Running Well Against a Pace Bias, Part 1

As regular readers of Geegeez will know I have a particular interest with running styles / pace in a race, writes Dave Renham. I strongly believe it is an area that remains misunderstood by many and essentially dismissed as unimportant.

In this piece I am going to examine a way to use pace to find future betting opportunities, something I call ‘negative pace bias’. To that end, I have looked at big field races (15 or more runners) from UK flat racing in 2020. This includes all weather racing, although the vast majority have been on turf as four of the six UK all weather courses have field size limits of 14 or less. Races with larger fields were chosen simply because I thought it would be ­easier to spot a potential pace bias.

So how does one determine whether there has been a potential pace bias in a race or not? Before I attempt to answer that, please note the word ‘potential’: it is important to say that one can never be 100 per cent confident that there has actually been a pace bias in a race or not. However, I think it is possible to be reasonably sure in certain circumstances.

For example, if you are watching a race and the horses that dominate the race have all raced up with the pace from the start, then it can be assumed that there has been a pace bias towards more prominently ridden animals, and against hold up horses. A reverse pattern could emerge of course with the race finish fought out by hold-up horses with all those racing up with the pace fading out of contention. Even in those scenarios, this method is far from an exact science. What is when it comes to racing?

Also, naturally, I am writing this article retrospectively. However, I do use this angle with my own betting and some of the races highlighted are ones I noted at the time, certain horses from which I ended up following.

In order to be able to write this article I needed to go through all the qualifying races and see if either of the two pace bias angles occurred. The key idea from here was relatively simple and hopefully logical. Once a race had been found where there seems to have been a pace bias, I looked for any horse who seemed to have run well ‘against’ this bias. More about these horses shortly.

In terms of finding the races I used the race comments in the Geegeez results section. From there I then watched the race video online to ensure the race panned out as the comments had indicated. [You don’t necessarily have to do this, but I personally like to see the bias for real as it were].

Normally I would expect to find one horse that may stand out given the circumstances outlined above, occasionally there maybe be more, but rarely will there be more than two; after all, if there was, then there probably wasn’t a strong enough edge in the race.

To summarise, we are looking for horses that have probably run much better than their finishing position may have initially indicated. Once finding a horse in my research that fitted the criteria, I reviewed how it ran in the races that followed. The hope or even expectation of course was to a see a ‘win’ in the finishing position column soon afterwards; and the sooner the better. After all we are trying to find a method that produces future winners that we will bet on.

Back briefly to the ‘now’ as it were. If you find such an ‘eyecatcher’ horse, as punters we have the difficult decision regarding how long we go on backing it in the future. Do we back it ‘blind’ in the next race? If we do and it loses, do we back it a second time, a third, a fourth, etc until it wins? Because we need to realise that it might not win within the next three or four races, it might not even win again within the next ten or twenty. Do we instead back it any time it runs in the next 4-6 weeks? Do we look at future races on a case by case basis digging deeper before making a final decision whether this is the right time to back it?

Deciding upon the right approach is essentially impossible and is all down to individual preference. I guess the ‘results’ from this article may help shape a method – should you decide there is sufficient mileage in what follows. For the record, I personally make decisions on a race by race basis and each horse will remain on my ‘pace horses to follow list’ for three or four runs maximum. If and when a horse wins it is invariably removed from my list.

At this point it is worth mentioning that when I am testing new ideas for the first time, like this one, I am very systematic to begin with. This is because a rules-based approach is much quicker when all I want to do is to get a ‘feel’ for whether an idea shows merit. During any testing phase I check results in two ways. Firstly I focus simply on the next run to see if they would have returned a profit, and secondly I look at the next three runs but will STOP AT A WINNER (should there be one). This is a variant of the method Nick Mordin used in his iconic book ‘Winning Without Thinking’ where he used the next three runs regardless on various ‘systems’.

Now I won’t be able to examine every race in 2020 that ‘showed’ a pace bias along with its aftermath, otherwise the article would become more like a thesis! However, there is still be plenty here to get our teeth into. The following are in chronological order the first ten ‘pace biased’ races I found, in the hope that they offer a variety of future outcomes. There is a lot to look at so what follows are the first five of those ten races.

RACE 1 - 7th February 2020 – 4:35 Chelmsford

As you can see below this was a 15 runner class 6 handicap over 1 mile. Looking closely at the race comments, you will see that the first four finishers raced up with the pace, as did the fifth despite an awkward start. Horses 6th all the way down to 15th raced midfield or at the back. To me this race showed a very strong bias to horses that raced near the front.

Two horses catch my eye. Bird To Love who finished 6th and Zayriyan who finished 7th. These were the best of the midfield/held up runners with only a head separating the pair at the line. Both were around three lengths behind the winner. The 8th placed horse, Irish Times, was a further 2 lengths back and it makes sense to me to ignore that one.

Before discussing what happened next, this was not a race I noted at the time. I’m giving a bit away here by saying I’m wishing I had.

Both Bird To Love and Zayriyan raced again just under three weeks later. Amazingly they reappeared in the same race, again at Chelmsford, but this time over a quarter mile further. The result is shown below:

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Not only did they fill 1st and 2nd in their very next race, but there are two other things that also stand out. Firstly, look at the distance they beat the third by, over five lengths. Secondly look at the prices: if you had backed both at SP you would have made a 24-point profit. The straight forecast paid over 293/1, while the exacta returned a mouth-watering 514/1.

Of course, amazing outcomes like this are rare, very rare; and I’m gutted I missed it at the time. I doubt I would have been brave enough to have backed the 1-2, but I am fairly certain I would have backed both horses individually.

Before getting carried away, though, this type of result occurs extremely rarely; it just happens to be the first ‘qualifying’ race I found in 2020.

RACE 2 - 16th June – 4:40 Ascot

Royal Ascot often has big fields and this 19-runner race seemed to show a relatively strong held up pace bias. Four of the first five home and six of the first eight came from off the pace. The first eight horses with their comments are showed below:

Summer Moon did clear best of the prominent racers, hanging on for 3rd, so from a pace perspective he was arguably the horse to take out of the race. Land Of Oz was the next best of the ‘pace’ horses, finishing over five lengths further back in 6th. It still looks a decent enough effort considering it was a long distance slog, but Land Of Oz has not raced since. It will be interesting to see how he performs when he returns to the track.

Let’s now look at Summer Moon’s record including this race and subsequent ones:

As we can see next time out he ran a shocker at Sandown although to be fair he had gone up in class to a Group 3. Back in handicap company he came 8th next time, beaten five lengths, before winning at York at the rewarding odds of 18/1. For the record, this horse did appear on my radar after the Ascot run, but after his Sandown flop I unwisely crossed him off my list of horses to follow: a frustrating outcome for me considering he won within three races at such good odds.

RACE 3 - 17th June – 2:25 Ascot

The following day another Royal Ascot race again showed what seemed like a hold up bias:

Although the winner raced close to the pace, as did the 5th, they were the only two from the first 11 runners home that did. The remaining nine came from off the pace. Horses that win despite a bias are still horses to be interested in. Now, of course, if they won a handicap they are going to go up in the weights, which potentially makes winning more difficult in the near future. However, they still should be of interest as we know horses in form can run up winning sequences, and we also know – or believe – that the horse overcame a pace bias to win. In this case, the winner Hukum stepped up to a Group 3 next time at Newbury (15th Aug) and continued the winning thread at odds of 4/1.

Arthurian Fable, the horse who finished 5th, went on to win a handicap two races later as shown:

All in all, this Ascot race worked out extremely well from a negative pace bias perspective.

 

RACE 4 - 18th June – 2:25 Ascot

The Britannia, a mile handicap at Ascot for 3yos only, is the next race I found. Big field handicaps over Ascot’s straight mile traditionally tend to favour horses from off the pace and even more so on softer ground. The Pace Analyser shows how the strong the hold-up bias has been since 2009 on soft/heavy ground in 1m handicaps (albeit from a small sample):

This race was no exception and conformed to the hold-up pattern. The winner won extremely impressively having been way off the pace early, but both Finest Sound (2nd) and Overwrite (6th) appeared to be ‘negative pace’ horses to note the race. The first seven home and their race comments are shown below:

Let’s look at the subsequent runs of Finest Sound and Overwrite. First Finest Sound:

To date just two more runs; a decent third next time out at Newmarket before a poor run at York. Meanwhile, Overwrite returned to the track 10 days later at Windsor winning a class 2 handicap:

The price of 11/5 was perhaps a bit disappointing given he was 40/1 when 6th at Ascot, but this race again highlights that following horses that have run against a pace bias have the potential to win soon afterwards.

RACE 5 - 20th June – 4:10 Ascot

One of the big handicap sprints of the year, the Wokingham, provides the next example:

Five of the first seven finishers raced from off the pace which seems a common theme at the Royal meeting regardless of distance. Hey Jonesy however, made all the running to win which not only looks a fine effort in the context of this specific contest, but when looking back through the history of the race it becomes clear that leading from start to finish in the Wokingham is nigh on impossible: in the last 30 renewals of this big field cavalry charge (going back to 1991) no horse has previously led from start to finish. The closest was Selhurstpark Flyer back in 1998, who led the centre group that day but was not the overall leader until hitting the final furlong. Hence this seems an even better performance than it originally looks. However, all that glisters is not gold, and Hey Jonesy has been well beaten three times since his big day in June, as we can see:

In many ways, that’s a good outcome because it reminds us that all approaches are fallible, and that sensible staking and managing our expectations are pivotal mental attributes even when deploying a solid strategy.

Back to the Wokingham, and Stone Of Destiny, who finished 6th, is another horse that caught my eye having raced prominently. He was beaten less than two and half lengths. Although he was well beaten in his next two runs he then came 2nd before prevailing at 16/1 in another marquee event, the Portland Handicap at Doncaster.

The question all of us should be asking at this point is would we have followed Stone Of Destiny until this Doncaster run? It is back to that quandary again, being down to individual preference with no right or wrong answer. Here are two of the possible ways it could have gone:

  1. Stone Of Destiny having run two poor looking races in a row in his next two runs is discarded after race 2;
  2. After doing some post-race analysis you notice that six furlongs may be a bit of a stretch for this horse. Let me elaborate on the reasoning you may have used to reach this conclusion. In the actual race he was 2nd with just over half a furlong to go before fading slightly into 6th. That meant he had won just once in 12 attempts at the six-furlong distance with the sole win being on debut in a novice event. Overall, his five-furlong record was better with two wins from nine including a class 2 handicap win at Ascot in the summer of 2019. It looks that although potentially effective at 6f, those last 100 yards, especially on a stiff track like Ascot, are a few steps too far. Hence it would be likely that you would upgrade his Wokingham run for not only running well against a pace bias, but also potentially battling his own distance bias, too.

It is almost certain therefore you would have backed him at Ascot next time over 5f (11th July), a day on which he reared at the start which severely compromised his chance. Most people would immediately forgive that run if they’d seen it. His second subsequent run was at Goodwood in the Stewards’ Cup back over 6f (1st August). This is a much easier 6f so you may have backed him again hoping he would just get the trip, or you may have swerved.

He again ran well for about five furlongs before fading badly in the final eighth of a mile. Once again he had credible excuses. His 3rd run after the Wokingham was at Sandown back over 5f. This would probably have looked a great opportunity and indeed he ran very well, finishing 2nd.

So although three races in, Stone Of Destiny would still look like he is knocking at the door. You therefore decide to back him again next time dependent on conditions. The race as stated earlier was the Portland at Doncaster and although it says the distance is 6f on his race record (see above), it is actually 5f 140 yards. This equates to just over 5½ furlongs, though nearer six than five. You feel he is certainly worth a chance at this interim distance. He goes on to win as we know at 16/1. Happy days!

Both of those two scenarios could have emerged and I wouldn’t argue against anyone who chose either route. There are of course many other ways this could have played out and a good number of those I’m sure would have been logical as well.

*

So there we have it. Five races in and I have another five races to share and analyse in the second half.

All in all there have been some very positive signs for this method to date, albeit from an extremely small sample of races. Will the next five work as well? Honestly, I think it is highly unlikely that they will, and I certainly cannot envisage a similar outcome to the first race I looked at. But you never know. Let’s hope that we don’t draw a blank with the next five finding no future winners at all!

Also next time, I’ll show you how I researched this, and how you can find your own negative pace biases using the Geegeez toolkit.

- DR

 

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6 replies
  1. russsmithgg
    russsmithgg says:

    Hi Dave,

    Really well written and illustrated.

    There are times I find that I’m not wholly convinced a pace bias is at play so I simply click on the Pace tab for the result in question at the time. I adjust the going and field size if necessary. Frequently this reveals an established track/distance bias that is reflected in in the actual result on the day which virtually removes any lingering doubts. The same applies to the draw factor.

    In fact to take that point a stage further, the versatility of having the result combined with the originating racecard on Geegeez is a unique offering. You can pop across to the racecard at the time and note any annotations about 14 and 30 day form and 1 & 5 year course form which can be viewed in the context of the result. You can even take a retrospective look at Instant Expert and get a one-shot picture of how competitive the race was (not an exact science but helpful all the same). A really underplayed benefit of being a Gold Member.

    Back to the pace bias, aside from populating the Tracker, I believe it’s a really good discipline to record a brief note in the Geegeez ‘Race Note’ re any pace or draw bias and (I also add notes about the the strength of the form after a period of time has passed). When running an eye down the form of any runner in the Full Form section, these notes pop up with great convenience and illuminate a horse’s career.

    I’d be lost without Geegeez for these and many other reasons and I think many others would concur!

    All the best,
    Russ

    Reply
  2. Dave Renham
    Dave Renham says:

    Thanks for all the positive comments guys. Starting to put together the follow up piece.
    Dave

    Reply
  3. davidlazarus
    davidlazarus says:

    omg dave this piece of analysis , makes so much sense. Feels like been to a therapist and they ve given me something
    to work on well done will use this theory more often .

    Reply

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