You can win with Willie.
Trainers are the life blood of the game. Well, after horses, that is. And the way some are venerated in the mainstream media you'd think they were the answer to all racing fans' needs.
In fairness, many do make the job of the meejah-men far easier by offering guided tours of their yards as well as gratis pig slices and caffeine by the gallon. But for us punters, most big name trainers are money pits from a wagering perspective, most of the time.
So, when looking for trainers to back, it boils down to this simple differentiator between punting men and gambling boys: do you want winners, or profit?
If you want to stay comfortably in the game, short-term - no long losing runs - then winners (i.e. a high strike rate) are for you. But if you seek to make a profit from your punting, and can see beyond the end of the month in your (documented) betting ledger, profit is the only arbiter of performance.
Alas, the simplest market forces of supply and demand dictate that winners and profit are rarely seen in the same room together. However, just occasionally, they are. Below are 18 Golden trainer snippets that you didn't know you didn't know.
They cover all race codes, and focus on the two year period up to and including this past weekend.
First Time Out
No form to go at. At least, no British or Irish form to go at. Fumbling blindly in the dark for a bet? Not if you side with these very well-known characters...
The captain of Closutton has some pretty special talent with which to wage war each season, that much is known to everyone. It comes as a bit of a surprise then, a recurring theme in what will follow, to discover that there are circumstances - very simple circumstances - under which his charges can be profitably backed.
In this case it is on their first start in Britain/Ireland. 143 horses have been saddled by Willie and his team in the last two years, 61 of them winning and a further 35 making the frame. The winners were worth +12.61 at starting price. Availing of best odds where one can, or Betfair SP, would enhance these - and all subsequently quoted - returns.
Whilst the ROI of a little under 9% won't have all readers salivating, the hit rate of 43% is faintly preposterous. In a good way. And those numbers are not merely an aberration of the last two rolling years. Rather, Willie has been profitable in this context since 2012: he is a law unto himself, and seems to be improving his methods faster than the market can adapt to his elevated strike rates.
If one doesn't much care for monopolies - or, perhaps more correctly, cartels - then one should at least cast an approving gaze over the P and L column.
The other pugilist from that famously welcome trainers' title scrap on bet365 day in April was Paul Nicholls. Ditcheat's most famous resident received a bloody nose and a significant cut above the eye last season - metaphorically, of course - but still produced a lump-hammer of a haymaker when he needed it most. I am full of admiration for what Nicholls did there, and on Scottish National weekend seven days before, upsetting the odds in the process.
For such a household name, it is strange to discover that he too can be backed blindly and profitably with first time out runners. As with WPM above, PFN acquires many such runners from France; so while they're not necessarily having their first career starts, they are running for the first time in Britain or Ireland.
Nicholls runners won 23 of 89 starts under such conditions in the study period, and hit the board another 23 times. His level stakes starting price profit was 16.24.
From one extreme to another, and reminding us that some horses race without obstacular impediment, Ger Lyons has a burgeoning reputation as a man to invest in without recourse to the form book. His first time out strike rate is a 'mere' 15%, double the average first time starter win rate, but they just keep on winning at prices.
Much of this is predicated on running against powerful stables such as Ballydoyle (Aidan O'Brien) and Rosewell (Dermot Weld), though the market is generally not quite so oblivious to alternative sources of winners.
Owner Sean Jones has been a significant supporter of Lyons, with his blue spotted white silks a feature of many juvenile heats across Ireland, but he is not alone. More recently, Qatar Racing Limited have invested in the team, with some success.
Back to the numbers: Ger's jobbers have won 15 of 99 starts in the rolling two years to date, and accrued a hefty 51.15 unit profit at SP. That's just better than a 50% ROI and has an actual over expected of 1.15.
Second Time Out
Some trainers have them ready to run out of their skin first time, and some prefer leaving something to work on while educating their immature horses about the racecourse experience... all whilst achieving the best possible placing, naturally. As I wrote in this post, there are some surprisingly high profile names at the top of this pile. Here's an aide memoire of a top trois.
Sir Michael Stoute
Sir Michael is an absolute master of
schooling in public bringing a horse on from first to second start. There are some in the game who should care about this - them what make the rules, for example - but we punters need simply be aware of the modus operandi and fill our boots accordingly.
First time out, Stoute-ly trained horses are 14 from 152 (9%) for a loss of almost 40 points at SP. But that's patently not when to be financially involved. A single run, and doubtless a little tightening of various biomechanical screws, later the figures for the same period look a touch sexier.
Actually, they look red hot and dutch: 46 winners from 148 runners (27%), and +56.65 in the tank. That's an A/E of 1.10 for one of the biggest names in flat racing. Scorchio!
A lesser known name to some, but a man who has gone from strength to strength since being warned off for a year in 2009 after a careless "inside information" episode. This season has been a continuation of last as far as dual Group 1-winning fillies are concerned, with the rapid Quiet Reflection supplanting the retired-to-stud Euro-traveller, Odeliz.
Burke is a trainer close to the top of his game currently, a point generally missed by the market, most likely because he doesn't conduct his affairs from the southern part of England. A resident of Middleham in North Yorkshire, his Spigot Lodge yard has fired in ten winners from exactly a hundred first time starters in the last two years. That victorious decile was worth 34.5 units at SP to bettors, but a 10% strike rate will bury the casual punter is short order.
Happily, our Karl ramps up the strike rate at the second time of asking, recording an impressive 18% win rate from 96 runners (17 of which won). Those winners were worth 52.82 points at SP, though a word of caution is required. During the sample period, Daisy Bere obliged at 66/1, accounting for all of the profit and a touch more besides.
However, the same yard hit the target in August 2014 with a 50/1 shot, and their long term record with horses priced 20/1 and up is good: five winners and 15 more placed for an each way strike rate of 17% and a profit at SP of 135 points. Looking only at the post-ban period - from 2010 onwards - we have 31 qualifiers, three of which won and another six placed. That amounted to an each way strike rate of 29% and a profit of 152.40 to a level point win and place.
Obviously this is a small sample size so I restate the need to proceed with caution. But to small stakes on the occasional big prices from Spigot Lodge, some lucrative fun could be had.
David Evans is probably best known for running his horses - normally sprinters - regularly, but recent evidence suggests that stereotype to be an ignorant caricature of his performance.
Evans scores at just over 8% with first time starters - 7 from 83 - for a sizeable loss. In fairness, he's about on par with the average of all debutants, perhaps even slightly ahead. But, with the benefit of the race behind them, Evans' lads and lasses strike better than twice as often.
17% of his 77 runners in the last two years - thirteen winners - have come from those with that basic racecourse experience, and they were worth 108.13 units profit. Here again readers need to have their eyes open to the presence of two 50/1 bombs and a 25/1 winner besides; on the flip side, it is also worth noting that of the 77 second time starters, 26 of them were sent off at 22/1 or bigger.
It's very far from a bombproof setup, but much ballast is found in the shorter priced of his second time starters. Indeed, since 2009, 32 of the 144 runners priced at 14/1 or shorter have prevailed, 22%, for an SP profit of 22.70 points.
Evans has enjoyed patronage from some bigger hitters in recent times, including that Welsh patriarch of the turf, Dai Walters, so expect him to continue to surprise from a market perspective, possibly with some better-bred individuals.
First Time in a Handicap
Ah, the vast improvement that can be gleaned from those stepping into handicap company for the first time... This is one of my favourite subjects, it is one about which I've written repeatedly and at length (notably here), and it is one to which the racing calendar demands we pay ever closer attention as the number of handicap races increases seemingly inexorably.
There are many masters of this handicap first run trick, so the trio flagged here are but the icy tip of a gargantuan iceberg just waiting to be scaled or crashed into, depending on one's wagering receptiveness to such ostensibly machiavellian intent.
Actually, it doesn't matter what you - or I - think about it. Handicaps are here to stay, and so are those who are cute enough to play the handicap game. So get with the programme, and pick them in your team. Here are three to get you started:
Another wily Welsh handler, Rebecca Curtis has had horses as good as At Fisher's Cross, winner of the 2013 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, and O'Faolain's Boy, who scored in the RSA Chase a year later.
Her more workaday types are also shrewdly campaigned, ensuring the best possible chance of a winner for their owners. Via the first time handicap route, the Fforest Farm stable has celebrated on ten occasions from just 34 such runners in the past two years. That 29% strike rate was worth a profit of 40.66 points at starting prices, an ROI of a mouth-watering 120%
While it is unreasonable - probably - to expect that level of profitability to remain for years, the likelihood is that Curtis's 'cap debs will only steadily deteriorate in value, meaning gravy for the foreseeable.
What is remarkable about these figures is that Miss Curtis actually managed to have a bit of a bug in the yard during the review period, in spite of which she's still close to the pick of her peer group in this regard. Chapeau.
THE coming man in British flat racing, Hugo could have been placed in almost any of the slots in this post, and his value is likely to wane faster than any other. That's a factor of his brilliance, but it shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm in the short term.
Here we focus on Palmer's handicap first starters, who have scored at a rate of almost one in four over the past two years - 11 winners from 48 runners to be precise. Those triumphs were good for a collective 33.11 units at the industry rates, a return on investment of 69%.
A feature of many of these trainers' runners is the contraction in price during the day, and HP's crew have truncated more than most. Get on early, when it looks like value, while you can. It can't last. And it won't last.
Happily, there are always new names coming through.
My good friend Anthony - whose yard is sponsored by geegeez.co.uk - understands the importance to owners of a win, just like the other conditioners in this section, but unlike many in their rank. He's actually been quieter than normal in the past couple of years, but has still won a quarter of the dozen races he's entered 'cap debs in.
Three from twelve, and another four in the frame, makes for easy - if occasional - reading, as does a bottom line in the black to the tune of +14.5 points. One of the trio of winners was The Geegeez Geegee, who returned 11/1 having been 11/2 earlier in the day.
It is worth pointing out that Anthony is, in my opinion, arguably the best trainer of handicappers in the country. In his career to date, he's saddled 477 horses in handicaps, 95 of which have won (20% strike rate) for a level stakes profit of 106.22 points. Feel free to at least double that if you're betting early prices or Betfair SP.
Oh, and that was having made a level stakes loss in his first four years training. Since 2011, almost six years, he's cleared a surplus in all bar one calendar year - when the loss was a tolerable eight points. Like I say, one of the finest - if not the finest - placer of horses in the game today*.
*Do leave a comment at the bottom if you have other names to throw into this fray 🙂
Second Time in a Handicap
Second time in a handicap draws in two polar opposite types: the obvious improvers, and those whose first run in a handicap was designed purely to vindicate the official raters' errant initial assessment!
Evan Williams could have easily made it into the first time out group at the top of this post. But if he was unlucky to miss the cut there, there are no such deliberations here. Williams, yet another Welsh trainer at the top of his peer group on these measures, prevailed on 10 of 33 occasions with horses running for the second time in a handicap.
The ten winners paid for the 23 losers and left 37.66 on the table at starting prices. Eight of them ran for the first time in a handicap on their prior start, two each finishing first and second. The other four to fit this profile were fifth, seventh, tenth and fell, so be prepared to forgive an unplaced effort on 'cap debut.
Another handicapping star, Simcock has excellent figures both first and second time out, a function of how strong a handle he has on his team early in their careers. It's the second time 'cappers we focus on here, a group which won 14 of 51 races in the review period (27%). 16.11 points level stakes profit equates to an ROI of 32%, and there is a look of sustainability about Trillium Place's contenders in this context.
All bar one of the 51 'qualifiers' ran in a handicap on their previous start, where twelve of the 14 winners finished in the first three. That was from just 24 runners. So don't expect too many Simcock surprises on second start 'capping.
A dab hand as a trainer under all codes, Ellison is a quiet man with whom who I once shared a Cheltenham preview panel. In truth, he seemed to have a fairly flimsy handle on the Festival form book; but that is not to say that he doesn't know exactly what he has in his care. On the contrary, his record speaks for itself, with winners in all grades, at all prices, and spanning the breadth of disciplines.
In contrast to David Simcock above, Ellison's 11 wins from 61 second time handicap starters in the last two years, yielding a return of +26.50 at SP, were not obvious types. Indeed, just two of the 21 horses to place in the first four on their prior start, and handicap bow, managed to win second time. From the other 29 to fit that bill emerged seven largely unconsidered winners, and a good profit.
With no outliers in the (granted, small) dataset, and robust place strike rates to back up the win percentages, Ellison's squad can be trusted on their second start in handicaps.
Layoff of 60+ Days
Training methods have changed. Modern handlers have more technology, more veterinary support, and more collective nous than the previous generations; and that means that a horse winning after a year off is no longer the "wonderful training feat" trumpeted by some race callers.
And yet, as with everything in life, some do it better than others. And some do it par excellence.
Saeed bin Suroor
Godolphin's former plod has had a difficult time of it this term, and it was disappointing to see the generally excellent James Doyle jettisoned from the first choice slot at Stanley House. Nevertheless, through the clinical lens of the punting microscope we peer into the petri dish of bin Suroor's performance. With first time starters it is very good, and so it is with layoff horses, who would be similarly without racecourse exposure in the recent past.
Specifically, bin Suroor has saddled 155 horses without a run for at least 60 days (excluding first time starters), of which 41 have passed the post in front (26%). That better than one-in-four hit rate added 44.29 units of notional gravy to the war chest at SP.
This is a team that clearly has no problems readying one for the first time, or for the first time in a while.
Sir Michael Stoute
Famously patient with his horses, to which I've already alluded, Sir Michael Stoute's relaxed approach to the passage of time has borne fruit repeatedly. A further example of this is in the layoff department, where his 181 runners to return to the track after a break of sixty days and more have struck 36 blows for the Freemason Lodge setup, at a one-in-five clip.
34.56 points was the profit score in the past two years, an ROI of close on 20%. Tidy enough from a man at the head of his peer group, and a second - albeit partially overlapping - route to profit from one of the most famous names in the game.
I almost gave a further mention to Hugo Palmer, about whom I'll only repeat that he's destined for the top. Instead, I've gone with a renaissance man in Kim Bailey. Famous for winning the Champion Hurdle (Alderbrook) and Gold Cup (Master Oats) in the same year (as well as the Grand National in record time), Bailey slipped off the radar for a while, but has bounced back with aplomb in recent times. He snaffled further Festival glory in 2015, and has been a wizard with a layoff type.
159 horses have lined up after a two month or longer absence, and 30 have bagged the spoils (19%). Those winners racked up an impressive 53.86 points profit, in some part due to the success of his 33/1 chance, Darna, who sunk my Monetaire battleship in the Festival Plate eighteen months ago.
That one had benefited from a wind op during its absence, and it is possible this is part of the layoff success story at Thorndale Farm. Regardless, it's been a profitable route, and should continue to be for the immediate future.
Quick Returners (7- Days)
At the other end of the layoff spectrum are those nags hurried back to the track within a week, often to take advantage of a lenient handicap mark after winning the last day. As has been demonstrated throughout the angles in this post, there are great swathes of fine exponents, a subset of whom are consistently lucrative for us betting types. Here are my three off the tee...
Something akin to an institution in northern racing, Mick Easterby has continued to thrive under certain circumstances, regardless of changes in training fashion or the race programme. His 22 winners from 89 quick returners (25%) delivered 54.66 points of profit to the retrospective investment fund.
Of the 22 winners, seven (from just 13 starters) were backing up a last day triumph and returned 22.66 points.
I'm not entirely sure what's changed at Sheriff Hutton in recent years, but something seems to have. He has saddled more quick returner winners in 2016 than in any year since 2003. Although he backed it up with his second best tally last year, I'm more apprehensive about the repeatability of this entry than any other flagged here. So, caveat emptor, and all that.
The master of Mount House Stables has had some up and down times over the past few years, but this is one area of consistent performance. Indeed, Given has made a profit with his seven-day returners in each of the last TWELVE years!
For the study period, he's saddled ten winners from 38 runners (26%) and brought back 42.08 more than was invested (111% ROI). Whilst that is at the higher end of Given's profit performance in the past dozen years, it lends credence to the notion that he's still under-rated in this context. More winners and more profit with quick returners looks, well, a given. (Sorry).
Rounding out a northern trio of trainers is Nigel Tinkler. Like James Given, Tinkler's 2016 figures are probably not fully repeatable. But, also like Given, he has a solid track record of striking with quick returners stretching out some way beyond the study period.
In the two years under review, Tinkler saddled eight winners from 44 runners heading back to the track within a week, for a profit of 49 points. He looks more likely than not to continue to pay his way in this context.
Six different approaches to profiting from trainers have been highlighted in this post, and I've put together a summary table for readers who might like to follow the fortunes of those nominated.
Top trainers *can* still be profitable, under certain circumstances
The purpose of this post is to highlight the power of trainer angles, and how little snippets of trainer data can reveal something previously unconsidered and, more materially, still at least partially concealed from the market.
Finding these insights in the first place is labour intensive, let alone rooting through the entries each day for possible 'qualifiers'. Moreover, times change. The names in the list above may outperform their recent historical benchmark, or they may under-perform against it. In short, this approach is transient, fluid, and hard to keep a handle on. At least, it was.
That's why I built Trainer Snippets. Trainer Snippets comes in two formats: a report, and contextually inline on the racecard. Here's how it looks, in both formats.
Trainer Snippets Report
Trainer Snippets report, with relevant horse inline when trainer is clicked
In this example, I've set a couple of filters - for minimum runs, win percentage and A/E - and I've sorted the output on the 'All' button (which, predictably, incorporates the content from all other buttons) by A/E.
I then clicked on the first named trainer to reveal his runner(s) today. If I click on the runner line - Spirit Of Kayf - a new window will open in my browser for that race.
For those who like their nuggets 'top down' the report is perfect. But what if you're evaluating the form of a specific race? Gold's inline trainer form is as good as it gets, and leans heavily on the Daily Racing Form (America's daily racing 'paper) model of flagging trainer insights within the card.
Here's how it looks on Gold:
Oodles of trainer insights right in the racecard...
Clicking the icon that looks a bit like a trainer reveals two small tables. The first displays the trainer's recent (14 and 30 day) form, and his/her longer term course (one year, five year) form.
The second distils the appropriate Trainer Snippets into the card. In this example, we can see that, in the past two years, Keith Dalgleish has won with seven of the twelve chasers he's saddled. Moreover, he has an excellent (and profitable) record with both last day winners - as evidenced by Amy Blair yesterday - and those returning after a break. Knowing this would certainly mark up Mixboy's chance. [Post script: Mixboy won easily by SIX lengths, at 11/4]
How to get Trainer Snippets for every race, every day
Registered free users can view the inline trainer snippets in the Gold "races of the day" each day. However, to secure unrestricted access to Trainer Snippets, a Gold subscription is required. If you're not currently registered and/or have never trialed Gold before, you can take the whole kit and caboodle for a spin for 30 days, for a pound.
Whoop - go here to get your £1, 30 day trial
If you'd like to upgrade your existing free subscription, Gold is less than £1 a day. Actually, it's £30 a month, or £297 a year. Other form books, which are less easy to use, less committed to development, and well, more 'last century', cost upwards of £100 a month. That's £1,200+ per year. Gulp.
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