Catterick has an optimal combination of plenty of low class sprint handicaps and a strong bias towards front-runners Photograph by John Grossick / Racingfotos.com"

Part 2: The Importance of Pace in 5f Handicaps

In my first article I looked at pace in 5-furlong handicaps focusing on the running style bias angle. The figures clearly showed a huge difference between the front running chances of horses depending on which 5f course he/she was running. In this second part, we will revisit the course angle and aim to offer a more complete picture.

To recap from the first article, when I talk about pace my main focus is the early pace in a race and the position horses take up early on. The Geegeez website splits pace data into four groups - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. These groups are assigned numerical values – led gets 4 points, prominent 3, mid division 2 and held up 1. On each Geegeez racecard these figures are assigned to every horse in the race going back four UK or Irish runs.

We can use these numerical figures to create course and distance pace averages. I have done this by adding up the pace scores of all the winners at a particular course and dividing it by the total number of races. The higher the average score, the more biased the course and distance is to horses that lead early or race close to the pace. Here are the 5 furlong handicap C&D pace averages for all turf courses in the UK.

 

Course 5f pace average 5f Pace Rank
Lingfield (turf) 3.33 1
Chester 3.3 2
Epsom 3 3
Catterick 2.97 4
Ripon 2.97 5
Redcar 2.88 6
Chepstow 2.86 7
Hamilton 2.85 8
Nottingham 2.84 9
Thirsk 2.82 10
Windsor 2.78 11
Musselburgh 2.77 12
Newbury 2.73 13
Beverley 2.72 14
Leicester 2.72 15
Pontefract 2.69 16
Goodwood 2.64 17
Ayr 2.63 18
Newmarket 2.58 19
Haydock 2.57 20
Wetherby 2.56 21
Bath 2.54 22
Doncaster 2.51 23
Salisbury 2.5 24
Sandown 2.5 25
Brighton 2.49 26
Carlisle 2.49 27
York 2.47 28
Ffos Las 2.38 29
Yarmouth 2.24 30
Ascot 2.24 31

 

Lingfield (turf) tops the list, but in truth they have very few 5f handicaps so we perhaps out to take this figure with the proverbial pinch of salt. Chester comes next which is no surprise based on the stats from the previous article. In that article Chester had exceptional winning percentages for front runners and very poor percentages for hold up horses. A 3.3 C&D pace average is huge, so let us look at Chester 5f in more detail.

Running style

Chester 5f

Wins Runners Strike rate (%) IV
Led 31 88 35.23 3.38
Prominent 21 194 10.82 1.04
Mid Division 5 109 4.59 0.44
Held Up 4 194 2.06 0.20

 

As can be seen, 52 of 61 Chester races have been won by horses that have either led or raced prominently. Essentially these figures indicate that the winner is almost six times more likely to be racing in the front half of the pack early on, than the back half.

Epsom are third on the list but they have only had 25 races so, as with Lingfield turf, the data is limited. Let us instead look at the Catterick who lie fourth on the list. Catterick have had 145 races so a bigger sample to breakdown:

 

Running style

Catterick 5f

Wins Runners Strike rate (%) IV
Led 47 196 23.98 2.51
Prominent 65 672 9.67 1.00
Mid Division 15 175 8.57 0.93
Held Up 18 473 3.81 0.4

 

The stats for Catterick are not in Chester’s league in terms of pace bias to front/prominent racers, but the tendency is still strong. Front runners especially have a very potent edge. Digging deeper, if we focus on races at Catterick with 12 to 14 runners the pace bias does increase significantly:

 

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Running style Wins Runners Strike rate (%) IV
Led 15 66 22.73 2.88
Prominent 22 227 9.69 1.23
Mid Division 5 88 5.68 0.72
Held Up 4 201 1.99 0.25

 

37 of 46 races were won by early leaders or horses that raced prominent early. The winner is roughly four more times more likely to be racing in the front half of the pack early on, than the back half.

 

At this juncture I decided to dig a little deeper looking to see whether the going made a difference to the overall 5f course pace averages. In the past I have heard two contrasting theories connected with front running horses which would potentially affect the course pace average on a specific type of going:

Theory 1 – horses that lead on softer ground are difficult to peg back because horses find it harder to accelerate from off the pace on such going;

Theory 2 – horses that lead on firmer ground are likely to get less tired at the front due the faster conditions and this accentuates their front running edge. (Plus on quicker ground the race is likely to be run in a shorter overall time again meaning the front runner is expending less energy).

So which one is true – or is neither true? If front runners do have a bigger edge under certain going conditions it will push up the overall course pace average.

I decided to split the results into two – races on good or firmer; and races on good to soft or softer. Here are the course pace averages for all 5f handicaps split into these going types:

 

Going Course Pace average
Good or firmer 2.72
Good to soft or softer 2.67

 

As we can see the difference is minimal and not statistically significant. I plan to look at more extremes of going when I have time – looking at soft or heavy versus good to firm or firmer. However, looking at these initial figures, I am not expecting to see a huge variance.

My final area of research in this article is concerned with ‘class’. There is an argument, which I believe is a fair one, that the higher the class, the harder it is for horses to lead from start to finish – due to the more competitive nature of the opposition. Hence, at courses that run more higher class handicaps one might expect their course pace averages to be lower as a result. How to calculate ‘class’ at a particular course is difficult – do you use class levels, prize money, average Official Ratings across all races? I have decided to use a relatively simplistic approach by creating average class levels for each course by adding the class levels for each race and dividing by how many races there were. Hence, for example, if a course had had 10 class 2 handicaps and 10 class 3 handicaps their class average would be 2.5. Here are the course class averages for 5f handicaps (lowest class averages at the top):

Course Course Race Class Average Course Class Rank
Chepstow 5.47 1
Hamilton 5.43 2
Catterick 5.32 3
Brighton 5.26 4
Ffos Las 5.12 5
Beverley 5.11 6
Yarmouth 5.08 7
Bath 5.03 8
Carlisle 5 9
Nottingham 4.96 10
Redcar 4.95 11
Lingfield (turf) 4.92 12
Musselburgh 4.85 13
Ayr 4.77 14
Leicester 4.67 15
Ripon 4.57 16
Wetherby 4.56 17
Pontefract 4.53 18
Salisbury 4.45 19
Windsor 4.44 20
Thirsk 4.09 21
Goodwood 4.04 22
Newbury 4 23
Sandown 4 24
Doncaster 3.85 25
Haydock 3.79 26
Newmarket 3.64 27
Chester 3.02 28
Epsom 2.81 29
York 2.8 30
Ascot 2.62 31

 

As you would expect, most of the Grade 1 courses are near the bottom of the table. Three of these courses - Ascot, York and Epsom - have the most competitive 5f handicaps in terms of class.

To see if there is a correlation between course pace averages and average course race class I have ranked both lists next to each other, and produced an average rank. For there to be a strong correlation you would expect the majority of the courses to be in similar positions in each column – in other words the higher course 5f pace averages should correlate with the lower course class averages; likewise the lower course pace averages should correlate with the higher course class averages.

 

Course Course Class Rank (low>high) 5f Pace Rank Class / Pace Average
Catterick 3 4 3.5
Chepstow 1 7 4
Hamilton 2 8 5
Lingfield (turf) 12 1 6.5
Redcar 11 6 8.5
Nottingham 10 9 9.5
Beverley 6 14 10
Ripon 16 5 10.5
Musselburgh 13 12 12.5
Brighton 4 26 15
Bath 8 22 15
Leicester 15 15 15
Chester 28 2 15
Windsor 20 11 15.5
Thirsk 21 10 15.5
Ayr 14 18 16
Epsom 29 3 16
Ffos Las 5 29 17
Pontefract 18 16 17
Carlisle 9 27 18
Newbury 23 13 18
Yarmouth 7 30 18.5
Wetherby 17 21 19
Goodwood 22 17 19.5
Salisbury 19 24 21.5
Haydock 26 20 23
Newmarket 27 19 23
Doncaster 25 23 24
Sandown 24 25 24.5
York 30 28 29
Ascot 31 31 31

 

At both ends of the list, sorted by Class/Pace Average, we have the most valid correlations. For instance, Catterick, Chepstow and Hamilton all strongly favour front-runners and all host a majority of low grade five-furlong handicaps.

Meanwhile, Ascot and York, as well as to a lesser degree Sandown, Doncaster, Newmarket and Haydock, all generally host high class sprint handicaps where the early pace holds up less well.

I hope you have enjoyed this second instalment and, as always, comments are welcomed.

***Part 3 can be viewed here***

- Dave Renham

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13 replies
  1. PETEC2 says:

    Excellent, can you take the draws in to equation to see if it improves for specific range of stalls ie high /middle/low at any courses ? THANKS

    Reply
    • Dave Renham says:

      Hi Pete
      I have been looking at certain pace/draw combos – if you go to the Draw analyser on the site you can have a play yourself. I have personally been looking at draws that producing higher front running percentages (more chance of the front runner coming from that draw section). Hence over 5f at Chester in handicaps of 10+ runners of the 37 front runners in those races just 2 were drawn in the top third. My long term goal is to produce a ‘system’ to predict the front runner to the highest possible percentage. Over 5f at Chester in 10+ runner handicaps you should be able to eliminate the top third of the draw in terms of whether they will lead or not (regardless of past pace form themselves). Hope that makes some sense!

      Reply
  2. Richard says:

    Thank you Dave, that is beautifully researched. I have always enjoyed your articles and have purchased the Draw Bias books in the past.

    Reply
  3. baz2698 says:

    Excellent article!!
    But what’s the best way to apply this data?
    Is it as simplistic as to try and identify all front runners at Catterick, Chepstow and Hamilton in 5f handicaps and back them blind throughout the season?

    Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Dave Renham says:

      Hi Baz

      Good question – in an ideal world yes – if you could easily pinpoint all front runners at certain course and distances then it would arguably be a licence to print money. Unfortunately picking the front runner is not that easy. Even horses that have led in all of their last four starts do not always lead next time. I hope to crunch more data soon and explore ideas behind methods of trying to predict the front runner as best we can.

      Reply
  4. dpilgrim says:

    Truly excellent read Dave. Thanks for sharing this excellent insight.

    Hope to read many more of your atricles in the future!

    Reply
  5. Mrg749 says:

    Two words,,
    Brilliant,,
    Thankyou.
    I thought your 1St article was interesting also.
    Very true about the draw I feel.
    Thanks again.

    Reply
  6. Terry Haywood says:

    Hi Dave, Excellent piece of stats, Enjoyed reading both parts. I will use this information along with my Trainers course stats, Horse profiles and course draw bias information.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  7. dohertym22 says:

    Thanks Dave great article. I have been using a similar angle to predict the pace in individual races (not just at 5f)
    I add up the past 4 pace figures and divide by the number of runners. This helps me predict whether a race is likely to be truly run. Most times the average ‘pace figure’ falls between 8 and 10. However, I found it easier to find a front running winner when the average fell below 8. The likely slower pace and an uncontested lead makes it more difficult for the closers and pace chasers to peg back a leader who isn’t slowing down. The hold up horses are best served when the pace figure is over 10. I haven’t been keeping records of results, but my feeling is it is very much an angle worth exploring?

    Reply
    • Dave Renham says:

      Hi dohertym22
      Your idea of adding up the past four pace figures and dividing by the number of runners is sound, and a method I have mentioned to Matt that is worth researching. I too do not just look at 5f handicaps, but it is here where the strongest front running biases are (in general). I am hoping that at some point in the future this type of idea could be crunched. At present the only option is to do it by hand and keep records. My gut feel is that picking the front runner when the average is lower should be easier – is logical of course. I have lots of ideas I’d like to test in the next few months but it depends on time and how easy it is to get the data required.

      Reply
  8. Dave Renham says:

    Good to see the pace stats on the site did well in the 6.15 at Ripon (5f handicap) today – the two top rated pace horses came 1st and 3rd (winner Lydiate Lady at BSP 31.6) and 6th rated pace horse was 2nd (15 runner race).

    Reply

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