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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.