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Previous Winners Of Interest In Challenge Cup

The big handicap this weekend is the Challenge Cup at Ascot and with ‘just’ 18 runners set to go to post it may turn out to be an easier puzzle than the usual big field Ascot handicaps.

The ground is going to be a huge factor with somewhere in the region of 20-30mm of rain potentially falling on Friday and Saturday. It takes a lot of rainfall to make the straight course at Ascot heavy but it might not be far off that come race time on Saturday.

Before we look at each runner’s form and ability to handle underfoot conditions let’s first look at the draw and pace set up for the race.

Draw

Ascot 7f draw bias

All metrics point towards high being favoured over low, although it’s worth noting that there isn’t a huge difference in PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) across the board.

Looking just at handicaps run on soft or heavy, there is far less data but it seems to swing things back in favour of lower draws.

Soft ground draw bias at Ascot

What’s particularly interesting here is the PRB figures. There isn’t much between middle and high here but the low draw PRB is 0.57 which is a huge leap from the middle to high PRB.

It’s worth noting that the reason there are only 18 runners here is the field sizes are limited at this meeting because half of the course is railed off to save the ground for Champions Day. This possibly renders much of the above draw data irrelevant.

Three of the last four renewals of this race have been run on soft ground and the draws of the first five finishers in those races are as follows:

2019 – 17, 9, 6, 5, 13
2018 – 17, 18, 15, 11, 16
2016 – 16, 8, 11, 10, 12

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Now that’s a fairly small sample but it’s the most relevant draw data we have for this individual race. It seems significant that in those races eleven of the top fifteen finishers were drawn in double figure stalls and no runner from the lowest four stalls managed to finish in the top five at all.

It’s by no means certain that this trend will continue but it does seem as though a higher draw will be preferable to a lower draw at this meeting on soft.

Pace

Pace is not only important in telling us what race position the winner is most likely to come from, but where the pace is drawn can have an strong impact on a possible draw advantage.

Challenge Cup Pace Map

There is a possible contested speed here with front runners drawn in stalls 5, 7 and 13. Every runner in the field should have speed to track so there certainly shouldn’t be a micro advantage based on where the pace is.

Ascot is generally thought of as a course for hold up horses but they’re not necessarily majorly advantaged at this trip on softer ground.

Soft ground pace advantage

No run style has produced more wins or placed runners than being held up with cut in the ground but that’s from more runners. Prominent runners actually seem to offer the best value (IV 1.33) with front runners performing worst of all.

The Place % data is very similar across the board though so we should get a very fair track and the pace at which this race is run will likely determine where the winner comes from more than anything else. With three front runners in the field this could set up for something more patiently ridden.

The Runners

Kynren

Last year’s winner carries 4lbs more this time around. He ran poorly in his first two starts this season but benefitted from a wind op last time when a creditable 5th in the Ayr Gold Cup off this mark, over a trip short of his best. Three of his four wins have come on soft ground and he’s only been beaten by one runner in two course and distance runs (beat 40 rivals home in those two races) so everything looks in place for a big run and William Carver claims 5lbs. He’s drawn very low in stall 3 though.

River Nymph

Progressive 3yo who has won his last two starts comfortably, rising 17lbs in the process. The 2nd and 3rd from his last win have both come out and won since so he’s fully deserving of his latest 11lb rise and he is also proven in soft ground. This course and distance winner is entitled to run extremely well if tracking the pace from stall 12 although it’s worth noting his trainer Clive Cox was quoted as being glad the ground had dried a little last time out (on soft) so if it was to go heavy it might not be ideal.

Raising Sand

A regular fixture in this race, he was below par last year but won this two years ago and was 3rd to smart pair Accidental Agent and Lord Glitters three years ago. He’ll be ideally suited by conditions here but it’s just a question of how well handicapped he is. He won here last year off a 4lb lower mark and was 1st home on the far side in the Royal Hunt Cup off a 1lb higher mark on his only start this season. He was 8th overall in that race and the first 4 home all won at least once since so that’s strong form considering his draw was so bad on that occasion. He’s fared better this time around in stall 11.

Saffie Osbourne is a very interesting jockey booking. She’ll be claiming 7lbs and has a 28% strike rate in the past fortnight. Her claim could definitely be the difference between a good run in defeat and victory.

Blue Mist

Finally came good here in July after many near misses but that race worked out poorly with no horse from the first seven home winning since and he’s now 5lbs higher. He once again found next to nothing back here a month ago and he’s not one to completely rely upon.

King Ottakar

One that might be overlooked here. He’s largely struggled for the past 12 months but there were definite signs of life back in handicap company last time out at Doncaster over a mile He was cruising 2f out, making up ground with ease, until he ran into the back of the leading group and lost his momentum. He finished well enough but the way he travelled and his finishing effort perhaps suggested he’d be best suited by this drop in trip. That run came on ground that was faster than ideal so he deserves to be marked up again. He’s won twice on soft and is down 2lbs so has a leading chance if the trip isn’t too sharp. Stable form not great though.

Shelir

Has benefitted from being ridden more forward in his recent starts having often caught the eye from off the pace (including here). Should find conditions in his favour but doesn’t look that well handicapped anymore and may find dominating this field difficult.

Greenside

Runner up in this last year off a 7lbs lower mark and although he’s been running well again this season he’s 3lbs worse off with Kynren ignoring jockey claims. He’s likely to run fairly well and a place isn’t out of the question but a win seems very unlikely.

Admirality

Often the bridesmaid, he’s finished 2nd on his last four racecourse appearances. He’s up another 3lbs and although still competitively handicapped he has often seemed better on faster ground.

Best Of The Rest

Orbaan should enjoy the ground and isn’t badly handicapped but whether or not he wants 7f in this tough a race is open to debate.

Blown By Wind will pop up at a big price at some point and he’s probably at his best in testing ground but he’s often slowly away. If he breaks on terms he’s one to consider as an in-running back.

Young Fire is interesting back up in trip on this ground. He’s won two of his last three starts at 7f on soft ground but he possibly goes best at Haydock.

What If The Ground Turns Heavy?

Eight of these runners have never encountered heavy ground before and seven have run on it only once so form on very testing ground isn’t easy to find. Blown By Wind and Ropey Guest both have a 100% record of at least placing on heavy but both have only run once on it.

Instant Expert on Geegeez Gold is an excellent tool to get huge amounts of data for each runner and it can be just as enlightening to look at sires in Instant Expert, especially in extremes of going.

Heavy Ground Sire Stats Instant Expert

Garswood, sire of complete outsider Gabrial The Wire, has an excellent record in heavy ground as a sire as does Dubawi, who gave us Greenside. The sires of Kimifive, Hey Jonesy and Jack’s Point also produce plenty of mudlarks but that trio of runners may struggle to see 7f out on very deep ground.

Verdict

Perhaps the most interesting runner here is River Nymph, who is the one who is potentially still a fair bit ahead of his mark despite going up plenty for his last two wins. If the ground is no worse than soft he looks sure to run very well.

King Ottakar is very tempting on this ground having caught the eye last time and he is certainly overpriced at 10/1 at the time of writing. It looks as though the drop to 7f should suit but it’s a risk, and the trainer form is worrying.

So slightly unoriginal but it may pay to stick with Kynren and Raising Sand. They’ve won this for the last two years between them and were both better than the bare form of their more recent runs. They may not be amazingly handicapped but both have talented claimers on board which could make all the difference. The draw is possibly a concern for Kynren so unless previous races tell us low is better than high then Raising Sand has to be the most solid each way selection at 7/1. Raising Sand has won here for the past four years and can hopefully make it five in a row.

Royal Ascot 2020: Course Overview and Draw Bias

Royal Ascot 2020 will be the best domestic flat race meeting of the year so far, and perhaps of the year as a whole in this creatively concertinaed campaign. It will also be among the hardest from which to derive a betting profit.

With a meeting like Royal Ascot, especially the expanded version this season, it is imperative to have a game plan: this is a five-day fixture comprised in 2020 of thirty-six races (six more than normal), so let us attempt to know what we can know about the course and any nuances or biases it may have.

Ascot Course Characteristics

Ascot's course layout: straight up to a mile, with longer races on the round course. Also a round mile

Ascot's course layout: straight up to a mile, with longer races on the round course. Also a round mile

Uphill

The above graphic illustrates the stiff test that the Ascot racecourse represents, with the red triangle just past the winning post signifying the highest point on the course. Thus there is an uphill drag almost the whole way up the straight. On the round course, the lowest point is at the round mile (Old Mile) start, meaning that distance is also almost entirely uphill, too.

For more extended races on the round course, which is actually closer to being triangular than round, there is some early respite in the loop prior to the long climb for glory.

Tight bends

It is also worth noting that the bend into the home straight for round course races is tight and, being situated just two and a half furlongs from the finish, can cause trouble in running with horses either locked in a pocket or having to fan very wide on the turn to find daylight.

For round course races, then, it is often advantageous to be on or close to the pace: here, a horse and rider will have no traffic problems and, if the fuel has been burned proportionately, can slingshot into the straight and prove very hard to peg back.

The main focus of this article, however, is on the straight track, and will cover draw, pace and draw/pace composite analyses for each of five-, six-, seven-, and eight-furlong races.

Ascot Draw / Pace Bias

There may then be a pace bias on the round course, but what of the straight track? Races here are run at five, six, seven and eight furlongs, many of them big field handicaps or Group race sprints, and our Draw Analyser can help understand historical advantages.

Ascot 5f Draw Bias

The below chart shows something we call PRB3 for five-furlong races of 14 runners or more (good or quicker) since 2009, based on actual draw (i.e. after non-runners have been accounted for). PRB3 is the rolling three-stall average percentage of rivals beaten and it helps to better quantify the merit of a particular part of the track from a draw perspective. More information on PRB3 can be found here.

An average PRB score would be 50%, or 0.5, implying that a horse beat as many horses as beat it. Thus, any part of the track where the PRB(3) score is consistently greater than 0.5 implies a draw advantage. The converse is also true: a PRB(3) consistently below 0.5 implies a disadvantage in the starting stalls postcode lottery.

It can be seen, then, that, generally speaking, high numbers enjoy a slight benefit in big fields.

Ascot 5f Pace Bias

Horses racing from the front in big fields up Ascot's five furlong straight have fared best, as can be seen below. This information is derived from our Pace Analyser tool. The chart is based on place percentages, but the story is similar in the win context, too, as can be seen from the table and the coloured blobs above the chart.

 

The coloured blobs tell us that runners which led (or were very close to the pace, e.g. "pressed leader") in big field fast ground five furlong races at Ascot won nine races from 95 horses to adopt such a run style. That's a little under 10%, and was worth a profit at starting price of £20.50 to a £1 level stake. All other run styles were loss-making with win and place strike rates between half and two-thirds that of early leaders.

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That is not to say it is always easy to identify the early speed, nor that a one-in-ten hit rate will be plain sailing; but it is worth knowing that pace bias looks a little stronger than draw bias at the minimum on fast ground and in big fields.

Ascot 5f Draw / Pace Combinations

As might be expected, runners with early pace that were drawn high have fared best in big field five-furlong races at Ascot. Our Draw Analyser tool - and the Draw tab within any race in our racecards - contains a heat map illustrating the draw/run style combinations. Sorted by percentage of rivals beaten, it looks like this:

As can be seen, horses are able to run their race from anywhere on the track, with no big negatives. However, there does appear to be a 'green triangle' for pace pressers drawn middle to high, with high drawn leaders significantly outperforming the 0.5 benchmark.

Ascot 5f Draw / Pace Summary

High draws may have the best of it in big field fast ground five-furlong races. So, too, may pace pressers. And being a fast starter drawn high compounds those positives, with five from 20 such runners prevailing (+23.5 at SP), and another four making the frame.

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Ascot 6f Draw Bias

It's a similar story over six furlongs. If there is a stalls position bias, it might be slightly against low drawn horses, with middle to high persistently above the 0.5 mark as can be seen from this chart:

One important caveat to that is stall one, hard against the rail. That post position has secured seven winners from 58 to depart there, at a 12% clip (+44 level stakes at SP). It might be that the watering doesn't quite reach the innermost strip of turf and/or that the rail helps the runner there maintain its position. Either way, it looks material for all that it could be coincidental. [Stall one also outperformed its near neighbours, though to a lesser extent, over five furlongs.]

Ascot 6f Pace Bias

It is harder to lead all the way at six furlongs than it is at five, as can be seen by comparing the image below with the equivalent for the minimum trip above. Nevertheless, early leaders still have the best win and place strike rates, and an impact value of greater than 1.5. Those held up have also fared well relatively, with prominent and midfield runners collectively faring only as well as held up horses, from an almost 50% bigger sample.

Ascot 6f Draw / Pace Combinations

The combination of a high draw and early speed is again seen to good effect in the below 6f draw/pace heat map. But note also the performance of middle-to-high draws which are waited with. Any score of 0.55 or above can be considered meritorious in the general context of percentage of rivals beaten (PRB).

Ascot 6f Draw / Pace Summary

Over the six furlong range at Ascot, it is a similar story to the five furlong summary: early speed and a high draw are seen to best effect. But note the improved performance of hold up types, who are often exhilarating to watch if generally exasperating to wager!

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Ascot 7f Draw Bias

The picture becomes less clear still when we move up in range to Ascot's straight seven furlongs. Although those berthed highest have fared best, in percentage of rivals beaten terms, the scale on the vertical axis of this chart is narrower: there is a less pronounced draw bias, indeed arguably there is nothing worth noting.

Ascot 7f Pace Bias

It is a long way home in a big field cavalry charge up the stiff straight seven furlongs, and those waited with have performed clearly best. The chart below is sorted by place percentage for the sake of consistency with previously discussed distances, but the win percentage line would have been even more striking.

Indeed, perusing the table reveals that held up runners have won more seven-furlong Ascot races than the other run styles combined! Numerically, they've prevailed at 6.73% compared with all other run styles' combined 3.72%. It is clear that patience is a virtue in this particular trial.

Ascot 7f Draw / Pace Combinations

The heat map again ratifies the individual considerations of draw and pace, with those draw away from low and held up generally performing best, in PRB terms.

As an indicator of how difficult it is to win at Ascot over seven furlongs from the front, I've included the same heat map sorted this time by win percent:

Just two of the 90 horses to have vied for the early lead in the sample managed to get home. Middle to high and waited with achieved significantly more.

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Ascot Straight Mile Draw Bias

In fuller fields on the straight mile course, close to a wing has been better than up the middle, perhaps providing greater assurance of 'a run' away from the density of what can be a highly populous centre pack:

Ascot Straight Mile Pace Bias

From a pace perspective, the pendulum swing has completed its arc, with held up runners now not only ascendant in win strike rate terms but also profitable to back. Indeed a £1 e/w bet on all such runners over Ascot's straight mile would have yielded a surplus of £83.60. Hold up types have won as many races as all other run styles combined from slightly more than half as many runners.

Those racing prominently have a horrible record, winning at not markedly better than 1% of the time.

Ascot Straight Mile Draw / Pace Combinations

This is a classic heat map image, with a clear diffusion of colour: greens at the back, oranges and reds at the front. There is little of note in terms of stall position but a stonewall takeaway from a run style perspective.

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Ascot Straight Track Draw and Pace Summary

As with all tracks, it is a very solid starting point for your wagering considerations to understand the constitution of the course and any general principles which may assist. Our racecourse pages, including this one for Ascot, will help in that regard.

Based on what has been shown above, there is a pleasingly clean pattern to proceedings:

- Pace pressers perform best in five and six furlong sprints, more so at the shorter trip.

- It is much harder to hold on to the lead at seven furlongs and a mile, where waited-with types have the best of it.

- Generally speaking, middle to high is better than low at up to seven furlongs on the straight track, while...

- It may be preferable to be drawn closer to one rail or other in big field straight mile races, particularly if you like a hold up type.

It is unlikely that any of the above will help find winners by itself, but it ought to steer generally in the right direction. Naturally, Geegeez Gold has many more tools to assist the elimination process, and you can find out more about them here. Good luck!

Matt