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Rain, rain, incessant infernal rain. It seems just now - and, actually, at around this time most years - that pretty much all of the jumps racing is either abandoned or run on heavy ground.
Moan, moan, grumble, grumble, go the form students. "This ground throws up all sorts of freak results", etc etc, blah blah.
Well, guess what? It's a load of old cobblers. What those naysayers are implying is that they find it difficult to deal with a change in the ground. Me? I love it, because it actually makes the job of handicapping easier, not harder.
Let me expound on that.
Heavy ground is the most extreme level of sodden turf on which horses are asked to race. Whilst it takes on varying degrees of mud and splosh depending on the track, it is always more testing than merely 'soft' ground. So, whereas most horses can be expected to perform, at least to some degree, on middling ground - good to soft, good, and good to firm - only a subset of the equine population will perform close to their optimal on very quick or very slow turf.
In this study, I'm going to focus specifically on National Hunt handicap races, for two reasons:
1. There are not that many flat handicaps run on heavy ground (though results are similar to the below)
2. In non-handicap events - novice races and the like - it is as likely that a horse outclasses its rivals as it is that a horse 'out-acts' its rivals on the prevailing squelchy grass
Let's first look at the performance of horses in handicap races being run on heavy ground. The table below is sorted by number of previous heavy ground wins.
As we can see, the vast majority of horses have yet to win on heavy ground, and many of them will have never encountered such a test before. Materially, note the correlation between number of heavy ground wins and the win percentage in subsequent heavy ground handicaps.
Ignoring the solitary 6-time heavy ground winner that failed to score a seventh mud success, we can see a clear linear relationship between number of heavy ground wins and subsequent win strike rate.
Whilst that is fairly logical and, in itself, not especially helpful, what is perhaps more surprising is that following multiple (two-plus) heavy ground winners in National Hunt handicaps run on heavy ground is a profitable strategy to embrace blindly.
Let me emphasise that with the following table:
The American author, James Quinn, talks throughout his book, The Complete Handicapper, about 'the rule of two'. This rule, again entirely sensible and a very good way of avoiding bad value bets, is predicated on the market overreaction to a single instance of an event.
That could be a single good run, a single heavy ground performance, or a single bad run. Or anything else which has not been replicated or built upon since. Hence the two-plus heavy ground wins proviso demonstrates incontrovertibly that a horse is likely to run to form on that sort of surface, all other things being equal.
The trick here, from a value perspective, may be to look for horses that have been running on quicker ground and now make a return to heavy having previously won twice or more on it.
Whilst the win percentage is actually slightly lower, the profit at industry starting price is broadly in line, but more crucially we've reduced the number of bets considerably and, therefore, improved the return on investment (ROI) by over 50%. Indeed at exchange prices, or perhaps using Best Odds Guaranteed early prices, the ROI is somewhere close to 25%.
The logic behind this is simply that it is entirely possible that a horse returning to heavy ground may be better suited to it than the less extreme test it encountered last time.
Let's now extend this logic one final step, and see if a poor performance last time on different ground can improve the ROI. Focusing only on those runners which finished outside the top six on their previous start has a profound impact on the figures.
Firstly, it reduces the number of bets by more than half. Secondly, it marginally improves the strike rate (though this may be happenstance). Thirdly, the ROI is now over 50% on a meaningful number of bets at industry SP.
The key here is what I consider to be the biggest remaining blind spot in today's betting markets: a bad run last time out. The premise in the above ponderances is that the bad run can be explained by unsuitable underfoot. Of course, the bad run could be down to all sorts of other things, either exclusively or in combination with a dislike of the ground.
But one thing is clear: if a horse has shown it can win on heavy ground, and it ran a clunker last time, be prepared to forgive that clunker back on the quaggy stuff.
So, how to find these diamonds in the mud? Why, with the geegeez racecards of course. Here's one from yesterday.
The Race Analysis tab reveals that Alder Mairi was the only horse to have previously won twice or more on heavy ground.
Checking the Full Form Filter reveals she ran on a less extreme surface last time (and in better class and over further and off a four pound higher rating!).
Not only that, but look at how she performed on heavy ground the last time she encountered it: two wins and a fair run in a Listed race in between. Alder Mairi won at 18/1.
Did I back Alder Mairi? No, I backed Bravo Bravo each way. (Don't ask, it was one of those days...)
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Finally today, I'm thinking of hosting a seminar around the subject of value betting. Please help me understand if this is something worth doing by filling in the question below. (Thanks!)