For this edition of Punting Angles, I’m going to concentrate on the enigmatic Haydock Park, writes Jon Shenton. Whilst the course is home to both National Hunt and Flat racing, it is the latter that I’ll be evaluating in this edition given the time of year. For whatever reason, it’s one of those tracks that seems difficult to read, racing developing on both rails and atop a seemingly unique range of underfoot conditions, "Haydock Soft and Heavy" almost becoming an official going description in its own right. The track is synonymous with horses slogging through bottomless ground in pursuit of glory.
Although there isn’t too much of punting value in it, I still felt it would be of interest to benchmark how Haydock shaped compared to the rest of the UK in terms of the official going for races over the last five years.
The below graph illustrates the ground conditions for UK flat races.
Immediately, the orange bars relate that Haydock proportionately has much more racing on the easier side of good: it’s nearly four times as likely to race on heavy than the UK flat average too.
Knowing that may not directly help in the pursuit of profit; however, searching for mud-larks or horses whose sires loved sploshing around in the deep ground may be a pragmatic activity in preparation for a wet Haydock meeting.
Haydock Course Constitution
What about the course itself? The map below illustrates a tight loop with a straight up-to-6-furlong run. Based entirely on the map alone, curiosity is piqued with regards the draw for the 7-furlong trip. The journey from the stalls to the first bend appears to be an exceptionally short one implying that a wide berth could be a problem.
Haydock Trainer Angles
However, before checking that out and getting into individual race specifics, let’s first take our usual glance into the world of trainer performance. Using Query Tool, I'm evaluating all runners from 2012 with an SP of 20/1 or shorter. A minimum of 50 runs is required at an A/E of greater than 1 to secure a position in the top trainer table below.
There is much upon which to mull here.
Despite the relatively small number of runners, Hugo Palmer's figures offer something to satisfy even the most voracious appetites in angle finding.
Keeping it simple by analysing the yard's runners by market strength, the following split in performance is observed.
There is a very clear dichotomy here in terms of a Palmer runner which has been supported versus one that has not. Notably, with a place record of 70% on those runners sent off at 11/2 or shorter it has been even more profitable to back each way, albeit to double the stake.
Of course, on a sample size like this, it only takes a single 20/1 winner on the next day to create a profitable “unfancied” segment. The cliché of fine margins applies without doubt and there is a chance (probably a 20/1 one) that I'll endure an element of regret as a Palmer animal bolts up at a big price here in the near future. However, with my cool data-driven mind I’d rather sup regularly in moderation than binge excessively once in a blue moon. Albeit there is a place for both, I’m sure!
Suggestion: back Hugo Palmer runners at Haydock where they’re supported in to 11/2 or shorter
Second stop on the trainer list is the seemingly ubiquitous Tom Dascombe who has a prolific volume of runners at the track. It’s impressive in terms of pure scale but to beat the market with an A/E of 1.15 over so many runners is quite a rare feat.
Looking a little more closely, there is a noteworthy split along race class lines.
The competitive stuff of class 1 and 2 racing is obviously more of a challenge and it is likely that these races attract more top yards and animals thus making it tougher for the Dascombe runners to prevail even with home advantage. Whilst the performance of his charges is perfectly respectable in those upper echelons, I’m happy to pass them over in punting angle terms.
There is also a clear distinction between relative performance in handicap / non-handicap races in the Class 3 to 5 races, as can be seen below:
The table is unambiguous: handicap racing is where it’s at for Tom Dascombe's Haydock horses.
Suggestion: back Tom Dascombe Handicap runners at 20/1 or shorter in Class 3, 4 and 5 races
[As a footnote, it’s not unheard of that the yard fires in the odd big-priced scorer at the track. If you’re inclined to play with fire, there are worse places to go than a Haydock Dascombe runner to satisfy those punting pyromaniac tendencies. In C3-C5 races he has had 6 winners from 65 at SP odds of 20/1 or greater across all race types, which is somewhere between great and probably unsustainable!]
Ordinarily sticking with a deep dive in to the record of two trainers from the top table would be enough, but seeing John Gosden playing a prominent role means it would be negligent to let him pass by without further evaluation.
A good starting point with Gosden, Stoute, Charlie Appleby and the like is always to check performance by distance given their predominate modus operandi is to dominate the middle-distance division. Checking Gosden entrants at Haydock by race length gives the below breakdown:
Sure enough, sprint race performance is less compelling. Plenty of winners, yes, strong IV, definitely; but finding winners doesn’t always mean value. Despite a strike rate of over 20% the return over 5, 6 and 7 furlongs is not a positive one. To eke out profit it appears as though an even healthier strike rate of over 30% is required. Happily, this has been apparent at distances of a mile or greater: 31 winners from 93 runs, a nice round third. A 68% ROI is not to be sniffed at either.
Suggestion: back John Gosden runners ay Haydock at 20/1 or shorter from races of 1 mile or greater in distance
Haydock by race distance
Moving on from the trio of trainers, let us now evaluate the shape of races at the track.
7 furlong races
As you will recall, I was particularly interested in the 7-furlong trip based on the course map. The left-hand bend which is seemingly close to the start could result in some interesting pace and draw snippets, with an expectation that low draws close to the rail should have the best of it.
Using the Draw Analyser Tool and combining the heat maps for draw position and field size for Impact Value (how likely a horse will win from that position with 1.00 being par) we get the below data to evaluate relating to the whole spectrum of ground conditions.
Conclusions are probably less obvious in the data above than they have been in previous articles. However, there are still some noteworthy and useful outputs to consider.
Firstly, evaluating hold up runners, there is a big stripe of red (Red Stripe?) confirming that it’s a tough gig for a horse that’s held up to win from a high draw. This also applies to middle stall positions in larger sized fields (see the top of the dotted black box).
In general terms it is spoken often that a high stall position is less relevant for animals who race by stalking from the rear as they can drop in and wait. However, these data show that adopting the waiting tactic from wide over seven at Haydock is not generally a good plan. This is surprising, or at least mildly counter-intuitive, as the home straight is over half a mile in length, giving hold-up horses plenty of time to wind up and make their move. It is hard to argue with the facts, though.
The data also appear to indicate that it’s not a productive strategy to try and secure an early leading or prominent position from a wider draw in middle- to large-sized fields (the red coloured zeroes on the table). Through watching race replays this starts to make sense. Horses sharply away from wider stalls have only a small run to get across to the rail / near the front prior to the the bend; if they fail to get a front berth quickly enough, they face the issue of being trapped wide and covering significant additional ground.
Even if they get out apace, given the proximity of the bend, all it takes is for one or two from inside stalls to be away well and it’s difficult for the wider drawn speedster. As the turn develops, our wide trailblazer has the choice of burning through more juice to get to the front or travelling further: both potentially terminal to the chances of him or her winning the race.
When investigating this, I expected a variance based on ground conditions. Surprisingly though, and broadly speaking, the conclusions work in all racing circumstances. If anything, high draws have it even tougher as the going deteriorates though data is quite sparse from which to draw anything more than lukewarm conclusions.
Low drawn and/or early pacers look to be generally the best bet on a consistent basis (the blue dotted boxes), as expected. Although, like a lot of other courses, it appears as though early speed is of more importance than draw, unless the horse has a starting position in the proverbial car park in a big field, as already mentioned.
Haydock Straight Track races
As noted previously the straight track at Haydock stretches for trips up to six furlongs in length. Evaluating the draw using the analyser tool again for all ground conditions and number of runners for the straight track paints the following picture:
The data displayed relates to the IV3 calculation. I’ve picked this to try and smooth out variance and noise to help illustrate a general pattern. A definition of IV3 is simply an average Impact Value of a stall and its nearest neighbours. For instance, the IV3 of stall six would be the average IV of stalls 5, 6 and 7.
There is an indication that, irrespective of the number of runners, there is a definite bias to horses with higher stall numbers. The red and amber colours represent draw positions which are less likely to house the victorious horses. Green is good and it would be anticipated that based on historical performance horses that prevail are more likely to start from these stalls.
There is a line displaying the straightforward mean average (AVG) for each stall position which reminds me of the pH chart from my gruelling chemistry lessons in times gone by (even though it’s the wrong colour). Anyway, progressing from low to high the hue gravitates from an angry dark orange to a lovely tree-hugging green, showing that, on balance, low stalls are not the place to be drawn.
With that intel in the bank we can add a bit of spice by applying some complementary pace data.
Taking the minimum trip alone in the first instance.
The data is split by field sizes, and the information shown represents the IV data for each run style by underfoot conditions. The column entitled "races" simply represents the number of races that are included in each line of data. You can then draw your own conclusions based on sample size.
The field size 12-16+ (data on the left) has a limited sample size contained therein so firm conclusions are not sensible. Having said that, on a sounder surface it appears to be a challenge to win from the very rear; instead front runners boss proceedings. Whilst on the sludge of a Haydock soft or heavyTM surface, hold up (and mid division) run styles seem to be the way to go.
Is there something in that? Maybe, but I’m not sure as we only have eight races to go on for those relatively deep ground conditions. Sectional timing may help us understand these things one day as it may be that too fast a pace has collapsed setting things up for the closers on these small samples. As things stand, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to assume it’s a true representation. Nonetheless, it is interesting.
The smaller field size data contradicts it, sadly. Broadly speaking, it pays to be on the pace over the five furlong range, where the prospect of less pace contention and, therefore, an ability to rate energy more efficiently is manifest.
Moving onto 6-furlong races, we get the following:
There is a little more data to go at over this distance. For all field sizes, horses that lead or are prominent early are most likely to win across all surface conditions. In larger fields there is an absolute bias to the lead horse.
In conclusion, when evaluating a Haydock race on the straight track the first item to look for is early speed, the second item should be a high-ish stall number. If both those boxes are ticked then it could be a good play, depending on the animal, of course.
A Dascombe or fancied Palmer runner on the straight track with early speed and a high draw would be a very exciting prospect, until it misses the kick anyway!