HIGHLY SPRUNG (Silvestre De Sousa) wins The La Continental Cafe Handicap Yarmouth 14 Sep 2016 - Pic Steven Cargill / Racingfotos.com

Run Style: When Early Leaders *Don’t* Have The Edge

Regular readers of my Geegeez articles will know that probably my favourite area of horse racing research is connected with the run style of horses, writes Dave Renham. This is mainly due to the fact that at shorter distances early leaders/front runners tend to have an edge over horses which initially take up a prominent, mid-division, or held up position. Indeed, as I've observed before, this front running edge is extremely potent at a good number of course and distances. However, there are plenty of races where front runners do not have an edge, and hold up horses start to become much more competitive. In this article I am going to explore this area, and I will begin by digging into some general stats.

For this piece I will be looking at UK racing from 2015 to 2022 with the focus on 8+ runner handicaps.

General Hold Up Run Style Data

Let's start by looking at a graph comparing front runners with hold up horses across all the flat distances, looking firstly at win strike rate:

 

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This graph illustrates neatly how the general advantage to front runners drops as the race distance increases. We do not really have to worry about different field size averages for different distances, because we are basically comparing the strike rates for one run style group against the other at each specific distance range. However, it should be noted that in any race there are almost always going to be more hold up horses than front runners. In a 12-runner race for example, we might expect to see one front runner, maybe two; but in terms of hold up horses we are likely to have three or perhaps four. This is something to keep in mind when comparing run style win percentages.

If we look at the A/E indices*, a measure of value, we see excellent correlation with the win SR% graph:
*You can read more about A/E here

 

 

 

In 8+ runner handicaps of 1m5f or more there is virtual parity in terms of betting value between front runners and hold up horses. Although just about equal, however, following either run style as a betting approach is a sure route to potlessness! Sticking with these longer races, there are some interesting findings when we break down results by going. Here are the win strike rates for front runners / hold up horses when comparing results on good or firmer ground with good to soft or softer:

 

 

As we can see the going on turf does seem to make a difference in 1m5f+ handicaps. On firmer ground there is a smaller difference between the records of both run style groups, when compared with data on softer ground. It seems harder to make up ground from the back on a softer surface.

If we look at the all-weather data for these longer races, we can see a different outcome from the turf:

 

 

Hold up horses actually have a better strike rate in longer handicap races on the synthetics with front runners struggling, winning less than 1 race in every 14. There is also a big difference between the all-weather A/E indices, with front runners standing on a lowly 0.61 figure (akin to punting suicide) and hold up horses at 0.86.

Let's now dig into some individual course data in terms of hold up horse performance. In the graph below we can see a comparison between courses that have the highest A/E indices for hold up horses versus those with the lowest. The top 10 course figures and the lowest 10 figures are shown – all distances have been combined:

 

 

There is a huge difference between the top figures and the bottom ones: Yarmouth heads the list with a highly credible A/E of 0.95 which is a world away from Ripon’s hideous 0.53 figure. The ‘returns’ for hold up horses at each of these courses mirror the A/E index chasm with Yarmouth hold up horses losing 18.7 pence in the £ at Starting Price, while Ripon hold ups lost a massive 53.7 pence in the £.

 

Course Specific Hold Up Run Style Data

We will look now at some specific track statistics concerning hold up horses, beginning at the Norfolk seaside.

Yarmouth 5f

Here are the win strike rates for each run style category over Yarmouth's 5f distance:

 

 

This is a highly unusual set of run style figures: the minimum trip at most flat tracks shows the highest positive edge to front-runners. Looking at the ALL courses data combined over five furlongs, front runners win 18.2% of races while hold up horses are down at 6.5%. But at Yarmouth we have the reverse with the strike rate for hold up horses being three times that of front runners.

In addition to the win stats, the A/E index for hold up horses over 5f at Yarmouth stands at an impressive 1.04. Sticking with A/E indices, at five of the eight distances run at Yarmouth hold up horses have secured a figure of above 1.00, suggesting the advantage to patiently ridden horses is underbet.

Newcastle 1m

I have always felt that the all-weather track at Newcastle is one where hold up horses are competitive due to the stamina-sapping nature of the configuration coupled with the uphill half mile finish in the straight. I am pleased to see the stats back this up. It should be noted that for Newcastle I am looking at data from 2016 onwards, when the course changed from a turf course to an all-weather one.

The distance where hold up horses do best at Newcastle is over 1 mile. This trip is the longest of the four distances on the straight course, and it clearly plays more to the strengths of hold up horses.

 

 

These strong figures for late runners are replicated when we look at the Percentage of Rivals Beaten (PRB) data:

 

 

The held up PRB figure of 0.55 is a strong one. Closers have actually made a blind profit to Industry SP despite there being nearly 1400 of them. Such runners have secured returns of just over 3p in the £. Compare this to the combined losses of the other three run style groups which stands a depressing 29p in the £.

Digging deeper into hold up horses over 1 mile at Newcastle, when they have started in the top three of the betting they have won 80 races from 360 (SR 22.2%) for an SP profit of £49.98 (ROI +13.9%). Hence, a well fancied hold up horse over this course and distance is definitely worth a second glance.

The longer distances of 1m4f and 2m at Newcastle see front runners having a really hard time of it winning under 6% of all races and backing all front runners would have yielded heavy losses of 54p in the £.

 

Doncaster 1m4f+

In races of 1m4f or more on Town Moor, hold up horses perform strongly as any group, while front runners have really found it hard going. Taking the data straight from the Geegeez Pace Query Tool we see the following:

 

 

There were just two wins from 92 runners for horses that took the early lead in such races between 2015 and 2022; and front runners as a group also had notably the poorest placed record. One plausible reason for these humbling figures, along with the fact that we are dealing with longer distances, is that the Doncaster straight is 4½ furlongs in length. I am a believer that longer straights as a rule tend to be harder for front runners to maintain their advantage when compared to tracks with shorter straights.

Over 5f at Doncaster front runners also had a hard time of it, winning just twice from 54 runs. Hold up horses at that trip edged it over the other three run styles winning just shy of 10% of the time (A/E 0.98).

 

Ascot 1m

1 mile handicaps at Ascot are often extremely competitive and, from a run style perspective, hold up horses do best. Here are the splits:

 

 

These are highly noteworthy figures for hold up horses considering the stats for ALL courses combined over 1 mile (8+ runner handicaps) sees front runners winning 12.8% of the time and hold up horses just 7.6% of the time.

The PRB figures are also very strong for hold up horses as the graph below shows:

 

 

Backing these 2015-2022 data up, both the Royal Hunt Cup (22/1 Jimi Hendrix) and the Britannia Handicap (6/1 Docklands) were won by hold up horses at the recent Royal Ascot meeting.

 

*

 

Earlier I looked at some data for all courses across all distances. Having looked at a few specific course and distances, I want to now share data for more courses at two different distance ranges.

 

Run Style Negatives: Front runners in handicaps of 1m4f+

At the beginning of the article when looking at long distance races I used 1m5f or more as my cut off point. However, in order to get better and bigger data sets when looking at individual courses (rather than ALL courses), we need to include races of 1m4f or more.

Below are the courses where front runners have the lowest win strike rates at distances of 1m4f+ – the ten lowest in fact (at least 45 races during the study period):

 

 

Doncaster and Newcastle, which we have previously discussed, top the list. It is also no surprise to see four of the six all-weather courses in this table considering what we found earlier with the overall 1m5f+ AW data.

Here now are those courses with the lowest A/E indices:

 

This table correlates well with the first one, eight of the ten tracks appearing on both lists – Doncaster, Goodwood, Newcastle, Brighton, Chelmsford, Ayr, Wolverhampton and Kempton.

It is clear that if we are ‘sweet’ on a front runner at any of these courses in handicaps races of 1m4f or more, we need to be really sweet! The stats are truly against us.

 

Run Style Negatives: Front runners in handicaps of 1m 1f to 1m3f

My final port of call in this piece is 8+ runner handicaps incorporating races from 1m1f to 1m3f. Below is table showing performance data for all courses with at least 45 qualifying races, ordered by win strike rate. As can be seen, there is quite a difference between York, with the poorest front running record, and Musselburgh (the best):

 

 

This table illustrates how important it is to appreciate that UK courses vary so much when analysing certain stats sun as run style ones. That should come as no surprise because the turf courses especially are so different: some sharp, some undulating, some stiff, and so on. That is why the pace maps on the Geegeez racecard are like gold dust. Having past run style insights for a specific course and distance (and going and field size) gives us a huge edge when gauging how important a factor run style is likely to be.

As you know, I am a huge believer that run style can be the key to unlocking the winner of many races. It is something I strongly feel that all punters should include in their form analysis. I hope that, if you're not already, the findings in this article might encourage you to start!

Good luck.

- DR

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3 replies
  1. CDB199
    CDB199 says:

    Top work as always DR. Any plans for follow up article with tables on best and worst performing 5f 6f 7f 1m tracks?

    Will be looking up the 5&6f courses myself given that is where the main front runner adv is over holdups. Would be nice to see some comparison tables in blog form though. Nudge. CDB

  2. pricecast
    pricecast says:

    Early Speed, Prominent, Mid Div, Hold Up factors are very important at the only Class-4/5/6 races. The running style does not effect at the Class-1/2/3 races. My old friend David Renham does not count Class factor in this article.

    With my highest regards
    BiyaX

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