – even with all those arguments made and accepted – nothing will shake me from my view that the big handicaps are the best races a punter can be betting in….

Of course I do. I’ve been in and around this game for the last 25 years. And one of the first lessons you learn is that it isn’t easy for the punter to find a winner in a big handicap. Such races are indeed intensely competitive and hard to call.

But there’s a logical extension to that observation – a potent reality that also demands to be taken into consideration:

If the flat handicaps are hard races to call for punters, they are also difficult for the bookmaker to get right.

Or, put another way, given the nature of the race, it is easy for the bookmaker to get something wrong in a flat handicap….

And for me that’s a scenario that very much suits the way I play the race-betting game – because I very much want to be playing in areas where the bookmaker is making mistakes most frequently.

As a dyed-in-the-wool value-seeking punter my objective is always to be seeking out and betting the horses about which the bookmaker is offering the wrong price – a price that under-estimates a horse’s true chances of winning an individual race….

In big flat handicaps where fields of 16 to 27 horses might be going to post, the bookie has a lot he has to get right….

So there are also plenty of opportunities for him to get something wrong…. to get an opinion about a horse wrong…. to overlook a horse…. to under-estimate one…. to over-estimate another…. to go to market with a set of prices that aren’t quite right….

That his range of resources and tools – financial, human and technological – somehow render him infallible….

Some are better than others. Some know more than others. Some are more committed to their jobs than others.

Some are hungover. Some have bad days. Some are looking for other jobs and couldn’t care less.

Some have their minds focused on the redhead in customer service rather than on the Stewards Cup at Goodwood or the Portland at Doncaster.

I worked for a bookmaker for a few years. I didn’t see any clairvoyants working on the racing desk. There were no miracle workers. There were no products of genetic experiments with their over-sized brains wired up to super-computers.

There were just men. Men of varying class and quality. They drove to work. They drove home again at night. In between times they did the job – sometimes well, sometimes not so well.

They had bits of information. They had their tools. They had their own ways of looking at races and figuring things out. But if you think the bookmaker’s office is some hallowed environ for whizz-kids and out-and-out geniuses then you are labouring under a big delusion.

The bookmaker and his minions are men. Nothing more. Nothing less. Men with opinions and thoughts. Opinions and thoughts which – like are our own – are often wrong….

And the bookmaker’s men were wrong most frequently – as logic dictates – in the races which are hardest to solve (whichever side of the bookmaking divide you occupy) – the big flat…

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