Too much of a good thing

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WHEN everybody agrees that the winners are staring you in the face … beware, writes RON REED:

NEWSPAPER form guides have been a part of racing as long as I can remember and no doubt long before that. In this, the information age, they are more sophisticated than they used to be, although not necessarily by much. But one traditional element of them has changed hardly at all.

That would be the ubiquitous tipsters panel, where a number of alleged experts provide the benefit of their experience, knowledge, wisdom, gut feeling and wishful thinking so that you and I, the mug punters, can burn our money without having to bother thinking too hard about it ourselves.

That is, if anyone ever actually takes the trouble to consult the predictions of these oracles, who usually are mostly staff journalists with an occasional professional form analyst or even a gratuitous celebrity or two thrown in if it’s carnival time.

Who are these people – and what would they know?

Ah yes, the racing writers. They are a breed apart. In his recent biography of the wonder horse Winx,  my old colleague Andrew Rule referred to them – not entirely originally and with far more amusement than malice – as “touts with typewriters”.

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I have known and worked with scores of them over the years and no branch of newspaper journalism, with the possible exception of police roundsmen, has thrown up so many incredibly colourful characters. It still does, although maybe to a lesser extent. For me, many have been long-term mates, maybe because, with few exceptions, they have been great raconteurs.

But … tipsters?

Let’s just say that I cannot think of a single one of them who has ever retired from their day job on the proceeds of the punt, which many of them say is an affliction curable only by death.

If they truly knew some infallible secret of the caper, they wouldn’t be working for the sort of wages the newspapers pay.

Of course they get it right sometimes and occasionally spectacularly so – when that happens, you are advised to stand clear in case your suit or frock is in danger of incurring a dry cleaner’s bill to remove the champagne stains.

But that’s not what the military would call a clear and ever-present danger.

 So it was with my usual sceptical, cynical caution that I decided it would do no harm to just take a sneak peek at the Herald Sun’s tips panel on the way to Caulfield on Saturday.

I can’t remember ever seeing a version quite like this one.

Usually, they are a dog’s breakfast of different opinions, challenging you to work out who to put your faith in, if indeed you want to go down that road at all.

But this was different. Of the nine-race program, the five tipsters – Michael Manley, Leo Schlink, Glenn McFarlane, Chris Vernuccio and Nick Quinn – all unanimously nominated the same likely winner in five of them. In three of the other four races, four of the five “experts” were in furious agreement.

In other words, leaving out the feature event, The Blue Diamond Stakes – a race of many chances —  these blokes were almost entirely in accordance across the rest of the action, with 37 of 40 selections being the same. And of the three that weren’t, one was scratched and two were the second pick.

This wasn’t a broad canvas of expertise – it was an echo chamber.

There was a reason for it, of course.

That’s where all the money was. Seven of the eight started favourite, two of them were odds-on, and the other one was only a few cents in the dollar from making it a clean sweep.

That’s not a recipe for making a fast fortune – but, hey, nobody ever went broke backing winners at short odds, either.

And with each-way betting not really an option, it was win or bust.

So maybe the go was just to cop the tip, as they say.

It didn’t take long for that to pay off with David Hayes’ Sikandarabad saluting in the first, paying $3.

But then the next four, Lunar Flare, I Am A Star, Angelic Ruler and Zousain fell by the wayside, although at least McFarlane’s one-out pick of Qafila in the fourth kept the boys collectively afloat, just.

Alizee won the sixth, paying a skinny $2.80 – forget the Blue Diamond, although I for one will find that hard to do after running second on Lanka Star at $41 – and Nature Strip was obliterated in the eighth.

At this stage, the boys agreed again on Avilius in the last and the Godolphin gelding earned them another collect, albeit an extremely skinny $1.80.

So the washup is that Manley and McFarlane have tipped four winners each, the others three each, and anyone who has chosen to follow their eight agreed good things has backed three winners and, for an outlay of $10 on each, has still not quite broken even.

The eight hot-pots have finished first, 11th, sixth, second, second, first, 10th and first.

Three winners is usually not a bad day out at the track but in this case an investment of $80 has returned $76. The moral of the story: You can have too much of a good thing.

There’s a bonus, of course – there won’t be any bill for removing fizz stains.

And as usual none of the “touts with typewriters” will be giving up their day jobs.

mm

Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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