Our meth­ods man looks at the mind­set of many pun­ters

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Our meth­ods man looks at the mind­set of pun­ters

In last month’s ar­ti­cle,I made ref­er­ence to some­thing called “cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance”. In Matthew Syed’s book Black Box Think­ing he gives much in­sight into the phrase coined by em­i­nent so­ci­ol­o­gist Leon Festinger in the 20th Cen­tury.

Now,I do not claim to be a great reader of such stuff but a copy of the book hap­pened to come into my pos­ses­sion. I found it fas­ci­nat­ing and no­ticed how the phe­nom­e­non of cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance ap­pears to be shared by the ma­jor­ity of horse rac­ing pun­dits and pun­ters alike.

So what is cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance? Put sim­ply, it is what hap­pens when your be­liefs are chal­lenged by ev­i­dence. In horse rac­ing it man­i­fests it­self when your se­lec­tion loses. In my case this hap­pens quite of­ten,and when it does you have two choices — the first of which is to ac­cept that your judge­ment was wrong.

There are some oc­ca­sions,such as with the re­sult of the Co­ral-Eclipse, where if you had backed Bar­ney Roy you could rea­son­ably claim to have been al­most right. Back­ers of Cliffs Of Mo­her would also be en­ti­tled to sug­gest that the Ai­dan O’Brien horse might have won if he hadn’t been so badly ham­pered in the back straight, maybe. But there were no hard luck sto­ries for any of the oth­ers.

In my on­line blog I had tipped Bar­ney Roy and Ulysses, the lat­ter was the toprated Rac­ing Ahead Form (RAF) pick from the July edition of Rac­ing Ahead, and with Jack Hobbs not go­ing to post we could be for­given for feel­ing some­what smug with the re­sult, but that is a trait that you will not find in the Lark­spur DNA.

By way of ex­am­ple,take my picks in the Ir­ish Derby. The top-rated RAF pick was Jes­sica Har­ring­ton’s Grandee who was sent off at 33/1 and duly fin­ished last.The other horse high­lighted in my blog was Wings Of Ea­gles who suf­fered a ca­reer end­ing injury af­ter he fin­ished in third place, a sad post­script to the race.

What can­not be de­nied is that Grandee was only a sport­ing bet at the long odds avail­able as his abil­ity to com­pete at Class 1 level was not proven, his fin­ish­ing po­si­tion only served to con­firm that view. How­ever, the re­sult stands in the RAF se­lec­tions record book as we record all our ef­forts come what the re­sult may be. And that is the where the sec­ond cog­ni­tive choice comes in.

The sec­ond choice you have, if you are not go­ing to ac­cept you are wrong, is to en­ter a state of de­nial and ig­nore the truth. I was at Sandown Park on Co­ral-Eclipse day and the re­sult of the photo for the big race took an ab­so­lute age.Af­ter the race I sat in the shade of the pre-pa­rade ring and saw the photo-fin­ish re­sult posted by Rac­ing Post on Twit­ter.

In­cred­i­bly, de­spite the ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy that showed Ulysses had pre­vailed by the mere width of his nos­tril,there were com­ments left that clearly showed some peo­ple couldn’t ac­cept the re­sult, they flatly de­nied the truth of the cam­era and claimed that Bar­ney Roy had won while oth­ers clung on to the be­lief that it was a dead heat – they couldn’t ad­mit they were wrong.They had en­tered a state of cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance. In con­clu­sion, Syed writes :“Cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance… be­comes so se­vere that we of­ten re­frame, spin and some­times even edit our mis­takes.”

All tip­sters, writ­ers, pun­dits etc. ‘spin’ their se­lec­tions.We all high­light our win­ners and try to gloss over the losers. But I never edit or re­frame a mis­take.The same can­not be said of oth­ers.

What do the ex­perts do when they get it wrong? The an­swer is:noth­ing.The Rac­ing Post is quite happy to boast loudly when one of their many tip­sters gets a win­ner but they do not run stats on the se­lec­tion records for any of their pun­dits.

For a pa­per that claims to em­ploy an army of ex­perts I think this is in­ter­est­ing. The point be­ing that there is a rep­u­ta­tion to

up­hold and so you can­not ad­mit your mis­takes. So why not just ig­nore them.Where is the ta­ble of re­sults for Birch’s Banker, Price­wise et al?

The an­swer is that you won’t find them. PostData, Spot­light and Rac­ing Post Rat­ings fig­ures fea­ture in the Naps / Press Chal­lenge ta­ble but there is no full se­lec­tion his­tory.Which isn’t sur­pris­ing re­ally, when you con­sider that most of the time they are all out-smarted by the sim­ple method of back­ing the race favourite.

Now, click on the At The Races web­site and go to the Hugh Tay­lor por­tal. If you click on his re­sults his­tory you will find ev­ery se­lec­tion given and ev­ery month recorded. Hugh’s record is might­ily im­pres­sive and ev­ery year since 2009 he has made a profit. His se­lec­tions are free and his Twit­ter page di­rects you solely to the ATR web­site for the day’s best bets.

That is trans­parency at its best and in the world of Black Box Think­ing it a per­fect ex­am­ple of how you profit in the long run by learn­ing from and ad­mit­ting your mis­takes. If you can­not ac­cept that you were wrong then you pro­mul­gate the myth that your ex­pert view can­not be chal­lenged.


The win of ULYSSES in the Co­ral-Eclipse meant that Sir Michael Stoute neatly book- ends our RAF se­lec­tion his­tory to date with two 8/1 win­ners,BAL­LET CON­CERTO be­ing the first in the Spring Mile Hand­i­cap back on April 1.The mas­ter of Freema­son Lodge is no fool and has helped up to a healthy 170.27% ROI with six win­ners from 15 top-rated run­ners (40%) and ‘we go again’ – al­though, now Paul Cook is no longer man­ager at Pom­pey we’ll have to find our­selves a new strapline.

There are plenty of races for us to con­sider in the com­ing month and at the time of writ­ing our RAF se­lec­tions are shap­ing up as fol­lows.


Un­sur­pris­ingly, HIGH­LAND REEL is the short-priced ante-post favourite for the race and is the top-rated se­lec­tion on 27 points.Last year’s win­ner has al­ready won the Coro­na­tion Cup at Ep­som and the Prince ofWales’s Stakes at the Royal meet­ing in 2017 and ap­pears to be at the top of his game. The Bal­ly­doyle horse is a very spe­cial an­i­mal.

PER­MIAN (24pts) has to be one of the tough­est three-year-olds we have seen in re­cent years, the Dante win­ner didn’t put his best for­ward in the Derby but then turned up at Royal As­cot two weeks later and duly won the King Ed­wardVII Stakes. Mark John­ston’s colt has run seven times al­ready this sea­son and the Derby ‘flop’ was the only oc­ca­sion he fin­ished out of the frame.

Last week­end (15 July) the Mid­dle­ham colt proved his dura­bil­ity in the Grand Prix de Paris when beaten a nose by Sha­keel and might head over the pond to con­test the Sec­re­tar­iat Stakes at Arlington in­stead.EN­ABLE (23pts) eas­ily landed the Ir­ish Oaks at the Cur­ragh to add to her win in the Ep­som Oaks. John Gos­den has hinted that she may run at As­cot al­though the 14-day turn­around might count against her par­tic­i­pa­tion.


WIN­TER (23pts) is en­tered here against the boys and she is also in the Nas­sau Stakes, it is a ques­tion of whether Ai­dan O’Brien thinks she is good enough to take on the colts or more likely to stay the ex­tra dis­tance of the fil­lies’ race.

RIBCH­ESTER (21pts) will fly the Godol­phin flag along with BAR­NEY ROY (19pts). It would ap­pear that Sheikh Mo­hammed holds the up­per hand go­ing into the race and Ribch­ester would be look­ing for re­demp­tion hav­ing been nar­rowly beaten here last sea­son.But Bar­ney Roy is prov­ing to be a class act and will give him plenty to

think about. How­ever, both WU HE ID A and ROLY POLY (not en­tered in the Nas­sau) fresh from their ex­er­tions at New­mar­ket’s July meet­ing also hold en­tries and the fil­lies each score 20 points ahead of Bar­ney Roy. Al­though, if you still don’t ac­cept the re­sult of the photo-fin­ish form the Co­rale­clipse you would give Richard Han­non’s horse 22 points and in that case he would prob­a­bly go off top-rated on the day.

I think if he runs he will win but we go with our fig­ures come what may and it’ll prob­a­bly be Ribch­ester who gets the vote.


Roger Var­ian’s NEZWAAH (20pts) has been clock­ing up the air-miles and has trav­elled to Scot­land and Ire­land to land the listed Rothe­say Stakes up at Ayr and the Pretty Polly Stakes over at the Cur­ragh. The Dubawi filly is hard to catch once she gets into full flight and rates a de­cent chance as her RAF score is boosted by a dis­tance win.

Next,we have An­drew Bald­ing’s BLOND ME (19pts) whose only out­ing to date was in the Mid­dle­ton Stakes at York in May where she beat The Black Princess who has sub­se­quently gone on to win the Lan­cashire Oaks.

From her form fig­ures it would ap­pear that she is ei­ther very good or frus­trat­ingly bad, but she is fresh hav­ing not raced sinceYork and her trainer is as shrewd as they come.

WIN­TER (18pts) will be tack­ling the ex­tended dis­tance for the first time,there is no doubt that she is a very good filly and be­ing by Galileo the ex­tra two fur­longs should not present any prob­lem.

Post­script: My on­line blog for the July Cup con­tained an im­por­tant er­ror on my part. I lumped my whole five points on Caravaggio, hav­ing read the Com­mon­wealth Cup race all wrong, and I ne­glected to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive se­lec­tion i.e. Lark­spur Method sec­ond rated Harry An­gel who won at 9/2.

Now, I can ei­ther learn from the re­sult, mak­ing sure I of­fer two se­lec­tions in fu­ture pre­views, or delete the blog to spare my blushes and pre­serve my in­tel­lec­tual in­tegrity. Let me think…

Happy Rac­ing!

Don’t for­get to fol­low all the #RAFPick ac­tion on Twit­ter :@ Lark­spur Rac­ing and check out the blog ev­ery Satur­day at:tony­lark­spur.word­

Per­mian, right

Jack Hobbs

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