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Haydock Grand National Trial Preview: Achille Has Claims For Form Reversal With Favourite

On Saturday we have Haydock’s Grand National Trial Handicap Chase to look forward, a race in which Neptune Collonges finished runner up in 2012 before landing the big one just six weeks later.

The off time is 2.40pm for this contest and whether it throws up another Grand National winner or not it should be a great race and a real test of stamina.

As usual I’ll be going through this race using a range of tools and data that are available with a Geegeez Gold subscription.

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Pace

Pace is one of the most crucial (and overlooked) factors in racing. Using the Pace Analyser we can see any potential pace bias over staying trips at Haydock.

In this kind of field size there is an edge towards horses that race closer to the pace.

The most common racing style for a winner is prominent and it’s interesting to compare the win percentages of 18% and 14.29% for front runners and prominent racers respectively to those provided by mid division (5.06%) and held up (7.75%).

Place percentages follow a similar trajectory which adds to the impression that there is a fairly strong pace advantage here and both front runners and prominent racers have strong IV figures 1.71 and 1.36 respectively.

We might gain further insight from looking at races only run on soft or heavy ground given the current going at Haydock is soft, heavy in places.

It’s a similar story again with prominent racers providing the most wins but with front runners having the best win percentage. Prominent racers seem to enjoy almost exactly the same advantage they do in better conditions but it is notable that front runners seem to perform better in the more testing conditions.

The fact that when you only look at soft or heavy ground races front runners perform even better and hold up runners perform worse suggests that the pace bias might be exaggerated in softer ground.

The above information is best used in conjunction with the pace data for each individual race. Each runner is assigned a ‘pace score’ every time they run based on what early position they raced in and this data is used to create an interactive pace map.

It looks highly likely that The Two Amigos is going to get an easy, uncontested lead in this race with no other real pace options in the race. Achille tends to race fairly prominently and has led in the past but he was held up last time so looks likely to be handy at best.

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If this race does end up suiting those up with the pace then Sojourn and Potters Legend could be the most inconvenienced by the pace setup.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert can give us a snapshot of each runner’s suitability to the important race conditions here. First let’s look at the place data.

Plenty of green on offer and very little red suggesting the majority of these are well proven in conditions. It’s worth noting that class data would include non handicap runs too which makes it a bit less relevant in the context of this race.

Sojourn and Notachance clearly go very well in this kind of ground whilst four runners come into this with a 100% place record at the course (Perfect Candidate and Lord Du Mesnil have both placed in all three runs here).

One of the more worrying red flags here is that Potters Legend has failed to place in two runs over this kind of distance. On closer inspection he has run well enough over a furlong shorter though.

Now let’s narrow things down for win purposes.

Another worry for Potters Legend, he’s just one from fourteen in these ground conditions. The Two Amigos and Achilles also have questionable win records on testing ground. Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate both score well across the board (disregarding race class) and that pair both have won two out of three here so the course clearly holds no fears for them. Based on Instant Expert alone they both seem decent each way bets.

The Runners

Let’s take a look at each runner in odds order.

Notachance

A very exciting prospect. He’s finished 1st or 2nd in five of his six chase starts and he’s won his last two, including the Warwick Classic Handicap Chase over a furlong further last month. He tracked the pace at Warwick last time out and a repeat of those tactics should give him an advantage here.

He’s up 7lbs for that latest effort but he’s completely unexposed at this sort of distance so it’s not unfeasible that he’ll have improved that much since his last run. There is very little in the formbook to suggest he won’t run very well once again in this race ahead of a possible tilt at the Scottish Grand National.

The Two Amigos

A consistent front runner who has hit the frame in all four starts since finishing 4th in this last year. He's 2lbs higher this time around but should get the uncontested lead he didn’t get last year and that should see him improve. Finishing 2nd to Secret Reprieve in the Welsh National last time out was certainly a decent trial for this and suggests he is as good as ever.

He hasn’t won for over two years now though which is a major concern and although he’s entitled to give his running once again, he does look vulnerable for win purposes, especially at the current odds.

His jockey, James Bowen, has been in great form in the past 30 days, generating an IV (Impact Value) of 2.53.

Enqarde

Been in very good form since joining Dr Richard Newland, winning twice, finishing a neck runner up and unseating his rider on his other start. With only one completed chase start on these shores he’s potentially well ahead of his mark considering the style in which he won (and he beat two last time out winners). He also jumped left when winning at Ascot so this course should suit better.

He’s the shortest priced contender who is yet to prove his stamina but that does also mean he potentially has more secrets from the handicapper than much of the rest of the field.

The Profiler is great for telling us the likelihood of a horse staying based on sire stats and although this could be the limit of his stamina, his sire’s offspring do have a good record over this distance with a 44.44% place strike rate. This suggests there is a good chance he stays and if he does he should go very well. He should also race prominently which will suit.

Sojourn

Not seen since finishing 2nd last time out here before Christmas having previously won a hot handicap at Carlisle.

The runner up and 3rd both won next time out and the 4th was runner up on his next start so to beat those runners by 15 lengths is quite impressive.

Trainer Anthony Honeyball has previously stated that the horse is probably best fresh so the recent break should have done him so good. In fact Honeyball has an IV of 3.52 with handicap runners returning from a break of 60+ days so that’s another bonus.

He’s got very few miles on the clock and does have to prove his stamina over an extra couple of furlongs but it should be no issue. He’s tactically versatile and another very strong contender.

Lord Du Mesnil

A possible good each way place according to Instant Expert with some strong stats for the most important criteria. He has course form figures of 112 and that includes two course and distance efforts. He’s only 2lbs above his mark when 2nd in this last year.

He hasn’t been in quite the same form this season, having not run brilliantly in either run. This and/or the Grand National have probably been the aim all season so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he steps forward from that form but he does come with risks attached given those two runs so isn’t quite the each way play he might have looked.

Achille

Runner up behind Notachance on his latest start, which came off the back of a 427 day break. Given he could come on for that run and is 3lbs better off with the winner for a half length defeat he’d have a fair chance of reversing form and looks a possible value play at the odds given his form line with the favourite.

He’s clearly not been easy to train but he’s been consistent on the track when getting there in one piece so his problems shouldn’t be too off putting. Reverting to slightly more aggressive tactics than last time out should suit and he’s very much respected.

Potter Legend

Potters Legend looked like he may be unsuited by the way the race will be run in the pace map and there were also some question marks when looking at Instant Expert, namely the going. He has won three times in his career on soft but he hasn’t won in six runs on heavy so the heavy in places is a concern. He’s a previous course winner but he doesn’t look amazingly handicapped and is yet to fully convince at the more extreme trips so there are enough negatives to go against him.

Ramses De Teillee

Beat reliable yardstick Yala Enki in November but has struggled twice in similar contests to this on his last two runs. He’s a previous course winner in a small field so perhaps the return to this venue will spark a return to form.

It's worth noting that trainer David Pipe is in excellent form at the moment, notably producing an A/E of 2.57 in the past 14 days. It’s possible that helps him return to form too but on the whole he remains a risky proposition.

Perfect Candidate

Perfect Candidate also looked a fair each way shout according to Instant Expert but he’s the complete outsider in the field. He’s gone up 8lbs for winning a course and distance handicap by a procession in which not many handled the conditions. He’s never finished worse than 2nd in three course and distance runs and the only real negative is this is a very exposed 14yo against some well handicapped rivals. If the ground was to deteriorate further he’d look a very interesting each way option but he’s going to need at least a couple of these progressive rivals to fail to give their running to win this.

Verdict

If the going was predominantly heavy on Saturday then Perfect Candidate would be the value each way call.

Notachance, Enqarde and Sojourn are the most interesting trio longer term. Notachance is really solid and looks to have a really good chance, Enqarde has a bit more risk attached but still has plenty of upside (potentially even more than Notachance) and Sojourn still looks well handicapped but was beaten last time out and does still have to prove he stays this extra couple of furlongs.

The value against the favourite though is surely Achille at 9/1. With that last run under his belt and a change to more positive tactics than were used last time he could potentially improve past Notachance, in the short term at least.

So Good For Honeyball and Dingle At Haydock On Saturday

The 2.40 at Haydock on Saturday, a handicap to be run over an extended 3m1f and shown on ITV4, looks a very interesting contest and hopefully one we can find an edge in using a selection of the brilliant data on offer through Geegeez Gold.

Pace

As with any race, pace and any potential pace bias is of great interest in figuring out this puzzle.

Using the Pace Analyser we can get a nice enough sample size on soft or heavy ground by using a slightly wider distance range (3m to 3m4f) and by including handicaps containing between 8 and 12 runners.

As is often the case, those nearer the pace tend to have an advantage over those that are ridden more patiently. This advantage is not necessarily considered by the bookmakers with several betting related metrics such as WIN PL and EW PL both showing that front runners and prominent racers produce far better returns than those that race in mid division or are held up.

Let’s have a look at the pace map for this race to see which runners might be advantaged by this bias.

We could be set for a contested pace here with Roll Again and Hill Sixteen often keen to get on with things. The four runners who are likely to be ridden most patiently in this race are all amongst the least well fancied in the market and if the two front runners to take each other on and compromise each other’s chances then from a pace perspective the most interesting runners in this contest are likely to be Lord Napier, Enqarde, Sojourne and Crixus’s Escape.

Instant Expert

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Instant Expert is always worth a look in every race, especially races that are set to be run on heavy ground as this one is.

There is a decent level of placed heavy ground form in handicaps here, Sojourn perhaps best on show with two places from two efforts in heavy. Roll Again is not only likely to be taken on for the lead but also failed to place on his only run on heavy ground. That run was two starts ago when beaten 97 lengths which is a massive worry but it was his first run for 248 days.

Hill Sixteen and Highest Sun seem reliable propositions in this race class. Lord Napier has failed to make the frame in three runs in this class and Crixus’s Escape is 0 from 2 in class 2 races.

Course handicap form is thin on the ground but Pop Rockstar does at least have a 50% place record at Haydock. Sam’s Adventure, Crixus’s Escape and Lord Napier all failed to place in their one handicap run here.

We have a distance range set in Instant Expert which is showing us data from runs between 3m and 3m2f. Sojourn now looks consistent both in the ground and at this trip with a 100% place record over these trips in handicaps from three runs. Lord Napier and Enqarde also have a 100% place record from fewer runs. Roll Again is once again a negative, as are Crixus’s Escape and Salty Boy.

Sojourn and Enqarde have both run well from limited opportunities in this sort of field size. Highest Sun, Pop Rockstar and Roll Again all get a ‘tick’ having provided more data. The negatives would be Crixus’s Escape and Lord Napier.

Highest Sun is well handicapped on older form as he’s now 8lbs lower than his last handicap win. The rest of the runners are either higher than their last winning marks or have never won a handicap before.

Now let’s take a look at the win data in Instant Expert:

Sojourn once again scores very well for both going and distance which proves conditions will be absolutely fine for him. We don’t know about the class or course for this runner but he’s potentially progressive in these conditions.

Sam’s Adventure and Hill Sixteen look largely good here whilst that comment could also apply to Pop Rockstar who generally scores well but has only won once from five attempts on heavy ground.

Lord Napier has a lot of warning signs across the board whilst it’s difficult to weight up Enqarde here with so few qualifying runs.

Other Angles

Roll Again has some interesting trainer snippets in his favour. For the distance range and last time out winners in handicaps his trainer has an IV of 1.64 and 1.51 respectively.

Three runners  whose trainers win more than their fair share of handicaps in general are Sojourn (IV 2.0), Crixus’s Escape (IV 1.78)  and Salty Boy (IV 1.67).

Sojourn is also highlighted for winning a race that was hot form. His win on seasonal debut in heavy ground has thrown up four subsequent winners and two next time out runners ups which shows that race in great light. He won that race by 15 lengths and although now up 11lsb, that could be lenient for winning a race of that depth in that kind of style.

The trainer and jockey combination for Crixus’s Escape is worthy of closer inspection. The Boanas/Quinlan double act have a 25% win strike rate over the past year and have produced an IV of 2.50. Sean Quinlan is also certainly a jockey in good current form, over the past 30 days he has generated a WIN PL of 30.25 if backed blind.

Lord Napier represents a trainer and a jockey who score well as individuals both over the long term (5 years) and the short term (30 days). You can see their stats below.

Verdict

Sojourn does look extremely solid from all angles here, representing Anthony Honeyball and Geegeez sponsored jockey Rex Dingle. It’s difficult to pick many holes in him and although he’s the early favourite, he still looks a fair price and should be perfectly positioned here. Picking a main danger is tough with many in with a decent chance but Crixus’s Escape does look interesting based on several angles.

Punting Angles: Haydock Racecourse

For this edition of Punting Angles, I’m going to concentrate on the enigmatic Haydock Park, writes Jon Shenton. Whilst the course is home to both National Hunt and Flat racing, it is the latter that I’ll be evaluating in this edition given the time of year. For whatever reason, it’s one of those tracks that seems difficult to read, racing developing on both rails and atop a seemingly unique range of underfoot conditions, "Haydock Soft and Heavy" almost becoming an official going description in its own right. The track is synonymous with horses slogging through bottomless ground in pursuit of glory.

 

Haydock Going

Although there isn’t too much of punting value in it, I still felt it would be of interest to benchmark how Haydock shaped compared to the rest of the UK in terms of the official going for races over the last five years.

The below graph illustrates the ground conditions for UK flat races.

 

Immediately, the orange bars relate that Haydock proportionately has much more racing on the easier side of good: it’s nearly four times as likely to race on heavy than the UK flat average too.

Knowing that may not directly help in the pursuit of profit; however, searching for mud-larks or horses whose sires loved sploshing around in the deep ground may be a pragmatic activity in preparation for a wet Haydock meeting.

 

Haydock Course Constitution

What about the course itself? The map below illustrates a tight loop with a straight up-to-6-furlong run. Based entirely on the map alone, curiosity is piqued with regards the draw for the 7-furlong trip. The journey from the stalls to the first bend appears to be an exceptionally short one implying that a wide berth could be a problem.

 

 

Haydock Trainer Angles

However, before checking that out and getting into individual race specifics, let’s first take our usual glance into the world of trainer performance. Using Query Tool, I'm evaluating all runners from 2012 with an SP of 20/1 or shorter. A minimum of 50 runs is required at an A/E of greater than 1 to secure a position in the top trainer table below.

 

 

There is much upon which to mull here.

Despite the relatively small number of runners, Hugo Palmer's figures offer something to satisfy even the most voracious appetites in angle finding.

Keeping it simple by analysing the yard's runners by market strength, the following split in performance is observed.

 

There is a very clear dichotomy here in terms of a Palmer runner which has been supported versus one that has not. Notably, with a place record of 70% on those runners sent off at 11/2 or shorter it has been even more profitable to back each way, albeit to double the stake.

Of course, on a sample size like this, it only takes a single 20/1 winner on the next day to create a profitable “unfancied” segment. The cliché of fine margins applies without doubt and there is a chance (probably a 20/1 one) that I'll endure an element of regret as a Palmer animal bolts up at a big price here in the near future. However, with my cool data-driven mind I’d rather sup regularly in moderation than binge excessively once in a blue moon. Albeit there is a place for both, I’m sure!

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Suggestion: back Hugo Palmer runners at Haydock where they’re supported in to 11/2 or shorter

 

Second stop on the trainer list is the seemingly ubiquitous Tom Dascombe who has a prolific volume of runners at the track.  It’s impressive in terms of pure scale but to beat the market with an A/E of 1.15 over so many runners is quite a rare feat.

Looking a little more closely, there is a noteworthy split along race class lines.

 

The competitive stuff of class 1 and 2 racing is obviously more of a challenge and it is likely that these races attract more top yards and animals thus making it tougher for the Dascombe runners to prevail even with home advantage. Whilst the performance of his charges is perfectly respectable in those upper echelons, I’m happy to pass them over in punting angle terms.

There is also a clear distinction between relative performance in handicap / non-handicap races in the Class 3 to 5 races, as can be seen below:

 

The table is unambiguous: handicap racing is where it’s at for Tom Dascombe's Haydock horses.

Suggestion: back Tom Dascombe Handicap runners at 20/1 or shorter in Class 3, 4 and 5 races

 

[As a footnote, it’s not unheard of that the yard fires in the odd big-priced scorer at the track. If you’re inclined to play with fire, there are worse places to go than a Haydock Dascombe runner to satisfy those punting pyromaniac tendencies. In C3-C5 races he has had 6 winners from 65 at SP odds of 20/1 or greater across all race types, which is somewhere between great and probably unsustainable!]

 

Ordinarily sticking with a deep dive in to the record of two trainers from the top table would be enough, but seeing John Gosden playing a prominent role means it would be negligent to let him pass by without further evaluation.

A good starting point with Gosden, Stoute, Charlie Appleby and the like is always to check performance by distance given their predominate modus operandi is to dominate the middle-distance division. Checking Gosden entrants at Haydock by race length gives the below breakdown:

 

Sure enough, sprint race performance is less compelling. Plenty of winners, yes, strong IV, definitely; but finding winners doesn’t always mean value.  Despite a strike rate of over 20% the return over 5, 6 and 7 furlongs is not a positive one. To eke out profit it appears as though an even healthier strike rate of over 30% is required. Happily, this has been apparent at distances of a mile or greater: 31 winners from 93 runs, a nice round third. A 68% ROI is not to be sniffed at either.

Suggestion: back John Gosden runners ay Haydock at 20/1 or shorter from races of 1 mile or greater in distance

Haydock by race distance

Moving on from the trio of trainers, let us now evaluate the shape of races at the track.

7 furlong races

As you will recall, I was particularly interested in the 7-furlong trip based on the course map. The left-hand bend which is seemingly close to the start could result in some interesting pace and draw snippets, with an expectation that low draws close to the rail should have the best of it.

Using the Draw Analyser Tool and combining the heat maps for draw position and field size for Impact Value (how likely a horse will win from that position with 1.00 being par) we get the below data to evaluate relating to the whole spectrum of ground conditions.

 

 

Conclusions are probably less obvious in the data above than they have been in previous articles. However, there are still some noteworthy and useful outputs to consider.

Firstly, evaluating hold up runners, there is a big stripe of red (Red Stripe?) confirming that it’s a tough gig for a horse that’s held up to win from a high draw. This also applies to middle stall positions in larger sized fields (see the top of the dotted black box).

In general terms it is spoken often that a high stall position is less relevant for animals who race by stalking from the rear as they can drop in and wait. However, these data show that adopting the waiting tactic from wide over seven at Haydock is not generally a good plan. This is surprising, or at least mildly counter-intuitive, as the home straight is over half a mile in length, giving hold-up horses plenty of time to wind up and make their move. It is hard to argue with the facts, though.

The data also appear to indicate that it’s not a productive strategy to try and secure an early leading or prominent position from a wider draw in middle- to large-sized fields (the red coloured zeroes on the table). Through watching race replays this starts to make sense. Horses sharply away from wider stalls have only a small run to get across to the rail / near the front prior to the the bend; if they fail to get a front berth quickly enough, they face the issue of being trapped wide and covering significant additional ground.

Even if they get out apace, given the proximity of the bend, all it takes is for one or two from inside stalls to be away well and it’s difficult for the wider drawn speedster. As the turn develops, our wide trailblazer has the choice of burning through more juice to get to the front or travelling further: both potentially terminal to the chances of him or her winning the race.

When investigating this, I expected a variance based on ground conditions. Surprisingly though, and broadly speaking, the conclusions work in all racing circumstances. If anything, high draws have it even tougher as the going deteriorates though data is quite sparse from which to draw anything more than lukewarm conclusions.

Low drawn and/or early pacers look to be generally the best bet on a consistent basis (the blue dotted boxes), as expected. Although, like a lot of other courses, it appears as though early speed is of more importance than draw, unless the horse has a starting position in the proverbial car park in a big field, as already mentioned.

 

Haydock Straight Track races

As noted previously the straight track at Haydock stretches for trips up to six furlongs in length.  Evaluating the draw using the analyser tool again for all ground conditions and number of runners for the straight track paints the following picture:

The data displayed relates to the IV3 calculation. I’ve picked this to try and smooth out variance and noise to help illustrate a general pattern. A definition of IV3 is simply an average Impact Value of a stall and its nearest neighbours. For instance, the IV3 of stall six would be the average IV of stalls 5, 6 and 7.

There is an indication that, irrespective of the number of runners, there is a definite bias to horses with higher stall numbers. The red and amber colours represent draw positions which are less likely to house the victorious horses. Green is good and it would be anticipated that based on historical performance horses that prevail are more likely to start from these stalls.

There is a line displaying the straightforward mean average (AVG) for each stall position which reminds me of the pH chart from my gruelling chemistry lessons in times gone by (even though it’s the wrong colour). Anyway, progressing from low to high the hue gravitates from an angry dark orange to a lovely tree-hugging green, showing that, on balance, low stalls are not the place to be drawn.

With that intel in the bank we can add a bit of spice by applying some complementary pace data.

Taking the minimum trip alone in the first instance.

 

The data is split by field sizes, and the information shown represents the IV data for each run style by underfoot conditions. The column entitled "races" simply represents the number of races that are included in each line of data. You can then draw your own conclusions based on sample size.

The field size 12-16+ (data on the left) has a limited sample size contained therein so firm conclusions are not sensible. Having said that, on a sounder surface it appears to be a challenge to win from the very rear; instead front runners boss proceedings. Whilst on the sludge of a Haydock soft or heavyTM surface, hold up (and mid division) run styles seem to be the way to go.

Is there something in that? Maybe, but I’m not sure as we only have eight races to go on for those relatively deep ground conditions. Sectional timing may help us understand these things one day as it may be that too fast a pace has collapsed setting things up for the closers on these small samples.  As things stand, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to assume it’s a true representation. Nonetheless, it is interesting.

The smaller field size data contradicts it, sadly. Broadly speaking, it pays to be on the pace over the five furlong range, where the prospect of less pace contention and, therefore, an ability to rate energy more efficiently is manifest.

Moving onto 6-furlong races, we get the following:

 

There is a little more data to go at over this distance. For all field sizes, horses that lead or are prominent early are most likely to win across all surface conditions. In larger fields there is an absolute bias to the lead horse.

 

Closing thoughts

In conclusion, when evaluating a Haydock race on the straight track the first item to look for is early speed, the second item should be a high-ish stall number. If both those boxes are ticked then it could be a good play, depending on the animal, of course.

A Dascombe or fancied Palmer runner on the straight track with early speed and a high draw would be a very exciting prospect, until it misses the kick anyway!

 - JS