Regular readers will know of my interest in the impact of run style and, in this article, six National Hunt trainers come under the spotlight as I look for running style patterns which might lead to profitable angles, writes Dave Renham. The trainers in question are Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O’Neill, Donald McCain, Venetia Williams and Alan King. I have looked at data between January 1st 2015 and December 31st 2021, seven years in total.
Before I start in earnest, however, a quick recap of running styles for all new readers and how Geegeez can help with understanding them.
The first furlong or so of any race sees each horse take up its early position and soon the horses settle into their racing rhythm. Normally these positions do not change too much for the first part of the race. The position each horse takes early can be matched to a running style - www.geegeez.co.uk has a pace section on its racecards that highlights which running style each horse has taken up early in a race. There are four run style groups, as follows:
Led – horses that take the early lead (the front runner). In National Hunt racing you generally get just one front runner, but occasionally there may be two or more horses disputing the early lead;
Prominent – horses that track close behind the leader(s);
Mid Division - horses that take up a more midfield position;
Held Up – horses that are held up near to or at the back of the field.
These running styles are assigned a numerical figure ranging from 4 to 1; Led gets 4, Prominent 3, Mid Division 2 and Held Up 1. Having numbers assigned to runners helps greatly with analysis as you may have seen in previous articles.
Run Style Analysis: All races
To begin with, let's take a look at all National Hunt races combined, breaking down the running styles of all horses for each of our six trainers. Connections, most notably the trainers, can clearly have a significant influence on the running style of their horses: most will give instructions to their jockeys before the race telling them how they would prefer the horses to be ridden.
Below, the table shows which percentage of each trainer's runners displayed one of the four running styles. I have included the figure for ALL trainers (1527 trainers combined!) as the 'control':
As can be seen there is quite a contrast; both Alan King and Jonjo O’Neill are clearly largely averse to sending their runners into an early lead. In contrast Donald Mc Cain, Venetia Williams and, to a lesser extent, Paul Nicholls seem happy to send a decent proportion of their runners to the front early.
In terms of their success with early leaders / front runners – all of them exceed 20% when it comes to strike rate (see graph below). For the record, 20% is the average winning figure for front runners in all National Hunt races.
Henderson and Nicholls have a simply stunning record with front runners – a strike rate for both of pushing 40%. Now I have mentioned before that if as punters we had access to a crystal ball pre-race to see which horse would be taking the early lead, it would be a license to print money. Here are the hypothetical profit/loss figures for the front runners of the six trainers to once again prove that point:
Combining all trainers in the list would have yielded an SP profit of £394.91 to £1 level stakes. Now, as we know, predicting which horse is going to take the early lead is far from an exact science. However, with some detailed analysis of the trainers in the race, as well as the horses concerned there will be opportunities to maximise our chances of nailing down the likely front runner.
Run Style Analysis: Chases
I have noted in previous pieces that front runners in chases make the biggest profits in terms of National Hunt racing, so let us see how our six trainers perform in these races. Here are their win strike rates with front runners in chases. In the table I have included their All races front running SR% to facilitate comparison:
Similar figures for each trainer although Alan King’s figure drop about 5%.
And here are the hypothetical profits from identifying and backing these front runners in chases over the course of the seven years in the sample:
All six trainers would have been in profit to SP – a combined profit of £350.38 to £1 level stakes indicates why chases are so ‘front runner’ friendly.
I have also looked at the percentage of their runners which displayed a front running style in chases – as with the All Race data I shared earlier, two trainers (King and O’Neill) are far less likely to send their charges to the front early:
It still staggers me every time I see trainers that send a low percentage of their runners to the front early. Just one in twelve of Jonjo O’Neill’s runners goes into an early lead in a chase. However, when they do, they win nearly 25% of the time (one race in four). Compare this to his record with hold up horses in chases. Nearly 45% of all Jonjo O’Neill’s runners in chases are held up early – but just 11% go onto win. It’s nuts! [For all that there might be other reasons for holding certain horses up on some occasions - Ed.]
Hold up horses do not perform well in chases either – to illustrate this here are the chase records of the six trainers with their hold up runners:
The summary on hold up horses is low strike rates and huge losses all round. This group will, of course, include a subset of no-hopers though, in relation to such high profile trainers, there will be fewer of these than for most other handlers.
Run Style Analysis: Hurdle races
Generally speaking, hurdle races do not offer as strong a front running edge as chases, but it is still preferable to lead early compared with other running styles.
With that in mind, let us review the hypothetical profits from our trainers' front runners in hurdle races:
Some good strike rates for Nicholls, Henderson and King, but not the wall to wall profits seen in the chases analysis.
It is noticeable that, as a whole, the six trainers send out a smaller proportion of front runners in hurdle races as compared to chases. This will be in part due to typically smaller field sizes in chases then in hurdles, but that doesn't fully account for the differentials. The graph below illustrates:
Alan King has sent just less than 4% of his hurdlers into an early lead despite these runners scoring 35% of the time. As a comparison, his held up runners (which account for 37% of all King's hurdlers) won just 13% of the time.
Run Style Analysis: Full Summary
To conclude, I'd like to share the individual trainer win strike rate data across all four running styles in different race types. I have included National Hunt flat races, too. These races do not give front runners as strong an edge although they still perform better than any of the other three running styles.
The table below gives a very clear picture as to why run style is so important. It shows the significant edge front runners have overall; it also shows that prominent runners perform far better than horses that race mid division or are held up.
- Dave Renham