With the National Hunt season soon to spring fully into action, I thought I would look further to see if there were any pace angles we could take advantage of, writes Dave Renham.
In the past I have written two articles for Geegeez on this topic focusing on handicap chases over 2m 1½f or less and from 2m 6f – 3m 2f. This article looks more generally at pace in National Hunt races to begin with before focusing on all chases at all distances.
I know many of you reading this would have read some or all of my previous articles, but for new readers it is important to explain what pace in a race means here, and how we measure it. When I look at pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race and position the horses take up early on. www.geegeez.co.uk has a really useful pace tool and the stats I am sharing with you in this article are based on the site’s pace section data. The pace data on Geegeez is split into four – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets are the pace scores that are assigned to each section.
The first set of data I’d like to share with you shows overall pace stats for all National Hunt races in the UK from 1/1/16 to 31/8/19, just over three and a half years’ worth:
Across all races there is a front running bias – an A/E index of 1.06 for front runners is positive, as (more so) is an Impact Value of 1.66.
Also if we simply compare strike rates we can see that the figures correlate with early leaders out performing prominent runners who in turn out perform those who run mid pack, while horses held up at the back have the poorest strike rate. (Plenty of horses with no chance at all spend the majority of their race at the back of the field, something which is worth keeping in mind whilst not detracting markedly from the general point about early race position and its impact on finishing position).
Of course it is important to remember that the number of runners in each pace group varies – there are far more runners in the prominent and hold up categories. Hence more important than the raw strike rates are the Impact Values (IV) and the A/E index (Actual winners/Expected winners).
Impact of Run Style in NH Races, by Field Size
Let us break these data down by number of runners in a race. Here are the breakdowns:
2 to 5 runners
6 to 8 runners
9 to 11 runners
You should notice that the strike rates correlate once again across all groups, while the strongest front running bias seems to be in races with 12 or more runners (highest A/E index and IV figure), notwithstanding that the overall strike rate is the lowest – simply because there are more horses in these races.
On that face of it this is counterintuitive as one would assume that with more runners, there would be more challengers to eventually pass the front runner(s). From a betting perspective if you had magically been able to predict the early leader (front runner) in races of 12 or more runners you would have made a profit of £231.62 to £1 level stakes. This is based on SP returns, using Betfair SP this figure would be considerably bigger.
Sadly, such a magic predictor is not yet available; however, Geegeez Gold pace tabs provide a closer approximation than I’ve seen anywhere else.
Impact of Run Style in NH Races, by Race Code
Now it is time to split the races into codes: chases, hurdles and NH flat races.
Chase races are where front runners have the greatest edge in terms of National Hunt races. They have the highest A/E index and IV figures. Again if your crystal ball could predict the early leader in each such race you would have been over £1100 better off to £1 level stakes to SP.
Leaders have the edge in hurdle races too, but the edge is less strong. In addition you would not have made a profit backing all front runners even if you could predict them unfailingly!
NH Flat races
Again early leaders have the edge, but the bias is not quite strong enough to give us, as punters, a strong edge. Moreover, nearly all horses in such races have little or no form on which to base early pace assessments.
Now if we combine chases with decent size fields (12+ runners) the front running figures look very strong:
Being able to correctly predict the front runner in these races is probably the place to focus attention as if we had been able to accurately back every front runner, we would have returned a profit of 55p in the £ to SP. Handicap chases with bigger fields do have more of a front running edge than non-handicaps, but in general there are very few non handicap chases with such big fields.
Focusing on Chases
Chases clearly offer punters a front running edge so for the rest of this piece I am going to concentrate on all chases (all field sizes), starting with a review by course.
Front Running Bias in NH Chases, by UK Racecourse
Below is the record of horses that led early in chases at UK racecourses, ordered by market value (A/E). Any score over 1.00 is generally deemed to be positive, and the higher the score the better:
Only 8 courses have A/E indices under 1.00. The courses highlighted in red are the courses I would personally focus on as it seems the front running bias is at its strongest. Having said that it is worth checking a similar data set from say 2012 to 2015 to see if the course data correlates. This is a similar method that systems guru Nick Mordin used to employ when analysing time specific data.
This research is easily done using the Query Tool on Geegeez and I would recommend readers doing this to increase confidence and familiarity with the data. I have checked the 2012 to 2015 data and 14 of the 20 courses highlighted in red are in the top 20 in terms of A/E index in that time period too. In addition two other courses are positioned in 21st and 22nd spot.
Front Running Bias in NH Chases, by Going
A look now to see if the going makes a difference for front runners in chases:
Data for good to firm or firmer is limited so best not to read too much into those figures; it does seem that front runners on heavy ground have an increased edge, although personally I would have preferred to see stronger figures in the soft ground data to corroborate the heavy numbers. Again, as stated above, it is always worth checking another data set, and the 2012 to 2015 figures show heavy ground front runners have the same sort of edge (A/E 1.27; IV 1.74).
Front Running Bias in NH Chases, by (Selected) Trainer
Time to look at trainers now and their performance with front runners in chases. I have included all trainers that have sent at least 50 runners to the front – again the list is ordered by A/E index:
Readers will have their favourite trainers or at least a group of preferred ones. This table does indicate that certain trainers outperform others when it comes to horses that front run.
Staying with trainer data, here are the trainers who send out the highest percentage of front runners compared with all their runners:
Trainer Neil King is definitely a man to note – his is a huge percentage of horses which are sent to the lead early; in addition if you look at the previous table he has a decent performance record with them. Charlie Longsdon is another trainer to keep an eye on.
Selected NH Trainer Pace Tendencies
Finally on trainers, and finally for this article, I want to try and give an overall pace tendency for each trainer. To do this I have created trainer pace averages as I have done in some of my previous pace articles. I create trainer pace averages by adding up the Geegeez pace scores of all the runners for a particular trainer and dividing it by the total number of races run. The higher the average score, the more biased the trainer is to sending out horses that lead early or race close to the pace.
Here are the trainer pace averages for chases:
I hope this post will prove useful as the season moves forward, and I recommend you use the Geegeez pace tool to do your own research. Front running bias in racing is still an area where one can profit, as long as you put in a little research. Geegeez has the tools to make that both easy and fun.
Next time I will begin to focus on jockeys culminating in a final article on trainer / jockey combinations (similar to this flat article I wrote earlier this year).