Feeling inspired by the quality content on this very site in relation to two-year-olds I wanted desperately to join the (virtual) party, writes Jon Shenton. I remember reading something a while ago which suggested that following juvenile races from the premier UK tracks paid dividends (I don’t remember where from, sadly).
I’ve always wanted to check this out in detail and now is the right time! Of course, with a rehashed racing calendar for 2020 the findings may be of less relevance this year, so are thus presented with even stronger caveats than usual. However, whatever happens over the next few months, I do think that the article is of the “cut-out and keep” variety and should reward in time if not straight off the bat.
Initially, I’m going to focus on two-year-old races and runners from the headquarters of British flat racing, Newmarket. It’s the logical starting point: by my calculations this course alone accounts for approximately 10% of non-handicap races for the juvenile division in the UK. Through a little bit of micro-focusing on these races I’m hopeful of finding a few tasty morsels.
Newmarket 2yo Trainers
A simple spin through trainer data is a pragmatic first port of call. As usual, a focus on those runners with an SP of 20/1 or shorter will be applied. For context, horses starting at a price above this are collectively 33/2345, a strike rate of 1.41% at the course in these races. I’m happy to leave well alone (although I did note that Martyn Meade is two-from-two at these gargantuan prices).
I’ve elected to only include data for currently active yards, technically 100 runners were required to qualify. However, as Mick Channon was comfortably leading in A/E terms and being so close to the century of races, he is included as an act of practicality and utility.
I had little intention to delve any further into Channon’s performance in this article, but you know what’s it’s like... Curiosity abounds, after all there is no harm in looking and, before you know it, you’re onto a nice micro-angle!
Here are the windmill-armed maestro’s runners by race class:
Collectively, the upper echelons of class 1 and 2 racing attained a solitary bullseye from 43 darts. No thank you! Class 3 and lower delivers a total of 16 wins from 53 attempts with a 121% return of £64 to a £1 SP level stake! It needs acknowledging that Channon's Newmarket juvenile runners have been sparse in volume over the past couple of years, but it’s worth keeping an eye on for future developments at the very least.
Back to the main data table and, Channon aside, there are other handlers worth further discussion. Significantly, the behemoths John Gosden and Charlie Appleby produce profit by backing blindly even at this basic data level. That’s of certain interest, as is the less than stellar performance of some other prevalent names for banana skin avoidance purposes.
John Gosden Performance
So, on to Gosden: there are always two specifics worth checking with any potential angle for this elite yard, namely, race distance and time of year (especially regarding juveniles). Generally, sprinters under-perform, and a while back this very site published data in an article regarding a late season surge in Gosden’s performance in specific circumstances, which stuck in the mind.
Here are the Wizard of Clarehaven Stables's distance data for 2yo's running at Newmarket:
As sure as eggs is eggs, the shorter six furlong race numbers are less appealing than the longer distances (1m 2f sample too small to draw conclusions), though the place percentages are largely comparable.
Excluding the six-furlong data and progressing onto the time of year by month looks like this:
Again, there we have it. His two-year-old brigade get rolling from August onwards, certainly in comparative terms to the earlier knockings of the season.
Ordinarily, that may well be solid enough. However, by utilising a value lens on the runners from August through to November and greater than six-furlongs in distance, there is an interesting variance based on the number of visits the horses have had to the track previously.
The table clearly shows that win strike rate is marginally superior for those animals with prior experience. However, those making their bow pay handsomely in comparison. The 'fear factor' of backing unproven talent seemingly manifests itself in the form of attractive prices: fortune seems to favour the brave in these cases.
Whilst there is no harm in backing all Gosden juvenile runners at Newmarket, the selective punter need only focus on those untried potential future superstars.
Suggestion: Back John Gosden horses first time out at Newmarket August to November where race distance is greater than six furlongs and SP is 20/1 or shorter.
John Gosden: Debut Winners
Writing the words “potential future superstars” got the old cogs whirring a bit and some tangential thoughts occurred. A consequence of these reflections was to research the subsequent form of Gosden’s debut winning two-year olds.
It’s instructive to note that those Gosden inmates which prevail on their first outing go on to generally excel through their Classic campaigns. Conversely, those winning during later runs as two-year-olds generally only have so-so three-year-old seasons, in the round anyway. As Gosden isn’t a renowned producer of gold with first time up horses (although his 17% hit rate since 2010 is well above par) it could be inferred that if one of his is victorious on its maiden voyage, it is worth following. Let’s investigate further.
Gosden two-year-old debut winners
In total, I make it that to date Gosden has had 118 winners on their 2YO debut on turf tracks in the UK and Ireland (the Newmarket angle above is included within). I’ve expanded the remit to cover all Gosden FTO winners contained on horseracebase, not just those from 2010. The data goes back to as far as 2003. For clarity, there are no filters for distance, SP, or time of year applied to get the cohort of 118.
Firstly, evaluating this debut winning group in terms of the remainder of their juvenile campaigns on the turf is a sensible and hopefully useful starting point.
The table below illustrates this:
The data is segmented by Newmarket and non-Newmarket regarding where the debut win was attained. That’s mainly to perform checks and balances on the possibility that Newmarket alone could be driving the exemplary performance as inferred by the earlier article findings.
I needn't have worried: the numbers are positive regardless of debut win location. Indeed, it could very well showcase the basis for an angle which is as low risk as I can remember: a 37% winning strike rate, returning a healthy 21% at SP is not to be sniffed at.
The table below demonstrates performance by SP:
In truth, it’s a healthy picture all round. However, horses returning an SP of 13/2 or greater are 2/26 in terms of wins against runs. Undoubtedly, these pay handsomely as individual bets. But to a £1 level stake you’d return £5 profit from these 26 wagers, returning empty handed from the bookies on more than 90% of visits. That's fine if you can stomach losing runs but a similar rate of profit can be returned from fewer wagers. The below graph hopefully assists in terms of explanation.
The graph illustrates the cumulative rate of return attained from backing all runners at the price notated (and all shorter prices) on the x-axis, moving from left to right. I’ve noted the “three peaks”, all of which deliver a similar return on investment. It doesn’t overly matter if this is a difficult graph or concept to follow. The individual peaks are explained below which hopefully will help.
Peak One : This covers backing all horses at an SP of 6/4 or shorter, returning 27 wins from 36 runners with a 25.5% profit to SP (level stakes)
Peak Two : This covers backing all horses at an SP of 6/1 or shorter (inclusive of the peak one data), returning 45 wins from 101 runners with a 21.6% profit to level stakes at SP
Peak Three : This covers backing all horses at an SP of 20/1 or shorter (inclusive of the peak one and two data), returning 47 winners from 125 runners with a level stake SP profit of just over 23%.
The bottom line is that all three of the annotated peaks deliver a very similar return rate on your hard-earned. Selecting peak one as a method of wagering means fewer bets and missing out on the bigger payday potential. Peak three promises dry spells (relatively speaking) but very similar returns overall.
Personally speaking, and as previous readers will be aware, I’m a volume bettor, small stakes fired at a high quantity of bets so I’m probably more inclined to go into bat at the speculative end of the spectrum. Although, writing this, it does beg the question whether playing only in those smaller priced pools with larger stakes would be a more fulfilling and sustainable long-term approach. Ultimately, it's personal choice and the graph certainly offers food for thought.
Suggestion: Back John Gosden 2yo debut winners on turf for all subsequent runs for the rest of their two-year-old campaigns. (SP appetite and approach a personal choice)
Gosden three-year-old debut winners
The major objective of this section is to evaluate these 118 two-year-old debut-winning turf horses as three-year-old performers.
Here are the overall numbers for the classic generation:
Backing every one of the 118 first time out two-year-old Gosden winners throughout their three-year-old campaign on turf is a rewarding exercise! A quarter of runners win and an there is a 15% return on investment based on level stakes.
However, as we've seen already, it makes sense to apply a distance filter to the runners.
There are no rea; surprises based on what we've discovered hitherto: whilst strike rates are broadly fine it doesn’t pay to follow Gosden's horses over sprint distances. It’s also a marginal call on those running between a mile and a mile and a quarter. Races of 10-furlongs plus are undoubtedly where there is most interest, particularly the specific 10-furlong distance (including 10.5f) where performance sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Whether backing the protagonists at a mile or so is a worthwhile exercise is debatable but there are certainly worse ways to gamble. However, for the sake of this article I’m only going to evaluate runners at 9-furlongs or further for a final lap of analysis.
Firstly, SP pricing, I’m not going to go into detail here (for the sake of relative brevity) but I’m only going to include horses with an SP of 12/1 or shorter. Horses running with SP’s of greater than this only deliver a solitary win from 22 attempts. I’m happy to leave these benched.
There is one additional step which delivers a cherry on our Johnny G cake and that’s evaluating by race class:
It’s clear that the upper echelon performance is better than the rank and file output. Class 1 and 2 races garnered a combined 40 victories from 112 runners (36% strike rate) with a profit of £76 to a £1 level stake (ROI of 68%). That’ll more than do for me.
For completeness/tracker purposes, the 2019 crop of two-year-old debut winners on turf from the yard were, in chronological order:
- Verboten (Yarmouth 17/7/2019)
- Leafhopper (10/8/2019 Newmarket)
- Palace Pier (Sandown 30/8/2019)
- Enemy (Ascot 6/9/2019)
- Cherokee Trial (Ascot 7/9/2019)
- King Leonidas (23/10/2019 Newmarket)
- Tuscan Glaze (1/11/2019 Newmarket)
- Heiress (2/11/2019 Newmarket)
- Moonlight in Paris (Nottingham 6/11/2019)
That’s nine horses to follow through this condensed 2020 season and if any of them run over 10 furlongs or further in a class 1 or 2 race they will be getting maximum focus!
Suggestion: Back John Gosden First time out 2YO turf winners over ten furlongs or further in all class one and two races in the UK where the SP is 12/1 or shorter
The more I’ve researched this the more I’ve discovered, the net result being that I’ve had to exclude a reasonable amount of solid angle content. This article is long enough already, but I did want to just point towards a couple of other interesting Gosden juvenile data angles for consideration.
It appears horses with a single autumnal run in their juvenile campaign perform very well in their first run as a three-year-old, irrespective of how well they performed on their debut. With filters of race distance over a mile and a cut off regarding sensible odds (12/1 or shorter) there is definite utility to be attained. My personal angle along these lines is 32/82 with an A/E of 1.30. Although as it has been quiet in terms of qualifiers in 2018 and 2019, I excluded from this article.
Finally, all of the data in this article relates to turf runs only. I had a quick check of all Gosden All-Weather debut winners and applied similar logic / parameters to those (the only difference from turf is it appears as though runners over a mile are productive on the AW). Again, as a cohort they are worth following with a record of 40/117 from their three-year-old campaign. However, there is an interesting difference through analysing by race code.
Yes, it’s a small sample of artificial surface runners; however, it appears as though a 2YO Gosden debut winner on the all-weather is worth tracking on a similar surface during the following campaign: maybe a case of horses for courses. Cobber Kain, Tiempo Vuela, Waldkonig, Hypothetical and Desert Flyer are the AW horses winning on debut as two-year olds in 2019. If they run on the AW in 2020, they will be worth more than a second glance based on these numbers.
I didn’t get the chance to evaluate Charlie Appleby in anything like the same detail. I always find working through John Gosden-related data a fascinating exercise. Consequently, a much deeper immersion - a veritable soaking! - occurred than originally intended; I guess some tangents are just worth following.
I’m looking forward immensely to seeing how these angles pan out, even in this strange upcoming 2020 season. Seems like I’ll be having a bet in some marquee races after all!
Until next time, look after yourselves and take care.