In my previous article I explored the idea of using trainer systems in National Hunt racing, writes Dave Renham. This time I have turned my attention to the all-weather with a view to finding some more profitable trainer patterns.
As with the last piece I am going to look over the long term, studying UK racing trainer data from Jan 1st 2009 to Dec 31st 2021. If trainers have proved profitable over such a long timeframe then we should have more confidence that this will continue to happen. As ever, though, racing systems are only dealing with past results: those of us not blessed with clairvoyance cannot be sure of what will happen in the future!
OK, let's get to it.
Ralph Beckett – the ‘Blind’ system
Ralph Beckett is a trainer that I think punters in general underrate. Year in, year out he seems to produce the goods. He has good figures for turf racing, but on the all-weather they are even better. Indeed, let's start with possibly the simplest system one could create:
- Trainer Ralph Beckett
- All races on the all-weather
That’s it – bet every single Beckett runner on the sand. The graph below shows the yearly breakdown of Beckett's Return on Investment to Betfair SP.
The Kimpton, Hampshire-based trainer has enjoyed 11 winning years out of 13, with the losses in 2018 very small in reality. His strike rate has fluctuated a little as one might expect, ranging from a low of 10.4% in 2019 to as high as 23.7% in 2020. However, 2019 was the only year it dipped below 14.5% and in eight years the strike rate has exceeded 20%. The overall bottom line reads as follows:
That's extremely impressive at first glance. Things do need clarifying a touch, however, in that his profits have been helped by some big priced winners; but these winners actually occurred on a regular basis. Indeed, Beckett has had 45 winners priced at a BSP of 12.0 or bigger since 2009, with at least two such scorers annually, and the graph below shows how these have been spread out over the years:
Whenever we look at system results we need to ensure that random big-priced winners do not skew the overall results. This is a case where I believe random big-priced winners are not skewing the results but, instead, are a feature of the result set.
Another positive in terms of consistency is when we examine the individual course data. The table below gives us the Beckett breakdown for the six UK all-weather courses:
Strike rates are consistent across the piece, and all courses show a profit at Betfair SP. This reliability can also been seen when we break down results by month. Ten of the 12 calendar months have shown a profit as we can see:
December and January, peak all-weather season in fairness, are the only two negative months. Maybe it is a time of year that Beckett targets a little less. It is interesting that ‘returns’ wise Beckett has done particularly well in the spring and summer months, definitely something worth noting when most people's focus is on flat turf racing.
Some readers may not be comfortable betting all Beckett runners ‘blind’ so are there any additional rules we can add that do not smell of the dreaded back-fitting? Well, some kind of betting market rule may help, especially if you are concerned that the results are slightly skewed due to big-priced winners. If we add the following rule:
- stick to horses from the top five in the betting
This would cut the number of selections by around 350, increase the strike rate to 22.8% and keep profits relatively high – a profit to £1 level stakes of £291.23 (ROI +21.2%). The year by year returns retain their consistency, in fact 12 of the 13 years now show a profit using this market restriction.
All in all, if there is one all-weather trainer to keep on your side it is Ralph Beckett.
Let’s check out some other trainers now.
Hugo Palmer – the Market system
Hugo Palmer has a decent record on the sand since he started in 2011. If we use a market restriction we create a potential system to follow. The rules are:
- Trainer Hugo Palmer
- All races on the all-weather
- Top five in the betting.
Using the same market restriction I used with Beckett, Palmer’s overall figures look solid:
Using this top five in the betting rule once again means the figures are less skewed by big-priced winners, which as previously mentioned is important, but it also means we often cannot know the market rank of a runner unless it is near the very top of the betting or an outsider.
Breaking the figures down by year shows a fair amount of consistency. I have used profit figures to £1 level stakes to illustrate this:
Palmer incurred small losses in his first two seasons, but given he was still cutting his teeth in the game these can be forgiven. Since then there have been eight winning years out of nine. 2019 was a poor year but he did actually the post with several seconds that year and I think we can reasonably overlook that.
Looking at his course by course data with runners in the top five of the betting, he has made profits at Kempton, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton; broke even at Chelmsford, and made a loss at Lingfield. Again, that's fair enough consistency.
There are other options in terms of adding system rules, but this Hugo Palmer system definitely has a decent chance to remain profitable for the near future at least. Hence no need for me to change to it. You may like to research further, however!
Mark Johnston – Older horses, lower class system
Mark Johnston has averaged about 400 runners per year on the all-weather in recent years and hence it gives us a huge sample size to break down. His annual strike rate has been super consistent in recent times hitting around the 15% mark every year:
Now, most top trainers in the country, like Johnston, tend to focus more on their younger horses as they are going to be the ones that are likely to have a chance at stud (and are not exposed as moderate or in the grip of the handicapper). It is noticeable that the runners Mark Johnston (and joint-licence holder son, Charlie) keeps in training past three years old perform well as a whole on the all-weather. They make up only 23% of his runners on the sand, but if backing all such runners (4yo and up) ‘blind’ they would have broken even over the past 13 years. The route to profit seems to be in lower class races, Class 5 or below. Hence the system reads:
- Trainer Mark (and Charlie) Johnston
- 4yo+ running on the all-weather
- Class 5, 6 or 7
Running older horses in lower class races is relatively rare for trainers like Johnston but the overall stats still look promising:
A good strike rate edging towards one win in four, and returns of 32p in the £ are appealing. Let's break the data down by year and, as always, we are looking for consistency. The graph uses profit figures to £1 level stakes:
Overall there have been decent results across the piece, with just three losing years. 2020 could have been impacted by COVID so that is something that potentially we might take into account. Another positive is that in the same time frame this ‘system’ would have made a profit for Johnston in turf flat racing too; not as big a profit, but a positive return nonetheless. Hence I am hopeful that this angle should offer a good chance of making further profits in the future.
Charles Hills – Fancied Males system
It should be noted that male horses outperform female ones on the all-weather, with overall figures for all horses from all trainers seeing males win 11.8% of the time, females only 9.1%. There is a much bigger discrepancy though when you look at the runners of Charles Hills splitting them by gender. His male runners have won 19.3% of the time, whereas female runners have triumphed just 11.4% of the time. Hence the Hills gap looks extremely significant.
So here is another potential system in which we are using a limited number of rules. Again I want to implement the same market rule as I have used previously to avoid the bigger-priced winners skew dilemma. Hence our system reads:
- Trainer Charles Hills
- All races on the all-weather
- Top five in the betting
- Male horses only
His results, like Hugo Palmer’s, only go back to 2011 but the basic figures look strong:
He has seen a good strike rate as you would expect with a system that uses market factors as one of its rules. Decent returns, too, of around 26p in the £.
Once again though we need to look at the yearly data in a bid to establish consistency. Broken down this time by BSP ROI%:
2011 looks bad but he had only six runners in that first season with a licence, and all lost, hence the -100% ROI. We can see a subsequent steady improvement over time with 2012 to 2014 essentially breaking even, while every year from 2015 to 2021 has ended up with positive returns.
I had a sneaky look at his results so far in 2022, and at the time of writing (7th March), the system has generated 20 qualifiers, 10 of which have won (SR 50%) showing a BSP profit of £15.31 (ROI +76.55%). The signs remain very promising.
The beauty of all-weather racing is that it happens all year round and hence these four systems can potentially be exploited regardless of whether the main focus is on National Hunt or flat turf racing: we can just carry on finding nice winners on the sand!
That's all for this article. If you have any system ideas you’d like me to investigate, please leave a comment below.