What to expect in 2024

The new year is well upon us now and, on this fourth day of January, a few resolutions may remain intact. Chocolate, biscuits, cakes (and especially chocolate biscuit cakes) and beer are largely off the agenda for a bit here - yes, life is currently very dull - but, on a much more interesting note, below are some words around what is on the 2024 agenda for geegeez.co.uk...

 

Racecard Small Changes

We'll start with a 'not very rock n'roll' update: a collection of small changes to the racecards. Although small, most of them are things many users repeat countless times while navigating the software in search of interesting horses.

22nd January Update

These changes are now live and you can see them in action in the video below - there's a timeline below the video:

00:00 Intro
00:31 Save Racecard Filters (desktop & mobile)
02:45 Actual Race Distance in form blocks
04:16 Full Form UK/Ire filter
05:25 'By Time' Racecard view now has time order dropdown
06:40 Asterisked notes
09:10 Run Style added to Full Result
11:00 Removed 'abandoned' meeting non-runners from Tracker
11:35 Outro

 

Editorial Explainer

First up is a racecard menu filters 'memory' - currently, a user must select parameters from the racecard menu filters section each time they close and open the cards menu page. If you use the same filters all the time, you have to reinstate them each time. Faff. We'll sort that.

[Incidentally, if you sometimes see there are no races displaying on the menu page, just hit the 'reset' button top right]

 

Next, an asterisk on the form row when you have a note saved for any/all of meeting, race or runner - to notify you that it's there.

 

Also, we'll be displaying the specific race distance and any distance amendments when you hover over the 'Race Conditions' on any form row:

 

And, if you choose to view the racecard menu page 'by time' you can view the race dropdown ordered by time.

 

If run style is of interest to you, we're adding each horse's early pace position to the full results:

 

We'll get those small, but perfectly formed, changes live later this month.

 

Betfair Data

One of the projects for later in the year is to incorporate Betfair data - Betfair Starting Price (BSP) as well as in-running high and low prices. We actually have these data in our system but adding them appropriately to results and into the tools will take a while. But it's on our to do list.

For a lot of readers who have been restricted, some of the BSP results are likely to make eye-opening reading, certainly when compared to SP.

 

Ratings Model

This is one of those dreaded rabbit holes into which I vowed we'd never delve. Well, we have already sunk a good few hours into the project and we've made some promising progress; but there is  much still to do. I'm at the point now where, for the first time, I do believe we can produce a set of ratings that a) finds a lot of winners and b) highlights some value.

The process involves creating separate models for separate groups of races, and if/when we get as far as publication, we'll do it piecemeal. That is, once we're happy with, for instance, our all-weather sprint handicap model, we'll publish numbers for all-weather sprint handicaps. And so on.

There are loads of ratings out there, many of which are very good at finding winners - but due to the fact they're published so widely they are significantly loss-making. Our Peter May ratings get close to break even at Betfair SP with their top rated picks every year, sometimes turning a small profit and sometimes a small loss. And we might not be able to fare better than that.

My main point is that, unless we find something of utility, as opposed to the somewhat ornamental numbers produced by the fashionable houses, we'll not publish.

 

Query Tool

QT is a powerful means of analysing large chunks of racing data and, once that's done, of saving specific 'QT Angles' to your own account and being notified of qualifiers each day. It's been unchanged for a few years now, and we've aborted a few attempts at an upgrade; but I have so many things I want to add to QT - a majority of them from your feedback and suggestions - and, once we've re-engineered a QT 2.0 engine, it will be relatively straightforward to deploy that extra functionality.

This WILL happen in 2024, it's been too long.

 

*

As you can see, apart from the small changes due for release this month, we've got a couple of pretty big 'how long is a piece of string' projects for later in the year. The Betfair element shouldn't be too onerous but I'd like to put some developer time into the modelling next. Very, very loose timeline would be aiming to get some flat rating models on stream for the start of the turf season; then perhaps pivoting to the Betfair and QT projects before reverting to the remaining race code ratings models.

There is a lot of scope for timelines to change, but these are the 2024 resolutions for geegeez. Let's hope they last longer than my personal attempts at self-improvement!

Matt

p.s. away from the bright lights of geegeez, there are a couple of other interesting projects on the go. One, a tote ticket builder, should hopefully be available very soon (I've been using it for a year!), and the other, TennisProfits.com, is a site for tennis traders that we're hoping to make more accessible for bettors, too. I'll share snippets on these from time to time as the year progresses. The tote ticket project especially is one that I think will be of great interest to many geegeez readers/racing punters.

2023 Draw Bias: Qatar ‘Glorious’ Goodwood Festival

As we turn the calendar page from July to August, so the Qatar 'Glorious' Goodwood Festival heaves into view on the rolling Sussex Downs. To emerge victorious from a festival meeting contested on such a quintessentially quirky configuration requires more than a 'mere' understanding of the form. Preparations for those serious about the week will start with an awareness of the layout of the circuit and the implications on race shape.

Draw is rarely as simple - and occasionally not as complicated - as the pundits will tell you in their one line summaries. Let's review the course.

These are Goodwood's helter-skelter pistes:

 

 

If you're confused, you'll not be alone. There is a tight right-hand loop, and a straight of a little shy of half a mile from which point the run in is pretty much all downhill - having been largely uphill to the turn.

Goodwood is normally a front-runner's track for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when horses get to the turn into the straight, they tend to fan wide, giving up ground, just at the moment the pacemaking railer is stealing a length or two. Secondly, horses held up for a later run often get caught in a pocket, with the far rail of the home straight cambering away from the grandstands. That said, a cutaway has been introduced more recently to try to offer patiently ridden runners an outlet close to the far rail and this has made life fairer for all that the clearest passage is usually in front or wide.

So that's the complicated layout of the track. Now what of the weather? With clerk of the course Edward Arkell reporting Thursday morning that they'd received 55mm (more than two inches) of rain in the preceding five days, the current official description is soft, heavy in places. Latest going and weather station news can be found here. The forecast is for intermittent and persistent showers from here on in, and throughout next week's five day meeting. Let's see how soft and heavy ground impacts optimal draw and run style criteria.

Goodwood 5f and 6f Draw / Run Style Bias (Soft or Heavy ground)

Using the Percentage of Rivals Beaten (PRB) metric can be a lot more instructive than simple win and place percentages, especially when the sample sizes are smaller. PRB gives some sort of score to every runner in every race, with the exception of last placed finishers who beat 0% of their rivals. Here's how the PRB draw / run style heat map looks for Goodwood straight track sprints on soft or heavy ground in fields of 7-10 runners:

 

And here's the same view for fields of 11+ runners:

Generally speaking high draws are at a notable disadvantage and, in bigger fields, being held up is a negative. The combined 7+ runner heat map corroborates that view:

 

 

Goodwood 7f and 1m Draw / Run Style Bias (Soft or Heavy ground)

As we move onto the round course and races of seven furlongs or a mile, things get a little less clear cut. Let's start by looking at 7f on soft or heavy, 11+ runners. Here's the win table:

Low favoured, over middle, over high, right? Erm, not necessarily. Let's add in the places to that table:

 

Now we're thinking anywhere but the middle... but if we extend the runner range to 7+ runners as we did for sprint trips, the picture is extremely vague:

 

 

This is better illustrated by a table:

 

In fact, middle draws have the best PRB figure, but only marginally. After all that prevaricating, the reality is that there's probably no draw advantage and only a narrow edge to those racing in the front half of the field.

At a mile, it's a similarly unclear picture when the going is soft or heavy. Below is the heatmap for 11+ runners, taking in the Golden Mile handicap.  It favours front end run style and/or a low draw in the main.

 

The Golden Mile itself typically has a strong low draw bias - indeed, it's one of the strongest draw bias races in the calendar, with just one winner exiting a stall more than ten from the rail since 2009 when our database starts:

 

The only renewal of the Golden Mile to be run on soft or heavy during that time frame was in 2017. Then, Master Of The World won, from stall 3. He beats stalls 6, 2 and 7. With the horse drawn 5 a non-runner, the actual draws of the first four home were 3-5-2-6! The trifecta paid £1251. I didn't have it 🙁

Keep an eye out for the low draws in that one.

With little to report on deep ground at longer trips, it's time to summarize the above.

Summary: Goodwood Draw and Run Style Bias on Soft or Heavy Ground

At sprint trips on the straight track, it has usually been a disadvantage to be drawn high. Horses racing prominently and on the lead have fared best in bigger fields.

Over seven furlongs and a mile, there is a largely level playing field; that said, in bigger fields over a mile, a low draw and / or a front rank racing position can be advantageous.

Good luck

Matt

 

Video: Creating an Odds Line / Tissue

Following on from Dave Renham's excellent article on creating a tissue (which you can read here), I recorded a video which shows how you can do this using Geegeez Gold. The video is quite long because there is a fair bit to work through, but you can get the gist of it without necessarily watching the middle part (though I recommend you do, of course!).

In this recording I looked at a five furlong sprint handicap at Catterick, and was lucky/good enough to find the winner; but I didn't actually do that well in mimicking the market, as you'll see...

 

 

At the end of the video, I compare the prices I came up with against the final starting prices. The overround was 111% whereas my own was closer to 100% allowing for the late non-runner, but still, I have some work to do in getting my odds closer to the market!

Matt

20/7/23: Another example: this time I got the market (more) right but was undone by a pace tear up I didn't predict in terms of the actual result :-/

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Placepot Fun

As a bit of a change, I recorded my thought processes - not quite literally - during the framing of a couple of placepots I struck today. As usual, I deployed the 'in development' ticket builder to place optimized part-perms (don't worry if that sounds like alienspeak, I'll clarify another day - basically, it takes my picks and breaks them into the most likely set of outcome combinations).

I went at Ffos Las and Hamilton on video, and also had a small roll at Uttoxeter. Happily, the recorded pair both collected, while I exited at Uttoxeter when a non-runner took a five horse race down to four (win only). Annoying as I normally cover that scenario in my play. Here are the tickets I placed, where * is unnamed favourite, lowest racecard number when joint- or co-favourites:

 

 

Anyway, the main purpose of the videos is to share a little of the things I look at when framing this sort of bet. There is no narrative, just a bit of music - feel free to mute if you no likey - but you'll be able to follow the cursor around the screen, which is a reasonable proxy for my thinking out aloud.

[The controls bottom right will handle tweaks to volume, playback speed, and full screen toggle]

 

Ffirst up, viva Ffos Las Vegas. You can track the results here - choose 'Recent Results' > 'Thu 8 Jun' > then use the dropdown for meeting.

 

 

The tickets shaped up like this in the end (number of placed selections replacing the actual selections, which you can see in the video):

Ffos Las placepot paid £90.30 with tote's 5% uplift, so that was a nice 7/2+ winner for the £18.80 stake and £1 worth of winning tix - and plenty of fun through the afternoon.

 

Meanwhile, at Hamilton Park, I rolled the dice like this:

 

The tickets were thus:

This time I had £2.20 in winning tix, of a dividend that paid £26.25 for each pound, again factoring in tote's 5% bonus for betting with them. So £57.75 for a stake of £20.40, a 7/4 shot or so.

Nothing earth-shatteringly profitable, but two solid returns on workaday dividends and, crucially, great craic all afternoon.

 

For what it's worth - after the fact, literally nothing - here's the £18.12 Uttoxeter overture I played:

 

And here's the tiny in-running saver I had on the horse that blew up the placepot, which made it a free bet:

 

I hope there's something in the videos above worth thinking about in terms of the parts of the racecards you look at for various things; you have to make some inference on the basis that there's no commentary, but I'm sure at least some people will appreciate that all the more!

Stay lucky,

Matt

 

Site Issues: Update [6th June]

6th June: Further update at the bottom of the post

Here at geegeez.co.uk we pride ourselves on being able to offer uninterrupted access to the editorial, racecards and form tools that we know you've come to rely on to find your picks. We have an outstanding record of 'uptime' - time the site is available with all services running - but this past week has been a challenge, to say the least; in what follows I'll share what has happened and is happening, and why.

Tuesday last week was a scheduled maintenance day - techie speak for something that has to be upgraded in order to ensure the future smooth running of the show. In this case, we were upgrading our server, an activity that involves migrating all files, code and databases (as well as email) from the old 'box' to the new one.

Servers have lots of settings, dials and levers and a change in just one of those can result in problems. Given that the software you know as Geegeez Gold runs to hundreds of thousands of lines of code across multiple languages and is deployed on four different servers, problems are unwelcome visitors.

As it transpired, the first issue we faced - last Tuesday - was with our own firewall (software that defends us against nefarious would-be interlopers who try to hack the site). Because our IP address (the way computers and servers identify each other on the internet) had changed, the firewall thought we were attacking ourselves! We spotted that immediately but, because the software is very good at its job, it still took a while to reconfigure things.

And that's when the 'fun' really began...

What became apparent was that the full results files - which we receive from our data supplier, Racing Post, and with which we then perform a million downstream magic tricks - were not processing; or, rather, they were processing on the separate server where that stuff happens, but that machine could not connect to the database on the new server to write them into the data store.

This, it turns out, is a problem. A big problem. Those results drive large parts of the Gold ecosystem, including Query Tool, Bet Finder, Bet Tracker and, crucially, the reports.

Previously, last weekend, I'd had the very great fortune to be in Bratislava with Carole (formerly known as Mrs Matt) while our son had a two-day sleepover at granny's. We were there to see the peerless Depeche Mode in concert on the Sunday and had got in the mood by attending a 'warm up' night in a downtown nightclub on Saturday. Loud music, lots of grog, and two hundred Eurogoth types of a similar vintage strutting, heaving and sweating in a basement dungeon. A marvellous throwback to the days of all of our youths.

By Wednesday, it was apparent that all was not well not only with the website but also with non-techie conducting a growing orchestra of disparate technicians in search of a fix. For the server problem, I mean.

Yes, I had managed to bring Covid back through the 'Nothing to Declare' channel on the way home, and it was now taking staunch residence in my respiratory system. Thankfully, I'm reasonably fit (for my age, at least) and fully vaccinated but, in spite of those pluses, Wednesday to Friday particularly - and still dragging its heels leaving me now - were not good health days.

I offer that merely as a little added context to what was already a debilitating situation: perhaps it reflects well on family health and the like that very little in life stresses me out more than site downtime, and here I was in a pickle.

At this point I want to thank all of the key people who have helped so far, and who are continuing to work through the final obstacles. The main man has been Dave - Database Dave as I very affectionately call him. He's an absolutely brilliant engineer, a lovely bloke, and he now works for a bank full time. In spite of that, Dave put in three near full-time shifts diagnosing and liaising with our hosting company's (excellent) support team to find the problem.

Heading up the support team was one of the co-owners of the hosting company, Dom, himself a database architect out of the very top drawer and a fellow of the open source group that support and maintain MariaDB, one of the world's most popular database technologies and the one we use to store and retrieve horse-y info here at geegeez.co.uk. These are the calibre of brains that were stymied.

Without getting too technical and boring - far too late, I hear at least one reader cry - the issue was nothing to do with the code. Rather, it was to do with a character set incompatibility which had been introduced by MySQL, the bossy older step-brother of MariaDB. Long and short, we needed a different database connector in order to mitigate for a cock up by the team at MySQL, the preeminent database technology in use today.

It was Friday evening, a few hours after Soul Sister's and Frankie's Oaks and a few before Auguste Rodin's and Ryan/Aidan/the lads' Derby, when we finally got all the jigsaw pieces in place. Saturday morning involved updating the connector, running a series of tests and, when they came back positive, processing the backlog of results ahead of the start of Derby day.

The sense of relief here was genuinely palpable. Imagine decrepit Grandpa Joe from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory lying in his bed just before the tale's title hero barrels in clutching the golden ticket. That's not a dissimilar scene to the one that played out in this sickly Hackney homestead!

The relief. Sometimes the burden of this gig is a bit too much. Not very often at all, to be truthful. But sometimes. This past week has been one of those times.

Anyway, we're in far better shape but we're not out of the woods yet. Neither the website nor I are clear of the impediments placed upon us early last week. The dreaded 'rona is taking its time to move on, in spite of a false dawn yesterday where I was feeling much better, and today's Morningsong was accompanied by a thumping beat inside the noggin which is yet to meaningfully subside.

Of more concern to you will be the fact that Query Tool Angles, a hugely popular part of the Gold provision, is not showing. The timing of this suggests that it's related to the fixes we applied for the results processing issue; and so we'll focus on getting that sorted today. Additionally, we're having some problems with email deliverability - on messages sent out from here - regarding our @geegeez.co.uk email addresses.

So, still some stuff to manage through, and I thank you very sincerely for your patience and understanding while we get to the bottom of them. If you're feeling charitable, you might reflect on how different life is using other data sources to find interesting horses; if not, I understand completely, and please know we're on the case.

In a day or three, this will all be a fading image in the rear view mirror as we speed forwards to the next set of racing puzzles but, for now, there remain some smaller conundrums to unravel behind the scenes.

I hope the above has offered at least a little flavour of the past week and, more than that because this is supposed to be an entertainment website, that it wasn't too boring a retrospective.

Keep well, and thank you again,

Matt

[6th June 10am]

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water... the main challenges of last week had managed to mask a further issue, with the Query Tool server. That machine was refusing to speak to the new live server, in spite of all introductions having been made (firewall permissions having been initiated). Again, we were eventually able to get to where we needed to be and, late last night, Query Tool began catching up on a week's worth of data updates. It is now fully up to date. Hallelujah.

QT Angles, however, was refusing to play ball. Again, this issue was masked by the QT server issue, which in turn was masked by the Live server results issue. More masks than a secret policeman's ball! Anyhoo, long and short, this was a bug. The only one in the entire week-long docudrama, and we were able to trap it, squish it, and re-run the QT Angles code this morning. All is now as it should be. Sing hosannah!

Thanks again for your patience and understanding during this torrid time. I'm off for a very long lie down...

Matt

Gold Upgrades: May 2023

It's been a while since we've released any new features to Gold, so I'm excited to share a couple of small - but awesome - upgrades with you. The first may be imperceptible (but probably won't be), the second is niche, and the third is a new rating... let's get to it.

1 Remember settings

You know how you always do the same thing when you go to the cards to see the info that's right for you? For me, this means setting the draw tab to 'Actual' and PRB/PRB3/PRB in the three dropdowns; and setting the Pace tab heat map to 'Place%'; and incessantly re-sorting the Instant Expert grid when I change one of the top of the page variables.

Well, no more... yay!

Why?

Because we've introduced some 'local memory' improvements so that things remain as you set them up if you're using the same machine as the one you set them up on. Here's what I mean: let's say you, like me, look at PRB views on the 'Draw' tab.

 

Up until now, if you were logged out or otherwise left the site, you'd have to re-select the parameters as you like them. But, from now, you'll see those settings remembered and appearing as a matter of course when you go to the tab.

Likewise, that minor irritation of having to re-sort the Instant Expert table after every variable amend:

 

Not any more. Now you can change anything at the top of the Instant Expert and the grid will remain in the order you had it. Phew, what a relief!

 

We've added 'remember' functions to all tabs, which will certainly save me a goodly few clicks most days, and hopefully ease your transit around the cards a little, too.

N.B. This is the case if you're using the same machine/browser and don't clear your cache/cookies. Even if you do clear cache from time to time, like me, it's still only an occasional faff to redefine your parameters. And that will remind you of when you had to do it every time and make you grateful 😉

 

2 Added PRB to Pace 'Heat Map' view and table

I've wanted this for a loooong time. Trying to infer the impact of the combination of draw and run style can be really difficult when the sample sizes are small, which is why I use 'Place %' rather than 'Win %' - because place percent gives meaning to each of the placed horses, whereas win percent only does that for the first one home.

Let's say we only have four ten-horse races in the sample size. That would mean 12 placed horses and just four winning horses. Obviously, then, the heat map could be skewed especially when looking at win percent.

PRB - Percentage of Rivals Beaten - assigns value to every runner in every race, aside from the last horse home whose value is 0 (0% of rivals beaten). In our fictional four race sample above, we now have 40 (or 36 if you exclude Tail End Charlie's) scored horses from which to form some sort of perspective.

Anyway, PRB is better in my view, especially when looking at almost any flat turf race (the all-weather sample sizes tend to be much larger and, therefore, more meaningful in traditional win/place strike rate terms).

 

Note the PRB option in the dropdown box top right and, directly below that, a new PRB column in the pace table. This will immediately be my 'de facto' setting; and, of course, in this brave new world that setting will be remembered!

3 Introducing Performance Ratings

Everyone loves a rating, right? Here at geegeez we have a fair number these days, what with official ratings, Racing Post Ratings, Topspeed, Peter May's private ratings, and our sectional upgrade figures - and that's assuming you don't use our ratings tool to create and save your own 'R1' numbers! But these Performance Ratings are pretty nifty and I think they'll add value for some users at least. What are they? I'm glad you asked...

These are the BHA's own race figures. They differ from Official Rating (OR) in that they are a measure of the level to which a horse has been judged to have run in a specific race. So, for a horse going up the handicap, OR and the Performance Rating (PR) will be the same.

Here's Sayifyouwill, a last time out winner off 79 - she was raised 3lb to 82 for that, as a result of her PR for the last day win being adjudged to have been 82:

 

 

But when a horse runs below its handicap mark, it won't necessarily be dropped to its performance level. For instance, Cry Havoc won a couple of times before running poorly on her most recent two starts:

 

 

Looking from bottom to top, we see she was 1st of 14 and, running off 79, was raised to 82. She then won in a field of 11 off her revised OR of 82 and was awarded a new PR of 86. On her penultimate start, when sixth of eight, she ran to a PR of just 69 and yet her handicap mark (OR) remained unchanged on 86. Another poor run, this time eliciting a PR of just 34 when running off 86 and trailing home last of six followed. After that, she was dropped a pound to an OR of 85 (not shown).

So what do these PR figures tell us? Well, they quantify the degree to which a horse may have underperformed and, when looking at the last few runs of a horse, they can help us build a profile of progression / regression in a similar way to RPR.

PR figures will start building as a history from now - we don't have the historic data, unfortunately - and there are some caveats, as follows:

- We will never publish a PR figure where there is no published OR (in other words, before a horse receives a handicap mark)

- We will never publish a PR figure for runs prior to the awarding of a handicap mark

- We will never publish a PR figure for Irish racing

The reason in each case is the same: we don't have access to them! Such data are a closely guarded secret at BHA towers and we are permitted to publish only what is available on the BHA website itself.

NOTE: You need to 'turn on' the PR ratings from the Racecard Options area of your My Geegeez page:

 

Over time, I feel that these PR figures will be a useful guide to horses' form profile and may also help to shed some light on optimal conditions for more exposed runners.

For more information on Performance Ratings, check out this article on the BHA's website.

*

That's all for now - I hope there's something of use to you in the above.

Good luck,

Matt

p.s. the SBC Awards votes close tomorrow at 9pm. geegeez.co.uk has been voted in two categories - Best Betting Website and Best Betting Data Resource - and your vote counts! There are also prizes to be won in a draw, as follows:

  • A Brand New Asus 14″ Laptop Computer
  • A Brand New Lenovo Smart Tablet
  • An annual membership to the Smart Betting Club

To vote, click here. It'll take about 120 seconds. And thanks a million!

Avoid Overwhelm: Material Factors, by Race Type

In some ways this is a dangerous post. In it I will attempt to answer the question, "which factors should I consider in which races?"

It's "dangerous" because different people use different things for different purposes. What works for me may very well not work for you; and what works for you works for you!

Nevertheless, one of the biggest problems with a horse racing form product like Geegeez Gold is overwhelm, that feeling that there's just too much stuff and not knowing where to start or where to end.

In what follows, then, I will share my preferred factors for given race types or situations. Again, they may not be right for you, but at least I hope they will provide some food for thought and perhaps some starting points if you're not sure where to begin right now.

The key to avoiding overwhelm is not to use too many variables. Start with one, build on to two or three, and then pause for thought. The way I tend to do things is that I will look at a race through the prism of a certain factor. What I mean by that is that, for example, if I'm looking at a five furlong sprint on a turning track, I know that I want to be with the early pace setter. If there's no early pace setter in the race I'm going to look to see if there's a possible prominent runner from an inside draw, and if there's no such horse, I'm probably going to move on to another race.

If there is a front runner, that horse becomes the focus of my attention and then I'm going to use more traditional form methodologies to support or refute the horse's case. By "traditional form methodologies" I mean things like form on the going, in the class, at the distance, recent form, trainer form, and so on. It's hardly rocket science, but the key is that I have a single angle in, and if that angle is not satisfied I'm probably going to pass the race. There are, after all, always a lot of races to look at.

In each case I'm starting from a position of asking the question, what do I know, or what do I think I know about this race?  In a race with older horses that all have an exposed level of form I can know quite a lot about the race before it happens: for example, I can know the likely shape of the race in terms of the pace, and run style of the horses, I can know about trainer form, horse form, which parts of the track might be suited given the distance and going, and so on.  These are races I personally like a lot because they have bundles of information and, crucially, very few gaps that need to be guessed at.

But what about races where there is little horse form information? Well, even here, although we don't know anything about the horses especially because they haven't run or they haven't run much before, we still have information about their pedigree, the trainer, jockey, and the track; and it is that information that comes to the fore in situations like this.

So let's consider some race setups and the key factors that I personally would engage in each one.

Maiden and novice races

In maiden and novice races, we're often dealing with horses that have either very little or no previous form. When horses are making their debut, we should look to the sire and especially to the trainer and the trainer's performance with first-time starters. Some trainers have their horses ready to go on the first day while others like to bring their horses on slowly, giving them an education from race to race in the early part of their career.

It also helps to know some general statistics about lightly raced or unraced horses. For example, two-year-old and three-year-old horses having their first ever start win at about 7.4%. But that same group of horses win at about 12% on their second run. So we can expect the average horse to step forward markedly from first to second start.

Within that overall statistic there are, of course, myriad different individual trainer statistics. Win strike rate in maiden and novice races is in large part down to the quality of the horses in question. So it is that the likes of Gosden, Appleby and Haggas have a huge advantage over some of the smaller, less well-patronised, trainers in those early races when the very best thoroughbreds race against more workaday types.

And, even within the top trainers, there are differences. Charlie Appleby wins with debutants 23% of the time - that's more than three times the average; and he wins with second time starters 33% of the time. Meanwhile, John Gosden (and son, Thady) wins at about 1 in 6 on debut and slightly better than one in four on second start.

Those win strike rates are much higher than the average for all trainers but naturally such information is known by the market as a whole and value can be hard to come by.

But knowing the average for the cohort can help us to look for those trainers who win more often than that average but are slightly more under the radar. Some examples of first time out trainers who perform better than one might expect include Ger Lyons, Paddy Twomey,  Paul (and Oliver) Cole, Jane Chapple-Hyam, Tom Clover and Richard Spencer.

Backing all  debutants from these yards since 2018 would have returned a profit of 334 points at an ROI of close to 50% to starting price. Now of course hindsight is 20/20,  but these names are not especially fashionable and their debutants can be expected to continue to pay their way going forwards.

With second time starters, Messrs. Appleby, Gosden and Haggas lead the way again but are, unsurprisingly, unprofitable to follow blind. However, Keith Dalgleish,  Martyn and Freddie Meade,  and to a lesser degree Hugo Palmer have been very interesting handlers to watch out for with once raced horses.

Here on geegeez.co.uk, our Trainer Snippets report has buttons for '1st Start' and '2nd Start':

And you'll find this information inline in the racecards under the 'trainer' icon:

Note also the Impact Value column, IV, which shows in this example that Owen Burrows is approximately two and a half times more likely (2.62x to be precise) to win with a second time starter than the average. That's good to know.

 

Single age group handicaps

Handicaps for horses of a single vintage, e.g. two-year-old handicaps (also known as nurseries), three-year-old only handicaps and, over hurdles, four-year-old only handicaps, are notoriously tricky races. To be honest, I tend to leave them alone as far as possible because, in terms of what we know, we just don't know enough. Well, I don't at any rate.

These races tend to have lots of horses who are capable of better than they've shown so far and whose trainers may or may not be adept at placing them to best effect on their first or second starts in a handicap. That is usually, though not exclusively, in a single age group handicap like one for three-year-olds only. But, as with the novice and maiden races, if we know what the cohort average strike rate is we can use that to extrapolate against individual trainers.

Using the Impact Value metric we discussed in the previous section, an IV of one implies a trainer wins as often as the average; and a number below one suggests they win less frequently than the average. So that means a number above one implies a trainer wins more often than the average. (You can - and should, in my opinion - read more about these metrics here).

Whereas with a horse's first and second lifetime starts they tend to improve their win chance on the second occasion, horses that are running for the first time in a handicap actually win slightly more often than horses running for the second time in a handicap.

Indeed if you had backed all horses making their handicap debut since the beginning of 2018 in 2-year-old only and 3-year-old only handicaps at Betfair SP you would have won 700 points for an ROI of 5%,  over nearly 14,000 bets! Incredibly, backing horses running for the second time in a handicap in those same race categories would have yielded almost 1% positive ROI, again at Betfair SP.  Always look twice at a horse making his first or second start in a handicap.

That same report, Trainer Snippets, and the same buttons - though this time with the 'Race Type Hcap' option selected - will give you some interesting contenders to consider. In this example, Andrew Slattery wins a little better than twice as often as the average with handicap second time starters, so his horse Clever Capall needs closer review.

 

Here's the inline racecard representation of the same snippet:

 

Notice how the HC2 indicator brings it to our attention that the horse is second time in a handicap.

 

Sire angles

In novice and maiden races, and also handicaps when there is little form, it can be useful to review the profile of the horse's sire. This will often reveal whether conditions are favourable, especially if the horse is encountering a different distance today or is running on ground towards the extremes of going.

There are many tools you can use on Geegeez to help with sire angles. The easiest to access is Instant Expert. Change the dropdown that says 'horse' to 'sire'. Then see what shows itself in the viewport.

In this example, we might be apprehensive about the chance of the second favourite, whose sire Recorder is 0 from 25 on standard going in the last two years.

 

Looking at the inline racecard form behind the 'breeding and sales' icon, we see Recorder's two-year all-weather record is actually an even more moderate 0-from-41 when factoring in all going conditions:

 

 

Chronograph, the son of Recorder in question, actually did run well on debut - finishing third - and we already know that Hugo Palmer horses improve from first to second run and can be worth following on their second run. So in this case we have mixed messages and it's up to you, the punter, to decide which information is more material. Ultimately, if you're not sure, be guided by what you consider to be a price that reflects the risk associated with the negative statistic(s) you've unearthed and still leaves some margin: if you don't like the price, it's a pass.

If you want a single digest of all sire information on a given day, our Sire Snippets report is the place to go. Here, we can see that it looks as though progeny of Al Kazeem may be somewhat underrated by the market...

 

 

Who is the leader?

It is hard to overstate the value of early pace in races. Getting an early lead in a race, especially if uncontested, is a huge advantage. Watch out for, and mark up, any horse that looks to have a chance of getting an easy early lead. I have spoken about this before in this post.

 

 

In the table above, '4' equates to 'Led', '3' to 'prominent, '2' to Midfield and '1' is held up. It is pretty unambiguous about the advantage of being in the front. The data in the table relates to all runners in the last five years: UK and Ireland, flat and jumps, handicaps and non-handicaps. The A/E and IV columns show the advantage that those horses which lead generally have.

It is crucial to try to understand which horse will lead in its race, though this is not necessarily a straightforward task, and often we simply won't know. But the value of trying to predict the early leader is one of the most crucial elements of horseracing form study, regardless of race code, distance or any other factor.

To understand if a horse has a chance to get an early lead, review the in-running comments at your chosen form book. Here at geegeez, we categorize run style in four different groups: led, prominent, midfield, and held up. The favoured group is 'Led' followed by 'Prominent', with 'Midfield' and 'Held up' generally, though not always, of less interest.

As a time-saving alternative to reviewing in-running comments, use a pace map. Needless to say, we have highly configurable pace maps for all British and Irish races on this site. Here is an example, where there is also a colour overlay illustrating where the best historical combinations of draw and run style have been. Green is good!

 

In this race, one might expect Betrayed, drawn in stall one and with little obvious pace contention around him, to make a bold bid. We can see from the colour 'blobs' at the top that 'Led' has been a favourable run style; and the table below that further articulates the fact.

The pace map itself has been sorted by draw ('Dr' column) and is being viewed across the average of the last four runs for each horse. It is in 'Heat Map' mode, the other views being data (a number grid of 1's, 2's, 3's and 4's) and graphic (same as heat map but without the colour overlay).

 

Group and Graded races

The best races, Class 1, includes Listed, and Group/Grade 3, 2, and 1 races: Group races on the flat, Graded races in National Hunt. These are often contested by at least a subset of improving unexposed horses whose ability ceiling is not yet known. In such races, a maligned and consequently frequently overlooked metric is the good old 'Official Rating'.

Indeed - and don't tell those private ratings boys - backing all of the top two (plus joint-top/joint-second) official ratings horses in Class 1 races (Listed, G1, G2, G3) since the start of 2020 would have returned almost 200 points at Betfair SP at a return on investment of nearly 6.5% across close to 3000 bets. With a strike rate of 22%, this is a classic no brainer angle that, at the very least, will keep you in the game longer and without much pain. Obviously, using it as a starting point for further study is the suggested way to play.

[Incidentally, this angle has also made a BSP profit at five of the last seven Cheltenham Festivals and is +56.38 at starting price during that time]

**

I wanted to keep this post a little bit shorter than my usual long rambling affairs, so I'll stop there.  As you can see, each different race type has different factors that I consider to be of the most importance.  You may disagree, and that's fine of course: it's the name of the game.

But the point I'm trying to make is that, in any given race situation, I am not using a hundred factors; I may only be using two or three. But in different race types they will be a different two or three. Consequently, I never feel overwhelmed.

And, as I've mentioned many times previously - most recently here - if you choose the right races, rather than trying to look at all of them, or the ones the bookies want you to look at, you will give yourself the best chance. If you want to know more about choosing the right races, have a look at "The Price is Wrong", a little three-part exercise that you might find fun, and potentially helpful.

So those are my thoughts, now it's over to you. Which factors do you consider most important in specific race types? Leave a comment below, and share what you know. And if you want me to research something, also leave a comment and I'll do what I can if I have access to relevant data.

Matt

p.s. don't forget, if you fancy recording a little screen share of how you use Geegeez Gold, we're looking to publish some of your approaches on the blog. More info here >

 

 

Over To You, #1

In the first of a new and occasional - maybe very occasional if nobody else wants to share what they're doing! - series, we free up the stage for a Geegeez Gold subscriber 'show and tell'. This inaugural episode features Gold user Rob Bayliss talking about how he combines various elements of the service to find value bets.

Before I virtually hand over to Rob, could we showcase your Gold experiences? To appear in this slot on site, you'll need to record a video of between five and twenty minutes duration, with screen capture and clear audio. Free screen capture software (you press a button and it records your screen) is available here. (I use the paid version of this software)

Simply upload your video to the web (Screencast-o-Matic has a button to upload to their cloud servers) and send us a message with the video link and a line on what you do and why.

We can't guarantee to use all videos, but if you have an angle you're happy to share and can produce a short(ish) recording of how/why you do things the way you do, there's a great chance we'll be able to use it. And thanks in advance, really looking forward to seeing how you make Gold work for you!

Right, enough said, over to Rob...

Horse Racing Betting in 2023: Five Key Differentiators

Betting is fun, perhaps more so on horses than most other sports because of the speed with which the result is known; that rapid production of endorphins induced by the short duration of a race compared with, say, a football match.

Arriving at a selection is also fun, the process taking a good bit longer than the actual event for most 'serious recreationals'. Whilst there are no genuine shortcuts outside of getting someone else's opinion (for better or worse), there are facilitators and differentiators.

What are facilitators and differentiators?

 

 

A facilitator is merely something that greases the wheels, smooths the process, or saves time. In terms of horse racing betting, it's usually either the aforementioned trusted human advisor or, for fans - like me - of the puzzle, it's a website form resource like the one found elsewhere on these virtual pages. There's plenty of content about how to use the geegeez toolkit elsewhere - try this link for a run down, so in this post I want to consider the other term, differentiators.

 

 

Differentiators are characteristics that distinguish one entity from another.

 

Winners, or Profit?

The most important differentiation in racing bettors is between those seeking winners and those seeking profit. Let's just pause on this for a moment. While the two need not be mutually exclusive, it is usually the case that long-term profit is found away from the pointiest part of the market. Why? Because the favourite is usually the horse about which the most is known, or at least deduced: greater awareness leads to greater investment, generally speaking.

Desperately Seeking Certainty...

Those mythical beasts, the favourite backers, are often "on good terms with themselves" - as the vernacular of the lazy studio pundit hackneys - because, well, because the favourite wins more often than any other market rank. And, with dwindling field sizes and less competitive racing as a result of the emergence of a training cartel - a small band of elite handlers in whose yards a disproportionate amount of the best horses reside - the percentage of winning favourites is ever increasing, as the image below (UK clear favourite, win strike rate by year) attests.

 

 

This is not necessarily a problem in or of itself, because the price of favourites contracts to reflect the increased frequency with which they win. In other words, you still lose the same amount of dough backing 'the jolly old' as you did: between 6p and 8p in the £. [Although 2022, a full year of industry SP returns, was notably the worst in the past 15 years or so]

 

 

The upshot is that, for casual punters who want to win but don't want to do anything to facilitate that outcome, this is very likely a tolerable end: a slow and inevitable, but painless, death by a thousand betting slip cuts.

Of course, it is possible to rarely deviate from the sharp end of the betting list and win; this will generally mean somehow getting on prior to the final formation of the market (i.e. beating SP/BSP). And that is the aspiration for those who need regular consistent winners: to make money backings shorties. Possible, but pretty tricky.

 

A long time between drinks...

For those who have been around the game a little longer, and/or who have a tank and constitution capable of withstanding what Shakespeare once famously called "the slings and arrows of outrageous variance" (or something), the game is not about finding the most likely winner but, instead, about finding the one that is most incorrectly priced.

And there, in a nutshell, is the puzzle: price vs probability. We need to find the 4/1 shot that should be 7/2; or, in early markets, the 4/1 shot that should be 5/2 (until that concession gets taken away).

Even if we're right about the true odds being 7/2, we're still looking at 77.7% losers. But, over a thousand £1 bets, those 22.3% winners (223) will return £1,115 - or a profit of 11.5%. If you still think taking 7/2 is acceptable when you can get 4/1, you're doing it wrong.

Even at relatively short odds of 7/2, there may be a losing run of 27 or 28 bets in a 1000 race sample; so we have to be set up, emotionally and financially, to deal with that.

Five Key Differentiators

After what has been a circuitous introduction even by my own highly verbose standards, it's time for the meat. If you've got this far, I'm safely assuming you're at least receptive to the notion that finding bargains is different from - and better than - buying cheap stuff. With that in mind, here are five angles I personally use when trying to isolate value; that is, before striking any bet.

I feel that all of these five approaches (with the possible exception of the second half of the final one) should be suitable for even moderately experienced bettors with a small amount of available time - say half an hour to an hour. The master key - so many keys in this post - is in choosing our battles: if we select the right races, we have a way above average chance of coming out in front. Bookies have to price every race, we need only play when we feel advantaged. So let's crack on...

Relevant Form: Exposed, but consistent in today's conditions

This is perhaps the simplest of the five differentiators. We're looking for races where all runners are exposed; that is, they're experienced and have shown pretty much all they have to the handicapper already. In such races, we are not expecting a progressive horse to leap forward seven to ten pounds; rather, we expect that the horse best suited to conditions will have a great chance... and, from a value perspective, especially if that horse is returning to optimal conditions today having recently run under less suitable criteria.

These horses typically lurk in lower grade handicaps for older horses: four-year-old-plus Class 5 and 6 races, the type we see on the all-weather every day through the winter. If you think these races are no good, again, you're not doing it right.

The elements to look out for might include - amongst others - proven form at today's track and trip, on today's going, and / or in today's class and field size. Amazingly - it's almost like I knew where I was headed with this! - there's a tool on geegeez.co.uk that illuminates such things for the whole field in an instant. We call it the Instant Expert. Let's look at a couple of examples:

This was a Class 6 0-58 handicap for horses aged three and up. The three-year-olds in the field were relatively exposed, or else it wouldn't have been for me. We can immediately see from the coloured blocks which horses have won, and which have failed to win, under similar conditions. Here, the favourite, Zealot, had a line of green profile though that was achieved with just a single previous win over course and distance.

More wins or places in the horse's relevant form adds confidence. The horses that interested me here were Zealot, but I didn't like his price, and Rooful. The latter looked an attractive each way proposition; and so it proved: he wasn't good enough to beat the favourite - who scored easily - but he was best of the rest.

The exacta, which I didn't play, paid nearly 9/1.

Sometimes - often in fact - there is a lot of green in the grid, especially when looking on the place view. In these scenarios, we know immediately that it's probably a well contested event and that we should look for easier fish to fry. Here's an example:

Loads of green, plenty of amber and few dollops of red and white (no relevant data). Too tricky. Move on.

Below are a few more Instant Expert grids, and your challenge is to decide which horses offered playable value, and which races looked too competitive and should have been passed.

Play or Pass?

Answers - well my answers anyway, there aren't any right or wrong answers as such - are at the bottom.

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

6

 

My answers were as follows:

1 - Pass, too competitive. 66/1 Myboymax won!

2 - Pass, too competitive. Alligator Alley, 15/8 fav, won

3 - Borderline. Probably pass, but I'd have been drawn to Brazen Idol, who finished second at 5/1. 11/4 fav The Thin Blue Line won

4 - Pass! 15/8 fav Twilight Madness won

5 - Play. A perfect example of a terrible race in need of a winner, with a single horse moderately favoured by conditions and within a few pounds (see right hand columns) of its last winning mark. Back From Dubai had some Class 6 questions to answer but this 0-55 required very little winning. 9/4 was hardly rock n' roll but he was against quantity rather than quality opposition, even allowing for the grade.

6 - Play at the prices. Lots of imponderables in here but, of those with proven form against conditions, Thirtyfourstitches was 20/1 - and won!

This approach works just as well for National Hunt races as it does for those on the flat, as example 6 perfectly demonstrates.

 

Takeaway: It is quick and easy to rattle through a day's racing - especially the older horse handicaps - using the Instant Expert grids as a barometer of competitiveness. Of course, I'd advocate consuming more information before making a betting decision, but even if this won't necessarily isolate a bet by itself, it's a great way of shortlisting races to review in greater detail.

Which leads me onto my second differentiator...

 

The Shape of the Race: Draw and Run Style

If you've been reading stuff on here for any length of time, you'll have noted myself, but especially Dave Renham and Chris Worrall, evangelising about the value of draw and run style. Or, over jumps, just run style. Again, these angles play especially well on the all-weather, because most synthetic tracks in UK and Ireland race on turning tracks, many of them from the minimum trip up.

Draw and run style seem to be fairly well subsumed into market prices these days; at least into starting price market prices. That leaves an opportunity on earlier shows to snaffle some value. But the big opportunity in my view is with draw and run style in concert. Going a step further, I'd favour run style over draw in certain scenarios which I'll come on to. And I'd especially favour a horse from a wide gate with an ostensibly uncontested lead. These horses are very often great bets, presumably because the wide post blinds the market (or at least temporarily unsights it) in spite of the fact that there is a good chance of the runner in question making it to the bend in front without burning too much fuel in the process.

The caveat is that we're looking for a horse that we hope will get an uncontested lead; that is, one which looks as though it is the lone pace angle. Here are some recent examples.

 

 

We're looking at the PACE tab on the geegeez racecards here, and our mate Back From Dubai, whose profile was the only compelling one in his race in the previous section. Here, although it's far from a likelihood, we can see the pace prediction showing 'Possible Lone Speed' and Back From Dubai showing up as 'that guy'.

In this example, I'd have been wary of the three, perhaps four, prominent racers drawn inside him. But he also had the form profile in his corner: in a race where very few had anything to recommend them, he had lukewarm plusses from a couple of different perspectives.

As it happened, Back From Dubai did make all for the win.

Here's another pace map - this time, a race where the front end might well not be the place to be:

 

We can see the pace prediction this time is 'Possible Strongly Contested Speed' and the visual shows three, perhaps four, horses all in the LED column for the average of their past four runs. In these situations, those on the front often take each other on early: this makes for an overly fast gallop in the first part of the race and usually an attritional crawl home at the finish. Such races play to those horses incapable of early speed but who see out the trip well, albeit in their own time!

This particular race was won by the unexposed, and still unbeaten - now in three races - Hickory, who was a class above his rivals. As the result shows, he was good enough to travel on the heels of the speed, while the placed horses came from far back, even though typically this course and distance favours front-runners (see the green blob above the pace map).

 

This doesn't just work on all-weather or on turning tracks, by the way. Both Newmarket courses, for example, offer great advantage to front-runners over most trips up to about nine furlongs. If you'd had the proverbial crystal ball and been able to predict every front-runner at HQ since 2009, you'd have been on to a very good thing as you can see from the table below, taken from geegeez' Query Tool. '4' signifies an early front runner, '3' a prominent racer early, '2' a midfield runner, and '1' a hold up type. Many tracks have a similar profit profile. The advantage of early speed is hard to overstate.

 

And what of the jumps? Here's an example from a handicap chase:

 

Under the conditions of the race, we can see that 'Led' (green blob) types have fared best. According to the pace map itself, Quick Draw figured to take them along and, as must be the way in such cherry-picked examples, he did just that after besting an early challenge and repelling the later runners, only one of which could get within ten lengths.

 

Takeaway: Look for one ideally, possibly two, horses in the 'Led' column, regardless of draw; and try to flesh out a form case from there. If two look to go forward, the inside drawn horse has a geometrical advantage in terms of bagging the rail, all other things being equal. But if the lone pace is drawn wide, you can generally expect a positive value proposition. When three or more horses appear in the 'Led' column, it might not be a race in which to be playing a front-runner.

 

Trainer Patterns: HC1 and TC

There are lots of ways for a trainer to elicit improvement from a horse, but two for me stand above all others: first time in a handicap and first run for a new yard. Let's take them in turn.

First run in a handicap

Before a horse can run in a handicap it must qualify for a handicap rating. To do that, it will typically (ignoring dual winners on the flat or those in the top four twice over hurdles) need to run three times in open or confined novice or maiden company. If that read like a foreign language, fret not. Here's the gist: the best and the worst horses are often forced to keep the same company at the start of their careers; after a small number of races they'll start to find their place in the hierarchy of ability.

If you're John (or Thady) Gosden or Charlie Appleby, you take the free hits early doors and then move up in search of the three horses in your yard who can legitimately contest for the Guineas or Derby etc. If you're John Butler or Mick Appleby - with the greatest respect to those genuinely fine exponents of their craft - you don't have the luxury of a conveyor belt of million-pound yearlings lolloping into your barn annually.

Regardless of the quality of horse, the job of any trainer is to optimise the results from those horses. That typically means finding a race the horse can win and, for bonus points, doing it when the money is down. This post won't cogitate on the ethics of such action for one simple reason: there's no ethical case to answer. As punters, we can discern the blueprint of a trainer as well as we can that of a horse's form cycle. And we should. We absolutely must.

If you are scanning a race, spot a horse making its handicap debut (or even its second run in a handicap), and you don't make a note to look a tad more closely at said runner, more fool you. If a horse that has form of 566, is stepping up a quarter mile in distance (and happens to be bred for it), and showing at 6/1 in the betting for its handicap debut doesn't have you watching the replays, you may be better off swerving races where these inexperienced and progressive - often from an extremely low base - runners hang out.

And, of course, that's absolutely fine because - remember - the number one takeaway from these million words is, Choose Your Battles. CYB. Play where you know most, and where you're as comfortable as possible with what you don't know. Like which trainers, and which of their horses, might leap forward on handicap bow.

Geegeez has some assistance for you, natch. We have a report entitled Trainer Handicap 1st Run. Does what it says on the tin. We also have a handy HC1 (and HC2) indicator on the racecard. And we display in line the trainer's performance in the past two years with such types. These things look a bit like this, report first:

 

 

As with all the reports, you can set parameters at the top to filter the day's qualifiers. And there are various other filtering options - for instance, I'm looking at the Course 5 Year Form view here, which tells me Harry Fry has run two handicap debutants at Plumpton since 19th December 2017. Clicking on the trainer's name reveals today's runner(s), and clicking the little up arrow to the left hand side displays inline the relevant past performances - here we can see that one of the pair won and the other was third.

Obviously, two is an inconsequential sample size, and it is for you to gauge what sort of figure is (vaguely) meaningful to you. What I can say is that, in the context of HC1, small sample sizes and low strike rates are the norm: it really is nailing jelly territory. Again, if that puts you off, pass races where there is an array of 'cap debuts. There will still be 200 other contests on the day!

Here is the indicator and inline trainer snippet content:

 

It's worth noting a few other things while we're here. This horse is having its second run after a wind op and its first wearing a tongue tie. Both of those might be expected to eke out a little improvement; and look at the contextual snippets block - accessed by clicking the trainer icon (with the red box around it). There we see Fry's two year record with handicap debutants at any track, which is fairly unexciting, but note above it his record when moving a horse notably in distance. Hmm, interesting.

The nature of most HC1 plays is that we're grappling in the dark, with every chance that the horse is just not very able and runs a clunker. In that context, we MUST be price sensitive. Would I bet the horse above at 3/1? No. At the 13/2 showing up now? I'm tempted...

 

Change of scenery, change of luck?

A change of stable will often lead to a change of fortunes for a horse. It might be the way the horses are trained, the gallop, the box in which a horse is stabled, or some more personal attention (moving from a large 'factory' yard to a small 'boutique' operation). Like humans, horses respond to different stimuli. The challenge is in knowing which trainers are more capable, and with which type of 'cast off'. If all of what has been proffered heretofore has been 'inexact science', this really is quack territory!

It's an area that geegeez can offer some clues, but in truth I'd like for us to be able to do more. Currently we have a 'Trainer Change' report and a 'TC' indicator on the card, and two-year records on the racecard view for the trainers of all such runners. The report looks like this (5 Year Form view here) :

 

And the racecard view like this:

 

Again, note the additional insights: of those nine runners making their stable debut in the past five years, only three ran in the past two years. Note also that Lucy Wadham has excellent PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) stats across the board - 0.50 (50% of rivals beaten) is a par score and her record is consistently above that. Course form is a positive, too, and this mare wears cheekpieces for the first time. Who knows whether that's a plus or not? [It's generally not but, of course, geegeez has a report for it - and I can tell you Lucy is 0 from 10 with first time cheekies in the past two years, only two placed, a moderate 43% of rivals beaten. Won't stop this one winning if she's good enough, but it's a big red 'x' on her scorecard for me]

 

Takeaway: with HC1, check the trainer's performance with similar types; and look for additional 'tells', such as a layoff of one to three months (perhaps to get the horse fully fit), equipment changes (notably a hood or tongue tie), wind or gelding surgery (wind ops overall are incrementally more effective across as many as a dozen runs, so W2, W3, W4, W5+ are all material - better in fact than W1, more on this another day), a change in race distance (especially if pedigree suggests it will be favourable), and so on. With HC2, look out for when HC1 was quite soon after the previous run with a break prior to HC2 - again, this could imply some 'bolt tightening' since the last day.

On trainer changes, it is obvious that not all trainers are equally talented and, especially, not all trainers are equally good at finding the key to a horse in their care. A change of scenery is sometimes enough, but often it is a change of regime or some personal attention - maybe a weekly back massage or whatever - that can aid a horse's progression.

 

Going: Fast or Slow

This article is mainly about racing form differentiators, and a little bit about how Gold helps as a facilitator. In terms of form differentiation, one of the great separators of men (and women) from boys (and girls) is extreme conditions. One example of this - there will be another for my fifth and final point - is the going. Almost all horses act on good ground, though some are slower than others; by extension, most horses act on good to soft or good to firm (flat racing). To a lesser degree, many - though not most - horses act on soft going. But only a few genuinely handle extreme underfoot conditions: heavy and firm ground.

These conditions place additional emphasis on dealing with the terrain as opposed to the opposition, and it is often the case that a horse which has shown it can win on extremes prevails over classier rivals less suited to, or unproven on, the outlying state of the sod.

Here's a table with some percentages in it:

 

The percentages in isolation are irrelevant, especially when comparing different going descriptions. This is because less extreme going conditions tend to have bigger field sizes and, therefore, smaller win percentages.

No, the job here is to look at how the percentages within a going column change based on the number of previous wins on that going. For example, on good ground officially (we won't get into unofficial interpretations of going, or incorrect official ones, we'll take all that as read because we're dealing with large sample sizes in the main), horses with no prior winning form score about 10% of the time. This rises to a bit more than 12% for those with a single prior win on good ground and hovers around the same figure for runners who have twice won previously on good; it then drops a notable bit for triple good scorers.

Good to soft has a similar, if slightly more consistent for prior winners of one to three on the same ground, profile. Good to firm shows a similar increase from going maidens to those with a single verdict on the same official turf, then a regressive profile for winners of two and three. Deviating the other way, to soft, we see a fairly consistent picture for winners of one to three previous races on soft turf.

But look at heavy ground. Winners of one or two races on heavy are 1.4 times more likely to win than heavy maidens; and winners of three heavy ground races previously are more than 1.5 times more likely to prevail than maidens on that extreme of going.

On firm ground, we see a similar leap from maiden on that terrain to those with one or two wins. The thrice-winner sample size is only 70 (all other samples across the table were in at least multiple hundreds and generally thousands).

Now, of course, there is a selection bias here: horses unraced on heavy or firm that perform below expectations may never race on that going again; and, those which won on extreme going are more inclined to be entered under similarly differentiating conditions in future. It is often the case that a horse doesn't 'need' extreme going but, rather, that it inconveniences other horses more than the runner in question. Plenty of horses either don't have the stamina to cope with heavy ground (which makes races last longer at a slower speed), or "won't let themselves down" (i.e. don't put it all in) on very fast ground that some, especially bigger horses, find stinging or jarring.

Win strike rates are all very well but they don't pay the bills, as alluded to at the top of the piece. So let's flesh out the percentages with some Betfair SP ROI (return on investment) data.

 

 

Interesting. We can see that dual and three-time winners on heavy have a positive expectation; and winners of one and two on firm have also returned players to the black (remember, that bottom right cell in the table is a very small sample size - four-time firm ground winners, an even smaller group (obviously, because they're a subset of the three-timers), had a strike rate of 16.67% and a BF SP ROI of 51.99% - albeit from two winners out of twelve!)

Meanwhile, from soft going to good to firm, it was all but impossible to find a profit via proven going performers.

I've spoken historically about "the rule of two", whereby we get past the notion that a single heavy ground win might have been in a very weak race or by some sort of fluke. Two wins affirms that a horse is definitely suited - or can at least handle - extreme going. Naturally, if the horse is two from five, it will be more compelling than if it's two from 25! And, of course, as we should never tire of saying, the price makes the play.

Those tables above are race code agnostic, by the way: they include flat turf, hurdles, chases, and National Hunt Flat races; and both UK and Irish form, since 2008. And they were reproduced from the excellent horseracebase.

 

Takeaway: when the going is heavy or firm, look to proven performers on that terrain, especially if they're reverting to those conditions for the first time in a while and are commensurately attractively priced. Here's Downforce, a three-time winner on heavy, and a 14/1 scorer this day at the end of the flat season:

 

Field Size: Strong Travellers / Fast Finishers

The final component in my facilitation/differentiation quintet is field size. The number of runners in a race often has a bearing on the tempo at which the race is run; and that in turn has a notable influence over which horses in the field might be best suited. Again, we're looking towards the extremes here, though, having said that, with the continued shrinkage of field sizes comes a problem for those one-paced galloping types. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's think about an average five-runner race. Unless there are two or more front-running types in the field, the balance of probabilities is that the race will be steadily run with an acceleration in the latter part of the contest. That suits horses which are able to change gear, i.e. accelerate, late in the play. Many horses cannot, and for these more galloping types, field size truncation is not good.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the likes of heritage handicaps in which volume of runners more often than not guarantees a strong early tempo. In such events, a horse able to travel kindly through the race, and then able to keep travelling when others are in the red zone, is the one to side with. These types might have been habitually outpaced in small field affairs before arriving at their more suitable setup: as such, they're often attractive prices.

How about some examples?

Big field bulldozers

Big fields first, and a horse called Fresh. Trained by James Fanshawe, this lad is a top class sprint handicapper. Here is his handicap form, by field size:

 

 

We can see from his percentage of rivals beaten (PRB) figures that he is generally on the premises; but, in smaller fields, he tends not to have the speed to match less resilient but nippier rivals. However, in those big heritage handicaps he's an evergreen challenger:

 

 

There are lots of other examples of horses like this: Commanche Falls, Mister Wagyu, Albegone, Primo's Comet, Lawful Command, Give It Some Teddy, Escobar, Bopedro. Over jumps, there's Third Wind, Sire du Berlais, Lightly Squeeze, Dans Le Vent, Lively Citizen etc. With many firms paying five, six, even seven or eight places in big field handicaps, these guys and their ilk are well worth playing.

The best place to find them is our old friend Instant Expert. Clicking on a colour block opens the contextual form inline, so you can also check for any near misses to the places:

 

 

Small field edges: race position

At the other end of the spectrum is the growing number of small field, often tactical, races. Here, positioning and toe are the attributes needed. By positioning, I mean run style essentially: if it's a steadily run race, the ones at the front have a head start in a sprint finish. Where do you want your horse to be?

 

 

One point to you if you said, "at the front". The table above shows the performance in handicaps of four to seven runners over the last five years. It includes all-weather, flat turf, hurdles and chases, UK and Ireland.

It doesn't matter if you look at win strike rate, each way strike rate, return on investment, A/E, IV or whatever: there is a linear pattern whereby those at the front do best (by miles), those handy do next best, and those in the second half of the field fare not well.

To counter any claims of a selection bias in race positioning based on ability, the table below is a subset of the one above containing only horses sent off clear favourite:

 

 

The bias is less extreme but the linearity remains, with front-runners still well favoured over prominent racers, and the later running styles about even behind those further forward.

Identifying front runners is is a challenge, but these tables articulate unequivocally why it is worth our time to attempt that act of clairvoyance. Geegeez Pace Maps, available for every race, assist considerably with the challenge.

Small field edges: fast finishers

Regular readers might have known I'd try to squeeze in a mention of sectional timing somewhere. Eager not to disappoint, this is an example of where that information can be very helpful. Specifically in this case, it answers the question, "in small fields, which horse(s) - apart from the likely leader - have the gears to contend?" [There are, of course, all sorts of other considerations, like ability (!), to keep in mind - but let's stay with the script for now]

Sectional times can tell us how fast horses finished their races; importantly, they also tell us the overall race context in which the finishing time was achieved.

A little more scene-setting: in a big field truly run race, we might (depending on going and track layout) expect the winner to finish in a time close to 100% of the overall race time, section for section (e.g. a five furlong race run in 60 seconds, the final two furlongs run in 24 seconds). A fast finish in that context might be a finishing speed of 103%.

But in a steadily run race, where the field has dawdled through the first three furlongs in 40 seconds, we might expect the closing two furlongs to be more in the order of 22.5 seconds (again, depending on going and track layout) - much faster than the earlier part, and a finishing speed of 111%.

Once we've identified likely fast finishers in the field, we need to overlay the circumstances in which they recorded their fast finish on top of how we perceive today's race will be run. Using the two examples above, if today's race looked like having a good solid tempo - perhaps a couple or three horses who tend to either lead or be prominent - we might favour the 103% fast finish, because that was achieved under similar conditions. If, on the other hand, there was no obvious pace horse - or a single front runner - we should probably be more interested in the 111% fast finisher, which has shown its ability to quicken takingly off a pedestrian pace.

Here is an example of how this works in reality. In the race below, a six-runner mile handicap, we can see that, based on the last three races for each horse in the field, Zealot is likely to get his way in front. Note the Pace Prediction: Probable Lone Speed.

 

If that's correct, we'd expect a steady tempo to the race; after all, if you're leading without any contention, it makes sense usually to conserve as much energy for the finish as possible. With three or four habitual waited-with sorts in opposition, which if any have shown the ability to quicken off a potentially false gallop? Our Fast Finishers report suggests the well-backed Dingle, but only tentatively at best.

 

 

That fast finishing effort was six races ago, on a different track and under what is presumed to be a different tempo to today's race.

Meanwhile, a look at the Full Form tab - with 'Show Sectionals' checked - reveals another contender:

 

 

Hovering over  the coloured blobs in the 'Race Speed vs Par' column (title unhelpfully obscured in the image above), shows the sectional percentages for our OMC (Opening / Mid-race  / Closing) format. We can see that this race was run slowly early (S-6, start to 6f out, run 91.1% as quickly as the race overall), before picking up to an even tempo in the middle half mile (6-2) and a very fast closing quarter mile (105% of the overall race speed).

That race tempo looks a reasonable fit against today's likely setup and, what's more, the horse in question, Tropez Power, won it - over today's course and distance and in today's class. He's a dual winner from four starts on all-weather and, in between those wins, he again showed good acceleration to close from 3 3/4 lengths behind to a length behind at the line in another similarly run race.

It's possible that Zealot just leads from start to finish, though up in grade he's short enough for me. At around 9/2, Tropez Power could be a bit of value. (And, naturally, there are any number of other eventualities, but we're in the business of finding one of the more credible ones at odds which appeal!)

[Update: Zealot, despite missing the break, was rushed up to lead and held up gamely from the two fast finisher horses, Dingle and Tropez Power. Tropez Power actually made a big acceleration a quarter mile out - which got me excited - but then flattened out and looked a bit of a tricky ride. You can't win 'em all]

Getting one's head around sectional timing is not the easiest way to play the horses, but there are real insights to be gleaned for those who take some time to figure it out.

*

Betting horses is a great puzzle, a glorious uncertainty indeed. For me, and many/most geegeez readers, much of the joy is in the thrill of the chase: the time sunk into reading the clues and fathoming a plausible value play from there. To that end, these five differentiators may help your levelling up agenda in 2023; and, needless to say, Geegeez Gold is the great facilitator that underpins them all.

**If you enjoyed this article, please do share with others on the soshul meejahs. There are some links below where it says "Share this entry". [Thank you]

Good luck,
Matt

p.s. not yet a Gold subscriber? Take a 30 day trial for just £1 here >

New: Fast Finisher indicators

They're pretty subtle; you'd be forgiven for missing them. Unless you had seen our twitter feed...

 

https://twitter.com/geegeez_uk/status/1571149782768582659

 

That little 'go faster' stripe icon - which might have a colour change in coming days to make it 'pop' a touch more - indicates that a horse has finished quickly in one of its recent races. That, in turn, means it might be worth a second glance today. Specifically, it's highlighting a horse that appears on the Fast Finishers report for any of its most recent three runs. And, to be absolutely clear how horses appear on that report, the Fast Finishers (FF) report displays a list of those horses who finished more than 2.5% quicker than the race finishing time in the closing (C) section.

 

You do NOT need to know this - you only need to know that if they have the indicator they are capable of rattling home late under the right circumstances!

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: you need to opt in to viewing sectional data, which you can do in the 'Racecard Options' section of your My Geegeez page 👇

 

 

Without turning this into a sectional timing sermon, horses that close well have often performed better than their finishing position suggests, and can be value bets in upcoming races, assuming a similar race setup. Let's consider the case of Ayr Gold Cup winner and recent 'fast finisher', Summerghand. This is his form string (ignore the top line, which is the Ayr Gold Cup win).

 

Clicking the 'Show Sectionals' radio button top left presents a different perspective, with a number of things to pick out:

 

In the above visual, I've 'hovered' over the running line (the bit with 14 14 14 12 4) to reveal the race detail - jockey, position/field size, distance beaten, winner, odds, weight, headgear and, importantly, the in-running comment. "did well in the circumstances, 1st of 4 in group".

To the right of the running line is a little orange 'go faster stripe'. This means that not only was Summerghand a fast finisher, he was the fastest finisher in the race. As can be seen clearly from the first of the two form images above, he righted the injustice of Ripon's fast finish with a big field handicap win at York next time out. After that he was never nearer in a small field Listed race at Newmarket that wouldn't have played to his ability to finish in a truly run race, before doing just that to get the lot in the AGC.

It is important to note with all sectional data that, as is perfectly highlighted above, there are gaps in our knowledge. The gaps are due to the continued lack of availability of Course Track (Racing TV tracks) data. This is a source of ongoing deep frustration but it doesn't stop the subset we publish - for those tracks covered by Total Performance Data - shining a light on runners with the ability to 'do business' at the end of a race.

As we move to a time of year when all-weather racing will take place most days, TPD's sectional coverage at Lingfield, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton will provide us with many opportunities to back fast finishers when it looks like they'll get a similar race pace to aim at. For more on sectional timing, check out these posts.

Enjoy!

Matt

Gold Nuggets #13: Race Reviews, and Creating Tissues

In this extended double edition of Gold Nuggets, I cover two topics that I feel are super important for sharpening our understanding of value:

1. Result REviews: this is about looking back at the bigger priced winners on the day and trying to find snippets of form/data that gave the winner a chance. The objective is to a) better understand that every horse has some sort of chance, and b) start thinking more about that chance in terms of the odds available.

2. Creating a 'Tissue': That follows neatly into PREviewing a race and using the available information to rank horses in approximately order of their chance, and then to try to create a 'tissue' or odds line from the information you've aggregated. It's a great way of honing your skills and isolating value. Remember, we're comparing the tissue prices we come up with against the Starting Price market, not the early prices!

Don't forget, you can speed me up by clicking the little cog icon bottom right on the video, selecting 'Playback Speed' and then your choice from there - maybe 1.5x

 

Contents:

00:00 Introduction
01:40 Reviewing Results scene setter
03:15 Classy Al
11:45 Easy to find 20/1 winner (with Geegeez Gold!)
21:50 Point and shoot pace angle winner
25:15 Setting up your tissue on Geegeez Gold
26:15 Tissue overview: race helicopter view
30:50 Horse note taking
1:03:30 Converting notes into odds/probabilities
1:10:05 Comparing tissue with early prices
1:12:25 Summary: why we should do this from time to time

 

UPDATE: It's fair to say that I significantly under-estimated the chance of Love Your Work in the market. Incredibly, to my eye at least, he was sent off an odds-on shot. Regardless of the result (he was only fourth), I felt 4/6 was way too short - though I probably should have had him no bigger than 3/1 and just got it wrong, plain and simple.

Bookmark was extremely weak in the betting, presumably looking less than cherry ripe on his seasonal debut, but ran a very good race to be a closing third; he'll be an interesting one going forward. Swinton Noon was never going and ran as though something wonky, while Spantik was tenacious and stayed on well (as expected) in second (not expected) but just didn't have the pace to match Carrigillihy. Whatwouldyouknow and Quoteline Direct were fifth and sixth, pretty much in line with how I had them priced up.

The winner returned 5/1 and was 7/2 joint favourite on my tissue; second was 11/1 (7/1 on my tissue); and the third was 12/1 (7/2jf on my tissue). So a good race for me on this occasion but, it bears repeating, when the price disparity is as big as it was with Love Your Work (and Bookmark), it is more often than not the tissue compiler who has it wrong!

 

Gold Nuggets #9: Prepping for the Flat Season, Part 1

After a fortnight off, it's the return of Gold Nuggets, a (usually) weekly vidcast where I try to bring the Geegeez Gold toolkit to life for you, so that you can go and do some good (or gooder!) stuff for yourselves.

In this week's instalment, I reveal the reports I use to know more at the start of the flat turf season; and I also introduce Draw Analyser as a research tool that can put you miles in front of your fellow (non-geegeez) bettors. Next week, I'll dig further into that tool as well as illustrating some ways to profile individual horses for profit. That's for the future, but now let's get to today's Gold Nuggets...

Featuring:

00:00 Intro
01:28 Reports overview
02:36 The Shortlist
05:10 Trainer Jockey Combo Report
06:52 Report Angles [See also first link below]
08:35 Trainer Statistics 14 Day view
13:55 Trainer 1st Handicap Start
16:10 Trainer Change Report
18:40 Trainer 2yo 1st Start Report
21:40 Draw Analyser [See also second link below]

 

 

 

NEW: ‘My Races’ Feature Added

Today we introduced another new feature, this time a relatively simple one called 'My Races'. The concept is merely to allow users to 'pin' races of interest to the top of what can often be a very long list of races, especially during the summer, and on Saturdays and Bank Holidays.

To select a race, just click the star to the left; and to deselect, click the same star a second time.

Here's a short three-minute video showing how you can use 'My Races' in conjunction with the racecard filters to rapidly whittle your idea of the wheat from the remaining chaff.

Gold Nuggets #2

Week 2 of Gold Nuggets and, wouldn't you just know it, the racing is pants. That makes trying to identify interesting horses and angles tricky. In spite of that, I've a staying chaser with a jockey worth noting, a fit and versatile flat 'capper whose last run can be readily forgiven, a wide drawn pace horse in a truly awful contest, and a quick thought about the draw and pace on Southwell's new tapeta surface.

Pro tip: if I speak a little slowly for you, use the cog icon bottom right to change the playback speed.

Gold Nuggets #1

In this first in a new series of videos and blog posts, I'll be looking at various elements of Geegeez Gold in search of a value approach, and maybe a value winner or two along the way as well.

Today's episode focuses on the importance of heavy ground form; and run style at a couple of courses and distances on the all weather.

Pro tip: if I speak a little slowly for you, use the cog icon bottom right to change the playback speed.

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