Posts

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.

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdle Races

This is the second instalment in my latest series on run style bias in National Hunt racing. After analysing non-handicap hurdles last time, it is time to move onto handicap hurdle races.

Pace, or the running styles of horses, has long been an area of interest as any bias can potentially give us an edge when analysing a race. It is still an area that many punters ignore, and the longer that goes on the better as far as I am concerned!

Apologies for the regular readers of these pieces, but for new readers I must give a quick explanation of pace (or run style, which for our purposes are interchangeable) and how Geegeez can help you.

The first furlong or so of any race sees the jockeys try to manoeuvre their horses into the early position they wish them to adopt. Some horses get to the front and lead (referred to as front runners); some horses track the pace just behind the leader(s); other horses take up a more middle of the pack position, while the final group are held up near to, or at the back of the field. Geegeez racecards have a pace tab which is split neatly into four sections which match the positional descriptions above. So we have: Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets are the scores that are assigned to each run style, which for a mathematician like myself are really helpful as I can make easy comparisons between different runners, courses, trainers, jockeys, etc.

As with my previous research I have only looked at races with eight or more runners – this avoids many falsely run races which are more likely to occur in a small field scenario.

The first set of data I wish to share with you is the overall run style dataset for all handicap hurdles races in the UK from 1/1/09 to 31/7/21. I have used the Geegeez Query Tool for all my number crunching – the pace section on Geegeez is another area on the site where you can gather individual course run style data from:

 

These figures are far more even than we saw in the non-handicap hurdle research. In non-handicap hurdles we saw front runners (early leaders) win roughly 18% of the time, form the smallest run style group. Here, though, leaders have won only around 12% of the time. That is to be expected given the generally more competitive nature of handicaps when set next to non-handicaps. Further, before we write off a leader / front running run style bias, it should be noted that the A/E figures still give front runners a positive market edge (1.06), as does an impact value (IV) of 1.35 - meaning early leaders are winning about a third more often than the overall population of handicap hurdlers.

That said, it is clear that the front running bias is weaker in handicap hurdles compared with non-handicap hurdles.

The success for each run style section has stayed extremely consistent over the last 12 years or so, as the following bar charts illustrate. I have split the handicap hurdle data into two in order to compare 2009 to 2014 results with those for 2015 onwards. The bar chart below compares the A/E values over these time frames:

 

That's an amazingly strong positive correlation across all four categories in market influence (A/E) terms.

 

Comparing the strike rates give us a similar picture of consistency:

 

Now it is time to start narrowing down the stats into different data sets to see whether any stronger edges emerge. With the data being consistent across the years I will review the following over the full time period (Jan 1st 2009 to July 31st 2021).

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdles by Distance

Let us first look to see if race distance affects the strike rates or A/E values. I have split race distances into three parts as I did for the previous article: the groupings are again 2m 1f or less; 2m 2f to 2m 6f and 2m 7f or more. Here is a comparison of strike rates within each group:

 

These are a remarkably consistent set of figures for each run style group, regardless of distance.

Below are the Actual vs Expected (A/E) figures*.

* A reminder that you can read about all of the metrics we publish on geegeez.co.uk in this article

 

Once again, there is correlation across the board: perhaps slightly poorer front running stats for the longer distances, but that is probably not statistically significant. All early leader / front running A/E values are in excess of 1.00, which is noteworthy.

 

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdles by Course

The second area to analyse is by racecourse.

Normally I like to concentrate on positive front running courses but to give readers more useful information I feel it is also worth sharing the course records where front runners perform relatively poorly. These tracks have all seen front running win strike rates of under 10% in the past 12 seasons, which may only partly be explained by field size:

 

We need to be wary about Cheltenham’s low figure as this is skewed by the fact that the average field size there has been a huge 16.5 runners. Hence, as front running tracks go I would liken it to Wetherby – below average, but nowhere near as poor as the raw strike rate performance implies.

Moving onto to the positive courses in terms of front running (early leaders) performance, and below is a look at those tracks with a handicap hurdle race front running win strike rate% greater than 13%:

 

14 courses make the list and I want to compare this list to the course list with the highest front running A/E values, with the hope (and expectation) of seeing most of the courses in both graphs:

 

As can be seen, 13 of the 14 courses appear in both graphs / lists – Leicester and Ayr are the ones to appear just once. This is extremely positive, implying the run style advantage to those who go on from the outset is still not fully factored into the market (insofar as it is predictable before the race begins - nobody said this was an exact science!), and it makes sense to look at a couple of these courses in more detail.

Bangor on Dee

Bangor-on-Dee tops the front running list in terms of strike rate and lies second when comparing A/E values. You may recall from the first article in this series that Bangor also topped the front running charts in non-handicap hurdles over 2m 1f or less. I did not look in detail at other distances at Bangor in that piece but I can reveal that the 2m4f trip in non-handicap hurdles saw a front running win strike rate of 32.6 % with a huge A/E value of 1.79. This add further confidence to the very positive looking handicap hurdle data here.

Let me break the Bangor handicap hurdle data down. I am going to be looking at percentage of winners from each run style section. Here is how the percentage split looks for all courses. This will help us when trying to appreciate the strength of any bias:

 

Over this trip the front running bias is moderate – the percentage figure for winning front runners is 16% compared to the all courses average figure of 15%. The one group that has performed above the norm here is the mid division group – 23% of the winners at Bangor compared with 18% for all courses.

Over two and a half miles, we see a big difference with front runners winning roughly a third of all races: 33% compared with the overall course average of 15% is a very significant finding and a very strong looking front running bias.

 

Onto the longest Bangor hurdle distance now of three miles:

 

Again, a decent enough front running bias over this trip. 22% of all winners have been front runners which gives them a solid edge of around 50% on the average front running strike rate at all courses across all distances. The A/E value for front runners over this trip is an attractive 1.66.

At Bangor therefore, potential front runners over 2m4f and beyond are definitely worth noting.

 

Ascot

I was quite surprised to see Ascot as giving front runners such a clear edge in handicap hurdles. I had perceived Ascot handicaps to be very competitive and thought front runners might actually struggle. However, at all distances Ascot’s front runners perform extremely well. Below are the two mile data:

 

23% of two mile Ascot handicap hurdle races were won by front runners – remember the average all courses figure stands at 15%. The A/E value is strong at 1.68.

 

I have lumped the intermediate 2m 4f and 2m 6f data together as they are similar distances and give us a bigger collective data set:

 

There is a stronger edge here with 27% of races won by front runners and fully 60% won by front runners or prominent racers. The front running A/E value is a huge 1.83.

 

Over the longest Ascot hurdle range of three miles, the figures are thus:

 

Again, there is a really solid front running edge (A/E 1.70) and, related, it seems harder for hold up horses to prevail (22% strike rate compared with the all courses average figure of 32%).

 

I have one final stat to share regarding Ascot handicap hurdles: fancied front runners, whose price was 6/1 or shorter, won 15 of 41 races. If you had been able to predict that these 41 horses would lead early, backing all of them would have returned you an impressive 88p in every £1 bet. Oh, for a crystal ball!

 

Other strong course / distance front running biases

Below is a list of other course / distance combinations where front runners have done especially well in recent years:

Sedgefield 3m 4f

The marathon distance of 3 miles 4 furlongs at Sedgefield would not necessarily be a track and trip where you’d expect handicap hurdling front runners to thrive. However, the stats suggest otherwise – the bar chart below compares the win strike rate percentage for each of the four run style categories:

 

Front runners have enjoyed a massive edge, backed up by a huge A/E figure of 2.26. It also can be seen that hold up horses have a miserable record showing that is extremely difficult to make up ground here over this distance. Most lower class marathon handicap hurdlers lack a gear change: who knew?!

 

Haydock 3m

Not quite as strong a bias as the Sedgefield one, but a significant advantage to the front again nonetheless:

 

Front runners with this kind of strike rate coupled with an A/E of 1.92 is not to be sniffed at!

 

Cartmel 2m 1f 

The final course/distance combo to share graphically is Cartmel's 2m 1f win strike rate, which demonstrates another strong looking front running bias:

 

Front runners in this context have produced a very satisfactory A/E value of 1.63.

 

Sticking with Actual vs Expected, there are five other course and distance combinations whose A/E value for front runners is in excess of 1.50 – they are:

Catterick 2m

Ffos Las 2m

Newbury 2m and 2m 1f

Exeter 2m 1f

Musselburgh 2m 4f

 

Those are well worth noting, and may provide a starting point for your own Query Tool research should you feel so inclined.

 

Hold up horses

For fans of hold up horses, there is a handful of course and distance groupings where the late runner A/E sneaks above 1.00. The A/E values are in brackets in the table below:

 

In races at these tracks and over these distances, front runners do not enjoy the advantage, conceding that to hold up horses. For the record, the Lingfield Park data in each grouping is very small indeed so caution is advised.

 

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdles: Summary

To conclude, front runners enjoy far less of an edge in handicap hurdle races when compared with non-handicap hurdles, but there are still a number of courses (and/or specific course/distance combinations) where we need to be aware of a possible edge.

Elsewhere, there is a smaller number of track/trip combinations that tend to favour hold up horses.

Knowing how a race may pan out from a running style perspective is always an important factor to consider, and the knowledge of any potential biases a significant bonus. Hopefully the information above, allied to specific race pace maps found on this website, will give you a leg up with your handicap hurdle betting.

- DR

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.

Course Form Could Prove Crucial In Tough Ascot Handicap

With Haydock’s card still in doubt we head to Ascot for Saturday’s preview, specifically the bet365 Handicap Chase which will be run at 3pm. The race will be shown on ITV4 and looks a fiendishly difficult puzzle to solve but as usual the aim of this preview will be to shed some light on possible angles using the brilliant form tools on offer with Geegeez Gold.

Pace

As usual we begin with pace to find what run style might be best suited to this contest here.

The Pace Analyser shows us that this sort of distance at Ascot on the chase course often most suits those who race prominently. We don’t have a huge amount of data here admittedly but the win percentage and place percentage figures speak massively in favour of prominent racers and from just 10 races prominent runners have produced a huge Win PL of 62.5 and an IV of 2.44.

Front runners are next best according to the data we have ahead of mid division and then hold up performers.

If we narrow things down further to races run only on soft or heavy ground we lose some of our data so I’ve included slightly smaller fields too to add some more data in. In total we are looking at seven races and five of those have been won by prominent racers. Prominent racers have also provided twice as many placed finishers as any other running style. Front runners and prominent racers combined have produced 60% of the placed horses from less than 50% of the runners.

Let’s have a look at the pace map for this race:

There could be a contested pace here with Colorado Doc, Bennys King and Dashel Drasher all likely to be keen to get on with things. Of that trio Bennys King is the only one who has proven he can dominate and win in big fields at this kind of level.

Prominent racers were most favoured by the course pace analysis and Young Wolf, Espoir De Guye and Good Boy Bobby seem most likely to fill those prominent positions just off the pace.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert is always extremely useful in races of this nature. Let’s first take a look at the place data across all codes:

Now the win data, only for chases:

Both are sorted by course record as I always like proven right handed form at right handed courses over jumps, especially course form.

Good Boy Bobby and Jerrysback seem most reliable in this sort of going, the former has extensive experience in soft or heavy ground and seems guaranteed to go through it with few problems. The runners with the biggest going questions marks are relatively unconsidered in the betting it seems.

Plenty of runners have a decent record of at least placing in class 2 races. Espoir De Guye has won both his chases in class 2 company whilst Dashel Drasher and Acting Lass are both 2 from 3 in class 2 races. Good Boy Bobby may have failed to win in both his class 2 chases but he was runner up in both contests so shouldn’t be judged harshly.

Bennys King and Dashel Drasher both have a 100% record of placing at Ascot whilst Espoir De Guye and Acting Lass are 2 from 3 and 2 from 4 respectively in terms of placing. There are six course chase winners in the field. Espoir De Guye has 2 wins from 3 runs here with Dashel Drasher the only horse showing off a 100% win record over these fences.

Good Boy Bobby has not yet raced here which can’t be held against him but what does stand out as a worry is his failure to win in four runs at this kind of trip.

It was previously mentioned that Benny’s King has proven he can dominate big fields, he has won two of his three races in this sort of field size whilst Espoir De Guye is one from two.

So according to Instant Expert Espoir De Guye, Dashel Drasher are potentially amongst the most solid contenders, for all Dashel Drasher is unproven in big fields, with Gold Old Bobby having a fair few question marks hanging over him for one that is so well fancied in the betting.

Trainers

With Ascot such a prestigious track it could be interesting to see how each of the trainers involved here perform at the course. For this we can use the Query Tool.

Sean Curran comes out on top in terms of course IV from the past five years but with just two runners in that time we can’t draw too many conclusions. That’s certainly not a negative for the chances of Domaine De L’Isle though.

Jeremy Scott has also had limited qualifying runners from two from seven is a very good strike rate and that would be a another plus for Dashel Drasher.

Of the trainers with much more experience here over the past five years Harry Fry, Paul Nicholls, Venetia Williams, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs all have more than their fair share of winners whilst the records of Jonjo O’Neill, Brian Ellison and Philip Kirby are less than impressive, although the latter two trainers have only had limited runners here.

Jockeys

Going can have an effect on jockey performance so let’s take a look at how these jockeys have performed here at Ascot on soft or heavy ground over the past five years:

Matt Griffiths, jockey for Dashel Drasher, has only had one ride here on soft or heavy but it was a victorious one and it would be quite remarkable if he could make it two from two here. Brian Hughes and Harry Skelton, who ride Windsor Avenue and Bennys King respectively, both have more experience and strong records here on testing ground.

The data suggests Harry Cobden, Sean Bowen and Daryl Jacob underperform at Ascot in soft or heavy ground so that is possibly a negative against the chances of Capeland, Acting Lass and Good Boy Bobby.

Verdict

Good Boy Bobby does have some questions to answer but he certainly brings strong form into this. His Cheltenham run a month ago, when 4th, has been working out nicely with three subsequent winners in behind and the winner going on to finish a decent 3rd next time. He’s short enough in the betting though so happy enough to leave him alone.

Bennys King is well proven around here and for him it’s mainly a question over whether he’s still well enough handicapped to win a race like this. He should run well but could be slightly vulnerable for win purposes.

Dashel Drasher has lots going for him and is two from two at Ascot over fences and hurdles. Ability to run well in bigger fields can be overlooked in races like this and he wasn’t at his best in bigger fields earlier in his career and much of his best form has come in smaller fields so he could be worth opposing here.

Espoir De Guye’s name kept popping up in Instant Expert as a solid contender and he represents a trainer that does pretty well here for a jockey that does pretty well here in testing conditions. He’s still lightly raced, proven at Ascot and should be well enough placed. He clearly didn’t stay 3m on his last run and a return to this trip will suit (he wouldn’t mind dropping even further in trip in all likelihood). He’s a fair enough price for an each way punt in what looks a really tricky race.

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.

*

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!

*

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.

*

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.

*

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