Put to a punter locally who had seen his selection make up ground to scamper home in a dog race, it elicited predictable scepticism

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The Independent Online
Doubtless there exists in the minds of many readers the irritating idea of pretentious sports columnists or commentators who know all the answers offhand and can settle troublesome issues with absolute finality.

Bearing this in mind, close attention is being paid personally to a thought advanced in an educational aid that came my way over the holiday period and has been discussed since in the company of careworn bettors. It is that the majority of racehorses, in common with greyhounds, don't quicken.

Put to a punter locally who had seen his selection make up ground to scamper home in a dog race screened from Sunderland, it elicited what you may think to be predictable scepticism. "Bollocks," he said gruffly. In staggered disbelief he went on to suggest, with great simplicity and patience, that no account should be paid to idle rumours.

To many people this may appear to be a trivial theme in days of great sporting upheaval and what passes for progress. But, according to Alan Potts in his book Against The Crowd: The method of a modern backer, a great deal of the information published about horseracing is utterly misleading and largely worthless.

This applies especially, Potts insists, to the notion that horses even under the most persistent urging can be persuaded to produce winning bursts of acceleration. To substantiate his theory, Potts, who claims to turn a healthy profit, offers the example of a human: the Olympic 100 metre champion, Linford Christie. "[Christie's] races have produced similar scenarios, with Christie storming through to overtake his rivals in the final third of the race, to win, usually going away at the finish. If you had to describe in a single word the quality that makes Christie successful, I suspect 'Power' would top the list of answers."

Consider the term "turn of foot", which is used to describe the quality that enables a horse to outpace its rivals in the closing stages and you have some idea of what Potts, clearly no respecter of reputations, is getting at. With rare exceptions (Shergar, Dancing Brave and Desert Orchid are offered as examples), he considers the notion of such acceleration to be nonsense. Especially as this argument questions seriously the knowledge put forth by trainers, jockeys and racing tipsters; we are on dodgy ground here, but no matter.

Making further use of Christie's career, Potts adds: "Detailed analysis of Christie's running has shown that his victories don't result from acceleration on his part, but from the fact that his ability and training allow him to maintain top speed for longer than his rivals. When he appears to be 'powering home', he is simply maintaining a level speed whilst his rivals are slowing down."

What struck me before I was half-way through digesting this was that it should have been fairly obvious.

Some years ago, when preparing an article on a remarkably successful canine, Balleyregan Bob, I consulted a man who has spent many years around dog tracks without suffering any great anguish. "Dogs run at even pace," he said. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Well, that is more or less what Potts believes about racehorses. "The quality we are seeking will be demonstrated over the final two furlongs of a race, whatever the distance," he writes. "It is in this part of most races that the average speed will increase and the horse with the power will be the one who sustains this increased speed over all, or at least most, of the quarter mile, and will gradually draw away from most of his rivals as they slow down and he maintains his speed... if two or three horses remain together through to the finish, then in all probability they are simply slowing down together, and others will close from behind. They may even be headed by a horse coming from behind."

That none of this was advertised widely on the publication of Potts' book last year is understandable. You see, he does not appear to go much on most of the people who are professionally involved in racing. Thinks they are not to be trusted. Not with the truth anyway.