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Ascot Champions Day Draw And Pace Bias

There is no debate about where the top action is this weekend. It’s Champions Day and all eyes will be on Ascot.

The course biases won’t be seen to full effect in the smaller field Group races but these races do attract bigger fields and there is also the big field Balmoral Handicap so Ascot course biases should still be on show on Champions Day.

The key thing to consider here is the changing course biases as the year goes on at Ascot. We can often see a very strong draw bias at Ascot in October which could help us narrow down some of the more difficult races.

Ascot Straight Track Draw Bias In October

It often pays to be on the near side of the track (high numbers) for the early part of the year at Ascot but does that change in October?

This table shows results at Ascot from the past five years in straight track races in fields of 16 or more.

We only have 14 races to look at which means a small sample, so a pinch of salt is taken with this data, but this is what it seems to say.

Firstly, 10 of these 14 races were won by single figure stalls. That means 71% of the winners have come from 50.6% of the runners, those that were drawn lowest. A tick for lower draws when it comes to finding the winners.

How about the places? Well the four best EW PL figures belong to stalls 4, 1, 8 and 7. In total 39 out of 53 places belong to stall 10 or lower, that’s 73.6% of places from 56.2% of the lowest drawn runners.

So that certainly seems to more than hint at lower draws having an advantage on the straight track at Ascot in October and the draw bias could be as strong as ever this year as the low draw bias seems to be increasing if anything.

Looking at the Balmoral Handicap, 5 of the last 6 winners have been drawn 10 or below but Escobar did win from stall 21 in 2019. In fact that year the first two home were drawn in stalls 21 and 20. However the runners raced on the far side of the course that day too and Escobar finished right on the far rail so he very much overcame his high draw rather than won because of it.

In 2020 4 of the first 5 home were drawn in stalls 7 or lower, again showing a low draw bias, and we saw another strong bias in the 2021 Challenge Cup with just three runners exploring the far side of the track and two of those pulling clear of the field.

So in the bigger field races on Ascot’s straight track at this year’s Champions Day I’ll be trying to concentrate on lower drawn runners where possible.

Ascot Pace Bias

Ascot is often considered a course where hold up performers do well, especially the mile distance, and this is backed up with data.

The table above shows the record of horses held up early across all race distances at Ascot and the distance where hold up performers have the best place percentage is a mile.

When you look at the pace analyser data for Ascot’s mile in 16+ runner handicaps away from fast ground (the ground is very unlikely to ever be good to firm on Champions Day) it is clear that the closer you are to the pace, the more compromised your chance is.

A massive 20 of these 24 races have been won by horses that race either in mid division or are held up in the rear. Looking at the place percentages, front runners have just an 8.7% place strike rate compared to 10.79% for prominent, 17.86% for mid division and 25.51% for held up. Those are some hefty jumps between figures and go to show the best run styles for Ascot’s mile.

Balmoral Handicap Preview

The race that I’m most interested in from a betting point of view on Saturday is the Balmoral Handicap.

Let’s first have a look at the pace map for this contest.

There should be no shortage of pace with four potential front runners all drawn next to each other in the middle to high section of the draw. Shelir also made the running last time out so there could be quite the early burn up.

Given there is plenty of pace towards the higher end of the draw it’s very possible that some of this pace stays near side and doesn’t track over the to the far side. If that happens it would increase the chances of the more patiently ridden higher drawn runners staying near side rather than following the pace across to the far side.

If that does happen there is still some pace amongst the lower numbers. Marie's Diamond often makes the running as can Rhoscolyn.

It doesn't seem the the betting for this race has adjusted enough for the draw and that is hopefully something we can take advantage of. Given the pace data above and the pace setup for this race I’m still convinced that low numbers are the place to be with preference for those held up.

John Gosden seems to target this race, just like he seems to target the Cambridgeshire, but whilst he has a decent recent strike rate in that Newmarket race he is yet to win this contest. He’s had the beaten favourite in 2018 and 2019, although he certainly had a well handicapped horse in 2019, Lord North was runner up off 110 and subsequently rated 123.

This year he has the first two in the early betting, plus Magical Morning a little further down the list. The well bred Kingman half brother Sunray Major could be anything having won both starts this season, including a 7f handicap here last time out. A 6lb penalty for winning a 17 runner handicap comfortably last time looks fine but he’s drawn in stall 21. He’s going to have to either stick to his side of the course which will probably cost him his chance or track over, which can be done, but it means he’s covering more ground than anything else.

Gosden’s other runner in this is King Leonidas. He’s seemingly done much better with the draw in stall 8 and he looks well handicapped based on the form of his Newmarket novice win early last year. He was disappointing in the Jersey Stakes here after that though and subsequently missed 454 days of action before a promising return in a competitive Newbury handicap over 10f. He was poorly placed in that event and stayed on well but doesn’t look good value on the limited evidence that is his form, for all he has to be respected as a lowish drawn, lightly raced hold up performer.

There are quite a few I like here and one that I’m worried about the ground for is Nugget. This is a horse who I thought would absolutely love the Royal Hunt Cup but unfortunately he picked up an injury in the Thirsk Hunt Cup and missed the majority of the summer. He returned with a slightly workmanlike win at Haydock and he’s gone up another 3lbs for that. The form of his early season runs is very strong but he’s never raced on anything softer than good before and that seems to be more by design than coincidence. The ground will probably be just the good side of good to soft so it’s hardly going to be desperate but you have to be ruthless to narrow down these big fields so I’m going to reluctantly give him a miss, for all I still think he has a big handicap in him.

Aldaary is another I like. His draw actually put me off when he won last time out because most of the action on the previous day had developed on the other side of the course (hopefully I don't get the draw wrong again here!). He loved the softer ground that day and a 6lb penalty is unlikely to stop him. His worst run this season came on his only try at this distance but he’s shaped all season as though he wants it and he’s been extremely consistent at Ascot this year (form figures of 1551 in some super competitive handicaps). He’s also won 4 out of 5 on ground softer than good. His draw in stall 11 should be just about okay and thanks to the presence of the Gosden runners he’s actually a very fair price at around 9/1. At the very least he’s worth an each way saver with bookies paying six or even seven places. There is better value elsewhere though.

Escobar is interesting. He runs off a 1lb higher mark than he won this two years ago, beating the well handicapped Lord North comfortably. Despite plenty of placed efforts since that was actually the last time he won and he is finding it difficult to get his head in front these days. He was slightly disappointing last time here too so although better is expected this time around, especially with the step back up in trip likely to suit, he appeals as a place only bet if anything. He’s nicely drawn in stall 2.

I can’t completely rule out Rhoscolyn based on his effort in the Goodwood Golden Mile Handicap, which was run on similar ground to this. He was a neck ahead of Escobar that day and is 1lb better off here. He’s well drawn in stall 5 but he does seem to get on very well with Goodwood and is probably slightly better over an easy mile if anything. Given his draw he could easily run into the places but there are certainly others with better chances.

There was understandably a big plunge on Sir Busker on Thursday evening and it’s easy to understand why. He seemingly has a great draw in stall 3 and his record over Ascot’s straight mile is excellent. He won the Royal Hunt Cup consolation in 2020 off a 19lb lower mark but continued to improve and was 4th in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last season, just half a length behind Palace Pier. This season he was 3rd here at listed level on ground that would have been far too fast, still doing best of those held up and then it was the same story again in the Queen Anne Stakes. Given he’d improve for softer ground that was a serious effort. He’s maintained his form well since despite largely running at venues that haven’t suited his run style.

Now trying to translate Group form into handicaps can be expensive for punters but I can make a case for him still off a mark of 111 based on two handicap runs from last season (he hasn’t run in handicap company this year). He might have been 19lbs lower when winning the Royal Hunt Cup consolation but the ground would have been fast enough that day and the runner up has since rated 16lbs higher which definitely makes winning off this sort of mark within reach. He’s also proved he can run well off much higher marks. His last handicap run came at York, a course that wouldn’t suit him as well as Ascot, but he still managed to finish a neck 2nd off a 4lb lower mark.

The 3rd won a Group 3 on his next start, the 5th won on his next start at a mile and the 6th won next time out. A reproduction of this form would see Sir Busker go close. If he has improved since then or improves for Ascot’s straight mile and/or the softer ground he has a huge chance of winning. If you didn’t get the fancy prices on Thursday though you’ve probably missed the boat (still 25/1 with bet365 at the time of writing but that will probably be gone by the time this is published).

If the value call isn’t Sir Busker then it must be Accidental Agent, another Ascot straight course specialist. He’s getting on a bit now and his Queen Anne win is now more than three years ago but that effort proves just how effective he can be here. He also won the 2017 Challenge Cup over 7f here off a 3lb lower mark and was 4th in this race that year off a 3lb higher mark when not getting a clear run at things.

He's been in decent form this season since a wind op and won at Newmarket off a 3lbs lower mark. Now this race is more competitive than that but it was still hot form.

The 2nd, 4th and 5th have all won handicaps since suggesting a 3lbs higher mark really shouldn’t be beyond him. He was seemingly below par or outclassed in a Salisbury Group 3 next time but there was nothing wrong with his 2nd to subsequent Group 3 winner Al Suhail next time out. He outran his odds in the Group 3 Joel Stakes and then ran okay here in the Challenge Cup on heavy ground, doing 3rd best of those who raced in the centre and best of all out of those that were held up in the race. Fresh ‘won’ the race in the centre and he’s probably still a group horse in a handicap whilst Tomfre was 2nd in the centre and he was 2nd at Leicester this week on ground that was probably a bit fast for him. Stall 4 and a decent pace over a mile on this straight track should be the ideal setup for ACCIDENTAL AGENT and I think he offers huge each way value at prices as big as 50/1.

Next on my shortlist would be Sir Busker, Aldaary and Escobar in that order.

Ascot and Redcar Straight Course Draw Biases (Plus More Chester Hot Form)

Take your pick this weekend when it comes to top racing – there is Group 1 action from Newmarket in the form of the Sun Chariot Stakes, Ascot hosts a couple of Group 3s and some class 2 handicaps and even Redcar has two listed races including their well funded Two Year Old Trophy.

We saw last week at Newmarket that the near side rail was once again the place to be but the stalls will be on the far side for this meeting which will nullify that bias in most races.

I’m going to look at a couple of draw biases this week, at both Ascot and Redcar, with a couple of handicap races in mind.

Ascot Straight Course Draw Bias

Let’s first take a look at data from the straight course at Ascot on ground that is between good and soft.

A huge sample size as we include a variety of distances and the data implies a slight advantage to being drawn middle to high rather than low.

High performs best for win purposes, middle is narrowly ahead of high for places and middle and high both have a PRB of 0.51, compared to 0.48 for low. The lower draws come out the worst across every metric.

From spring to summer I’d nearly always prefer a high draw on anything I’m backing but things begin to change at this time of year. One factor that affects the draw now is a false rail is used at this meeting to save the ground for Champions day. This results in reduced field capacity this weekend and slightly different parts of the track being explored for some runners.

At this meeting in the past there seems to have been various draw biases, or perhaps no draw bias depending on which way you look at it.

We lost this meeting to the weather last year so the last time we had this meeting was back in 2019 and Kynren won the big 7f handicap from stall 17. That same stall was successful in 2018 when Raising Sand won and 16 was the winning stall in 2016. Accidental Agent won this from stall 8 in 2017. These recent wins seem to suggest the high stall bias remains for this meeting.

Just as important as simply looking at where the winners came from is to watch the races back and to see what parts of the course were explored and where on the track the placed horses were. In 2019 they came middle to near side in the ‘Challenge Cup’ and near side seemed to dominate. In a 5f handicap later on in that card they explored the same part of the track and although stalls 1 and 3 both placed, they actually passed the line on the same part of the track (near side) that Kynren won on earlier that day.

Although this is only two races worth of evidence, it does suggest two things. The first is that there seemed to be an advantage to racing near side (high numbers). The second is that without massive, 30 runner fields at this meeting the lower drawn numbers are still able to get over and race on the better ground. So whilst a high draw might be an advantage of some sort again this year, it doesn’t mean you can rule out the low numbers.

What about other recent years? In 2018 high numbers dominated the Challenge Cup but the winner largely raced in the middle of the pack and there didn’t seem as much of an advantage as the placed stall numbers would suggest. There was also a big field that year in the 7f listed race and again the winner came down the middle.

In 2017 the winners were coming middle to far side but then in 2016 they were coming middle or near side.

The overall point here with the draw at this meeting is that if there is a draw bias it’s not the easiest to predict and if you can predict it’s almost certainly not as strong a draw bias as you often see earlier in the season, partly because the field sizes as smaller.

If I could pick the ‘perfect’ draw here I’d probably go for something just on the high side of middle as it’s almost certain you’ll have an excellent chance of winning from there, if good enough. I’d prefer not to be drawn very low but I wouldn’t rule anything out solely because of it.

Challenge Cup 2021 Thoughts

First of all, a note on the ground/weather. Judging by the weather forecast the ground will be just on the soft side of good when racing on Friday finishes and the ground come race time on Saturday (3.50pm) depends very much on how early the heavy rain comes. At the time of writing heavy rain is forecast to hit the course an hour or two before this race. If it comes earlier than that the ground will almost certainly be soft, or if the rain is delayed this could be run on something closer to good to soft.

So it might be an idea to hold your bets unless your bet has no fears on anything the soft side of good.

Ascot is generally a fair course in terms of pace and the most important thing to consider is the individual pace setup in each race.

There really isn’t a lot of likely pace in this race which is automatically going to draw me towards something that likes to race prominently and something that is a bit more speed over stamina.

I’d have concerns over Al Rufaa and Arastus if the ground softens at all. Al Rufaa won a maiden on soft as a 2yo but ran flat last time he encountered cut whilst Arastus was pulled out because of good to soft ground in July.

Fresh is a horse I have a lot of time for, I fancied him strongly in the Wokingham here in June when 2nd to Rohaan. He’s only 2lbs higher now and seems to get on well with cut in the ground  and enjoys this course so clearly isn’t handicapped out of things at all. I just have reservations about this distance. He’s been strong at the finish on recent starts but he’s also a smooth traveller and whilst a muddling 7f won’t be the strongest test of stamina, this will be run at a very different tempo to what he’s used to and he’s unlikely to be ideally placed. There are enough negatives to put me off.

Escobar is another who likes it here and he too is feasibly handicapped. He was 3rd over course and distance behind River Nymph in May in a race that wasn’t strongly run and he found that a bit too much of a speed test. He’s 3lbs higher here and prefers a stronger gallop so he appeals more as one for the Balmoral Handicap later this month, a race he won in 2019.

River Nymph is only 1lb worse off with Escober for that win and has already proved he can operate over course and distance, on soft ground, in a relatively slowly run race. He’s still only raced 12 times and should still have some improvement left in him. There was nothing wrong with his listed 4th last time out when he was given plenty to do and it would be a surprise if more prominent racing tactics aren’t employed here. There is lots to like except the price. He’s shortened plenty since the ante post markets were put up but he should still be a fairly safe each way play with stall 7 not looking too bad.

Aldaary is one that has plenty of experience here. He’s been running in the big 7f handicaps here this summer and hasn’t been getting his ground so he promises to improve on his 5th in both the Buckingham Palace Stakes and the International Stakes now that he does get his ground. He’s a strong stayer at 7f though so whilst he’s one I like from a form and ground perspective, the pace make up here might not suit him and stall 2 probably isn’t the perfect draw.

It’s impossible to put that pace map up and not talk about Tomfre, who could get his own way out in front. He completed a hat trick on very testing ground towards the end of last season, wins that took him from a rating of 93 to 105. You could argue that rating has found him out this season but he was runner up in a listed race on seasonal debut when conceding race fitness to the rest of the field and then he was runner up in a York handicap when far more patiently ridden than usual. His 9th on very fast ground in the Buckingham Palace Stakes here was a fair effort considering he is an out and out mudlark and after that he missed 92 days, presumably due to the dry spell we had. On his return he was 1.75 lengths behind River Nympth at Newbury, admittedly that horse shaped better and was also returning from a break, but again Tomfre would have appreciated softer ground that day. If the ground turns soft Tomfre would rate a good each way bet at around 16/1 and if it managed to come up heavy he'd be a strong bet – although those odds would probably be long gone.

A drastic softening of the ground would also suit Ascension, who will appreciate this drop back in trip and his racing style could be well suited to this race, as well as Young Fire who was 2nd here over a mile at the Shergar Cup meeting in a race that has worked out well enough. He doesn’t really get on with York so he’s forgiven his effort last time out but he appreciates a good gallop as well as plenty of rain and he’s unlikely to get the former.

No prizes for suggesting River Nymph and Aldaary are the most likely winners of this. The former is a bit more versatile tactically speaking so is preferred from the pair however if the heavy rain comes early afternoon it should get into the ground pretty quickly and that would make TOMFRE great value. His draw in stall 11 could be just about perfect too.

Redcar Draw Bias

There seems to have been a huge shift in draw bias at Redcar this season. Here is the data for straight course handicaps in larger fields between 2009 and 2020.

Then here are the same filters just for this season.

Low drawn runners are winning more often, placing more often, and beating more rivals home than ever before.

Now I’m not sure why this is the case but on Saturday we have the 14 runner 2yo listed race and a 15 runner sprint handicap where low draws are likely to be advantaged in a way the bookies don’t quite appreciate and I also think it will have an impact on the 12 runner mile handicap, due off at 4.45.

Straight Mile Series Handicap Final Thoughts

This is the series final and it’s attracted a good field of runners with plenty of course form that has got them into this race.

The pace map shows that Delgrey Boy is likely to get an uncontested lead and if his jockey has much sense he’s going to pop out of stall 1 and head over to the far side rail. There is very little between him, Copper And Five and Sucellus on their course and distance clash a couple of weeks ago and the first two of those are both drawn low but Sucellus is drawn in 11 so the latter could come off worst of the trio this time. Neither Delgrey Boy or Copper And Five look particularly well handicapped anymore so whilst both should enjoy the run of the race, both from a draw and pace perspective, they could be vulnerable to other low drawn runners.

Those two runners may be Give It Some Teddy and Scottish Summit. The latter continues to outrun his odds but is frustrating in that he struggles to get his head in front. He’s only 1lb higher than when 3rd at York, not getting the run of the race, behind two subsequent winners, so he’s well handicapped and should go very well but he may be the bridesmaid yet again.

Give It Some Teddy has won this race for the past two renewals (no race last year) and has managed to turn up this year 2lbs lower than his last win here.

From 11 runs here he has a record of 5 wins and 7 places so he’s very much the course specialist in the field and trainer Tim Easterby could hardly be in much better form – his win strike rate in the past year in handicaps is 11.88% and in the past 14 days that has risen to 15.18%. It’s also worth noting that as well as winning this with Give It Some Teddy in the previous two renewals, he’s actually won four of the last five runnings of the race. He admittedly runs three others here (Delgrey Boy, Perfect Swiss and Al Erayg) but Give It Some Teddy holds those first two runners on recent course form and Al Erayg is 5lbs out of the handicap.

Give It Some Teddy, despite being 2lbs lower than his last win here, comes into this race in good form. He won comfortably at Thirsk in August, beating a next time out winner, and he followed that up with a narrowly beaten 3rd here off a 1lb lower mark than he races off here. That race has also worked out well with the runner up winning by 6 lengths on his next start and the 4th and 5th going on to win soon after too.

Give It Some Teddy has an excellent chance of making it three in a row in this with Scottish Summit feared most.

Hot Form At Chester

Last week at Chester I highlighted some hot form, which admittedly didn’t translate to such good performances on the day for a variety of reasons, but there is a good chance on Saturday for one of those strands of form to receive another boost.

I shared the above form line as a reason to why Muntadab might run well last week. As it was he doubled in price throughout the day and didn’t run to form but there is enough evidence to suggest The Kodi Kid could run a big race on Saturday in the opening race at 1.55pm.

The 2nd and 3rd both came out of that above race and won, as did the 7th, and it was The Kodi Kid who very much emerged from the race as the one to follow. He was weak in the betting, wide throughout and ultimately shaped as though he’d come on for the run – his first for two months and his first for Charlie Fellowes having previously raced for Andrew Balding.

The Kodi Kid has a previous course and distance success to his name on good to soft ground, where he beat a subsequent triple winner, and he still seems to be well handicapped off a 5lb higher mark here. There is a fair bit of rain forecast at Chester and it’s worth also noting that whereas the formbook says his last effort, shown above, came on good ground but the ground was actually changed to soft immediately after that race so it seems plenty of cut suits.

Master Zoffany has won two from two at Chester this season, both wins working out well, and he’d rate the main danger on ground he’ll likely enjoy but he does have to bounce back from a poor effort last time out at Goodwood (he’s been off for two months since).

Good luck with whatever you are backing this weekend.

Victoria Cup Preview: Roger Varian Fancied For Back To Back Success

Some nice racing awaits on Saturday but there is no doubt about the main betting race of the day, the Victoria Cup at Ascot which will be run at 3.40pm and shown live on ITV4. Just the 29 runners go to post and we haven’t had much soft ground this season so there is every chance the form book gets turned on it’s head.

On the subject of the ground, it’s good to soft at the time of writing with 10mm+ forecast for late morning and early afternoon on Saturday so there is every chance this will be run on proper soft ground.

Draw

First let’s take a look at a possible draw advantage on softer ground over this course and distance.

Not a massive sample of races but some big fields so the PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) should be pretty reliable. This suggests high (PRB of 0.53) is most favoured, followed by low (0.51) and then middle is worst of all (0.46). The Ascot draw bias can change from one side to another from race to race and meeting to meeting which is potentially why each wing performs better than the middle.

Every metric appears to reinforce that there is a bias towards high drawn runners here.

Looking back at recent runnings of the Victoria Cup, there was no race last year due to covid but in 2019 seven of the first eight finishers were drawn in double figures. In 2018 the race was run on good to firm but once again the double figure stalls dominated, producing eight of the first nine home. In 2017 the best placed single figure stall was 12th and 2014 was the penultimate time this race was run with cut in the ground and ten of the first eleven finishers were drawn stall 16 or higher. At this time of year it certainly seems a high draw can be very advantageous.

To add some balance though, the last Victoria Cup to be run on truly soft ground was in 2012 and the first four places were all filled by horses drawn 8 or lower, so we can’t be 100% sure high draws will be favoured.

Looking at the individual stall data it seems either very low or very high is often the place to be. Sorted by PRB3, which takes an average including the stalls either side of each gate, the top eleven performers are either 20+ or 5 or lower. Perhaps it’s just far easier to get a run if you are drawn on a flank.

Pace

Now let’s examine pace here at 7f.

This is probably the fairest data you will find over any course and distance, with no more than 3.2% between any of the run styles according to the place data, which considers more data than any other metric here. Racing prominently gives the best place percentage on this sort of ground (20.59%) whilst front runners do least well (17.39%). There is no surprise that front running is the least effective tactic here given it’s a straight, stiff 7f and we are only looking at big fields.

Both front runners and prominent racers produce a level stakes profit if backed each way, whilst mid division and held up produce a loss. There is clearly a slight overestimation of the effectiveness of the more patiently ridden types, who have perhaps caught the eye elsewhere finishing well.

Victoria Cup Pace Map

Given the even pace data we have, the pace map for this race could tell us which runners are likely to be most advantaged by the run of the race.

There is potentially pace spread evenly across the track but there isn’t a lot of it. Marshal Dan tends to lead and he is drawn in stall 3 whilst Jack’s Point (12) usually leads or slots in close to the leaders and Sunset Breeze, drawn highest of all, could take the high numbers into the race. None of the above are absolute trailblazers though and this race isn’t guaranteed to be run at a breakneck pace which could compromise the chances of those that come from the back or perhaps those who are better at a mile than 7f.

Draw and Pace Combination

One last thing to look at before we go through the runners. The draw and pace combination heat map shows us the best run styles for each draw, and the best draws for each run style.

It seems as though those that are drawn low are best off ridden as patiently as possible, with a very respectable PRB of 0.60 for low drawn hold ups. Prominent rides also do well from low draws but front runners from both low or middle seemingly do much less well than high drawn front runners.

Hold up performers drawn in the middle seem to perform a little below par. This makes sense as they either have to go through the most traffic or switch wide to get a clear run. Either way it's a disadvantage.

Meanwhile all run styles from a high draw overperform, with mid division or a prominent run style most favoured.

The Runners

In this section I will analyse the chances of the main competitors, whilst also pinpointing a few at bigger prices who might outrun their odds.

Acquitted

One I fancied to go well last week in the Thirsk Hunt Cup on the strength of his Spring Mile 2nd but he was withdrawn as the ground was too fast. To go over that Spring Mile form again, seven of the first nine home have run since and all but one of those has finished at least 2nd giving it a really strong look.

He’s handicapped to win a good race and the drop back to 7f here shouldn’t inconvenience, he’s a smooth enough traveller who has looked like winning a furlong out on a couple of occasions only to be caught close home.

There is a ground question mark though. He’s been withdrawn on fast ground and has won on heavy so most will assume he wants it soft. However when he won on heavy it was only a maiden and the jockey said he didn’t enjoy the ground. He flopped on soft ground here at Ascot last season, admittedly over 10f which was too far, but Hugo Palmer has also recently stated that he probably doesn’t want it softer than good. There is a fair chance this could be too soft for him in a race this competitive. Should be well drawn in 20.

Fox Champion

Back to form last time out having been gelded and switched yards over the winter. Ralph Beckett has a really strong record with horses he receives from other yards so whilst he could be expected to improve after 168 days off the track, that improvement might not be forthcoming.

He’s well handicapped on his old form and runs off the same mark as when a creditable 3rd in a strong enough handicap at Haydock last time but the ground is a bigger question mark for this runner than it is Acquitted. Fox Champion has run three times on ground that is good to soft or softer outside of novice company and he’s barely beaten a rival home in all three runs. Stall 2 could be a positive but also potentially a negative.

Raising Sand

Nine year old course specialist who has had fifteen of his last eighteen runs here. He’s arguably better over this 7f than a mile (last two wins have come over this distance and off higher marks than his mile wins) and his 7f record at Ascot away from fast ground reads 431410.

This will be his first run of the season but Jamie Osbourne’s runners in the past month that have returned from a 60+ day break have outperformed his runners who have had a run so fitness shouldn’t be an issue.

He has run relatively poorly on three of his last four starts though and it could be age is catching up with him. He did run well first time out last season in the Royal Hunt Cup, finishing 8th in a strong renewal and doing best of those drawn low. He’s also dropped to his last winning mark and has the useful Saffie Osbourne claiming 7lbs. She had a winner and a 4th on the straight track from two rides here recently. Potentially well drawn but might benefit from a stronger pace than seems likely.

Chiefofchiefs

A surprise winner of last season’s Wokingham here and followed that up with a staying on 4th back here over 7f in July. He’s now 1lb lower than that most recent effort here and although he has a mixed record on softer ground, he stayed on extremely well in soft at Doncaster in November over 6f proving he copes with this at the very least.

He reappeared at Doncaster in good enough form, getting a luckless passage again at listed level over 6f, looking in need of further or a stiffer track. Not badly handicapped and most things in his favour here but he’d want them to go hard up front and being drawn in the middle isn’t great for one that likes to be dropped out. He’ll need plenty of luck but is capable of running very well.

Motakhayyel

Winner of the Buckingham Palace Stakes last season so this course and distance is no problem for him. He followed that up with a win in the Bunbury Cup from Sir Busker, who has rated 9lbs higher since. He wasn’t in the same form in two more starts later in the season, not as effective over a mile but the distance not solely to blame.

Returned in good enough form this season when runner up to Toro Strike at Thirsk but almost certainly not quite running to his lofty mark of 111 on that occasion. He brings form figures of 12112 at 7f into this and should win a decent race this season but might not want it as soft as it ends up here if the forecast rain hits.

Escobar

The highlight of his ten runs at Ascot was a success in the Balmoral Handicap in 2019, beating Lord North. His only two runs here since have come in Group 1 company. He ran well on his last two course and distance runs, seemingly finding the test a bit sharp on both occasions.

He has been largely out of form until finishing 3rd last time out at Haydock. That race lacked depth though and he needs to improve again to feature here. He’ll be of more interest in the Royal Hunt Cup next month.

Jumaira Bay

Relatively lightly raced, from a powerful yard and lots of interesting form angles. He started last season with a close 2nd to Nugget, who is now rated 21lbs higher (Jumaira Bay is now just 11lbs higher). On his next start he was 3rd to 2 runners who have won off higher marks since and perhaps his most interesting piece of form was his 2nd at York on his third run last season. He was just a short head behind Brunch (now rated 16lbs higher) and Jumaira Bay is only 5lbs higher than that effort.

He didn’t react well to cheekpieces later that season but seemed to take to blinkers better, firstly staying on well from an impossible position at Kempton over a mile to finish 3rd and then finishing a close 2nd in heavy ground at Newbury over 7f, ridden more prominently on that occasion.

There is a lot to suggest he’s well handicapped still but it’s disappointing he wasn’t able to win a handicap last season, for all he bumped into some well handicapped runners. He’s been gelded since and sports no headgear here so is perhaps considered more the finished article now. He needs to go up in the weights to get into any of the Royal Ascot handicaps so should be ready to go first time up.

Keyser Soze

Won for the first time in over two years last time out over course and distance, mastering a well handicapped runner late on. He’s up just 2lbs but this race is much tougher and he was very well placed in that contest. He’s not necessarily one you’d trust to follow up and has generally been best suited by decent ground so any extra rain is probably a negative.

River Nymph

A difficult runner to weigh up. He looked a big improver last summer when bolting up in two 7f handicaps. The first came over course and distance and the second when beating two subsequent winners.

His form in two runs since has been far less impressive though. He flopped badly in the Balmoral Handicap in October and didn’t run well in the Lincoln this season either. On both occasions it looked more than the distance that beat him which is worrying. If he came here off the back of his last win he’d be a very warm order but for all he could bounce back and bolt up, he’s extremely risky in his current form. Conditions in his favour though.

Sunset Breeze

Some excellent form to his name. Ran Double Or Bubble within a head over course and distance in September and that horse absolutely bolted up at Newmarket on his next start. Then bumped into A well handicapped Tranchee  (now rated 14lbs higher) at Doncaster. He’s proven on soft and over 7f but yet to prove he’s truly suited by 7f on soft, possibly a little speedy for this sort of contest. Undoubtedly well handicapped and probably well drawn too in stall 29.

Symbolize

He’s run well enough in three goes here on soft ground, finding the mile trip a bit far on his last attempt in the Balmoral Handicap. Nothing wrong with his reappearance when 2nd (well positioned) behind easy and progressive winner but difficult to make a case for him being well handicapped off a mark of 103. Probably well drawn but looks the type to finish just outside the places.

Karibana

Progressive last season and still room for improvement. Doesn’t necessarily need to improve as his last 2nd has worked out well with the winner and 3rd both successful on their next starts. Big field scenarios suit but he has never raced on anything softer than good, which seems by design. The sire was a heavy ground winner and several of his offspring have won on heavy so there is hope he’ll cope with dig in the ground. Richard Hughes’ runners have a PRB of 0.59 in handicaps in the past 30 days and that goes up to 0.69 if only looking at runners having their first run in 60+ days so he should be ready to go and stall 18 should be fine.

Walhaan

Runner up to River Nymph over course and distance last summer, beaten two lengths but not seen to anywhere near best effect. Ran well again here over a mile behind Tempus a couple of runs later, probably didn’t stay in the Cambridgeshire and then below par on heavy ground on his final run of the season. Capable off this mark but took a couple of runs to get going last season. It's also worth mentioning this will be his debut for James Tate, who has a respectable PRB of 0.5 and a win strike rate of 16.67% with runners making their debuts having joined from other stables in the past five years according to the Trainer Change report.

Greenside

Invariably runs well in defeat in these big handicaps. He was 2nd in a big field here over 7f on soft in October 2019 and then 3rd in the Balmoral Handicap last season but Marco Ghiani claimed 7lbs and 5lbs respectively in those races and now claims just 3lbs. He can run respectably again but difficult to see him winning.

On A Session

In good form in both runs for a new yard this year, 2nd in the Lincoln Trial and then 4th in the Thirsk Hunt Cup. Was well placed in both but that latest run came on ground that would have been plenty fast enough. He’d have a serious chance based on his most recent run over 7f on soft ground and looks overpriced from a potentially good draw with the likelihood he’ll be well placed yet again.

Ropey Guest

Has run some good races here in the past and was half a length behind Symbolize in the Jersey Stakes last season. He’s 5lbs better off here so whilst Symbolize has already proven his well being this season, Ropey Guest has every chance of finishing in front of that rival here. He’s one that could outrun his odds from what’s probably a good draw having been gelded over the winter.

Cold Stare

A massive eyecatcher at Redcar on seasonal debut on ground that would have been far too fast. Below par last time out (again on fast ground) but that’s no great surprise. He’s run poorly over course and distance three times on fast ground but was 7th two seasons ago here on soft and that came off a 9lb higher mark. He won off the mark and it’s a case of the softer the better for him. Slight question mark over stall 5 though, for all it has a decent record.

The Verdict

Where do you start? There’s the more progressive ones such as Acquitted, Jumaira Bay, Sunset Breeze and Karibana, all of whom ran well on their latest starts. Then there’s the course specialists Raising Sand, Chiefofchiefs and to a certain extent Greenside. There’s also On A Session who seems to have a lot in his favour, but he appeals more as a place only bet than an each way.

Raising Sand appeals most of the more exposed ones. He has pretty much everything in his favour here, it’s just a question of how much ability still remains at the age of 9. If he can reproduce his 2019 form he’d have an excellent chance but there has to be a little doubt about that.

It’s possible the ground could get too soft for Acquitted and he still has to prove himself at this trip so despite looking very well handicapped he’s too much of a risk at the price. Sunset Breeze and Karibana still need to prove 7f on soft ground is for them so they too are reluctantly passed over, for all Sunset Breeze has won on soft and has gone close over 7f. It may well seem stupid to have gone against him once the race has been run.

JUMAIRA BAY seems overpriced though in this at around 18/1 at the time of writing. Roger Varian knows how to get more out of these 4yo handicappers and he demonstrated several pieces of strong form last season that suggest he’s well handicapped still. He’s interesting having been gelded with the headgear taken off. Ray Dawson has won three of his last seven races at Ascot, including one of these big 7f handicaps last season so that’s a bonus too. There have to be some doubts about stall 11 but Roger Varian did win the last renewal of this race with Cape Byron who broke from stall 10.

King Set To Be Crowned In Balmoral Handicap

The complexion of this race may have been slightly different had the Challenge Cup not been abandoned a couple of weeks back with several of the main contenders here having been set to contest that race. It certainly looks a cracking contest and hopefully a race where we can find a few strong pointers.

Draw

The straight course draw bias at Ascot tends to play its part in many races but the bias can change from meeting to meeting or even race to race so there are rarely any guarantees.

Ascot Mile Draw Bias

High draws have generally been favoured on the straight course this season but that may not be the case here. The ground is likely to be soft on Saturday and mile races on ground ranging from good to soft all the way to heavy have tended to favour those drawn middle to low.

The win data doesn’t tell us a lot in this sample but the place data suggests a middle draw can be strongly favoured with almost twice as many places from middle draws compared to low draws and 50% more placed horses from middle compared to high draws. The PRB figures seem to back up what the place data tells us too with low draw PRB the worst at 0.46, high drawn PRB is next best at 0.5 and middle draw PRB is 0.54.

There is a logical explanation for the above data. As previously mentioned the draw bias can vary at Ascot. When it favours the far side the higher drawn horses will generally struggle. When it favours the near side the lower drawn horses will struggle. Either way the middle draws nearly always have a pretty fair chance so of course they tend to do well.

At this particular meeting the ground nearest to the stands’ side is railed off and the stalls are positioned on the far side of the course. So compared to a standard meeting at Ascot the higher drawn horses actually race in what is normally the middle of the track and the lower drawn runners are positioned where they’d normally be.

The effect of this in recent years has been that the jockeys have tended to want to stick towards the far side rail. Last year’s first two home were drawn 21 and 20 but that doesn’t tell the whole story – they ended up on the far rail and looked to win in spite of their draws. The runners the previous year also headed towards the far rail and stall 8 was responsible for the winner but it’s also worth noting that five of the highest nine drawn runners were amongst the first seven finishers. In 2017 they largely came down the middle and although the winner came from stall 3, he actually finished nearer the stands’ side than any other runner. The next four finishers that year were drawn 18, 17, 15 and 23.

So what the above tells you, that draw data doesn’t necessarily do, is that if they elect to go far side as they have done for the past two years, the high draws are probably slightly disadvantaged but still well capable. If they go up the middle of the course then high draws may well have the advantage. Now we don’t know before the start of the race where they are likely to go so all in all, the safer bets will probably be in the middle.

Pace

Looking at a similar sample of data as we did for the draw, it looks very much as though we should lean towards those who are likely to be held up.

Ascot Mile Pace Bias

Only one winner has made all in these conditions since 2009 and that was Musaddas in 2015. He proved very well handicapped on the day (won another handicap two starts later) and the fact that only three front runners have placed, producing a place strike rate of 11.54% suggests only extremely well handicapped front runners should be considered.

The place strike rate gets progressively better the further back in the field you are and extreme hold up tactics seem to work well over a mile in these conditions with an almost 100% improvement in place strike rate compared to all other run styles. An IV of 1.44 is also much stronger than all other pace types and there have been more held up winners than all other run styles combined. So unlike the slightly inconclusive draw stats we had, we have some very conclusive pace data here.

Balmoral Handicap Pace Map

There is unlikely to be a frantic pace to this race with only one likely front runner in the field so a degree of caution should be applied in regards to following the above data that suggests you want to be at the very back of the field. The data is still very strong though so you may well want to be no further forward than mid division on this occasion.

The Jockeys

I’ve seen some interesting jockey stats about which jockeys are worth following at Ascot on different types of ground and they seem worth exploring here with very testing ground likely.

Ascot Jockeys In Soft Ground

The above data shows the jockeys in this race that have previously rode at least once on ground that is between good to soft and heavy in an Ascot handicap before, sorted by IV. This data is more useful ahead of Champions Day as a whole rather than just this race but it does give a good guide as to which which jockeys might be worth a couple of extra pounds advantage.

Considering the lack of data for some riders, the major positives seem to be Nicola Currie (Graignes), William Buick (Blue Mist), Ben Curtis (Kynren), Jamie Spencer (Hortzadar), Jim Crowley (Raaeq), Hollie Doyle (Solid Stone), Frankie Dettori (Alternative Fact) and Oisin Murphy (Bell Rock). It’s worth noting that Nicola Currie’s wins have come courtesy of her association with Raising Sand, a soft ground Ascot specialist who is ridden here by Saffie Osbourne, so a slight pinch of salt must be taken with her figures.

The major negatives appear to be Stevie Donohue (Raakib Alhawa), Andrea Atzeni (Prince Eiji) and Tom Queally (Ropey Guest).

The Runners

Raaeq

He took his form to a new level last time out with an easy win here over 7f on similar ground to this. That was his first run on a soft surface and he seemed to improve for it. He runs with a 6lb penalty which leaves him 5lbs well in still. He’s only had five starts, has never finished out of the first 2 and looks the obvious ‘group horse in a handicap’.

He seems to be the sole pace angle in the race which could suit him but it’s going to be a lot harder dominating a 20+ runner field over a mile than an eight runner 7f race.

Ascot 7f Pace Bias

The above image shows how well front runners do in small fields here in softish ground. Compare that to the first image in the pace section of this article which shows the record of front runners and you see very different figures. He’ll probably need to be at least a Group 2 performer to win this from the front and although he looked to improve for the ground last time out, he also probably improved for the drop back to 7f, a distance at which he is unbeaten. No surprise if he wins but judgement call is to oppose at the price.

Tempus

Course and distance winner who will enjoy conditions. Seemingly had no excuses last time out when well drawn in the Cambridgeshire when running with plenty of credit in 6th (only 0.25 lengths away from 3rd). He maybe would have preferred softer ground that day but it would be difficult to argue he didn’t stay. He’s 2lb higher here and there is still a nagging doubt about him never really having beaten much (beat fourteen runners in two wins this season and none of them have subsequently hit the frame in any race). Even last time out he still finished worst of the well drawn form horses, albeit not beaten that far. Looks certain to run pretty well but not sure he’s well enough handicapped anymore to win a race as deep as this.

King Ottokar

One I quite fancied for the abandoned Challenge Cup but I had two slight doubts. The first was the drop back to 7f, which may have actually suited but it was a risk for a horse that had previously run so well at 10f. The other doubt was the trainer form with Charlie Fellowes’ horses not running that well at the time but he’s had five wins and three places from his last thirteen runners so that’s no longer a concern - in fact it's a positive.

He was a big eyecatcher last time out at Doncaster, making up ground effortlessly 3f out before running into the back of horses. He found less than seemed likely when getting clear which probably tempted connections to drop him back in trip but the ground was on the fast side then and it could have been just as likely that the ground compromised his finishing effort, not the trip. Both his wins have come in soft ground and so has all his best form.

The subsequent form of his last run isn’t great but remarkably none of those subsequent runs from the opposition came in similar conditions with most running on soft ground since. If you look back to Royal Ascot 2019, the last time King Ottokar ran to form on soft ground, he was just a neck behind Fox Chairman. That horse quickly developed into a 110+ rated horse so King Ottokar certainly should be well handicapped here off 100. The only doubt this time around is stall 22 as this could be major disadvantage if they all go far side. It wasn’t a barrier to success last year though and the going stick readings are quicker on the stands’ side which gives some hope they may come middle to stands' side.

Keats

This listed winner from two weeks ago runs under a 6lbs penalty making his mark 107. That would put a lot of people off but when a horse is trained by Aidan O’Brien and it runs in an Ascot handicap people take notice. His runners make a 7.0 LSP in Ascot handicaps since 2009 so that respect is warranted. All three of those winners came at Royal Ascot though over the years and none were rated higher than 104 so this would be some performance to win and Keats has only ever won on good ground. He looks one of the easier well fancied horses to oppose.

Njord

Another Irish challenger and a much more interesting one. He’s been a big improver going up 41lbs in the handicap over the past two seasons, often running well in big field handicaps. His record on ground with the word ‘soft’ in the going description during that time is 1231125 and that latest 5th was when meeting trouble in running off a 2lb higher mark when still beaten less than 2 lengths. The 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th from that race have all placed since so it wasn’t a bad race. He was last seen when 4th on good ground in a 9f listed race. He was 1.5 lengths behind Keats that day giving that rival 5lbs and he now receives 2lbs so it would be a slight shock if Keats could confirm that form. Keats is drawn 21 and Njord is drawn 4 so a stands’ side draw advantage seems to be the only thing that could swing things in Keats’ favour.

Given his consistent profile and liking for conditions he looks a fair each way shout and should run very well if a low draw isn’t an inconvenience.

Raising Sand

He was my fancy in the abandoned Challenge Cup but I’m slightly more lukewarm about his chances here. He loves soft ground and Ascot plus Saffie Osbourne is a useful 7lbs taken off his back but I’ve always thought he was a bit better over 7f than a mile. His two mile wins at Ascot have come off marks of 89 and 92 in smaller fields than this whereas his two 7f wins here have come off 97 and 103 in fields of 15 and 23.

He ran well over course and distance in the Hunt Cup this season from a poor draw but was ‘only’ 6th in this two years ago off 102 in similar ground and that sort of finish may be most likely again this time around.

River Nymph

He won comfortably here two starts ago and followed that up with another easy success when beating two next time out winners at Newbury. He was well fancied for the Challenge Cup that was abandoned and should still be well handicapped despite going up 11lbs for his latest win. He ran well over Lingfield’s 6f earlier this season and although well handicapped that day (18lbs lower) and looking like he wanted further it does still cast some doubt over his ability to get a mile.

The sire’s runners tend to get worse the further they go and this isn’t really the kind of ground you want to be testing your stamina in so he’s much easier to oppose here than he was over 7f, although he’s respected based on his achievements this season. Stall 14 gives the jockey some options at least.

Bell Rock

Finished 3rd in the Cambridgeshire, a quarter of a length ahead of Tempus. That run was a career best but he was well drawn that day, has seemingly improved for trips beyond a mile on his last two starts and is unproven on soft ground. There is also a doubt mark over the first time cheekpieces. Bell Rock is by Kingman who has a 17.67% strike rate with his progeny. That drops to just 12.82% when cheekpieces are applied which isn’t the worst record but is hardly a ringing endorsement either. Too many question marks.

Blue Mist

He's generally been expensive to follow and although he won a big pot here in July, that was over 7f in a race where only one of the first fourteen finishers has won since. He doesn’t convince over a mile and William Buick, who rides well here on soft, will need to get some improvement from this horse to reach the frame.

Orbaan

He has some decent form to his name with a 7th at York in August potentially a career best with the 5th and 6th winning handicaps since. He’s been behind Tempus twice this season though without real excuses and although a 6lb swing in the weights should get him closer it might not be enough to get 3 lengths closer. He should run creditably but in all probability he’ll finish just outside the places. He can win in slightly calmer waters.

Kynren

Was amongst the favourites for the Challenge Cup but a run at 6f at York last week looked a mistake with him finishing well beaten. No surprise to see him bounce back from that at a track where he has run plenty of good races but this trip seems to stretch him a bit – he’s finished 5th, 5th and 6th over course and distance on softish ground and those first two runs were off lower marks. He’ll need a career best to take this, although he’s nicely drawn in 13.

Alternative Fact

Frankie Dettori is an interesting booking, he’s finished 2nd and 3rd on this horse in two runs and is clearly booked when a big run is expected. The last time they paired up was here in the Silver Hunt Cup when just 1.75 lengths behind Sir Busker, who has since rated 15lbs higher. Alternative Fact has gone up 7lbs himself since then though having run three excellent races at Haydock, where he often gets his required ground. His last run at York when 6th of 20 deserves marking up as he was drawn very wide and ended up with too much to do.

He doesn’t scream brilliantly handicapped but the course and the ground are in his favour, as is the jockey booking. Stall 16 isn’t the end of the world, even if they go far side, and he’s one at a price that could easily run into the places and looks nailed on to give his running.

Best Of The Rest

It's slightly surprising to see Solid Stone priced up at 20/1 given he’s normally overbet (started favourite in eight of his thirteen runs including five of his last six). He hasn’t encountered this sort of ground since his 2yo days though and has presumably been kept away from it on purpose. He’d have a chance if handling conditions.

Greenside will handle the ground and does well here but looks better at 7f these days. Prince Eiji has run well on both starts here and handles the ground but he ran a shocker last time out and Atzeni doesn’t have a good record here in soft ground. Ropey Guest will like the ground and has Ascot form but he looks better at 7f and he’d have had a better chance had the Challenge Cup gone ahead.

Jamie Spencer could potentially get a tune out of Hortzadar but he looks handicapped to the hilt now and hasn’t run well in two starts at Ascot. Graignes has some smart French form in Group 1 races but if he was capable of winning this off  104 you’d have expected him to run better in similar conditions last time out in a Group 3.

Verdict

This perhaps isn’t quite as difficult a puzzle as it first seems with some of the main protagonists not likely to be seen to best effect over a mile on soft ground. Other simply don’t look well handicapped anymore.

The most interesting trio may well by King Ottokar, Njord and Alternative Fact. Tempus and to a slightly lesser extent Raising Sand should run well also but neither are fancied for win purposes.

Njord seems to enjoy the hustle and bustle of these kinds of races and is still reasonably handicapped. He seems most interesting at the prices of those drawn low. Meanwhile Alternative Fact is perhaps the ‘safe each way’ given he has everything in his favour and he’s not drawn far from the middle. At around 12/1 (well backed in the past 24 hours) with as many as 6 places on offer he’s worth a bet.

But as far as likely winners go King Ottokar seems to have an awful lot in his favour. He loves soft ground, he has run well here before, his trainer is in excellent form, he’s run well in a handicap on his last start and has been dropped 2lbs since then and he’s completely unexposed as a miler still. If there is one question mark it’s his very high draw but by the time the three reserves have come out he’ll effectively be racing from stall 19. If a high draw was to be an advantage he’d look an extremely good bet but we won’t know that until it’s too late. He’s shortening all the time and 8/1 in a big field like this might still seem short but he’s a very interesting runner and I’m willing to risk the draw. It might be worth backing him win only as around 8/5 to finish in the top 5 or 6 might not look great after a couple of furlongs if they all go far side.

Ascot: Course Overview and Draw Bias

Ascot hosts the best domestic flat race meeting of the year, Royal Ascot. That meeting is also among the hardest from which to derive a betting profit.

With a meeting like Royal Ascot, and Ascot races in general, it is imperative to have a game plan, 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.

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