Racing betting strategy: Could horses' herd mentality cost you a winner?

It's easy to forget that the magnificent beasts that we cheer on around racecourses are herd animals, and racing expert Andrew believes their natural instincts could lead to race-defining behaviour.

During my betting journey I have read as much as I can about horse racing from around the world. I can remember reading a book about horse behaviour and body language, which has proven valuable, not only when watching horses in the parade ring but also on the way to the start of a race.

However, I think the most important thing I learnt from that book was about how horses are genetically herd animals. Wild horses run in a herd with an alpha at the head of the group and other horses will not pass the alpha.

I brought this into my form analysis and now will oppose horses that do not manage to win more than they place.

Some of my early reading such as Be a successful punter with Fineform as your guide focused on awarding points to winning horses and placed horses. 

A strong example of that herd mentality in jump racing was Harchibald, who, due to that mentality of not wanting to pass the alpha, had to be produced on the line to win. 

Paul Carberry was a superb horseman, who rode Harchibald regularly and got more than his fair share of abuse from losing punters when Harchibald did not win.

Harchibald's career record over hurdles saw him earn ten wins and nine places from 31 runs, and he won at Grade 1 level, but of those nine places he was runner-up six times by a total of under nine lengths and in each one he had looked like the winner.

A more recent example came at Cheltenham on December 9 when Spiritofthegames was beaten by my selection Eva's Oskar, when he really should have won. 

Spiritofthegames is superbly consistent, has great heart and always gives 100%, which is backed by his record of four wins and 14 places (including eight seconds) from 35 outings. 

Mentally, however, he appears to find it exceedingly difficult to pass the horse he sees as the alpha, and this weakness is getting worse as Spiritofthegames gets older, as he has not won a race since 2018.

Video coverage of his defeat to Eva's Oskar is well worth chasing up because it shows this to full effect, as in the final two furlongs Spiritofthegames looked all over the winner, only to finish second yet again.

On that point, it is very important to watch races when studying form, especially for horses that place more often than winning, as such coverage can offer very real evidence and show a perfect example of the herd mentality of horses.

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