In my last article I accidentally stumbled into unpicking all-weather course form and the relative importance of it at each track in the UK, writes Jon Shenton. It wasn’t my intention to evaluate anything in that area; however, when exploring a vast ocean of data sometimes you end up going where the wind takes you as thoughts develop around the words and numbers on paper.
If you didn’t read that article (link here), a tentative conclusion was that a previous course win was more indicative of a likely follow up victory at Newcastle than any other all-weather surface.
Until that moment I had very limited interest in the tapeta at Gosforth Park as a vehicle for punting. Aside from the odd evening “leisure” bet, almost universally doomed to failure, I’ve hitherto watched perplexed from afar.
To my untrained eye the victors seemed to be pattern-less in terms of my usual all weather starting points of pace and draw, the immaturity of the surface also meaning data regarding trainer, sire and anything else you can think of is less reliable from which to build even vague conclusions.
So, when the intel from that last article showed Newcastle in a favourable light it got me thinking: it was time to have a proper delve into the delights of the northeast venue.
There is a uniqueness regarding Newcastle compared with its AW cousins. Namely, that it has a straight mile. Apart from Newcastle’s five to eight-furlong and Southwell’s five furlong straight track all other races on AW in Britain and Ireland are contested around a bend. This could be of potential interest for a number of reasons. As I’ve already alluded to, the usual staples of pace and draw could be less important without a turn than we see at other AW venues?
Why could pace and draw be less relevant at the Newcastle straight track?
To start with, on a straight track all of the horses compete over exactly the same distance. This is not the case when racing around a bend where inside draws have a shorter distance to run.
Imagine an Olympic 200m final around a tight bend where all athletes start at the same point. Not even a peak Usain Bolt content on fried chicken could overcome a lane 8 / car park draw unless he was running against people like me.
As well as the emphasis of draw on a turning track the AW tracks typically are tight in nature, with shortish home straights. This often leads to greater extremes of front runner bias. Thus finding a competitive front running animal with an inside draw on the AW is usually a compelling wagering proposition.
All of this points to Newcastle being a fairer test over the straight track than the other artificial surfaces racing around a turn. Fairer for the runners and riders, but trickier for punters?
Could it be that factors such as course form, pedigree or trainer angles play a more significant part in determining the outcome of a race? That’s all supposition at the moment, but let’s dive into it.
A continuation of the course form theme seems like as good a place to start as anywhere.
Course Form at Newcastle
A quick refresher, the graph below is from the previous article, it shows the adjusted strike rates at UK all-weather courses split by horses’ number of previous wins at the same track. The adjusted view was to reflect/standardise the effect of different field sizes. In other words, a race at Newcastle should be harder to win as the average number of runners is 10.9 whilst at Chelmsford it’s a more meagre 9.05.
The green line to a clear degree illustrates that Newcastle previous winners have a higher probability of a future win than course winners at other AW tracks.
By adopting the same method but splitting the Newcastle races by straight/round track performance we hopefully will find something of interest. Firstly, we need to take field sizes into account. Straight track races are popular with an average of 11.28 entrants per event, 1.11 more than the round track average field size of 10.17.
Using the same format, the graph below shows the profile of previous course winners’ strike rates by distance of race.
I think this is quite insightful. There appears to be an indication that previous course form is more valuable in predicting a winner over the straight track of 5 to 8 furlongs, than it is over the longer trip.
Now the volume of runners is quite small, particularly on the round course where two or more previous course wins are concerned but there is definitely enough to upgrade a previous course win on the straight track in comparison.
Pace on the straight track
Lesson number 1 in Geegeez.co.uk land is that pace is a game changer in punting life. It’s certainly been a key component in my improvement in race reading and is just about the first thing I look at when trying to evaluate any equine contest.
We’ve already generated the supposition that front running pace bias may not be as important at Newcastle as it is on the other UK all-weather tracks due to the fairer nature of the straight; but do the numbers back that up?
Well, yes. The above chart is eye-opening. It illustrates the Actual/Expected performance by pace score for each of the all-weather tracks in the UK. The data covers all 3YO+ and 4YO+ handicaps and all races up to 8f in distance.
You can see the old adage of “pace wins the race” is pronounced across all of the tracks apart from Newcastle.
The blob annotated with “a” above shows the fate of hold up horses on the straight track at Newcastle. There is clear daylight between their performances when compared with late runners at every other track. In fact, horses that are held up actually fare well even in comparison to their front running rivals at the track. Certainly, trailblazers are not the be all and end all that they can be on some tracks, as the blob “b” illustrates. Both front runners and hold up horses have an identical A/E performance of 0.99.
Lumping in all races from the minimum trip to the mile is potentially dangerous and clearly analysis by specific trip length may lead to slightly different and more solid conclusions. However, in terms of proving a point that race profiles are different on the straight Newcastle track to the typical AW ones I think this does enough. The bottom line is don’t be put off by a horse stalking from the back of the pack at Gosforth Park.
Hopefully it’s reasonably understandable but evaluating full draw implications of a straight vs. round track is a tough ask for an article of this length given the variables in distance, race type, number of runners and the like.
That said, by way of a quick guide, below is a broad-brush summary of Newcastle draw performance. It only considers handicap races of 10-12 runners. It’s also important to note I’m using actual draw position (i.e. accounting for non-runners), not racecard draw number.
What does the above tell us? In truth, not a great deal! Maybe, just maybe, there is a hint of bias towards the wings of the track, especially for races over 5, 6 and 8 furlongs. Sometimes this makes sense as races develop against a rail and perhaps that is what is at play here. But… for no obvious reason the 7f distance contradicts other distance data by suggesting there is a hint of middle track bias. In conclusion, it’s all pretty marginal and if you find the right horse, with the right profile, the draw at this course appears to be less relevant than most in terms of stall position.
It’s quite early to draw meaningful conclusions on stallions to follow at Newcastle but the below table shows some potentially emerging talent.
It’s derived from geegeez.co.uk’s Query Tool and illustrates all runners at 20/1 or less; and to qualify for the table an A/E of 1.25 is required, as well as a 10% ROI.
The volumes are generally too thin to draw firm conclusions and build bankable, watertight angles, especially as some of the performance will be driven by individual animals repeatedly winning. Even so, it’s a good list to keep in mind to help generate a shortlist when evaluating a race, particularly when form, or course form, is at a premium.
There is merit in just pulling out a couple to discuss briefly. The most successful couple of sires on the Newcastle all weather, in terms of winner numbers, are the renowned Sea The Stars and the progressive Lope De Vega.
Sea The Stars
Firstly, Sea The Stars… His progeny’s 15 wins are comprised of 13 individual horses. John Gosden’s Champion Stayer, Stradivarius, is the most illustrious, having recorded his first success (on his third run) at Newcastle, over the straight mile. That is the very same course and distance that stablemate Enable made her debut on, incidentally. Clearly, Johnny G likes to blood a top class type on the tapeta here.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for horses of real quality to get an early spin on the Gosforth Park sands. The apparent level playing field of the track is a feature which attracts some of the elite stables to test their youngsters at a formative stage of their careers.
Reverting to Sea The Stars, below shows his progeny runs by race code.
Not bad all round but there is a clear distinction between AW and Turf data. If we zoom in a little further and evaluate the performance by the UK’s different AW venues, we get the following.
Here we see that Newcastle is driving the superb AW performance. Yes, Southwell, Chelmsford and Lingfield all show promise and we should take note of the offspring of Sea The Stars when they run at those venues. But Newcastle is where it’s at.
Lope De Vega
Lope De Vega was campaigned exclusively in France under the tutelage of Andre Fabre and doesn’t on the face of it have a particularly strong all-weather pedigree. However, much like Sea The Stars, his progeny has performed generally better on the artificial surfaces, in win strike rate and profit/loss terms at least.
Newcastle performance is strong (see the table below), but so too are Chelmsford and Wolverhampton. The surface at the midlands track is also Tapeta so that makes some sort of sense (albeit that it was polytrack until 2014). If you delve into sire records, quite frequently a good Newcastle record can be indicative of a better than average Wolves one and vice versa. The Chelmsford one is harder to explain, though it may be simply that Lope De Vega is a top class sire all round.
If we take that trio of courses and check P&L performance over different trips, we can see below that Lope De Vega offspring are less productive over 5 and 6 furlongs than other distances.
So, I think we have a potentially nice micro here: Lope De Vega progeny, 20/1 or shorter, 7-14f at Chelmsford, Wolves or Newcastle. 27.6% strike rate, 52% ROI to level stakes with strong A/E and IV numbers. The table below shows the precise numbers.
All Lope De Vega at 20/1 or less, 7-14f at Chelmsford/Wolves/Newcastle:
A final word on the trainers who have taken to Newcastle’s newish surface, the above table shows those yards who have had 25+ runs, an A/E of 1.00 or above and an ROI of 10%+.
Before I talk about the table a couple of mentions for trainers not on the list. As stated earlier a number of elite trainers use Newcastle as a proving ground for their potential stable stars. John Gosden has had 75 runners (at 20/1 or less) including Enable, Without Parole and Stradivarius. Sadly though, and for obvious reasons, these are all quite well found in the market. Hugo Palmer is another who is inclined to send runners north as part of their education and development, but without profitable import for punters.
To those actually in the table, where there is a mix of northern track specialists and selective southern raiders. Sir Mark Prescott and William Haggas both clearly send animals up to the north-east that have a fair chance, and it is somewhat surprising to see these practitioners showing a level stakes profit. Moreover, as their strike rates at 31% and 38%, and related Impact Value numbers of 3.02 and 3.53, demonstrate, they’ll keep you in the game more readily than most.
The more local names of Menzies, Tate, Whitaker, Bethell and so on are all worth tagging too, although with only a handful of winners I wouldn’t necessarily generate micro angles to follow until there is a greater body of evidence.
Good luck, thanks for reading, and a happy new year to you all.
- Jon Shenton