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Running Well Against a Pace Bias, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RACE 2 - 16th June – 4:40 Ascot

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

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

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

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

RACE 3 - 17th June – 2:25 Ascot

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

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

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

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

 

RACE 4 - 18th June – 2:25 Ascot

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

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

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

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

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

RACE 5 - 20th June – 4:10 Ascot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

- DR

 

Pace Analysis in Action: A See-Saw Day

In this article I am going to go through a betting process / approach that I used over a day of racing primarily deploying the pace data found on Geegeez, writes Dave Renham. When there is a strong pace bias at a particular course and distance I would argue that this is the most important factor to take into consideration. The aim when studying each race is to hopefully pinpoint value selections using pace as the key consideration.

Different punters have different approaches to how they bet. Some vary staking, some stick to a price band, some dutch more than one runner; for me I tend to steer away from short prices and I am not averse to backing two or three runners in the same race. I am not saying this is necessarily the best strategy, but it is a strategy I am most comfortable with. I also often bet each way – again not the method for some but it is frequently my preference.

Some days can pass by with limited or no pace betting opportunities; however when looking at the racing for Monday 12th October 2020 there were several races that caught my eye. I always lookout for certain courses and Musselburgh is one such course. On this Monday there were races that potentially offered us a real pace edge. Below I will look at each one individually and go through how I ‘tackled’ each one; as you'll see, it didn't all go my way - far from it - but the value game is about profit, not winners, and one good score was enough to finish in front.

1.30 Musselburgh – this was a 7f handicap and my starting point was this screenshot from Geegeez:

 

As a numbers man I prefer looking at the ‘data’ view rather than the graphic or heat map option and I order the four-race pace totals highest to lowest. I also change the going to cover all possible goings as my starting point and then narrow down to more specific goings when required. From the article I wrote about Musselburgh I know the bias seems to strengthen on softer ground as this graphic when looking at good to soft to heavy going shows:

 

I also adjusted the numbers of runners depending on the data set; here, with it being an 11-runner race, I have used 10 to 12 runners. If the data set was small I would increase this to perhaps 9 to 13 or 8 to 14.

Looking at the horses now, the race was not stacked with pace. Kupa River has the highest pace score of 14 having led early in two of his last four starts. Looking further back he has only led three times in the last ten runs. This tempers my enthusiasm in terms of him leading. I’m not saying he won’t, maybe the last four runs have persuaded the trainer that racing ‘on the front end’ is his best tactic. Alix James is next highest on 13 having led once and raced prominently three times in his last four runs. Going back further he has led in four of his last seven starts winning twice. There is a potential excuse, too, for perhaps not leading on his last two runs as he was drawn wide at both Ayr and Haydock making it difficult to cross to the inside and lead. There were three other horses that had led once in their last four starts but none of them had a long term front-running pace profile.

So Alix James looked the most likely front runner to me in a race of little pace. His draw, though, for the third race running was high (away from the inside). However, before putting a line through him I wanted to look at the draw/pace combinations data which you can find in the ‘draw’ tab of the race in question. Here I found some good news:

 

As can be seen, being drawn high is not such an insurmountable challenge for horses to a) get to the lead, and b) be successful. Inside draws (low) do lead more often but in reality there is little in it. High draws actually have the best strike rate which is a clear positive.

Alix James looked the pace angle to me so I just wanted to check other factors about this horse. I noted he was two from two at the course having won over course and distance in July on good to soft. He was only 2lbs higher here and the class of the race was the same. The main ‘fly in the ointment’ was his last run when he was beaten out of sight when favourite. Last year I noted he ran very poorly at Ayr in September but, eight days later, returned to form finishing a decent 3rd at Chester: he had proved he can bounce back from a poor run.

My conclusion was that Alix James was the value option. If he led early then there was an excellent chance he would at least hit the frame. He was forecast at 14/1 but the best I managed to get was 15/2 BOG. I backed him each way as I felt, with a shortish priced favourite and a race lacking depth, that was the right call.

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What happened in the actual race?

The start of the race panned out as planned with Alix James getting to the lead; however, he was never in complete control up front and despite still being in front three furlongs from home, he started to fade in the final quarter mile. He finished a pretty distant 8th of 10 in the end (there was a non runner).

Conclusion: I feel it is really important to have a personal debrief after each race whether your bet was successful or not. It is part of the learning process and, believe me, you never stop learning regardless of how experienced you think you might be. I suppose the key question, irrespective of result, is always ‘would I make the same decision next time given a similar set of circumstances and data?’

My answer to myself was, if given the same type of scenario in the future, yes I would probably make the same decision. I correctly picked the front runner: the long term 7f stats at Musselburgh show that if you consistently pick the front runner you will generate long term profits.

 

2.30 Musselburgh – this was another 7f handicap – Class 2 this time.

 

At first glance this was more competitive than the first race from a pace / front running perspective, at least when looking at the last four run pace totals. On closer inspection though the top two in the list, Three Saints Bay and Muntadab, were the only horses to have led in their past four races: Three Saints Bay three times and Muntadab once. Both horses had decent long term pace profiles - Three Saints Bay had led in seven of his last 13 races and Muntadab in nine of his last 13. The stats were strongly suggesting that one of these two would lead early. Both had decent form on good to soft and both had won on soft.

The concerns for both was recent form. Three Saints Bay had failed to reach the frame this summer in seven starts although on the positive side he had finished close over course and distance on July 1st (beaten ¼ length when 3rd of 6) and three starts back had led at Beverley into the final furlong before fading late on. Musselburgh is an easier 7f than Beverley and also around 90 yards shorter in distance. Muntadab won at Epsom back in July but since then had been well beaten in his last six runs. On the flip side of course their poor recent form had seen them both look potentially well handicapped.

Best prices early doors for the pair were 9/1 on Three Saints Bay and 33/1 on Muntadab. I thought Muntadab offered some value at such odds – you don’t have to be right very many times at this sort of price to make money in the long term. Hence I went each way for Muntadab but decided to go with Sky Bet at 28/1 as they were offering four places. I felt Three Saints Bay was priced about right but I knew he was extremely well handicapped and that he had been very well backed last time out (16/1 into 17/2). Therefore my guess was that he would start shorter than 9/1 and if he did then the 9/1 would offer good value.

What happened in the actual race?

Well I was right about Three Saints Bay as he was backed off the boards late into 4/1 joint favourite. He also got to the front early and dictated the race but perhaps went slightly quicker than ideal. He was still leading into the final furlong before being nabbed around 150 yards out. He was beaten 1½ lengths back in 2nd, while Muntadab was possibly a little unlucky at the start and was forced to 'stay in his lane' as the horse drawn inside him kept him from cutting across. To make matters worse the jockey then went much wider after about 50-100 yards ending up nine horses from the rail and, from there, he was never going to challenge. His finished 8th.

Conclusion - Ultimately racing is about getting value and getting 9/1 early (albeit with a small rule 4) about Three Saints Bay was a value bet. Muntadab was not competitive this time, but as I said earlier you don’t need many big priced runners to win to make money in the long term. If given the same race profile in the future I think I would make the same two bets.

 

3.00 Musselburgh – 5f handicap was next on my list of races to check out:

 

The front-running bias at 5f is not quite as strong as the 7f bias but it is still pretty strong and this was a very simple and quick race for me to decide upon one selection. Autumn Flight is a habitual front runner having led in his last six races and also 12 of his last 14. Add into the mix that on good to soft or softer he had won four times and been placed a further four times from 15 starts, and he looked the logical call. He was also 12/1 early morning and with a short priced favourite this looked a solid each-way bet.

What happened in the actual race?

Autumn Flight did get to the front but perhaps had to expend more energy than ideal in the first furlong. With two furlongs to go he was still leading and seemingly going well but by the final furlong he was being joined at the front and gradually slipped back finishing a close up 4th.

Conclusion

By the time this race was run the going was soft and getting more testing by the minute. When I had dug down into the pace data the previous evening the good to soft to heavy stats for front runners still showed a front running bias for this field size. However, if I had checked only the soft or heavy stats I would have noted that it becomes a much more level playing field. Whether that would have put me off the selection I’m not sure but it would have made the decision more difficult.

Looking at the pace profile of the race I had expected that Autumn Flight would have had a relatively easy lead, but he needed to be rousted quite vigorously to get in command by the end of the first furlong. Ultimately, this, coupled with the more testing ground, cost him in the final furlong – even so he was only beaten by 1½ lengths. I think overall the bet was a decent one being one place away from getting a return for my money.

 

3.30 Musselburgh – the second division of the 5f handicap.

 

As with the previous sprint this race has a clear pace angle with Somewhere Secret. The concern was the draw as he drawn furthest from the rail. Generally at Musselburgh the early leader grabs the rail and therefore I wanted to check the draw/pace combinations data once again to see whether a low draw was a big disadvantage for a potential front runner.

 

As can be seen, from a win perspective a lower draw would have been ideal; however, there is little in it in terms of the place data and, actually, front runners have made a small each-way profit even when drawn low. Somewhere Secret had form on easy ground (four of his five wins had come on good to soft or softer) and at an early 8/1 BOG he was my first pick.

Another horse that interested me was Glory Fighter. At first glance he was not the archetypical 5f horse that I would normally be interested in. In his last three runs he had dwelt and lost lengths early; in fact, he totally blew his chance in his most recent race rearing at the start. However, two starts back, he had finished 7th beaten only 2 lengths, despite a dreadful start. Earlier in the season, Glory Fighter had won two races in August, importantly not missing the break, and racing close to the pace. My eye was also caught by the jockey booking of Jamie Gormley, who had ridden him in his first two starts of the season back in June. That horse and jockey combo combined to be placed both times and Gormley had raced prominently in one race and led in the other. If he got away on terms I thought at double figure odds he would have a good chance. One of those successes this season had been on good to soft so he had shown he could act with cut in the ground. I got 10/1 BOG on Glory Fighter.

What happened in the actual race?

Somewhere Secret tried to force the issue but never got to the lead and ultimately it was the outside draw that was his downfall. He raced competitively but never got close to the rail and, by the time he entered the final two furlongs, the writing was on the wall: he finished 7th. Glory Fighter on the other hand read the script; thankfully he did not miss the break and raced close up in 5th early. He was produced at exactly the right time, hitting the front around the furlong pole and winning relatively well in the end. His 12/1 SP was an added bonus.

Conclusion

This race perhaps shows that you do sometimes have to look more deeply into the pace figures and the ‘in running’ comments. Glory Fighter could easily have missed the break for a fourth race running and that probably would have scuppered his chance, but these are the decisions as punters we have to ponder. Also, as stated earlier, the going had deteriorated from when making my decisions/selections, so I would tentatively suggest I got lucky here. Having said that, there is plenty of truth in the saying you are better to be lucky than good!

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So there you have it – a bit of mixed bag of results but that’s racing. It is important to point out that making profits is not really about finding winners. If you want to back lots of winners then back favourites! If you want to make long term profits then you need to find an edge and value selections – I believe pace can undoubtedly give us that edge.

- DR

Pace Wins The Race: 5f All Weather Handicaps

We still have several weeks of the all-weather season left so I have decided to look to see how strong the pace bias is on the sand, writes Dave Renham. I have not previously looked in detail at all weather pace bias in my Geegeez articles so now seemed as good a time as any.

Just in case you have not read my previous articles on pace I will briefly summarise a few things. Firstly when I discuss pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race and specifically the position horses take up early on. Most of you will be aware that on geegeez.co.uk racecards there is a pace section, and the stats in this article are based on the site’s pace data.

This info is split into four groups - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up, and after each race all the horses are assigned points in regards to which position they took up early in the race. Leaders get 4, prominent runners 3, horses that ran midfield 2, and those held up score 1. Just over 96% of all UK and Irish runs since 2009 have been scored, the other 4% unable to rated from the comment. For clarity, at the time of writing, 1,169,760 of 1,218,499 comments have been scored.

In previous articles, I have highlighted certain distances / race types that generally favour front runners both on the flat and over the jumps. My first five articles looked at 5f handicaps where pace bias is arguably at its strongest, but I did not look in detail at any course data for the six UK all weather tracks – my main focus was turf handicaps. Hence, a touch belatedly perhaps, it is time to address that now!

The first set of data I wish to share with you is the overall pace stats for 5f all weather handicaps with 6 or more runners (the data for this article has been taken from the last 5 complete years, 2014 to 2018):

 

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 254 1137 22.3 2.04
Prominent (3) 360 2874 12.5 1.15
Mid Division (2) 67 1026 6.5 0.62
Held Up (1) 183 2735 6.7 0.61

 

These figures clearly illustrate the advantage to horses which have led, or disputed the lead, in 5f all-weather handicaps. In fact, the Impact Values - a measure of how much  more likely than normal something is to happen, 1 being 'normal' - suggest that 5f handicap pace bias is slightly stronger on the all weather than it is on the turf.

The main data cover all handicaps with six or more runners; I have next looked at splitting these data into groups – 6 to 8 runners; 9 – 10 runners; 11 or more runners. Here are my findings:

 

6 to 8 runners

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 119 459 25.9 1.86
Prominent (3) 138 956 14.4 1.04
Mid Division (2) 22 249 8.8 0.64
Held Up (1) 65 757 8.6 0.62

 

9 to 10 runners

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 85 446 19.1 1.81
Prominent (3) 146 1083 13.5 1.28
Mid Division (2) 30 435 6.9 0.66
Held Up (1) 68 1125 6.0 0.57
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11 or more runners

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 50 232 21.6 2.60
Prominent (3) 76 835 9.1 1.10
Mid Division (2) 15 342 4.4 0.53
Held Up (1) 50 853 5.9 0.71

 

It seems therefore the front running bias is as its strongest when there are more runners. An IV of 2.6 for front runners is extremely high for races of 11 or more runners.

Of course, each all weather course has its own unique confirmation and, consequently, its own set of stats. Here is a view on the courses individually, presented in alphabetical order:

Chelmsford

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 51 194 26.3 2.26
Prominent (3) 40 346 11.6 1.00
Mid Division (2) 22 252 8.7 0.78
Held Up (1) 30 410 7.3 0.63

 

Just over a quarter of the 5f handicap races at Chelmsford have seen the early leader going on to win. This is a very high percentage and worth noting. It is also worth pointing out that in races of 11 or more runners 9 of the 27 races (SR 33.3%) have been won by the front runner (IV 3.84). Not only that, another ten have been placed. Hence just over 70% of all front runners in these bigger field races have finished in the first three.

 

Kempton

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 23 84 27.4 2.36
Prominent (3) 24 170 14.1 1.22
Mid Division (2) 4 72 5.6 0.49
Held Up (1) 8 177 4.5 0.39

 

It is a shame that Kempton seem to have so few 5f handicaps these days as the front running bias is at its strongest here. There is a decent inside draw bias here also and it should come as no surprise that front runners from the lowest three stalls have secured 11 wins from 33 (SR 33.3%). The IV is 2.88 for those well drawn pace setters. Hold up horses have a dreadful record also which is worth mentioning too.

 

Lingfield

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 54 208 26.0 2.13
Prominent (3) 57 377 15.1 1.24
Mid Division (2) 16 227 7.0 0.59
Held Up (1) 31 436 7.1 0.58

 

Lingfield is another of the all weather courses to demonstrate a strong front-running bias over 5 furlongs. Additional insights are hard to find, although early leaders who were drawn 1 (the lowest draw) have produced 14 wins from 36 (SR 38.9%).

 

Newcastle

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 22 137 16.1 1.74
Prominent (3) 37 393 9.4 1.03
Mid Division (2) 11 183 6.0 0.67
Held Up (1) 40 473 8.5 0.92

 

Newcastle has the weakest front-running stats of the six all weather courses, almost certainly linked (like Southwell) to it being a straight five as opposed to running around a turn, but an Impact Value of 1.74 still indicates front-runners do have an edge. Hold up horses perform quite well here so it is not a course and distance I personally get too involved with.   

 

Southwell

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 27 142 19.0 1.81
Prominent (3) 94 730 12.9 1.23
Mid Division (2) 4 102 3.9 0.41
Held Up (1) 14 342 4.1 0.40

 

The second lowest IV (1.81) for front runners, and again the straight nature of the track is likely a factor at a course where pace setters do well at other distances. Note that horses which try to come from midfield or off the pace really struggle over the five at Southwell. I have found no major additional angles to profit from, but ultimately steer clear of horses that regularly are held up.

 

Wolverhampton

Pace comment Wins Runners SR% IV
Led (4) 77 372 20.7 1.90
Prominent (3) 108 858 12.6 1.16
Mid Division (2) 10 190 5.3 0.52
Held Up (1) 60 897 6.7 0.61

 

Decent front running stats for Wolverhampton, too. Front runners when drawn close to the inside rail, (draws 1 to 3), have scored 32 times from 132 races (SR 24.2%) with an IV of 2.14.

*

Before I finish, we can use these numerical figures to create course and distance pace averages. I have done this by adding up the pace scores of all the winners at each course and dividing it by the total number of races. The higher the average score, the more ‘biased’ the course and distance is to horses which lead early or race close to the pace. This hopefully gives us the final piece of the jigsaw. Here are the 5 furlong handicap pace averages for the six aw courses:

Hopefully this article has demonstrated how strong the front running bias is on the all weather over the minimum trip of 5f in handicap races. The four turning courses offer a huge edge in my opinion. My next article is going to look at 6f handicaps on the all weather so watch this space!

- Dave Renham

The Importance of Pace in Three Mile Handicap Chases

After a break of a few months I am back to look at some more pace angles in an attempt to find potentially profitable avenues, writes Dave Renham. My last pace article looked at handicap chases at up to 2m 1½f; this time, I will focus on longer distance (2m 7f to 3m 3f) handicap chases.

The data I have researched is from the past five years (2014 to 2018) for UK racing, using the Geegeez Gold Query tool.

When I talk about pace I mean the initial pace in a race, and specifically the position horses take up early on. The pace data on Geegeez is split into four – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets is the pace score that is assigned to each section.

The first set of data to share contains overall pace statistics for handicap chases of 2m 7f to 3m 3f for the period of study (a minimum number of six runners in a race).

[N.B. It should be noted that when using the Geegeez Query tool you currently need to enter the parameters 3m to 3m 2f. The Query tool uses increments of 2 furlongs and when you put in 3m - 3m2f it actually covers races from 2m 7f to 3m 3f]

 

Pace comment Runners Wins SR% IV
Led (4) 2282 430 18.84 1.68
Prominent (3) 4894 626 12.79 1.14
Mid Division (2) 2076 160 7.71 0.75
Held Up (1) 5086 406 7.98 0.71

 

 

Despite the fact we are looking at long distance handicap chases, we can clearly see that horses which led or disputed the lead early have a definite edge. Prominent racers have a fairly decent record too, while horses more patiently ridden early tend to underperform.

 

Best performing tracks for front runners (2m7f - 3m3f handicap chases)

As when I looked at 2m – 2m 1½f pace data, there are significant differences in the course figures for these contests, with some courses being much more suited to early leaders and front runners than others. Here are the courses with the best strike rates in terms of front runners at the circa three mile range (minimum 25 front runners to qualify):

 

Course Front Runners Wins SR%
Carlisle 54 15 27.8
Sedgefield 26 7 26.9
Taunton 67 18 26.9
Kelso 62 16 25.8
Newton Abbot 69 17 24.6
Wincanton 79 19 24.1
Hexham 84 19 22.6
Plumpton 62 14 22.6
Lingfield Park 32 7 21.9
Ascot 48 10 20.8
Newcastle 45 9 20.0

 

For record the strike rate for Fakenham for front runners was 28.6%, but there were only 21 races so it has not been included in the table due to too small a sample.

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Looking at the courses with the best impact values (IV) offers a potentially more accurate measure of front running bias. [For more information on Impact Value, click here]

 

Course Impact value for Front runners
Carlisle 2.46
Taunton 2.28
Kelso 2.20
Ascot 2.14
Hexham 2.14
Wincanton 2.09
Sedgefield 2.06
Newton Abbot 2.00
Cheltenham 1.95
Hereford 1.89
Uttoxeter 1.88
Lingfield Park 1.85

 

 

As can be seen, the strike rate and IV lists are very similar, with Carlisle, Taunton, Kelso, Ascot, Hexham, Wincanton, Sedgefield, Newton Abbot and Lingfield Park appearing on both.

 

Poorest performing tracks for front runners (2m7f - 3m3f handicap chases)

At the other end of the scale below are the courses with the poorest stats for early leaders/front runners in handicap chases of 2m 7f – 3m 3f:

 

Course Front Runners Wins SR%
Fontwell Park 52 7 13.5
Cheltenham 67 9 13.4
Huntingdon 56 7 12.5
Aintree 33 4 12.1
Bangor-on-Dee 66 8 12.1
Wetherby 57 6 10.5
Sandown Park 39 4 10.3

 

Sandown and Wetherby have not been favourable for front runners it seems, but again let us delve into the Impact Values to help to substantiate the picture. The table below shows courses that have an IV of less than 1.20 for front runners/early leaders.

 

Course Impact value for Front runners
Fontwell Park 1.03
Bangor-on-Dee 1.01
Huntingdon 1.01
Sandown Park 0.95
Wetherby 0.92

 

 

Just five courses with moderate IVs and, essentially, these figures suggest that front runners at these courses win roughly as often as they should given a fair playing field (an IV of 1.00 is ‘standard’). Hence, according to the Impact Values the remaining 36 courses all have an edge for front runners varying from a small edge to a considerable one.

 

Course Pace Averages (CPA)

So far, I have focused solely on front runners, but now I want to try and give a more rounded course and distance profile for each course. To do this I have once again created course pace averages.

These are complied by adding up the Geegeez pace scores of all the winners at a particular course and dividing it by the total number of races. The higher the average score, the more biased the course and distance is to horses that lead early or race close to the pace. Here are all the courses listed, in course pace average (CPA) order:

 

Course CPA Course CPA
Fakenham 3.14 Sandown Park 2.65
Sedgefield 3.06 Uttoxeter 2.64
Hereford 3.00 Chepstow 2.64
Taunton 2.93 Hexham 2.61
Ascot 2.89 Musselburgh 2.61
Doncaster 2.89 Exeter 2.60
Wincanton 2.88 Kempton Park 2.60
Lingfield Park 2.88 Newbury 2.57
Market Rasen 2.88 Towcester 2.56
Plumpton 2.87 Fontwell Park 2.53
Cartmel 2.83 Catterick 2.52
Warwick 2.82 Huntingdon 2.50
Stratford 2.80 Leicester 2.50
Perth 2.76 Ffos Las 2.49
Newcastle 2.75 Cheltenham 2.49
Kelso 2.74 Wetherby 2.46
Southwell 2.73 Bangor-on-Dee 2.43
Carlisle 2.73 Aintree 2.42
Newton Abbot 2.71 Worcester 2.41
Haydock Park 2.69 Ayr 2.23
Ludlow 2.69

 

These averages arguably give a more overall pace ‘feel’ to each course – as noted earlier, Fakenham (which tops the list) has had few races in reality.

It is interesting to note that Carlisle is only joint 17th on this list having been top in terms of front runner stats. This is because 20 of the 46 races have been won by horses that gained a pace figure of either 1 or 2. The fact that there have been 15 wins for front runners has been negated somewhat by this, aided notably by the moderate performance of prominent runners (just 6 wins from 46 races).

Taking all the information at hand, I would suggest that the following four courses offer the strongest pace bias – Sedgefield, Ascot, Taunton and Wincanton.

 

Ascot’s overall figures are worth sharing as an example:

Pace comment Runners Wins SR% IV
Led (4) 48 10 20.83 2.14
Prominent (3) 78 10 12.82 1.33
Mid Division (2) 51 1 1.96 0.22
Held Up (1) 108 6 5.56 0.57

 

Having all the Ascot stats at our fingertips helps to illustrate how strong a bias there has been in recent years with 20 of 27 races won by horses that led early or raced prominently – this equates to 74%.

 

2m7f - 3m3f handicap chase pace data, by field size

Before I close, I want to share some different ‘splits’ in terms of number of runners. The data I have looked at for this article has come from races with 6 or more runners, so is quite a wide range. In the following three tables I have split the 2m 7f – 3m 3f handicap chase pace results into races of 6 to 8 runners, 9 to 11, and 12 runners or more.

6 to 8 runners

Pace comment Runners Wins SR% IV
Led (4) 1233 267 21.7 1.51
Prominent (3) 2296 347 15.1 1.05
Mid Division (2) 548 63 11.5 0.82
Held Up (1) 1967 202 10.3 0.72

 

9 to 11 runners

Pace comment Runners Wins SR% IV
Led (4) 703 111 15.8 1.55
Prominent (3) 1643 188 12.4 1.12
Mid Division (2) 746 60 8.0 0.80
Held Up (1) 1867 147 7.9 0.77

 

12+ runners

Pace comment Runners Wins SR% IV
Led (4) 346 52 15.0 2.12
Prominent (3) 955 91 9.5 1.35
Mid Division (2) 782 37 4.7 0.67
Held Up (1) 1252 57 4.5 0.64

 

Interestingly, the 12 or more runner group has comfortably the highest Impact Value for front runners, notwithstanding the understandably lower strike rate. Therefore, these data suggest that the front running bias increases as field size increases. I wonder who would have thought that?

  • Dave Renham

The Importance of Pace in 5f Handicaps: Part 5

This is the fifth instalment in a series of articles looking at pace bias in 5f handicaps, writes Dave Renham. In previous articles (the first of which is at this link, subsequent ones linked to from there) I have looked at a variety of angles including examining courses, as some offer a stronger front running bias than others; I have looked at the Geegeez pace ratings and how top rated pace horses have performed in terms of win percentages and profit/losses; I have also looked at predicting pace.

The Actual Front Runner

In this article I am going to focus solely on the actual early leader (front runner) of each race to see whether there are any patterns or decent angles that can be gleaned from the data. I have looked at 200 races once again focusing on handicap races with 6 or more runners. I have not used races where it was unclear who led early (this happens roughly 3 times in every 100 races). At this juncture, it is important for me to note that I term the front runner or early leader to be the horse that takes the lead within the first furlong. If a horse has led for 50yds and then is overtaken I assume the front runner to be the horse that took the lead after 50yds, not the horse that led just for 50yds. For the record in most sprint handicaps the horse that takes the lead in the opening strides is still leading after 1 furlong.

My first idea was to look at the leaders and what their position had been in the Geegeez pace ratings. To recap, horses on the Geegeez pace-card have their last four runs highlighted with the most recent run to the left and each horse has an individual total for their last four runs. 16 is the maximum score and 4 the minimum (this is assuming they have had at least 4 career runs).

To begin with I decided to split the runners into “thirds” like I have done in the past for draw bias. Hence in a 12-runner race, pace rated 1 to 4 would lie in the top “third” of the pace ratings, those rated 5 to 8 in the middle “third”, and those rated 9 to 12 in the bottom “third”. It should also be noted that I also adjust the pace positions when there are non-runners – for example in a 10 runner race if the 3rd highest pace rated horse is a non-runner, then the horse rated 4th becomes 3rd, 5th rated becomes 4th rated, etc. Here then are the figures where the leaders/front runners came from in the pace ratings broken into ‘thirds’:

Top third of pace ratings Middle third of pace ratings Bottom third of pace ratings
69.5% 24% 6.5%

 

As you can see the early leader came from the top ‘third’ of the pace ratings roughly 7 races in 10; in addition horses from the bottom third of the pace ratings took the early lead just once in every 15 races on average. This is a positive result – perhaps the result we might expect, but it is good to see that the Geegeez pace ratings clearly help in terms of pinpointing the area where we are most likely to find the actual front runner. It is also interesting to note that in races of 12 or more runners the early leader came from the top third of the pace ratings just under 75% of the time; in races of 8 runners or less this figure dropped to 64%. This suggests, albeit with relatively limited data that using the pace ratings to try and find the front runner works best in bigger fields.

To add some more ‘meat to the bones’ I have split the pace ratings into halves rather than thirds and the table below shows the breakdown:

Top half of pace ratings Bottom half of pace ratings
85.5% 14.5%

 

Hence, when you are trying to predict the front runner in a 5f handicap, the Geegeez pace ratings look the best starting point. If you can essentially narrow the potential front running candidates down to 50% of the field or less, you are giving yourself a much better chance of predicting the early leader.

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As I have mentioned in previous articles, front runners in sprints over this minimum trip do have a huge edge – in this sample 22.5% of all races were won by the early leader and 51.5% of front runners made the first three. Hence the more often we can successfully predict the front runner the better.

In terms of the 200 early leaders in this sample, I next looked at their last two races and combining these last two pace figures (maximum of 8). Here are the findings:

Pace total (last two runs) Number of races ‘led’
8 47
7 44
6 50
5 37
4 16
3 2
2 4

 

Thus, 70.5% of all leaders had scored 6, 7 or 8 points in total when combining their last two pace scores. This data has a similar pattern to the top ‘third’ data for the last four races, as one would expect.

Just imagine if you were able to predict the front runner in every race - you would make a huge profit. Indeed if you could achieve this correct prediction around 70% of the time I would estimate you would still make very healthy profit; remembering even if the horse you picked as the front runner does not actually lead, it can still win!

In my fourth pace article I noted that just under 40% of top pace rated horses did actually lead; I did not though look at horses that were 2nd or 3rd pace rated. This time I have, and in 146 of the 200 races (73%) the early leader had been in the top three of the Geegeez pace ratings.

As I hope you can see, the Geegeez pace ratings do give an excellent indication of pace set up in a race. Whether you use the top third method; the last two runs method, or the top 3 in the ratings method.

 

In Play Options

There are of course other punting options in terms of front running ideas. One such idea is to trade the front runner ‘in play’. The argument for this approach is logical – front runners lose around 3 and a half times more often than they win so why not trade? Horses that lead in 5f handicaps generally contract in price so why not try to make the most of this fact? Now you could trade to achieve a free bet – eg back the horse at 11.0 pre-race and lay in play at 6.0. If the horses loses you get your stake back; if it wins you have a winning bet at 5/1.

Another option for traders is ‘dobbing’ - dobbing is a term I came across a few years back – I am not sure where it originates from, but basically ‘DOB’ means ‘double or bust’. Essentially if our bet/trade is successful, we double our original stake, if it is not successful we ‘bust’ or lose our stake. It may be easier to explain by giving you an example:

Let us imagine you back a horse pre-race at 8.0 for £10; in order to create a potential DOB you try and lay at half the odds for double the stake – so a lay at 4.0 for £20. If the horse hits 4.0 or lower in running, your lay bet will be matched and regardless of the result you will win £10 (less commission). Here is the simple maths behind the two potential winning outcomes - if the horse goes onto win the race you get £70 returned from the ‘back’ part of the bet; you lose £60 on the ‘lay’ part of the bet giving you that £10 profit; if the horse does not go onto win, you lose your £10 stake from the ‘back’ bet, but gain £20 from the lay stake – again giving you a £10 profit. Naturally, if the lay part of the bet is not matched you will lose your £10.

There are other ‘in play’ trading methods/options/ideas when it comes to front runners, but I don’t want to get bogged down looking at too many of these. Suffice to say, front runners tend to contract in price; some see their price drop dramatically.

In relation to this, one thing I wanted to look at was at what point was the early front runner overtaken? The longer a leader leads over 5f, in general the shorter the price will become ‘in play’. Here are my findings:

 

At what point was the front runner overtaken? % of leaders
Not overtaken (led all the way) 22.5
Overtaken in final half furlong (within 110 yds of the finish) 14
Overtaken between the furlong pole and half a furlong from the finish 19
Overtaken 1.5f from the finish to the furlong pole 23
Overtaken between the 2 furlong pole and 1 and half a furlongs from the finish 13
Overtaken before the 2 furlong pole 8.5

 

This should make pleasing reading for would be ‘in play traders’ – over 55% of front runners are still leading at the furlong pole; nearly 80% are leading 1.5 furlongs from the finish. There will be many of you reading this who have seen your horse lead at the furlong pole only to get swallowed up or beaten close home; perhaps now you have a trading option/idea which could potentially take away some of that pain in the future!

 

Actual front runners by odds

Finally, I looked at the prices of the horses that led early. Here is a breakdown:

  • There were 61 leaders that started 5/1 or less;
  • There were 52 leaders that started between 11/2 and 9/1;
  • There were 51 leaders that started between 10/1 and 16/1;
  • There were 36 leaders that started 18/1 or bigger.

So a relatively even split. Again this is almost certainly good news for ‘in play’ traders as there is excellent scope for trading front runners that start big prices. Indeed of those bigger priced runners (18/1 or bigger) 17 of the 36 were still leading at the furlong pole (a handful of these went onto win).

I hope you have found this article interesting and given you further food for thought. Maybe there should be a Geegeez competition next flat season to see who can pick pre-race the highest percentage of front runners in 5f handicaps. In fact it doesn’t have to be restricted to 5f races – maybe 5 to 7f races. Anyway, one for Matt to think about perhaps!

- Dave Renham

The Importance of Pace in 5f Handicaps: Part 4

After hours, actually weeks of number crunching, I am able to share my most recent findings regarding pace in 5f handicaps, writes Dave Renham.

In this fourth article I have started to look in more detail at the Geegeez pace data focusing for the most part on the last four runs of each horse. Links to the first three articles are here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Horses on the Geegeez racecard have pace figures assigned to their last four runs, with the most recent run to the left. To recap the pace figures are split into four groups - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. Pace points are given to each group - led gets 4 points, prominent 3, mid division 2 and held up 1. Therefore totals can range between 4 and 16.

My focus for this piece has been 5f handicaps (turf and all weather) with at least 6 runners from 2017. There were 465 such races in total and at present I have manually collated data for 200 of these, from which I will share my initial findings. The plan next month is to complete the research and report back on the results for all the races. Handicaps are generally the best medium for this type of research because one is usually dealing with seasoned campaigners who have raced many times in their careers.

I have noted before that front runners have a significant edge in these short sprints and this is clearly seen from the pace figures of these 200 winners:

 

Pace figure of winner

4

3

2

1

Win % 25% 43.5% 8%

23.5%

 

As we can see 25% of all races have been won by the horse that took the early lead. Considering front runners made up around 13% of runners in the sample, we can say that front runners have won nearly twice as often as they should (25% versus 13%); this is assuming all horses have an equal chance in each race. Of course, that may not necessarily be the case, but the 13% figure is not going to be too far away from the true chance. For the record, prominent racers provided 40% of all horses so this pace bracket also win slightly more often than ‘one would expect’; horses that raced mid-division provided around 13% of all runners so have under-performed statistically, as have hold up horses who provided around 34% of all the runners.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, with such an advantage in 5f handicaps it makes sense to investigate ways of trying to predict the front runner. In the third article I looked at the most recent race only and the pace figure gained from it. This time I am going to look at the performance of the top-rated pace runners using the last four races.

In each of the 200 races I collated the pace figures for each horse by putting them in order of pace points, then looking to see from which pace position the winner came. I was hoping of course to see a bias towards the top-rated pace horses in terms of number of wins.

Here are the findings:

 

Pace rank

Wins

Races

SR%

1 26 200 13.0
2 21 200 10.5
3 26 200 13.0
4 31 200 15.5
5 23 200 11.5
6 17 200 8.5
7 21 179 11.7
8 10 153 6.5
9 10 127 7.9
10 4 96 4.2
11 7 68 10.3
12 2 48 4.2
13 1 32 3.1
14 1 22 4.5

15+

0 9

0.0

 

Hence the top-rated pace horse (the one with the most pace points) won 26 of the 200 races (13%). On the face of it this does look a little disappointing. It should also be stressed at this point that there may have been 200 races, but due to several of these having joint top-rated pace horses, there were in fact 266 horses that were top- or joint-top ranked.

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That brings the win strike rate down to under 10%. Before you reach for the Kleenex, I do have some positive news. If you had backed these top-rated pace horses to level stakes, your 266 selections would have yielded a small profit to SP. Even better returns would have accrued if you had backed them at Betfair SP – at £10 per bet the profit after commission would have been just under £530. This equates to a return of about 20p in the £. Very satisfactory returns for what is essentially a simplistic method.

With a notable difference between the number of winning front-runners and the number of winners with the highest pace rank coming into the race, what these findings indicate once more is that predicting the front runner is far from an exact science. It is clearly not just a case of picking the horse in the race with the most pace points from their last four runs. What that table does seem to indicate though is that the more points you have the more chance you have of winning.

The top-rated pace horse did lead in nearly 40% of the races; the table below shows the run style of the top-rated pace horse in the reviewed races:

 

Pace Figure

Races

% of horses

4 – Led 105 39.5
3 – Prominent 106 39.8
2 – Midfield 23 8.6
1 – Held up 32 12.0

 

So those top-rated pace horses coming into a race have generally led or raced up with the pace, which is clearly what one would expect. However, when I started this series of articles I was hoping to find a method that would predict the front runner at least 50% of the time, if not 60%. Not around 40%! It is interesting to note that in the third article I found that horses that had led in a 5f handicap last time out, went on to lead in their next race 42.5% of the time. So perhaps the most recent race is more important than combining the last four when looking at pace figures, though in truth the difference in terms of the sample size is negligible.

My next port of call was to look at the actual pace figure gained by the top rated or joint top-rated pace horse. 16 (four pace figures of 4) is the highest pace figure a horse can achieve.

Here are the findings:

 

4 race pace total (top rated horses only)

Wins

Runs

SR%

16 2 31 6.5
15 8 78 10.3
14 7 87 8.0
13 5 32 15.6
12 2 32 6.3
11 2 5 40.0
10 0 1 0.0

 

These figures suggest nothing particularly clear cut at this stage – however, when I have looked at all 465 races hopefully a pattern may start to emerge.

Before moving on I would like to discuss a theory. There is a perception that if there are two or more potential front runners in a race, then that race will be set up for a ‘closer’. The theory is that there will be a strong battle for the lead where the leaders essentially ‘cut each other’s throats’ – allowing a horse to come from off the pace and win.

I wanted to try and test this theory as best I could. I decided therefore in each race to work out the pace average of the top four rated pace horses. If the theory held any validity, then I expected the record of the top rated pace horse would be poor when the four horse pace average was higher. Here are the findings:

 

Top four rated pace average

Top rated pace runners

Wins

SR%

BSP profit to £10 stakes

ROI%

14 and above 48 3 6.3 – £220 – 45.8
13 to 13.75 77 5 6.5 – £193 – 25.1
12 to 12.75 69 5 7.2 – £232 – 33.6
11 to 11.75 51 7 13.7 + £363 + 71.2
9 to 10.75 21 6 28.6 + £320 + 152.4

 

It seems that this theory does hold water, although I appreciate that not all top-rated pace horses lead. Having said that most top-rated pace horses race up with the pace and thus are not coming from ‘off the pace’ to win. The races where the top four horses averaged 14 or above produced the lowest strike rate and the worst returns. Conversely the races with relatively low averages produced extremely positive returns.

I have also looked at the combined win and placed strike rates to see if they correlate with the win strike rates:

 

Top four rated pace average

Top rated pace runners

Wins / places

Win/placed SR%

14 and above 48 10 20.8
13 to 13.75 77 19 24.7
12 to 12.75 69 22 31.9
11 to 11.75 51 19 37.3
9 to 10.75 21 12 57.1

 

It is pleasing to see the win and place strike rates increase as the four horse pace average decreases – just like the win data showed.

This takes me onto the second theory where there is a perception that if there is just one ‘genuine’ front runner in the race, that runner has a good chance of getting a ‘soft’ lead and this increases their prospects of leading all the way. The table above seems to suggest when there is less ‘pace’ in the race, potential front runners have a better chance of winning. However, we cannot be sure that a race with, say, a top four rated pace average of 11 has a sole front runner. Consider the following two scenarios:

 

Scenario 1: Pace average of top four pace horses = 11

Horse A – 15

Horse B – 10

Horse C – 10

Horse D – 9

 

Scenario 2: Pace average of top four pace horses = 11

Horse A – 12

Horse B – 12

Horse C – 11

Horse D –  9

 

One way to perhaps test this ‘soft’ lead theory is to look at the gap between the top rated pace horse and the second top rated pace horse. Here are these findings looking at the performance of the top rated pace horses in each case:

 

Gap between top and 2nd rated

Top rated pace runners

Wins

SR%

BSP profit to £10 stakes

ROI%

0 126 10 7.9 – £364 –28.9
1 75 4 5.3 – £495 –66.0
2 44 7 15.9 + £323 +73.4
3 15 4 26.7 + £525 +350.0
4 5 0 0.0 – £50 –100.0
5 1 1 100.0 + £85 +850.0

 

This once again is not a perfect test because the top rated pace runner does not always lead! However, what it does seem to suggest is that the top rated pace horse has done extremely well when there has been a gap of at least 2 points between them and the second rated. I appreciate the data set is relatively small, but nonetheless the signs are good. I did look at the win and placed data here and the correlation was less strong – the problem perhaps is the data set for a gap of 3 or more is so small. I will revisit this after looking at all the races and share that data. [Alternative theory for lack of place correlation is that trail blazers are often binary types, who either win or drop out completely – Ed.]

For the final part of this article I want to look at the profile of the 200 winners in terms of pace. I initially looked at their four race pace totals and noted that 128 winners (SR 64%) had a total of 10-16 while 72 winners (SR 36%) had a total of 4-9. It seems therefore at first glance that the horses with higher pace ratings have outperformed those with lower ones. However, we can all manipulate data and hence we need to know how many runners were in each of the two pace brackets. Fortunately we have a relatively even split as the table shows:

 

4 race totals for all runners

Win SR%

% of actual runners in all races

Between 4 and 9 36% 48.5%
Between 10 and 16 64% 51.5%

 

To clarify this means that horses with a pace total of 10 or higher (from their last four runs) have won 64% of all races from 51.5% of the total runners. Hence, as we would have hoped, horses with higher pace ratings do perform better in 5f handicaps than lower pace rated horses. In reality if ‘pace’ made no difference whatsoever then these horses should be winning 51.5% of races not 64% - in reality, they are roughly 1.25 times more likely to win than statistically they ought.

So, it’s time now to start looking at the other 265 races to see whether the statistical patterns noted in this article are replicated over a bigger sample. At present we can make the following observations:

 

  1. Front runners have a huge edge in 5f handicaps
  2. Top pace rated runners (using the last four races) have a relatively low strike rate but have shown a 20% profit to BSP
  3. Top pace rated runners have taken the early lead around 40% of the time (led or raced prominently in just under 80% of races)
  4. Top pace rated runners have a much better strike rate in races where the top four pace rated runners produce an average of less than 12
  5. Top pace rated runners have a much better strike rate in races where they have a 2 point or bigger gap to the second pace rated horse
  6. Horses pace rated 10 win almost twice as often as those rated 9 or lower

*The fifth and final part in this series can be found here*

- Dave Renham

 

 

The Importance of Pace in 5f Handicaps: Part 3

In my first two articles I looked at pace in five-furlong handicaps focusing primarily on courses, writes Dave Renham.

Part 1, which then links to Part 2, can be found here.

The data suggest that some courses offer a much stronger pace edge than others. However, all the research points to the fact that front runners in 5f handicaps have a definite edge almost regardless of where the race is being run. When I say ‘definite edge’ perhaps I should clarify that front runners win far more often than statistically one might expect.

To recap, when I talk about pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race and positions the horses take up in the opening couple of furlongs. As mentioned before the Geegeez website splits pace data into four groups - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. These groups are assigned numerical values – led gets 4 points, prominent 3, mid division 2 and held up 1. When I used to tip ‘back in the day’, I created similar pace figures, but used values from 5 to 1, and also used the last six runs rather than the last four. I don’t think there will ever be a ‘perfect’ method for creating pace figures, but I am sure the Geegeez method is as good as any.

Horses on the Geegeez racecard pace tab (data view) have their last four UK/Ire runs highlighted, with the most recent run to the left and each horse has an individual total for their last four runs. Hence the highest last four races pace total a horse could achieve is 16 (four 4s), while the lowest is 4 (four 1s). This is assuming of course that they have had at least four career runs.

With such an advantage in 5f handicaps it makes sense to investigate ways of trying to successfully predict the front runner. One starting point would simply be to look at the horse’s combined pace figures in the race in question and choose the horse with the highest figure. Let us look at a recent example to help make this idea clearer to the reader. The race was run on the 31st May at Hamilton – it was a 5 furlong handicap with 7 runners. Pre-race the 7 runners had the following pace totals:

 

5f sprint pace tab example

5f sprint pace tab example

 

One difficulty for predicting the front runner in this particular race was that you had three horses at the top with very close figures. Also none of the runners had led a race early in more than one of their last four starts meaning that they were not ‘out and out’ front running trail-blazers. As the race panned out, the three most likely front runners took up the first three positions early on: Jabbarockie led narrowly to Jacob’s Pillow who in turn raced just ahead of Dapper Man. Hamilton’s 5f favours front runners reasonably strongly, as can be seen from the green pace ‘blobs’ in the image, and not surprisingly perhaps the winner and runner up came from these three.

As we can see, this race panned out in a very similar way to how the pace figures had predicted it would. However, correctly predicting the front runner of the top three rated was clearly not ‘a given’. This of course is one of the problems with blindly going for the highest rated pace horse. Having said that, one would expect the highest rated pace horse to lead far more often than the lowest rated pace horse! My aim is to look at this idea in more detail in the future.

For this article I am using a slightly more simplistic approach. I am focusing on the most recent race only. To begin with I looked at horses that gained a pace figure of 4 (by leading early) last time out in a 5f handicap to see what pace figure they achieved in their very next run. I was hoping of course that a decent percentage led early on next time out. Here are my findings:

Pace figure

Your first 30 days for just £1

(next run after leading over 5f LTO)

4 3 2 1
% of runners 42.5% 39.2% 8.3% 10.0%

 

This is quite encouraging with 42.5% of runners leading on their very next start. In addition less than 20% of them raced midfield or further back in the pack early on. At this juncture, it should be noted that horses that were taken on for the lead last time out scored slightly lower in terms of leading next time (led roughly 34% of the time). These are the horses that gained comments such as ‘with leaders’, ‘disputed lead’ etc – for the record these runners still gain a 4 score for these comments.

I then looked at the data for horses that had gained a 4 pace score last time out in 6f handicaps. 6f races are still considered sprints, and the front runner generally has an edge in these races too. However, this edge is less strong than it is over 5f. I was intrigued however to see how the next time out figures panned out – would last time out front runners, lead again? This is what I found:

Pace figure

(next run after leading over 6f LTO)

4 3 2 1
% of runners 31.0% 44.4% 12.5% 12.1%

 

Down to around 1 in 3 who managed to lead next time, although 75% either led or tracked the pace (which I guess can be taken as a positive). The figures for horses that were taken on for the lead last time out again scored lower (just 21% of these runners led next time).

It seems sensible given this initial data to concentrate on 5f handicaps for the remainder of this article. This does not mean we cannot gain a pace edge over other race distances too, but I feel the front running bias works best over the minimum distance of 5f.

My next port of call was to look at horses that had gained a pace score last time out in 5f handicaps of 1 – these are the horses that raced at the back of the pack LTO. I was hoping to see that they predominantly raced at the back of the pack early on in their next run, or at least did not lead early very often. This is what I found:

 

Pace figure (next run after a pace score of 1 LTO over 5f) 4 3 2 1
% of runners 7.9% 35.5% 22.1% 34.5%

 

Interestingly a pace score of 3 has been achieved the most, although a score of 1 was not far behind. Pleasingly from a research point of view only 8% of runners that were held up at the back LTO scored a 4 and led early on their next start. The stats suggest therefore that horses that gained a 4 pace score LTO in 5f handicaps are over 5 times more likely to lead next time out than horses that gained a 1 pace score.

There are of course many factors that determine how likely a horse is to lead – not just their pace score over their last four runs, or their pace score LTO – but as I have alluded to earlier the pace competitiveness of the other runners in the race. One huge factor that has to be taken into account is the draw at certain courses. If we look at Chester over 5f one can see that it is extremely difficult to lead from a wide draw. In handicaps with 8 or more runners horses from the top third of the draw have managed to take the early lead just 13% of the time. This drops to a measly 7.5% when there have been 10 or more runners. Chester is not unique in that respect either – Beverley in 5f handicaps (10 runners or more) has seen the top third of the draw lead early just 16% of the time whereas the bottom third of the draw has assumed an early advantage 52% of the time. Thus the draw must be factored in at some courses.

I looked next at whether leading in a bigger field made it more likely you would lead next time – my theory being that to lead a bigger field would need more early pace than if you were running in a smaller field. I looked at 5f handicaps with 12 runners or more, and it should be noted that if the race had split into more than one group, I chose the overall leader only. However, the figures virtually matched the overall 5f figures as the table below shows:

Pace figure (next run after leading over 5f LTO in a 12+ runner race) 4 3 2 1
% of runners 42.4% 39.8% 7.6% 10.2%

 

My next port of call was looking at horses that had won a 5f handicap LTO by making all the running – these runners earn comments such as ‘made all’, ‘made most’, ‘made virtually all’, etc. My theory was that horses in form that had led LTO were more likely to lead on their very next start. This time, the data backed up the theory:

Pace figure (next run making all or making most over 5f LTO) 4 3 2 1
% of runners 51.2% 36.8% 4.8% 7.2%

 

For the first time we exceed the 50% mark in terms of horses that lead.

Perhaps at this juncture it is worth elaborating on why being able to predict the front runner in 5f handicaps is worth the effort. It has been noted that front runners win more often than they should statistically, but the key point is that they potentially offer huge profits. Now clearly you are never going to be able to predict the front runner all the time, but the higher percentage you achieve, the greater your chances of making decent long term returns.

Finally in this article I want to offer another approach in terms of trying to predict the front runner in 5f handicaps – this is simply focusing on individual horses that traditionally have shown a desire to lead early. Now, this is likely to limit your potential bets considerably but if you were able to create a list of say 25 such horses you would have a good chance of turning the stats in your favour. Let me look at one such horse – Bosham. At the time of writing (June 1st 2018), Bosham has raced 67 times in his career and has led early in 41 of those races – this equates to 61.2% of the time. We can improve upon this by digging a bit deeper into his record: it improves to 63.8% in 5f races; in 5f races in single figure fields (9 or less runners) this improves to 71.4% (from 21 races); in 5f races running round a bend this improves to 76% (from 25 races).

Bosham last raced on the 31st May at Chelmsford over 5f. This race was also a good example of when the Geegeez pace stats for the last four runs have worked perfectly. These were the runners in the race with their pace totals:

 

Bosham was a very likely leader on a speed-favouring track, and prevailed at 7/1

Bosham was a very likely leader on a speed-favouring track, and prevailed at 7/1

 

Bosham looked the most likely front runner having led in each of his last four starts and so it proved. Of course if you had looked at his career record this would also have pinpointed him as a likely front runner. Another positive was that he had a decent draw in 4 which meant he was close to the favoured inside rail. As it turned out, Bosham led early and went on to win relatively unchallenged at 7/1. For the record the joint-second rated pace runner, Crosse Fire, a 16/1 shot, raced in second early on before fading into fourth in the final furlong.

The data in this article cements the fact that early pace is be a highly significant factor in horseracing, and 5f handicaps in particular. Geegeez Gold offers users the insight for any race within the Pace tab, and subscribers are strongly encouraged to take some time to get to grips with it. Such time investment is quite likely to generate a robust financial return.

***Part 4 can be viewed here***

- Dave Renham

p.s. if you're not yet a Gold subscriber, you can get a taster of the pace functionality either by registering as a free user and checking the pace in our free Gold races (up to six daily), or you can take a 30 day trial for £1. Click here to start your trial.