With Cheltenham now a fading speck on the horizon our next scheduled stop is the cavalry charge of the Lincoln in only a few days time, writes Jon Shenton. The shackles of winter are off (hopefully), Spring has sprung, and the flat turf season is well and truly on the way.
It’s without doubt my favourite time of year, certainly in terms of the racing calendar. The promise of the long, warm summer nights and a plethora of punting challenges stokes the fires like no other.
Conventional wisdom is that bettors should tread very carefully in the opening few weeks of the season whilst form-lines are built. Whilst that might be true to an extent if you’re a pure race reader it is certainly of less relevance to the data driven approach that I primarily use.
Horses having long absences, an array of new talent on show and highly variable underfoot conditions all contribute to devilishly difficult puzzles. Data can be your friend and ally under these circumstances and it can give you an edge on the general population.
A sensible point to start would be evaluating trainer angles for April performance.
The below table shows the April numbers, sorted by A/E and only including the usual SP of 20/1 or shorter animals. All races since 2012 are analysed.
One can clearly delve into any of these further. It’s certainly of interest that the highly populated Fahey yard is profitable over a high volume of runners. The same applies to Gosden, O’Meara, Appleby (Charlie), Haggas and Beckett. If they’re delivering runners to the track in April, then these data give a degree of confidence that they are likely to be competitive.
In pole position, however, is the veteran trainer Mick Easterby. He will be 88 years-old at the end of this month! If at a similar age I’m lucky enough to be around, I’d be hugely disappointed to be still working (understatement!) so it surely shows the enthusiasm he has for the game. Those rich experiences over the years certainly seem to have been put to good use in getting the yard's runners blasting out of the stalls early.
The April output is impressive with an A/E of 1.61, a nice strike rate (19%) and an ROI of 41% is more than welcome.
Evaluating performance against SP there is no winner at 18/1 or 20/1 from 26 attempts so from an angle point of view I’m going to exclude those personally. I do realise entirely that this may be folly, mathematically you’d only expect 1-ish winner from 26 attempts at those odds. But given the number of angles I operate and the relatively high number of daily bets I’m always happy to be more selective and potentially leave a winner or two on the bench.
Taking the 16/1 (SP) or shorter only it leaves 129 runs, of which 123 are in handicaps of some description. The remaining half-dozen non-handicappers have failed to register a single win. It’s clearly a yard focussed more on handicap racing so I’m happy to trim the angle accordingly again.
I also want to understand if April performance is uncharacteristically positive against the rest of the year. It could be that the basis of this angle applies to other months.
The graph below effectively puts the notion of strong other periods of the year to bed. It overwhelmingly illustrates the peak month for Easterby is April, with spikes in both win and placed rates in the month. It’s generally downhill from there as the season progresses.
Finally, to understand the consistency of the potential angle, a check of performance by year is helpful. Doing so we get the following split:
29 wins from 123 runs, 1.79 A/E with a 78% ROI. That’ll do for me. With no fallow year since 2014 this goes into my active angles as one to follow. Ordinarily these should go through a bit of testing before committing, but where’s the fun in that? I’ll be live with this in April, trying to get early prices. A high volume, small stakes approach mitigates the risk to some degree and enhances the entertainment value exponentially!
Back Mick Easterby in April handicaps at 16/1 or less on turf
Working down the list sequentially, the second-best performer in terms of A/E is John Quinn. The Yorkshire stable is a powerhouse of racing in the North. Around two thirds of his April runs are on relatively local Yorkshire tracks.
Starting with the April performance vs. rest of year this time we have the following by win strike rate:
On the chart I have marked the April data point with a red circle. Like Mick Easterby, it is clearly a landmark month for the stable.
A point of note, the March number is only representative of a handful of runners (15), and the same applies to November’s apparently phenomenal peak (17) so it’s easy ignore these months given the paucity of data.
Also, like the Easterby angle there is no winner at 18/1 to 20/1 so a small snip to the criteria to only take account of SP’s 16/1 or shorter is my personal choice. Looking at the annual performance there are two poor yyear, 2013 and 2014, which weirdly are also the same as Easterby. It might be that those were particularly cold or wet springs, leaving the horses a little short in their work, though that is no more than conjecture.
I’ve poked around looking for other trends or items of note with these data. In truth though, nothing stands out and there is usually little point in forcing it, such efforts usually leading to at least a degree of backfitting. Simple is best.
Back John Quinn runners at 16/1 or less on turf in April
Maiden & Novices
The onset of a new season means an absolute battalion of untried, untested and unraced 2YO’s will all hit the track for the first time. Like a lot of readers I don’t generally play in this type of race. Paddock judging is out personally, aside from worldly insight such as “that’s a big horse” and “that one looks a bit fired up” I have nothing to offer in this field, though I very much respect those who can read the confirmation, maturity and fitness of these babies. I have limited sources (i.e. none) of yard and course chat so the only thing in my armoury is my old mate, data.
From 2012 to date there have been no less than 14,911 horses making their racetrack debuts on turf as two-year olds in maiden or novice races. Changes to the novice programme in 2017 do make individual analyses on Maidens or Novice races more difficult on a like for like basis which is the reason that I’ve compiled them together.
This time I’m going to evaluate yards with a high number of runners, searching for the good and the not so good. The relatively massive table below shows first time out trainer performance in maiden and novices from 2012 onwards. I have elected to leave an SP filter out of the equation for this data set. The logic behind that is with debutants you could argue that the market is more likely to get it wrong and big priced winners could be more prevalent. This may or may not be true but that is the rationale for leaving the data as “pure” as possible.
As you might expect, there are some wild variations in performance. Firstly, the ones to potentially avoid, out at least around which to be wary.
Messrs Bell, Stoute and Easterby (Tim not Mick!) have a quite frankly appalling record under these conditions. In fact, the volume of combined winners is of such paucity that I can add it up confidently in my head without consulting any technology.
41 wins from 743 runners (I did have to check the runner number with a calculator). A strike rate of just 5.6%, with a combined loss of about 46% in terms of ROI. Good luck with that!
Of course, we know that SMS famously nurtures his charges along at a careful pace, so it makes complete sense for him to be here. The others are possibly more surprising. Geegeez Gold is of huge assistance in alerting you to these red flags on the trainer icon on the racecard, showing FTO performance of that trainer for the last two years.
Back to the macro-level data in the table relating to the last 6 years. The only trainers eking out a profit in the list are John Gosden and Andrew Balding. Gosden has the most impressive strike rate, 18.6%, on the table too. I must confess, I did find this a tad surprising so with a degree of curiosity I investigated it further.
Zooming in on monthly performance is logical in my mind. The early season calendar is rife with sprints. Short distance blasts are not something you’d ordinarily associate Johnny G with so might expect performance to be less positive early in the season in maidens/novices;
Sure enough, volume of runners, strike rate and ROI all improve as we move into and through through the hot summer (ha ha). Indeed, Too Darn Hot (August), Cracksman (October) and Coronet (September) all prevailed on their debut run in recent years.
In general terms you might think that Gosden’s strong hand of 2YO’s will be focussed towards the future, and specifically their 3YO campaigns. In fact, it’s quite common that he waits until his charges are three before giving them their first run: La Ti Dar is perhaps the best recent case in point.
To be honest, despite knowing all this there is not enough here to generate a sufficiently strong angle for me. I have evaluated race class, sex of horse and a number of other variables but there is nothing of huge significance. That said, I’d always be very mindful of a Gosden debutant once we get beyond the summer solstice and maybe play on that basis, but it’s certainly not for me in terms of a discreet “system” to run with.
Given the sheer heft of runners (633) and the worthy A/E attainment (0.99) it would be slightly remiss not to comment on the Fahey operation a bit further. In a similar way to Gosden it’s hard to find a robust angle to recommend although there are some clues and pointers worth drawing out.
Firstly, the earlier in the season the better as the graph illustrates, April and May are very strong in comparison to the rest of the year.
There is also interest when evaluating at the SP’s of all the stable's Maiden and Novice runs. The line graph below illustrates the cumulative profit or loss position by SP. In basic terms it shows that it is most profitable if Fahey’s first time out animals have been backed to 4/1 or shorter. Virtually every banding bigger than that is loss making.
Backing all 4/1 or shorter runners would result in a £26 profit to a £1 level stake (represented by the green arrow on the graph), whereas backing all 9/2 or greater would return a £97 loss (red arrow on the graph). We know two things about Fahey Maiden and Novice performance. Firstly, April and May performance is good. Secondly, horses at 4/1 or shorter are profitable. So, if we take April/May runners at 4/1 or shorter at SP I’d be optimistic we’ll find a reasonable angle. The table below gives us our answer:
There we have it. A small number of prospective bets, and at 4/1 or shorter it should be relatively low risk if unspectacular. It’s not really my sort of usual angle or bet (I tend to favour Hollywood odds long shots) but if you are inclined to have a bet in a maiden and novice race a short priced backed Fahey charge in the spring wouldn't be a bad place to start.
Back Richard Fahey First time out horses at 4/1 or shorter in Maiden/Novice races in April and May
I hope in the above I've offered a few potential pointers for success at the start of the British flat turf season. Do feel free to play around with Query Tool on some of the other names in the big tables, and leave a comment if you find anything of note.
- Jon Shenton