Hard-luck story of the lost Continent

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The Independent Online

Luck, according to the dictionary, is an abstract noun, meaning "Beyond control and subject to chance". As every punter knows, however, there is nothing abstract about it. It shadows our every move and decides our fate. When you are winning, you feel you have it grasped tight in your fist. Lose, and it is the leaden weight around your shoulders.

Luck, according to the dictionary, is an abstract noun, meaning "Beyond control and subject to chance". As every punter knows, however, there is nothing abstract about it. It shadows our every move and decides our fate. When you are winning, you feel you have it grasped tight in your fist. Lose, and it is the leaden weight around your shoulders.

It is out there on the racecourse too, blocking the favourite when he needs a run two out, and allowing the 25-1 chance in front to steal a vital length. When the favourite finishes fast but too late into second, all those who backed him will curse their luck but also reassure themselves that, next time, they will get it all back. Next time, after all, the runner-up will be a "winner without a penalty".

It is one of the great betting shop maxims, along with its close relative, "lent not lost". It is also why, when William Hill's odds compilers sat down on Monday to price up the Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon this Saturday, they made Continent the 9-2 favourite and offered everything else at at least 12-1. This, remember, is a fiercely competitive sprint handicap for which a maximum field of 23 runners seems certain to go to post.

Continent's price looks ridiculous, yet, as David Hood, Hill's PR man, pointed out: "Everyone will have seen how unlucky he has been in his last two races ... [and] he will be difficult to oppose." Apparently so. Yesterday, they cut him to 4-1.

Now Continent certainly took an almighty bump – from his stable-mate, Undeterred, no less – in the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood 11 days ago. The time before that, at Ascot, he looked to be full of running but couldn't find a gap, and the time before that, at Newcastle, it was much the same story.

His loyal band of supporters have backed him generously on each occasion, because the "winner without a penalty" is the racing equivalent of doing the same numbers on the lottery every week – no fun at all, but still better than missing out if they ever do come up.

But when does bad luck stop being bad luck and turn into a nasty habit? What constitutes bad luck is, of course, wholly subjective, but the best punters, such as professional backer Eddie Fremantle, are careful not to over-react to what looks like an unfortunate defeat.

"My method of doing things is to give a price to everything, and in general I would build things like that into the price," Fremantle said yesterday. "There will probably be an over-reaction when a horse looks unlucky, although I've got no figures to back it up. In the case of that particular horse, it's one of those which has supposedly been unlucky at least three times on the spin, and I thought that at Newcastle, when it did get out, it didn't actually do anything."

There is certainly little chance of Fremantle's money heading in Continent's direction. "I can't envisage anything being 9-2 for that race," he says.

"Certain horses are priced up as if they would definitely have won, and I can't believe that Continent would have been shorter than 9-2 if he had won [at Goodwood]. In fact, he'd probably have been longer, because he'd have been carrying a penalty."

It is a thought which anyone studying the form for Saturday's big handicap would do well to bear in mind. No-one can know for sure whether Continent would have won the Stewards' Cup without the unfortunate intervention of Undeterred.

Indeed, Kieren Fallon, the rider of Undeterred, was adamant after the race that he would have won had he not suffered interference from Guinea Hunter. To back Continent at a price which suggests not only that he would have won, but done so with some comfort, is madness.

However, if you could find a bookmaker prepared to offer, say, 2-1 that Continent will be unlucky once again this Saturday, that would be another matter entirely.

Threat to Folkestone

Arena Leisure issued a warning yesterday over the future of Folkestone racecourse. The company has a redevelopment plan for the track, involving the sale of land.

Ian Renton, Arena's director of racing, said: "In essence, it is our least profitable racecourse.

"It needs substantial investment. What we hope to do, and we have applied for planning permission, is to completely redevelop the course which would mean selling some land off for essential use, reinvesting the income from that in new grandstands and leisure facilities".

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