Racing: Farewell Streak - don't be gone long; The Saturday column.
OF ALL the phenomena known to punting man, none is more interesting than the hot streak. Where does it come from? How does it begin? How can it be sustained? How can we tell it has ended? These are just some of the questions to which the punting mind must apply itself, unless, of course, its possessor is a believer in nothing more intriguing than luck.
As one who has recently emerged from a long (well, three weeks seems quite long to this punter) and exhilarating streak, I feel it might be useful to set down my thoughts while they remain fresh.
The first thing to remember about the streak is that it is something that happens only to the Mug Punter. True pros do not bet in such a way that they can ever discover its joys - they bet the way a cat preys on a somnolent mouse: waiting, waiting, inching forward, checking every potential threat to its own wellbeing, before that final ruthless pounce. It is as well to be aware of this, not least because the streak can induce delusions of punting adequacy for Punterus Dopensis (to give Mug his scientific title), which can be as dangerous to his economic welfare as, say, a visit to a casino when under the influence, or a houseful of teenage daughters.
With that knowledge safely filed, we may address ourselves to the phenomenon. In my experience, the streak arrives suddenly, and unheralded. No "quite good" days precede it, necessarily. One day it's just there. It seldom, if ever, arrives on a day when you've looked at a card and thought: "This is easy."
Quite the opposite in fact. Dogma is the enemy of the streak. The belief that 'so-and-so can't be beat' leaves it crouching in the darkest corner.
What coaxes the streak from its lair is healthy scepticism: the ability to look at every horse in every race with jaundiced eye and an attitude that says "Now why the hell should you win?" The streak begins therefore not with a 6-4 favourite, or hardly ever. The streak begins with a 20-1 shot that turns that favourite over.
Have you ever played any game that involves hand/eye co-ordination? If so you will know how to recognise the streak. In these games you will very occasionally enter what is now fashionably referred to as The Zone. When you enter The Zone, the gap between conception and execution contracts to nothing. No sooner have you thought of a shot than you've executed it. It is a feeling as close to perfection as life has to offer. (Yes, even that one). That's a streak. So it is with punting. Sometimes you will know, just know, that this bet is not quite right' this one, however, is. And no sooner have you realised it than you are thinking of how to spend the money.
How do you sustain it? Only through scepticism. The streak hates over-confidence. It will sneak away in an instant if you get lazy in your form study' if you get cocky and think: 'How did I ever lose at this game? How I pity the fools who do.' The streak doesn't like that at all.
How do you recognise that the streak has departed? It's very simple. The streak generally waits until, full of hubris, you increase your stake. You know it has gone when you start backing losers - and not just losers, but losers on a regular basis in races you know you shouldn't be touching with mint surgical tweezers tied to the end of an extra-long barge-pole. This mug was made aware of his streak's departure when the three horses who carried his confidence in a Class 6 handicap at Southwell finished last, second-last and third-last. It was after this unwelcome trifecta that I realised my streak had gone. Come back soon, baby. You know I miss you so much.