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Geegeez Gold Video #3: Finding In’s from the Reports

Part 3 of this video series takes more of a helicopter view of the day's racing, and shows how Gold's report suite can unearth some lovely 'under the radar' wagers.

Before that, if you've not yet checked out the first two videos, I'd recommend watching those first.

Click here for Video #1: The Success Mindset

Click here for Video #2: Become a Gold Card VIP

And now to today's video...

Geegeez Gold Video #2: Racecards and Form Tools

In the first video in this series, I talked a little about getting the right mindset and understanding 'the art of the possible'. These basics cannot be over-stated, and should not be overlooked. So, if you've yet to watch that video I'd recommend you do so now. Here's the link.

Now, to today's video, which is all about racecards and form tools, and getting the most out of them. Here at geegeez.co.uk, our cards and tools have a few more features than others you might be used to; they're all designed to give users more information in less time, and to help you make better, more profitable, betting decisions.

Have a look and see what you think...

“Any fool can back 35% winners”

It CAN Be Done!

It CAN Be Done!

In November 2013, I wrote the post below. It remains as pertinent today as it was then. I have, however, updated some of the information - including my own betting profit and loss - to make it current. It's a really important piece, in my opinion, and I hope you get something from it.

**

I've been reading a book by a young Irish fellow called Kevin Blake. It's about betting on horses, and specifically it's about how he made over £40,000 from betting on horses this year on Irish flat racing.

The keys, you may not be surprised to learn, were discipline, selectivity, discipline, form study, discipline, specialization, and discipline.

The book, "It Can Be Done", is a good read and it's full of strong insights.

But it might be a bit lacking in fun.

Most pro backers are serious types who spend much of their time studying the form book and video replays to eke out their profit. In fairness to Kevin, he doesn't fit that archetype at all.

If that sounds a bit dull, then I have some good news. The book was a catalyst for me taking an early look at my own betting profit and loss for the year (I normally do this at calendar year end), and the results were as pleasant as I expected.

In a nutshell, I'm showing a profit of £6,186 [2013 figure] £4,574 from my betting so far this year, 2016, on a turnover of almost exactly £20,000 [2013 figure] £6,871 (which excludes most of a thousand still sitting in accounts). Please note three things:

1. The numbers are shared as context, not (obviously) to gloat (if indeed you might consider them 'gloatworthy')

2. I love a bet, and I have lots of action bets, and I have fun with my betting.

3. I do not bet massive amounts, in terms of stake size.

I want to remind readers of my unshakeable contention that betting for fun and profit is possible, and that these two are not mutually exclusive. And I'll share some of the keys to my philosophy, such as it, in this post.

Key Principle #1: Have fun!

Firstly, I do not set profit targets. My target is to have fun. I set enjoyment targets. That doesn't mean I don't want to win. Of course I do. But if winning is at the cost of entertainment, then I might as well get a job. (You know, a proper job, not goofing about on the internet scribbling a few paragraphs about whatever tickles my fancy).

No, it starts with fun. I'll bet almost every day. Some days, especially on Mondays when the racing is generally desperate, I might have one little bet in the afternoon, or do a placepot for a bit of interest while I'm doing whatever else I'm doing.

On Saturdays, I generally don't bet much because racing outside of the festival meetings is never more competitive than it is on a Saturday.

But on Sunday, and from Tuesday to Friday, I take a keener interest in what's happening.

Key Principle #2: Get V-A-L-U-E

If you still don't 'get' this, you're completely and utterly doomed. Betting 3/1 when you could have bet 4/1 is just plain unfettered idiocy. And, forgive me, if you're still doing this, you're either very rich and are keen to become less rich; or you're a plain unfettered idiot.

Look. You cannot can't CANNOT win if you habitually take under the odds about your fancies, no matter how smart you are. (And, in case you didn't get my, ahem, inference in the above, you're not very smart if you habitually take under the odds about your fancies).

geegeez trumpets the best bookmaker offers because the very best chance you have of winning is to avail of any concession you're still qualified so to do.

Let me put it another way, and this is becoming something of a catchphrase for me. "Any fool can bet 30% winners".

Just grab a betting slip, or pull up a bookmaker site, and etch onto it/tick the box which says 'Fav'. Simple. Dull. Uninspired. And a little bit sad.

It will also ultimately cause a financial death by a thousand cuts. Slow. Insipid. Inexorable.

Actually, in Britain since the start of 2015, that number is up to 35%. So, Any fool can bet 35% winners !

Now don't get me wrong. There are plenty of occasions when a market leader can be a value bet. But simply backing the 'fav' is a mug's game. It's the ultimate mug's game. And if you do it, you're a mug. Get over it, and try something different. You might surprise yourself.

So what is value? Well, you've heard the coin toss example probably a million times. The problem is not 'what is value?', but rather 'how do I identify value?'

And here's a thing: that's an open book of a question. There is no right answer.

Many people say to quantify value, you must create your own 'tissue', or forecast betting odds. That's all well and good, but on what do you base those odds?

I've done it a few times, and it's an interesting exercise for sure. Comparing your tissue with the actual starting prices will tell you what sort of a handle you have on the market.

But generally, I determine value by feel. If that sounds cheap - perhaps even a cop out - then so be it. The fact is, I don't have all the time in the world to review the racing. I run a business akin to a (very) small iceberg, the main visible element of which is this site.

It takes a lot of maintaining. There are a lot of people involved. I have a young son and a lovely partner with whom I want to spend time. And I like beer. Not as much as I used to, but I still like it.

Time is limited for me, as it is for most people. But that doesn't mean we can't bet profitably, and enjoy the process as well. Value is key.

A Shortcut to finding value

By far the biggest blind spot in the early markets is a recency bias. Specifically, a bad run last time out can double a horse's odds. Take Bobs Worth as an example. He was 5/2 for the Gold Cup before disappointing in his prep race. He drifted out to 5/1. Had his chance halved as a result of that seasonal setback?

[From the original article]: Well, time will tell of course, but to my eye he has so many more positive runs to that one negative effort.

And, here's where the concession thing comes in, if he runs poorly again he might not even go for the Gold Cup. So, backing him at top price with a bookmaker offering non-runner free bet, feels like a smart thing to do. My entire Cheltenham ante-post portfolio so far - which is only about six or seven bets - has been struck with BetVictor, with no bet bigger than the £50 limit on that free bet concession.

Why would I bet anywhere else if they're matching the top price? To do so shows at best a lack of value acumen, and at worst, plain unfettered idiocy. 😉

The point: look beyond a bad run, especially if there's a probable reason for the bad run. Ground, trip, fitness, pace setup, missing the break, whatever. If a horse failed to get his normal luck in running - or ideal race conditions - last time, there's a good chance the market has under-estimated that horse's chance today, assuming race conditions are more in its favour this time.

[Post script: Bobs Worth didn't win the Gold Cup, but he was sent off the 6/4 favourite. 5/1? About a 6/4 shot? Any and every day, please.]

Another shortcut to finding value

Check the bookmaker concessions. Check the best odds available. And be sure to bet at the best odds available, and the best concessions. For as long as you can before they close you down.

I've got a good few winning accounts, and a few losing accounts. For whatever reason, I've only got one restricted account. [Update: I've got several more restricted accounts now]

If you don't currently have an account with the firm offering the best price, open an account with them. Here are three reasons why:

1. You'll get the best odds on your fancy today

2. They'll almost certainly give you some free bet bait to sign up (always great when you were going to sign up anyway)

3. Next time they're top price, you won't have to faff about.

 

Key Principle #3: "Let The Bet Make You"

There's this American bloke called Michael Pizzola. He writes about racing, and he lives in Las Vegas, and he lounges in the racebooks (betting shops) there. He writes very, very articulate and compelling books, and some of his core ideas are generic. One I really like is his strap line, "Let The Bet Make You".

What he means is simply that if you don't fancy something in a race, don't have a bet. You don't have to bet. You won't stop breathing if you don't bet. Most days, you won't even have to wait more than ten minutes for another wagering opportunity.

If you really must have a bet when you don't have an opinion, make it a very small bet. When it wins, you can buy a cup of tea and a sticky bun. When it loses, you won't kick yourself too hard.

That's the thing about discipline: it doesn't need to be a straightjacket. It's your leisure pound, and you can spend it as freely as you choose. But once it's spent, it's spent. Unless you backed a winner. Bet more when you have more of a view. But never bet too much.

Key Principle #4: Contrast is Key

Have you seen the Instant Expert reports on this site? You know, the traffic light thingies, with loads of numbers on them. The idea is that they'll help you see, at a glance, horses in a race which are suited by today's going, class, course, distance and field size, and that may be handicapped to win.

The amber and red box outlines are deliberately similar colours, in order to accentuate the dark green boxes which symbolize a positive profile.

The ideal situation is a horse which has a line of dark green in a race where very little else can offer much, if any, of that verdant hue. Next best is one with green and amber where most are red or grey. Here's an example from later today, 10th May 2016:

Double Czech looks well suited to conditions, while plenty of others may not be...

Double Czech looks well suited to conditions, while plenty of others may not be...

 

With the ground having changed to good to soft, soft in places; and with more rain forecast, it could easily be soft by race time. Double Czech should relish that, and has great course form too. He also has the best speed rating in the field, though that's irrelevant for the purposes of this example. Let's just stick to the colours. DC is green and amber all the way. His rivals are almost all red with occasional blobs of amber (and Zaria's impressive 3 from 3 course record).

Double Czech is 7/2 as I write. He might not win, but that looks too big. I've had a cheeky £20 on him with a Best Odds Guaranteed bookmaker. He might be favourite. I've backed the favourite. He looks a value bet, irrespective of the outcome.

 

Summary

The point of this piece was/is not to gloat about winning at betting. After all, the tools on this website make winning from betting a distinct possibility.

And anyway, let's face it, there are plenty of people out there with far more to gloat about than me (though most don't have nearly as much fun 😉 ).

Rather, what I've tried to outline is a vague blueprint for profitable and enjoyable betting.

Profitable and enjoyable betting.

Those are the cornerstones of what geegeez is about.

Finally, in case you're interested, here's the summary of my betting activities, based on a sanitized download of my bank statement (i.e. I removed the occasional non-betting bank transaction - you know, like the mortgage, and the electricity bill).

N.B. The first image is from the original post, the second from May 2016's updated variant.

Betting P&L 2013

Betting P&L 2013

 

A good year so far...

2016: a good year so far...

 

There may be some who don't believe these accounts to be true, and frankly I've long since grown tired of the trolls that hide behind their screens in cyberspace, so I won't be saying anything further than that I can assure you this is the full and complete record of my wagering deposits and withdrawals...

...except, as I mentioned above, that it doesn't include things like the £1,000-odd I have in various bookie accounts, or the £500 of unsettled football bets I have to come (placed last year, so 'kind of' irrelevant in this context anyway). 😉

I use Geegeez Gold. Obviously. I built it to suit my needs as a recreational punter who likes to win.

It seems to suit the needs of these guys, too...

 

160508_InstantExpert_FFFv2

 

160506_H2H_20to1

 

testimonial160412_14_1and11_2double

 

testimonial160412_yankeedandy2

 

testimonial160412_yankeedandy

 

testimonial160308_66_1winner

 

testimonial160221_GoldAptlyNamed

 

And these guys do as well...

 

testimonial151224_faultless

 

testimonial151231_bigpricedwinnersatisfying

 

testimonial150823_delighted

 

testimonial150812_confidenceandbelief

 

testimonial150805_helplesswithoutGold

 

I have over 100 such emails in a file, and probably twice as many again that I've not captured from email into images.

People like you are using Gold in lots of ways to have fun...

...and they're backing big-priced winners. And they're making their betting pay.

Good luck with your betting. First and foremost, enjoy it.

And if you've any tips for readers on how to improve their own bottom line or fun factor, leave a comment below, and share your investment advice!

Matt

p.s. Although I love the buzz of backing a good winner, especially one that most people could never find in a hundred years, I also enjoy converting profit into good times. That 2016 number above - £4,574 - had already booked a two week family holiday for my family to Lake Garda in the Summer (yes, I'll be trying to take a few days off!).

And last night, it booked my flights to California for the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita later in the year. It's not 'profit': it's hotels, flights, days out, calorific dinners, extravagant bottles of wine, and so on.

Again, indulge me for the point, please. The first thing is to enjoy betting on horses. The second thing is to stop losing so much, then to stop losing. After that, it's all gravy. Or jus if that's your thing.

p.p.s. Want to know more about what's inside Gold? Take a look at this page.

JOIN GEEGEEZ GOLD

If you've not yet sampled the amazing winner-getting tools and tips inside Geegeez Gold, you can take a 30 day £1 trial by clicking this link.

The Handicapping Process: An Approach

The horse's name, the colour of the jockey's silks, a favourite number. These are all legitimate ways to choose a horse to bet. Sadly, they are all destined to be long-term losers for the committed (i.e. should be committed) follower.

As a reader of geegeez.co.uk, you obviously already know that, and are probably adopting a more scientific approach - occasionally if not consistently - to your handicapping endeavours.

In this post, I'd like to offer a few thoughts on the handicapping process: on how to find a horse to bet. The key word in the title is the smallest word in it - "an" - for there is no right or wrong way to handicap a horse race. There are better and worse ways, most being better than names, colours and lucky numbers.

Whilst on the subject of definitions, let me touch on what I'm trying to achieve with "the handicapping process". I'm not trying to find the most likely winner. I'll write that again, to be clear: I am NOT trying to find THE MOST LIKELY winner. Not necessarily, at least.

Rather, I am trying to eke out a long-term profit from backing horses whose chances are under-estimated by the market. In other words, I'm looking for VALUE. There will be no lecture, or even expansion, on the concept of value in this post - it has been covered ad nauseum elsewhere, including on this blog here (amongst other entries).

A better question than "What is value?" is always "How do I know if I've got value?". The answer to that second, more real world, question can be found on the balance of your betting ledger after a year. If it is positive, chapeau, you're on your way. If not, fear not, but pledge to work on your handicapping technique.

So, here follows an approach to the handicapping process. It is not the only approach, nor will it be the best or even necessarily an optimal one. But it has worked for me, and it may work for you too.

 

Why we need a handicapping process

As soon as one engages with the handicapping process, it is no longer enough to pick from the top two or three in the market based on the string of numbers to the left of a horse's name. A majority of horse racing punters have been conditioned into that by the presentation style of race cards in newspapers and on-course race day literature since forever.

It's just not that simple. It can't be, can it? Sure, if you don't keep score that will provide enough winners to convince the self-delusional that they're in front. But here is the cost of following the head of the market, in cash terms, since the start of 2015 in all UK and Irish races.

 

The wagering equivalent of self-harm.

The wagering equivalent of self-harm.

 

Backing the top favourite in all UK and Irish races since the start of 2015 would have led to a winning bet bang on one in three wagers. And a loss of 8% will give you plenty of fun before you inevitably go skint.

As can be seen, the second and third market choices win roughly the same amount of races combined as does the favourite. But the financial cuts are deeper: self-mutilation versus punting masochism.

That is not to say that there is never value at the top of the market. On the contrary, there may often be more value there than anywhere else in the list of runners and prices. It is how we sift that decides our degree of success.

For many, bizarrely, the need for winners is predominant. A need for vindication, to be proven correct, to solve the puzzle, trumps the quest for profit. There are thousands - probably millions - of punters who are happy to "BOOM!!!!!!!" after 'nailing' a 4/6 winner (that should have been even money in any case). If you need confirmation of that, just search 'boom' on twitter any afternoon during racing.

The good news is that, for those of us who prefer to eat less often, but gorge ourselves when we do, figuratively and relatively at least, those bombastic boomers butter our bread.

 

A Process of Four Parts

The approach I'm about to set out consists of four elements. It starts in a place where most punters don't go. And it ends in a place where most punters - casual punters at least - start.

The four parts are thus:

- Race

- Horses

- Actors

- Market

By looking at the race conditions, its shape, and its apparent competitiveness, we can take an early view on whether it is playable or not. Although that view will sometimes be incorrect, choosing the right battles is of paramount importance.

A bookmaker has to price up - or at least lay pre-race market odds - on every race. As punters, we can be as discerning as we wish. Only if we like the look of a race do we have to step forward to look more closely at the horses.

When looking at the horses, we can split them into three main groups: OBVIOUS contenders, CONCEALED possibles, and UNLIKELY winners. Note that there is no "no hoper" group. Any horse can win any race: our objective is to measure a proposition in terms of price and prospects.

Or, to put it another way, to establish if a horse is over- or under-priced against the chance we perceive it has.

Where a race is comprised of horses with many form lines already in the book, most of the evidence can be found therein. However, in races where there is less form - maidens, novice events, and early forays into handicap or Group class - a consideration of actors should be made.

By "actors", I mean trainers especially, but also jockeys and, sometimes, owners. What do we know about their past performance that could impact on the ability of a horse to show a different level of form in today's race context? As a consequence of this analysis, our three groups - obvious, concealed, unlikely - may be re-shuffled.

Finally, a decision to bet can only ever be based on the availability of a compelling offer in terms of the horse's or horses' perceived chance(s). Thus the market is the final arbiter of whether a bet is struck or not.

We are far from the realms of rocket science at this stage, but the steps in the process - and, importantly, their sequence - are worth the time to outline. Having done that, let's step through things in a touch more detail.

 

Step 1: The Race

Understanding race parameters is a crucial first stage in the handicapping process. Race distance, class, the going (especially in changeable weather), are just some of the more obvious factors to bear in mind. So the first question to answer is,

"What do we KNOW about the race?"

We know the course it will be run on.

We know the race distance (give or take a few yards for unadvertised rail movements, etc)

We know the class of the race

By post time, we will know the number of runners (barring very late withdrawals).

Everything else, we perceive. We think we know. And that's fine as long as we know we don't absolutely know. If you see what I mean.

We perceive the state of the ground. The going is arguably the most important least scientifically recorded element in horse racing today. Whilst most people who bet even remotely seriously think that needs to change - as do horsemen and, well, anyone who doesn't run a racecourse - the official going remains a very unreliable piece of 'data'.

So what do we know about the going? Well, we know the weather forecast for the day, which can help us understand going changes before they're announced. And, after race one, we will know both the race time and the horses who performed well and/or poorly. From that we can make some educated guesses as to the state of the surface. In the land of the blind, and all that...

As you'll have noted, there is actually very little we can unequivocally 'know' about a race. Even things which ought to be unambiguous - the race distance, the number of runners, and, to a lesser degree, the going - may not be quite as they seem.

Happily, predicting the outcome of horse races rarely involves a microscope or an atom-splitter (whatever one of those might be). Thus, reasonable approximations normally suffice:

If there were ten runners but one was withdrawn at the start, it will likely only affect the rate of return on a successful bet (unless that horse is a key to the pace of the race - more in a mo). If the race was advertised as six furlongs, but a rail movement added ten yards, only in the closest finish will that have a material impact.

When it comes to going, we should rely on our own awareness more than the official report. If the going is reported as good, but we know it has been raining for three hours in the morning (or is forecast to do so), then we do not need to wait for the revised going statement after race one, nor for the further revision after race two. Successful handicapping is about leading not following, and about taking calculated risks others might not take.

"About what can we have a reasonable opinion in the race?"

There are three things about which I want to have a reasonable opinion if I'm betting in a race. First, competitiveness: how many horses are coming into the race with obvious credentials? Are there horses with 'back class'?

Based on the first point, do I think the favourite/head of the market is opposable?

Unrelated to points one and two, is there a distinct shape to the pace in the race?

Looking at your average race card, either in the newspaper, race programme, or online, won't reveal much. But there are some tools - and of course Geegeez Gold is one - that offer a lot of answers to these questions.

Competitiveness

The answer to the competitiveness question can be found on this site most simply in a view called Instant Expert. Here's an example of a competitive-looking race. [N.B. What looks competitive may not transpire that way; and, of course, the converse is also true].

 

Lots of green and amber on the Instant Expert suggests many are suited by conditions

Lots of green and amber suggests many are suited by conditions

 

This is a form profiling tool which aims to visualize the historical performance of all runners in a race against today's conditions. The presence of a significant amount of green and amber implies that this could be a competitive race, whereas what we may ideally be interested in are races that look uncompetitive at first glance. As I've said, they may not turn out that way, but it is a better starting point, especially when the market leader(s) is/are not ideally suited to conditions.

Here's an example of an ostensibly less competitive race:

 

Lots of red, not much else, implies one or two might be better suited than the rest.

Lots of red, not much else, implies one or two might be better suited than the rest.

 

In this instance, one horse - Most Honourable - looks significantly better suited to conditions than its rivals. Note that the example is based on 'win' data, where 'place' data may give a more rounded perspective.

At this stage it is important to say that I don't restrict my betting solely to uncompetitive races, for two reasons: firstly, there are plenty of other ways to whittle a field; and secondly, I'd have no problem with backing more than one horse in a race, if the prices were right.

There is more on Instant Expert and the contrast principle here.

'Opposability'

The next opinion I want to form is whether the top of the market should sensibly be opposed. The key to value often lies in spotting a weak or false favourite. If there are solid reasons for looking beyond a 2/1 market leader, there could be plenty to go at elsewhere in the field.

We're wandering into element two, horse form, here so let's sit tight a while longer but, as you can imagine, the elements are intrinsically linked.

Race Shape

It is amazing to me that, even in 2016, most British and Irish punters don't give the shape of a race a second thought. Some will talk about draw bias in flat races, but generally without any real awareness of the difference between draw, pace and track biases.

Most however won't even go that far. Again, as a geegeez.co.uk reader, you can consider yourself ahead of many putting cash into the market, and you are hopefully already looking at the influence of pace in shaping a race. Geegeez Gold has two tools currently - soon to be improved/combined - for looking at pace and draw.

Let's take a look at some draw data for the five furlong distance around Chester's famously tight bullring circuit.

 

A very strong draw bias exists at the five furlong distance around Chester's track

A very strong draw bias exists at the five furlong distance around Chester's track

 

The top chart and table displays the draw information in thirds, the bottom view shows the individual draw output. Both reveal an almost linear relationship between proximity to the rail and chance of, in this case, getting placed (note the dropdowns on the charts are set to place%).

A low draw then can be considered an advantage at Chester, especially when amplified by a pace-pressing run style. The Geegeez Gold pace tab reveals the early running position of the field in their last four UK or Irish races. Here's the Gold pace view for the same race, sorted by draw.

 

A low draw and prominent run style is favoured at Chester

A low draw and prominent run style is favoured at Chester

 

This view looks complicated but it's really not. It shows, on the left hand side, the runner number, draw position, recent form figures, silks, horse name, trainer and jockey names; and on the right side, the last four pace scores (LR = last run, 2LR = second last run, etc), the total score, the percentage of the pace in the race, the master speed rating, and current odds.

Pace scores are from 4 to 1, as follows: 4 led, 3 prominent, 2 mid-division, 1 held up. Thus a horse may be scored from 16 (led in each of its last four races) to 4 (held up in each of its last four races) for four completed UK/Irish runs.

The above shows us that one of the (almost) guaranteed pace horses - Seve - is quite well drawn in stall five. Meanwhile, the other habitual front runner, Green Door, has been allotted a car park stall in 13: probably unlucky for him.

Three things worth noting in this particular example are:

  1. The market looks quite strongly influenced by draw. Boxes 1-4, those closest to the rail, are the first four in the betting, while 12-15, those furthest from the rail, are the outsiders of the field.
  2. Horses that do not normally chase the early pace may change their run style given a favourable draw. In that context, the likes of Roudee, Mukaynis and Kimberella could be gunned from the gate in order to take best advantage of their inside draw.
  3. Although the race does not look overloaded with pace on the face of it, the prospect of inside duels could set things up for a later running horse. Based on a cursory look, I don't expect that to happen, but it is something to keep in mind when framing races like these.

In any case, what I would be reasonably confident of is that Seve, with a slow starter on his inside, will be on or close to the pace at the first turn. That alone could make him moderately interesting at around 14/1.

 

Step 2: The Horses

By now, we understand something about the race - how competitive it is, whether the favourite looks vulnerable, and how the early part of proceedings might pan out. It's high time, then, that we got our hands dirty with the form book, drilling down into the horses themselves.

You may remember I referred to three groups of runners in my introduction: OBVIOUS contenders, CONCEALED possibles, and UNLIKELY winners. A horse from any group may win the race, but this is about a rough classification of their prospects.

OBVIOUS Contenders

As the name suggests, these will generally be horses whose chance screams from the pages of the form book. As such, odds will generally be somewhat compressed. Generally, but not universally. Examples of OBVIOUS contenders include last time out winners running under similar conditions; horses reverting to well-touted favourable conditions; and runners from big stables and/or ridden by high profile jockeys.

Let's look again at our example race, that five furlong heat from Chester.

 

An open handicap, but some runners are more 'obvious' than others...

An open handicap, but some runners are more 'obvious' than others...

 

This is quite an open race, if the betting is any measure, with best prices showing 6/1 the field. The OBVIOUS horses in this race might be the well drawn winners within two starts Roudee, Mukaynis, and Avon Breeze.

With no Frankie Dettori or Ryan Moore, and no Sir Michael Stoute or Aiden O'Brien, there are no jockey/trainer entries of a very obvious nature. But that trio of well-drawn in-form horses merits closer inspection at the prices, especially given what we know about the mountain wide drawn horses typically have to climb in this context.

Roudee first. Here, I've used the new Full Form Filter version 2.0 (or FFFv2 for short) to look at course and distance form. [Click on any image to view full size, and without blur]

 

Roudee has very solid course and distance form

Roudee has very solid course and distance form

 

As you can see, Roudee has won over course and distance, and been placed second twice, on a range of going. Indeed, the win was at this meeting last year off a rating of 85. Today's mark is 94, nine pounds higher. However, it is worth noting the running line for Roudee that day: he ran loose to post having unseated the rider, and was drawn widest of the five runners. He still managed to win. That suggests he had a fair bit in hand.

And again, when second last June, he was drawn second widest of the seven runners. He has led too, so it looks as though a lot is in Roudee's favour in spite of that high rating.

Mukaynis comes here off a second place last time out and a win on his final run of 2015. He's run twice at Chester, over six furlongs and a mile, the mile effort (three years ago) proving the better effort. However, in four more recent spins over this trip, he's finished 4142, the second placed finish being the only turf start.

With a tendency to fluff the start on occasion - something which is hard to overcome at Chester - he's not as attractive a proposition as the inside drawn Roudee.

As for Avon Breeze, she's won five of her 16 five furlong turf races, including two of her last four at that range. But all her Class 2 form - today's grade - has been over six furlongs and she may just found herself outpaced early, and possibly crowded out as a consequence. Her quote of 10/1 just about accommodates that concern, but with little latitude to my eye.

So I'd still be interested in 6/1 about Roudee of the OBVIOUS horses at this stage.

 

CONCEALED Possibles

The next bunch are the CONCEALED possibles. They are usually made up of two types of runner: those near the head of the market with no recent form - in the image two up, ordered by market rank, look at Growl, Kimberella and Lexi's Hero; and those whose chance becomes evident from a look at form profiles or the race shape.

That latter angle throws the pace-pushing Seve into the CONCEALED possibles group, along with Blithe Spirit.

Scanning through these, I can quickly see that all of Growl's placed form has come in fields of six or fewer runners. This double digit cavalry charge won't obviously suit him, and at 5/1 or so he's overlooked in spite of the Doctor (Marwan Koukash, owner and huge supporter of Chester races) Factor. It's worth noting that he's generally tardy at the gate and has never run over five furlongs before. Whilst he could improve for it, the worries make him no sort of price to be finding out.

Kimberella is a course winner at a furlong further, and has won at York over this trip. He's reasonably treated on his best form, but five and a half furlongs might just be his best trip, and he also has a slovenly tendency when the stalls open (though he did ping them when winning at York). 6/1 is unappetising to my palate.

Most interesting perhaps is Lexi's Hero. At eight, he's getting on a bit now, and his form last season - debut win aside - was pretty moderate. However, that 2015 debut win was over course and distance - in this race in fact - and with similarly 'nothing' form figures. Rated 87 then, he's down to 83 now, with Sammy Jo Bell's three pound claim a further lightening of the load, to 80. But he was drawn four then, and is in box nine this time.

11/1 recognises all of those truths, and a charmed run will likely see this occasionally talented lad go close.

Seve has no recent form but may get the run of things on the front end. Trained, like Roudee, by local handler Tom Dascombe (of whom more shortly), Seve is three from ten at the trip, and has been placed in six of those ten runs. His two Chester efforts comprise a maiden win, and a close fourth in a Class 3 handicap, both at today's minimum distance.

Although well beaten in his most recent pair of runs, he has had a nice break and went well on his only prior start after two-plus months off. He'd be on the shortlist at 14/1.

Last in the CONCEALED group is Blithe Spirit. A veteran of seven course and distance sprints, this lad has form of 2411491 in that context. Drawn eight - sub-optimal but not impossible at the right price - he was down the field in this race last year, but his overall profile begs for a second chance. 16/1 grants it.

UNLIKELY Winners

The rest - Confessional, Noble Storm, Masamah, Lucky Beggar (a non-runner in any case), Lexington Place, Green Door and Snap Shots  - are bracketed together in the UNLIKELY winners group.

In the case of Confessional, Noble Storm and Masamah, it is the combination of very poor draw (15, 10 and 12 respectively) and the passage of time that undermines their chance. Masamah and Confessional actually won this race in 2010 and 2012 respectively, the latter also running second last year.

Lexington Place has run well in defeat in his only two class and distance races, though probably wants the ground a touch faster. Snap Shots is a third string to Dascombe's bow, but he ran poorly on his only start here when eight lengths behind Roudee. Stall eleven hardly assists his claim.

Green Door has been unlucky with the draw, Robert Cowell's early speedster getting stall 13. Still, his gate speed should enable him to grab something of a position and, if he can break more alertly than Masamah on his immediate inside, there are five habitual late runners inside of that one. That could give him a midfield sit, and this former Group 2-winning juvenile (when with Olly Stevens) has plenty of 'back class'.

A winner of his last five furlong race in Britain (he's been running without much success in Dubai through the winter), the draw issue is clearly a big hindrance to his chance. But, with a fair shot at getting a reasonable early position, 33/1 might justify a piece of a portfolio wager (i.e. a bet covering a number of horses in the race).

**

Phew! Recap Time

This is a long post, because I want to talk theory and practice. If it seems involved, well, to some degree it is. If you want to make good bets, based on a solid understanding of the race, the runners, the actors and the market, it takes time. But with tools specifically designed for the job, it doesn't take that much time.

In fact, if I wasn't writing and explaining my way through this, I reckon I'd have spent little more than quarter of an hour to get to where we are so far.

And remember, the first thing we do is look at the race and make a call on whether we want to take a deeper dive. Generally speaking I'd leave a race like this alone, unless it was part of a big placepot pool I was targeting (as it will be - hint hint 😉 )

But it makes for a great example race, so that's that.

OK, things move a little quicker now.

 

Step 3: The Actors

Step three is about the 'actors': trainers, jockeys and sometimes owners. For the most part this is about trainers for me. However, at quirky tricks like Chester's very tight oval, jockeyship can be more important than at more run-of-the-mill circuits. And at this particular track more than most, one owner - Dr Marwan Koukash - is hellbent on getting winners.

Trainers first, and let's take another look at the Geegeez racecard:

 

Trainer pointers galore, both inline and at-a-glance

Trainer pointers galore, both inline and at-a-glance

 

Firstly, have a squint at the trainer/jockey column. Notice the little green alphanumeric combinations? They denote trainer form, 14 day, 30 day, Course 1 Year, Course 5 Year - and are an instantly digestible measure of who is hot.

Next, look at the horizontally highlighted box. That contains the underlying data from which the green form icons are generated.

In a less Geegeez-specific, more handicapping process-generic focus, we are trying to ascertain whether any given trainer performs especially well at the course, and/or is in good form right now. The level of information here shows overall performance, but form students might care to look specifically at trainer performance with sprinters (or whichever distance range is relevant) or, on extremes of going, with runners on that type of test.

In the example above, Tom Dascombe has a lot of Chester winners, but historically they've failed to pay for the losers. This is a microcosm of the perennial punters' challenge: do you want winners? Or profit?

Dascombe will deliver winners at Chester, as sure as night follows day. But we need to know if they will pay for the losers, and leave a bit over to butter our bread. The answer over five years is that they won't, Tom D's 24 winners coming from a whopping 206 runners, for a level stakes loss of 53.54 points.

More recent evidence, however, offers greater hope. He's done well in the last year and, materially, he's in good form right now.

In some instances, a trainer's form - either current or long-term at the track - can be a stronger pointer to a horse's chance than the horse's own form. In this case, it is probably slightly positive to the chances of Dascombe's trio of runners, without adding notable ballast to the form credentials of those horses. However, importantly, nor is his form a negative.

Contrast that with the form of Dandy Nicholls and Kevin Ryan, as seen below.

 

In form, or not? Actors are important factors in the handicapping process...q

In form, or not? Actors are important factors in the handicapping process...

 

Nicholls has had just one winner from 17 runners in the last fortnight, is 0 from 7 at the track in the past year, and three from 62 in the last five years. His place record at the course hardly offers hope either.

Kevin Ryan has a less than 8% win record in the last fortnight, though his place form is consistently fair (only fair, mind). Importantly, note the sea of red in the P/L columns, and the A/E (actual vs expected) of, generally, a lot less than one. These are complementary pointers to the general lack of value in these trainers' runners.

In the future, we are planning to introduce more contextual form into these inline boxes, covering things like the trainer's record first time in a handicap, or off a layoff, or a trainer switch, or with an unraced horse, or with a trip increment, or with a last time out winner.

The form line will only display when it is relevant - e.g. if a horse won last time, the trainer's record with last time winners will be displayed; if it didn't, it won't.

Trainer form is always important. When a trainer is hot, it can be a solid supplement to a middling horse's prospects. When it is cold, it can be, well, cold water to pour on the warmest fancy. Pay heed to stable form.

**

This same information is available on geegeez.co.uk for jockeys, and most of it is available for no charge. At Chester, it is quite well known that Fearless Franny Norton is the 'go to' guy. His winner record emphasises that.

Fearless Franny, Chester's main man...

Fearless Franny, Chester's main man...

He has both course icons, and a closer inspection of the inline form box shows he's actually in pretty good recent form too. Of course, he's riding for Nicholls, so one has to balance the various forces and make a judgement call on which is stronger when they're not pushing or pulling in the same direction, as this pair are not.

In this case - in most cases - it will be the price that determines which way to go. 6/1 is a no thank you for me, Franny or no Franny.

Dr Koukash has three in this race, and he'll have thirty-odd runners in three days on Chester's Roodee course, his eleven entries on the opening day attesting to that. Owner angles are not really my thing, except to look out for well-supported horses when connections are known to like a punt.

Sadly, this info is not available on geegeez.co.uk - nor anywhere else to my knowledge - but we are starting to gather data which could be used to this end, at some point.

Trainer form is especially important in races where there is little or no horse form - maiden races, unexposed handicaps, and the like. There, how a handler has performed in the specific context is often a huge 'tell' as to whether a horse might step forward markedly on previous racecourse evidence. This post about handicap first-timers is a must read if you've not seen it already (or even if you have - it's one of the best I've written, for what it's worth).

Step 4: The Market

If you pay more than you should, you'll go skint. I could leave it at that, but allow me to expound on that somewhat pithy statement. It is basically about getting paid a fair rate for one's endeavours.

Here's a question: when you spend twenty minutes, or an hour, or however long, researching a bet, how much do you want to get paid for it?

Let's say your normal bet size is £10 (it doesn't matter what it is, it's all relative), and you have the option to get paid £50, £60 or £70, which would you choose? I think you'll probably be with me and want £70 if you have the option.

And now what if you could get paid £70 flat rate, or £70 with a possible bonus for good (counter-market) research; which would you choose then?

Naturally, you'd opt for the potential of a bonus, all other things being equal. So, please tell me,

WHY THE HELL DON'T YOU HAVE ALL THE AVAILABLE BOOKMAKER ACCOUNTS AND ALWAYS USE BEST ODDS GUARANTEED WHEN YOU CAN?!!

Note: I know many of you do, and I know many of you can no longer avail of such concessions. But, for those who can but don't, this is like "winning at betting 101". If you continually under-value your efforts in this way, you are sabotaging your own bottom line. It's stupid and you shouldn't do it. So, please, for your sake, don't.

*puts soap box away (somewhere close by, will need it again soon)*

BOG is not the only option in town, and betting to win is not the only wagering option either. It is not within the province of this post to talk about 'bad each way', bookmaker arbitrage, or any of the other free money opportunities that will get you barred faster than a rocket-powered penguin (don't ask me, I was looking for a metaphor on google...)

But you should know that there are other marketplaces outside of bookmakers. If you don't need to get on early for fear of missing the price, then exchanges are a very good option, with plentiful liquidity in the immediate pre-race period. Tote pools are less attractive, for win and/or place betting at least. But they do have their, erm, place.

Exotic bets are an excellent way to compound value, by overlaying one opinion (say, the winner of a race, or a horse to make the frame in a race) with other opinions (the second horse in the race, to make an exacta; or a horse to place in five further races, a placepot).

The more you can balance the probable with the possible, the better your chances of long-term success. That is to say, the more you can recognise the strength (or weakness) of market leaders, and consequently when to go deep and when play tight, the better the punter you will become.

But it is all for nought if you fail to take the very best odds available to you.

Let's return to our example race, and the shortlist I tentatively drew up...

OBVIOUS: Roudee, prevailing odds 6/1

CONCEALED: Lexi's Hero 11/1, Seve 14/1, Blithe Spirit 16/1

UNLIKELY: Green Door 33/1

These prices are all Best Odds Guaranteed so, if I wanted, I could dutch them (i.e. back them all to achieve the same return, regardless of which one wins) at very close to 13/8 (£10 total stake returns £26.24).

In so doing, I would achieve a minimum profit of £16.24 for my example £10 stake. With BOG in my corner, that figure would grow if the starting price was greater than the price I took about any of the quintet.

But I don't think they each have an equivalent chance, and nor do I think they all represent the same value proposition. So I'd rather gear my stakes towards those I prefer: those I think have a greater disparity between their market price and their true chance.

I actually quite like Roudee (cue terrible run!) and think he should be closer to 4/1 with so much in his favour. From the same in-form stable, Seve appeals, as well, and I'd be happy to get the lion's share of any profit jam from that pair of well-berthed Dascombe dynamos.

So why not dutch this pair with £8, for a profit of £28.18 if either wins (total return, £38.18), and split the other £2 between the rest. Dutching that trio would guarantee a profit of £1.66 (return of £11.66) for a winner.

Now my preferred pair are worth £28.18 to me, as opposed to £16.24 in the first example. Of course, the lesser fancied trio barely cover the cost of the tea bag, let alone the hot water, should one of them prevail, but they do at least preserve the bank.

It was not really my intention to go into staking, so the above is what it is: an example of how one could play the shortlist. You might choose to back Roudee, as the main fancy; or to bet another each way, or to play an exacta combo, or whatever.

This is about the shortlisting process - the handicapping process - and it is but one approach to that infinitely-faceted conundrum.

 

Final Thoughts / Summary

Handicapping horses takes in as many elements of the narrow and broad fields of vision as the player chooses. For me it majors on four elements - the race, the horses, the actors, and the market.

Some people swear by ratings. I do not. Some people follow the money. I respect it, but generally have little desire to attend a wagering funeral having missed the wedding. I will, however, look to understand why a horse might have been backed.

Others follow the top of the market, or trainer form, or favourite jockeys, or last day winners, or whatever, in isolation.

But handicapping horse races effectively is a symphony performed by an orchestra of different sections, each bringing something significant to the composition, none especially pleasing of themselves. Together, there can be harmony - and sometimes discord - but the sum of those four sections is usually greater than any individual contribution.

The above may seem complex to the casual bettor, but with the right tools, and even average race selection in step one, the process will quickly become second nature.

I built Geegeez Gold to support this handicapping framework. With help from a small but dedicated development team, and suggestions from you, our passionate user, we are continuing to build.

This week sees a big change and a couple of small changes. The introduction of Full Form Filter v2.0 - showcased briefly in the above - is a size 13 step forward in terms of filtering form for all of horses, trainers, jockeys and stallions. Less significant but still useful, we're finessing our draw output; and have finally accounted for non-runners on the pace tab, updating the pace percentages accordingly.

In my opinion, the handicapping process should be fun. There are too many dry arses in racing for my tastes. (There, I've said it!). But that most definitely does not mean it cannot be profitable. More and more Gold users are finding their way into profit, and enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

I hope there has been at least something in this outline that you can take away and try. Thanks a lot for reading, and good luck with your betting, however you arrive at your selections.

Matt

p.s. Geegeez Gold is an evolving computer form book, with beautifully presented data/feature-rich racecards, form tools, and a suite of reports. You've seen some components in this post, and if you'd like to try it for yourself, you have two options:

  1. If you haven't already, register a free account here. That will give you daily access to Races of the Day, which include ALL of the Gold features for those races. You'll also get a daily Feature of the Day - which might be a report, or a tool, or a tip. That register link is here.
  2. Or, if you'd like unrestricted access, sign up for a ONE MONTH trial for just £1, and have a play with everything we have to offer. After your month is up, you'll be billed £30 monthly, or £297 for a full year. Naturally, you can cancel at any time, and we'll even sort you out if you forget for any reason. We're good like that 😉

>>>Sign up for a 30 day trial of Gold here<<<

 

p.p.s. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to share it on twitter, facebook, Google+, or via email. Thanks a lot - the buttons are below.

p.p.p.s. If you have any thoughts, or comments, on this post, or on the handicapping process in general, do please leave a note below. I love hearing from you, and will be happy to clarify anything you're not sure about if I can.

Handicap Ratings in UK racing

Handicap Ratings

Handicap Ratings: giving everyone a chance

A day doesn't go by when a racing writer or broadcaster will refer to a horse as being 'six pounds well in', or 'racing from out of the handicap', or 'favoured by the weights'.

But what does that actually mean? And are there any anomalies that we can use to our advantage? In today's post, I'll look at handicap ratings in the context of UK racing, and try to find any related chinks in the armour of the betting masses.

So let's get stuck in, starting with handicap ratings.

Handicap Ratings

What are handicap ratings and why do we have them?

Handicap ratings, in their simplest form, are a set of numbers used to define the ability of a group of horses. Many people keep their own set of private numbers, figured out according to method and structure (allied to a hint of subjective opinion).

The reason for these ratings is to group horses together in races, called handicaps, where each animal has a theoretically equal chance of winning. There are numerous other reasons as well, such as helping to ascertain the value of a horse in training at sale, and as a means of establishing the merit of horses in different years or generations... or even in the same year.

From a betting perspective, the main purpose of handicap ratings is to understand which horse or horses might be favoured by how much lead they carry. More on that in a moment.

Who produces handicap ratings?

As I mentioned above, there are many people who keep their own records and ratings on horse performance. These are known as 'private handicaps' and, assuming the owner has some talent when it comes to rating races and horse performance, they have real credibility when it comes to betting.

The reason for this is because information from a private handicap is, by definition, not available to the general public. So, whilst in the main, a private handicapper's interpretation of a race will align with the 'official' view, sometimes there will be horses who stand out on private ratings. For example, a horse which is 7/1 with the bookies but is clear top-rated on a private handicap, may be a cracking wager if the private handicapper knows what he's doing.

But the main producer of handicap ratings, and the official rater of horses in the UK, is the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), led by Phil Smith. There is some excellent information on what the BHA handicappers do here.

How are handicap ratings produced?

In most cases, a horse must run three times under rules before being allocated a handicap rating. These runs give the handicapper an opportunity to see the relative merit of a horse, when set against other horses in the context of a race. Of course, the race conditions - distance, going, course constitution, etc - may also play their part, and makes the job of handicapping horses initially the biggest challenge... especially when some trainers may want to 'disguise' the ability of the beast in question.

This is from the BHA site again:

Once a horse has qualified to run in handicaps, we will usually publish a handicap rating for it.  A full list appears every Tuesday morning on the BHA’s Racing Administration website.

Most handicaps are limited to horses with handicap ratings in a specific range.  If a Flat race is for horses rated 56-70, for example, then nothing rated higher than 70 is eligible for entry.  Horses rated lower than 56 are allowed to run but they would normally be given weights as if they were rated 56 irrespective of how much lower than this they are actually rated. 

It would not normally make sense for the trainer of a horse rated 46 to enter.  He would have to carry ten pounds more than the weight that we think would give it an equal chance.  Any horse running under those circumstances is said to be “out of the handicap”.  It would be better to run in a race where he would have his proper weight and a proper chance.

In most races, the deadline for entering a horse is noon six days before the race. 

Once that deadline has passed, the BHA publishes the list of horses entered together with the weights they have been set to carry.  The trainers then looks at the opposition, consider all the variables and decides whether they want the horse to run in the race.  On the Flat that decision has to be taken by ten o’clock on the morning two days before the race.  Over jumps the deadline is usually ten o’clock on the morning before the race.

How do handicap ratings transfer to weight allocation?

In order to convert ratings into weight, we need also to factor in a third variable, 'class'. Class in the context of horse races can be most simply described as a range of ratings which seeks to match horses of similar ability against each other.

Each point on the rating scale equates to a pound of weight in a race.

For instance, the above 56-70 example seeks to match horses rated within a stone of each other (70, the top of the range, minus 56, the bottom of the range, equals fourteen; and there are fourteen pounds in a stone).

So if Dobbin was rated 68 and Mister Ed 60, then Dobbin would carry eight pounds more weight in the race than Mister Ed (68-60=8). The specific weight they'd carry - as opposed to the relative weights outlined just now - would depend on who was the highest rated horse in the race.

The highest rated horse, who in this example could not be rated more than 70 (except under a certain condition which I'll get to later), would generally carry 9-10 (nine stone ten pounds). The other horses, rated lower, would carry one pound less per ratings point below the highest rated.

Again, Dobbin would be set to carry 9-08 (rated 68, two pounds below top rated/weighted), and Mister Ed would lug 9-0 (another eight pounds lower rated, and therefore weighted).

Still with me? Great!

Class Band Exceptions

Sometimes when a horse wins well, the owner and trainer will be keen to race him again quickly. This is because, as you've seen above, the handicapper does not reproduce his handicap every day. Rather, he does this weekly.

This presents an opportunity for a fit and well horse to run again before being re-assessed by the handicapper. In a fairly arbitrary attempt to counteract this, winners who are quickly turned out prior to re-assessment are given a five or six pound penalty in flat races, and seven pounds in jumps races.

The handicapper may, in due course, consider the merit of the horse's win to be worth more, or less, than five, six or seven pounds. But five or six (or seven) pounds is the excess a nag will shoulder for racing again after a win but before the official rating has been assessed.

For instance, today - Monday 16th January - Niceonefrankie carries the penalty in the 3.10 Plumpton. Note the 7x next to his name, denoting the fact that he carries the arbitrary penalty prior to tomorrow's reassessment.

But do horses running again before reassessment win often enough to justify their support? The answer is interesting...

In turf flat races since 2008, horses running off the same official rating in a handicap having won a handicap last time, won 57 of 222 races - about 25% - and showed a negligible profit of 10.33 points.

In all weather races in the same time period and under the same conditions, 29 won from 138 runners (21%) and showed a loss of 28..33 points.

And in jump races the story was similar to all weather, with 52 of 228 winning (23%) but losses incurred of 72.22 points.

What I find most interesting is what we see when we compare the performance of horses running under the seemingly arbitrary penalty, and the relative performance of those last time out winners who raced subsequently only after they were re-assessed.

The former group (quickly turned out, no re-assessed) won collectively 138 of 588 (23.47%) for a loss of 90 points (-15% ROI).

The latter group (won last time, re-assessed by the handicapper before running again) won collectively 3,461 of 20,380 (16.98%) for a loss of 2759 points (-13.5% ROI).

Notice how one's negative return in percentage terms is actually better for re-assessed horses. The implication, and take away, is this: horses running quickly under a penalty for a last time out win are overbet. They win more often, but they are less profitable. So the question, as ever, is this: do you want winners? Or profit? 😉

How does weight rank equate to performance?

We've seen so far that horses are weighted according to their rating, and relative to the other horses in their race. But, aside from understanding the mechanics of handicap races, how does this help us punters turn a profit?

Let's look at the performance of flat horses performance in handicaps by weight rank, i.e. highest weight is ranked 1, second highest 2, and so on.

Position in Weights Bets Wins WinStrike P/L Places PlaceStrike
1 23619 3014 13% -4128.71 7916 34%
2 19710 2411 12% -3648.09 6403 32%
3 19527 2254 12% -3478.47 6011 31%
4 19271 2008 10% -4355.82 5686 30%
5 18888 1909 10% -3460.54 5437 29%
6 18116 1606 9% -3700.75 4767 26%
7 16861 1295 8% -4214.45 4180 25%
8 15298 1138 7% -3019.92 3772 25%
9 13271 937 7% -2883.93 3019 23%
10 11112 670 6% -3075.44 2215 20%

Look at the beautiful linearity between a horse's position in the handicap weights, and its win strike rate. Top weighted horses win most often, second top rated win second most often, and so on.

But, further, look at the place percentages. The results are exactly the same, in terms of weight rank and performance.

Of course, this by itself will not make us all rich, as the P/L column testifies. But when betting horses, or putting systems together, it is instructive to understand the relationship between weight rank and winning chance.

Another way of looking at this is to note that the top four in the weights collectively win almost half of all turf flat weights (47% to be exact). So you could expect to collect something half the time by just blindly dutching the top four in the weights.

The above table doesn't contain ROI figures, which are of course important. So let's factor that data in now.

Pos in Weights Bets Wins WinStrike SP_PL ROI
1 23619 3014 13% -4128.71 -17.48%
2 19710 2411 12% -3648.09 -18.51%
3 19527 2254 12% -3478.47 -17.81%
4 19271 2008 10% -4355.82 -22.60%
5 18888 1909 10% -3460.54 -18.32%
6 18116 1606 9% -3700.75 -20.43%
7 16861 1295 8% -4214.45 -25.00%
8 15298 1138 7% -3019.92 -19.74%
9 13271 937 7% -2883.93 -21.73%
10 11112 670 6% -3075.44 -27.68%

We no longer have the same linearity, in profit/loss terms. But look closely, and you'll note that the top weight is still the least losing horse on average. And the top three are - barring what might be a slight anomaly with the fifth rated horse - the least losing trio of horses.

So focus your turf handicap wagering on the top three in the weights, and you can expect to win 37% of the time and lose as little cash as possible from such an arbitrary approach.

Ignoring discipline, and looking at all races - turf flat, National Hunt, and all weather - in UK gives this table:

Pos Wgts Bets Wins WinStrike SP_PL Places Pl Str Win ROI
1 20310 2688 13% -3061.1 6783 33% -15%
2 17176 2136 12% -3164 5473 32% -18%
3 16876 2023 12% -3286.5 5255 31% -19%
4 16736 1853 11% -3303.9 5004 30% -20%
5 16147 1749 11% -2525.5 4757 29% -16% ??
6 15213 1471 10% -3098.5 4215 28% -20%
7 13942 1162 8% -3040.4 3575 26% -22%
8 12167 917 8% -3130.1 3052 25% -26%
9 10407 809 8% -2081.2 2469 24% -20%
10 8328 566 7% -1868 1790 21% -22%

This table covers the period from 2008, and the win/place strike rates have that same perfect curve to them, from top weight to tenth ranked. (Lower weight ranks broadly conform, though as the sample sizes get smaller, so anomalies creep in. These are not material from a statistical perspective).

Again, we see that the top three weights are the least unprofitable of the set, with the same curious exception of the fifth weight. It could be that this is a point in the market where odds are greater than they ought to be. Or it could be anomalous.

I'm inclined to believe it's a curio and, mercifully, it has no monetary merit in any case - more losing less cash, rather than actually winning anything! - which relieves me of the temptation of investigating further.

Is weight change in handicaps even important?

Weight in racing is a divisive subject at the best of times, and there are plenty of learned students of the game who will attest to ignoring weight change in handicaps.

Nick Mordin wrote in his excellent book, Mordin on Time,

"The normal sort of weight swing that occurs from one race to another can only affect a horse by a few lengths, and if this is enough to cost the typical horse you bet a chance of victory, then your bets are much too speculative".

Whilst I don't agree with the ferocity of the statement, I think the general principle is true. My own interpretation is that, given the average weight of a thoroughbred racehorse might be estimated at 1200 pounds, adding seven pounds to the burden may not slow the beast down that much.

There is however a more material point about the nature of weight in handicaps. And that is this: horses who win or run well are allotted additional weight. But horses who run poorly have their rating reduced and therefore carry less weight subsequently. But which group performs better: those carrying more weight? Or those carrying less?

In the same book, Mordin quotes a US study by a chap called Rennets Alexandria, who found a large sample of horses which were running under nigh on identical conditional for two races in a row, and always over the same distance.

The study showed that the group of horses carrying more weight in the second race required, on average, an extra three pounds of weight to slow them down by one length in the race.

Compare this with the group of horses which were carrying less weight in the second race who required, on average, a drop of 6.2 pounds to improve their performance by one length in the race.

Weight of course is only one variable, and we need also to consider the fact that horses gaining weight are generally improving in their form cycle, and those losing weight are regressing in theirs. That alone, argues Mordin, is not sufficient to vindicate such a considerable disparity between the two sets of horses.

He contests that class must also be a factor. After all, when a horse wins a 0-70 race off topweight, he will be obliged to race in a higher class race next time (at least, after the handicapper has re-assessed his performance). In that higher class race, he will probably carry less weight, but against better animals.

Let's use British examples to illustrate the same point. The first table below shows those horses which won last time out, over the same distance as their next race, which was a handicap. That next race was in a higher class, albeit carrying less weight.

Bets Wins WinStrike P/L Places PlaceStrike
6662 957 14.37% -1059.1 2465 37.00%

A one in seven win rate, and a loss in ROI terms of 15.9%

Now then, this next table shows a similar group of horses which won last time out, over the same distance as their next race, which was a handicap. But in this case, that next race was in the same class or lower, and the horse carried more weight.

Bets Wins WinStrike P/L Places PlaceStrike
6548 1249 19.07% -786.92 2883 44.03%

Here, we're confronted with a roughly one in five win rate, and a negative ROI of 'only' 12.02%

In other words, horses carrying more weight in the same (or lower) grade after a win comprehensively out-perform those upped in class after winning.

Jockey Allowances and Handicaps

Apprentice (flat races), amateur (both codes) and conditional (National Hunt) jockeys are generally all entitled to claim an allowance, depending on their ability - measured in terms of races won to date - and the conditions of the contest in which they're riding.

Some trainers consider these jockeys' allowances more than offset their relative inexperience and inability (in some cases, though not all!)

For instance, a seven pound claiming jockey on the flat may have already ridden nineteen winners in his/her first season. Alternatively, they may still be seeking their first win after a hundred or more rides under rules.

It's difficult to quantify the value of amateur jockeys, except by looking at the profit and loss tables. The most recent of these, which advertise the prospects of Richie Killoran, Kielan Woods and Lee Edwards over jumps; and Harry Bentley, John Fahy and Ryan Clark on the flat; can be seen here.

Latest apprentice/conditional jockey stats.

Final takeaways on handicap ratings

With almost half of all UK races run as handicaps, a decent grasp of the mechanics is a necessity if you aim to make betting pay. But that alone will not put your nose in front. For that, we need to dig more deeply and consider actual performance of groups of horses versus the conventional wisdom.

We've seen in the above that a horse's winning chance is directly proportional to its position in the weights, with those at the top favoured.

We've also noted that following horses quickly turned out prior to official re-assessment may win more often than those whose next run is post-assessment, but they also lose more money.

And we've learned that it is generally better to look to horses carrying more weight in a similar class race than those carrying less weight in a better class race, after a win last time out.

None of these pointers will in or of themselves make you a winning punter. But each, when factored into your own betting approach, and drawn upon as you study the cards - along with all the other variables which make racing such a glorious puzzle - will bring you closer to the elusive goal of making a profit from your betting.

Matt

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