This series on all-weather tracks continues with the second of two articles looking at the Irish course of Dundalk. The first looked at run style and the draw, and can be viewed here; this piece delves into a variety of other areas in relation to the sole Irish all-weather loop.
The track was resurfaced in April 2020 and reopened in July 2020, so for this article the focus will be on the races run after the renovation work, from 12th July 2020 to 31st August 2022. I will occasionally compare the new data with some past data to try and gauge whether there are any significant differences compared to the results from the old surface. That past data will be covering a similar period in terms of elapsed time and volume of races – 1st January 2018 to March 31st 2020.
I have used the Geegeez Query Tool for all the data collection, and hence all profits / losses have been calculated to Industry Starting Price. However, as I have noted many times before, we will be able to improve upon these figures by using either early prices and best odds guaranteed (BOG) or the exchanges.
The first port of call in this part two is to analyse the most recent trainer performance (12/7/20 to 31/8/22). One shy of thirty trainers have saddled 75 or more runners in races at Dundalk over the past two and a little bit years and so I have included them all.
It is perhaps no surprise to see just six trainers in profit; in terms of A/E index, seven trainers are above the magic 1.00 figure. It may be helpful to compare this most recent data with that from the pre-renovation sample period to see if any major changes have occurred. Below are all the trainers that had at least 75 runners in both time frames and I have compared their win strike rate percentages. The green column are the most recent:
In terms of these win percentages the figures for each trainer generally correlate; it seems that Johnny Murtagh and Richard O’Brien have seen the biggest downturn in results. However, in reality, the sample size is still quite small in trainer terms, so we should be careful not to read too much into it, well not just yet anyway.
One trainer who did make the list due to not quite having enough runners is the Ballydoyle maestro, Aidan O’Brien. However his recent figures since the resurfacing work are worth sharing: 17 wins from 59 runners (SR 28.8%) for a profit of £32.86 (ROI +55.7%). His A/E index stands at a solid 1.06, too. He had a similar overall strike rate prior to this at 27.1% (1/1/18 to 31/3/20), although he made a small loss during that period.
Going back to the original table, Ger Lyons is the only trainer to secure a strike rate in excess of 20%, and he has a couple of worthwhile stats to mention:
- In handicap races, Lyons' record reads 13 from 62 (SR 21%) showing a profit of £24.30 (ROI +39.2%).
- Horses that wear NO headgear (blinkers, tongue tie, cheek pieces etc) have provided 24 wins from 97 runners (SR 24.7%) for a profit of £16.65 (ROI +17.2%).
Before moving away from Lyons it is worth sharing his run style data in terms of win %:
As can be seen, Lyons horses taking the lead early have fared exceptionally well, securing 11 wins from the 23 runners that adopted that position. It is also worth noting that a further eight of these were placed, meaning 19 of 23 either won or were placed. The racing performance of Lyons' prominent racers has also been excellent, scoring once in every four runs on average. His record with hold up horses / mid pack runners is less good, however, both registering at under 10%.
Another trainer worth noting is Michael Halford. He has shown a small blind profit overall and his best time of the year seems to be October to December where he has secured a strike rate of 18% (23 wins from 128 runners) and returned a profit of £54.72 (ROI 42.7%). Halford's handicap runners have provided his most profitable results with a return of 33p in the £ across all such runners. It does look best to avoid his older runners, though: those aged six-plus have triumphed just once in 32 attempts.
Dundalk Racecourse Jockeys
It's time now to look at the record of jockeys riding Dundalk over the past two years or so. The minimum number of rides to qualify is again 75, and here are the top ten in terms of win strike rate:
The percentages even for the most successful course jockeys are relatively modest, but Dundalk often has big fields which is naturally going to affect the figures. Indeed the non-handicap average field size is 11.4 runners per race and the handicap average field size is 12.6. Over 53% of all races in this period saw a maximum field size of 14 runners.
Let's again compare this most recent data with that from 1/1/18 to 31/3/20 to see if there are any marked differences in jockey success. Here I am listing all jockeys that had 75 or more rides in both the time frames (most recent data again is in green):
With modest sample sizes you would expect the odd significant fluctuation due to luck or statistical variance, but in general nothing stands out too much. Conor Hoban is a jockey who seems to have enjoyed the new surface with a fairly decent uptick in his win strike rate. He is the only jockey in fact to have had A/E indices of over 1.00 during both timeframes. The stats suggest to me that he rides this course as well as anyone. Hoban has a very good record with horses nearer the top end of the market: since the re-opening, Hoban's record on horses priced 8/1 or shorter is 11 wins from 37 (SR 29.7%) for a profit of £20.41 (ROI +55.2%). For the record, in the similar timeframe prior to the renovation his mounts made a profit in this same odds group. I do feel Hoban is a jockey that would be a good one to have on side at Dundalk.
Gender bias at Dundalk?
I have noted before that there has always been a small but significant gender bias when it comes to flat racing, with male horses outperforming female ones. On the all-weather this bias tends to be a bit stronger and the recent Dundalk stats (12/7/20 to 31/8/22) are an example of this:
As can be seen, males have a better strike rate by around 2.5%; better returns (6½p in the £) and higher Actual/Expected and Impact Value indices. They may look relatively modest differences but should still be factored into your betting in my view.
The figures for male and female runners from before the resurfacing (1/1/18 to 31/3/20) are very similar:
We can see similar differences in strike rates and returns; likewise, the figures for A/E indices and IVs are virtually the same.
When I looked at Chelmsford data previously, there seemed to be a strengthening in the gender bias in the 2yo to 4yo age groups and a levelling off in horses aged 5 and above. This pattern is not really repeated here although 4yo females have really struggled winning just 5.4% of the time (A/E 0.65; IV 0.71).
Dundalk Racecourse: Market factors
With Dundalk generally enjoying big fields the overall market data was interesting to dig into. I mentioned earlier that 53% of all races have a maximum field size of 14; furthermore, over 80% of all races have been contested by 12 or more runners.
Firstly let's take a look at the win strike rates for different ranks in the betting; starting with favourites and moving down to betting position of 9th or more:
In general we see a sliding scale although the sixth and fifth in the market are out of synch: this is almost certainly one of those rare statistical anomalies. The win percentage for favourites is relatively low with the average field size the driving factor behind that.
A look at the A/E indices now:
The sixth market rank figure of 1.00 is a statistical anomaly as mentioned above. Ignoring that, the most interesting number for me is the 0.82 one for those 9th or lower in the betting lists. This group of runners (roughly 3000 of them) have actually broken even to Betfair SP. It is also worth noting that second favourites have broken even to Betfair SP.
A quick look now at combining trainers with market rank – I have looked at trainer performance with horses from the top three in the betting (minimum 50 qualifiers). Here are my findings:
To offer some context, all trainers have combined to produce a win strike rate of 20.2%, an ROI of -14% and an A/E index of 0.86. In that light, Jessica Harrington and James McAuley have performed significantly below the norm which is worth noting, while Eddie Lynam and Ado McGuinness are the top performers.
Finally in this section on the betting market I want to look at handicap races with 12 or more runners, and consider the market splits. There have been 371 such races which gives us a large swathe of market data to examine. I have split the market into three as I do with draw data to investigate the percentage of winners within each ‘third’ of the market. Hence in a 12 runner race the market position splits would be as follows:
Low 1/3 – top 4 in the betting
Mid 1/3 – 5th to 8th in the betting
High 1/3 – 9th to 12th in the betting
I have made some statistical adjustments to render these figures as accurate as I can, but there are occasions when ‘joint’ market positions exist; and, further, 13 and 14 runner races do not quite divide perfectly by three. However, I am confident these percentage splits are as near to ‘spot on’ as is possible:
Approximately two-thirds of 12+ runner handicaps are won by the most fancied third of the runners. As punters we are always looking for value, but we must operate within the generally extremely efficient confines of the market.
Sires at Dundalk
Let us know turn our attention to the performance of winners at Dundalk based on their sire. Below is a table of all sires to have had at least 100 runners at the track in the sample period (ordered by strike rate):
I think we need to wait another year, perhaps two, before we make any sweeping conclusions about the performance of individual sires on this new surface. Horses that race regularly here will skew the sire stats a little especially when the sample size is around the 100 to 130 mark. Once we get more sires with 200+ runs it will be a good time to re-examine the data in more detail. For example, the Canford Cliffs figures look vastly inflated to me when I compare his progeny record at Dundalk with long term performance across similar surfaces in the UK and Ireland. Likewise, Holy Roman Emperor is not a sire that tends to produce a win strike rate of just 1.67% - what we know of his record more generally is that he is nearer the 10% mark.
As a researcher and indeed a punter one needs to be aware that statistical analysis can have some limitations. In racing, sample size is often one such limitation, and appreciating where and when this is a potential limitation will help us in our quest to make a long term profit from horse racing. Gathering stats is one thing; understanding their relevance/importance is even more key.
Horses for courses at Dundalk
In closing, I'd like to look at some horses that have excelled at Dundalk since the resurfacing work. To qualify for the list they must have won at least four races and possess a strike rate of 25% or more at the track. Further, they must have raced at least once in Ireland or the UK in 2022. These are the horses to qualify. I have included a PRB column too (Percentage of rivals beaten):
Most of these runners deserve close scrutiny whenever they run at Dundalk, if past performance counts for anything. The five runners with PRB figures of 0.80 or higher are particularly noteworthy.
Whatharm has had a relatively poor time of it on the turf this year so his handicap mark has dropped. It will be interesting to see if a return to Dundalk will spark a return to form.
Dundalk is a track that will have plenty of racing this Autumn and Winter. From now until 16th December they will be racing every Friday, and for eight consecutive weeks from the start of November up to Christmas they will be racing on Wednesdays, too. Hopefully this article and its predecessor, part one, will help us all to be (more) profitable at Dundalk and potentially give us some pennies to spend over the festive period: it's not that far away now!