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Newmarket Cambridgeshire Handicap Draw and Pace Bias

The big meeting this weekend is hosted by Newmarket as it’s Cambridgeshire day. The Cambridgeshire itself is certainly one of the toughest races of the season but I’m expecting to highlight some fairly strong course biases in this article so perhaps the race isn’t as difficult to figure out as it initially seems.

Cambridgeshire Draw Bias

On initial inspection, it might seem as though there isn’t much of a draw bias in the Cambridgeshire.

There is virtually nothing between win percentages and PRB data for the low, middle and high draws whilst the place percentages hint at high being slightly favoured over low and middle. The highest third of the draw has a place percentage of 16.67% whilst middle and low have place percentages of 14.35% and 14.14% respectively.

The individual stall data may reveal more of a Cambridgeshire draw advantage though.

The first thing to catch the eye is the fact that 8 of the top 9 PRB figures belong to double figured stalls and 6 of those are 19 or higher.

According to the draw data line graph, which is showing PRB3 data (PRB3 is a rolling three-stall average percentage of rivals beaten), there is an increase in performance around stalls 20-24 so perhaps that is the sweet spot.

There is no rock solid trend here but it does seem a trend has been developing in recent years. It seems more often than not runners are favouring the stands’ side (high draws) and four of the last five Cambridgeshire winners have finished very close to the near side rail. All of those last five runnings have been won by horses drawn between 21 and 29.

Looking only at big field, 9f races here since 2016 there is now a clear bias towards those drawn high. Low draws have a PRB of just 0.42, middle draws have a PRB of 0.52 and high draws have an impressive PRB of 0.56.

The PRB3 line graph representing individual stall performance now shows what seems to be an increasing advantage towards those drawn high. There is though a slight peak in performance around the 12-14 stall mark as well for some reason.

The important points to note with this more recent draw data are that the top 21 stalls for PRB3 are all double figure numbers and 9 of the worst 13 performers are single figure draws. This strongly suggests we want to avoid low draws in the Cambridgeshire.

Cambridgeshire Pace Bias

Here is the data from the Pace Analyser for Newmarket’s 9f course in big fields.

It's a fairly small sample, as you’d probably expect, so take win percentages with a slight pinch of salt but it’s interesting to see that front runners dominate for win percentages. Early leaders have a very impressive win percentage of 9.38% which is more than twice the next best win percentage of 4.65% which belongs to mid division.

Given the sample size, the place percentages should give us a stronger idea of any likely Cambridgeshire pace biases. The top place percentage belongs to front runners as well but the difference in place percentage between front runners and mid division is negligible. There is also only a small drop off for prominent but the figure that really stands out is the place percentage for held up. That place percentage is just 11.65% and the win percentage is just 2.91%.

It seems that we want to avoid hold up performers in this race just as much as we want to avoid single figure stalls.

Cambridgeshire Draw and Pace Combination

This is the heat map, sorted by PRB since 2009.

And this is the same data but only for 2016 onwards.

The more recent data seems to be the data we should concentrate on but some of the trends should be cross referenced with the overall data as we are dealing with a limited sample size for this recent data.

Logic would dictate that if front runners getting the near side rail are at an advantage then leading from a high draw should be the best combination but it actually seems as though front runners are doing extremely well from middle draws. Leading from a high draw is also an advantage , but possibly not quite as much of one.

A higher draw does seem to suit prominent racers better than a middle draw though but that switches back again when dealing with those racing in mid division. Perhaps those on the near side rail that are settled in mid division find it too difficult to get a run through.

We’ve established that those that are held up do struggle to run into the places and it seems there isn’t much difference whether they are drawn in the middle or drawn high.

Cambridgeshire 2021 Pace Map

Any talk of pace biases is irrelevant without looking at the pace map as course pace biases can always be reverses depending on the pace setup in a race.

I often use pace maps that only show the last two runs but the majority of these are seasoned handicappers who have seen plenty of action so the above pace map takes into account their last four races. It’s worth noting this suggests there isn’t likely to be a pace burn up but no less than eight of these were early leaders last time out and three of them have led on both of their last two starts so it is probable there will be a bit more of a contested speed than this pace map initially suggests.

I’ve added two blue boxes and a green box to the pace map. The blue boxes show groups of runners that are likely to be disadvantaged by draw and/or pace whilst the green box highlights where the winner is most likely to come from. Based on the data from more recent years you could easily put a line through anything drawn 18 or lower so feel free to be more harsh with your own calculations.

Back to the pace setup, there is some pace amongst the lower numbers but three of the more likely pace setters are drawn in stall 29 or higher. With the ground possibly faster on the near side plus the majority of the pace this side too, I’m becoming more and more confident that the top half of the draw, and probably the top third, is the place to be.

How Well Handicapped Do You Have To Be To Win The Cambridgeshire?

This is an important question to ask. In these big handicaps you often hear about the ‘group horse in a handicap’. That’s not crazy talk either, in 2019 subsequent Group 1 winner Lord North took this race and the year before future Group 3 victor Wissahickon landed the spoils.

Last year’s winner, Majestic Dawn, is back again this year off a 10lb higher mark. Lord North, eventually rated 25lbs higher than when winning this and his stable mate, Wissahickon was rated 10lbs higher than his winning mark for this race within 6 months.

The 2017 winner, Dolphin Vista, was rated a stone higher than his rating when winning this within 5 flat starts whilst Spark Plug, winner in 2016, went up 8lbs for his victory and never rated higher.

Third Time Lucky (2015), subsequently rated 11lbs higher whilst Bronze Angel, who won this twice off marks of 95 and 99, also won handicaps later in his career off 104 and 105 with his rating going as high as 111.

Meanwhile Educate, the 2013 Cambridgeshire winner, went up 8lbs to a mark of 112 for his victory and although never rating higher, he did run to that mark of 112 several times in the next year.

So ideally you are going to need a horse to be capable of running to at least an 8lb to 10lb higher mark in the near future if they are going to have a chance of winning this.

On the subject of the official ratings, it’s also interesting to see what sort of rating does well in this race. You need a runner well enough handicapped to win but also classy enough to get into the race in the first place. This year there is 24lbs between the top weight and the bottom weight.

In the past 11 years all winners have been rated between 107 and 87 – difficult to rule many out on that for win purposes (only the top weight and two bottom weights).

Nine of the last eleven winners have been rated 94 or higher which would rule out the bottom thirteen horses as likely winners. A relatively big six of the last ten winners have been rated between just 94 and 99 and only a third of the field fall into that ratings band this year. Four of those are drawn in single figures if you wanted to narrow those runners down further. That would leave just the following runners:

Does The Cambridgeshire Suit Milers or Ten Furlong Horses?

This intermediate distance of 9f means we’ll see a mix of milers stepping up in trip and ten furlong horses dropping down in distance. Very few of these will have run at this distance last time out, or possibly at all in their careers.

Eight of the last eleven winners of this raced at a mile just before taking this contest and five of those subsequently won a race over ten furlongs or further. This probably suggests this is slightly more of a speed test than stamina test and milers definitely have a good record in this, or at very least horses with the speed for a mile (some may have raced over 10f previously as well).

Cambridgeshire 2021 Thoughts

A lot is made of John Gosden in this race. Yes he has won two of the last three renewals but he’s also only won two of the last ten, just as many as Marcus Tregoning. Gosden’s two runners both head the betting having both been given seemingly favourable high draws, although being drawn 30+ isn’t statistically as much of an advantage as being in the mid to high 20s.

Uncle Bryn didn’t make the grade to be a Derby horse this season but he returned from a 113 day break to win an average Ascot handicap last time out. He got the run of the race on a day where front runners dominated and he’s 2lbs badly in with his penalty. Frankie Dettori seems to have chosen stablemate Magical Morning over him and I think I’d agree with Frankie’s choice.

Magical Morning brings some really solid handicap form into this but he very much got the run of the race when winning off a 7lb lower mark at Sandown in July and he’s been beaten in his other five handicap starts. Given most runners need to be 8lbs to 10lbs well in to win this, I just can’t see him being a 114+ horse.

Astro King is one I had in mind for this for a while. I backed him in the Royal Hunt Cup and this 9f trip on fast ground might be perfect for him off just a 4lb higher mark than at Ascot. Had he been drawn ten stalls higher he’d be a fairly strong fancy but 17 is a bit low for me to get involved, certainly at single figure odds.

In the last six years there have been three 3yo winners, a 3yo runner up and a 3yo third so younger horses clearly go well in this. Anmaat is an interesting contender for this and has the right sort of profile. He’s 2lbs well in having beaten the probably well handicapped Faisal last time out at Doncaster and he definitely looks the sort who could be at least 8lbs to 10lbs well in. He’s maybe drawn a little lower than ideal in 22 and does have to prove he’s speedy enough for this having raced over 10f on his last three starts but he’s certainly place material at the very least.

Irish Admiral is still feasibly handicapped and has seemingly now got his act together but stall 15 is a bit low for my liking. Given stall 2, and his overall form level, I’m also against Montather and surprised he’s as short as he is. Long Tradition could be anything but the form of his recent runs isn’t that strong and he has a little to prove in first time cheekpieces on handicap debut.

Bedouin’s Story is one I am tracking closely. He did second best of those held up at Sandown in July, best of the double figure stalls in the Golden Mile at Goodwood and then again was best of those held up at Chelmsford last time out. He stays this far, even though most of his runs have been over shorter and he’s going to win soon when getting the right set up. This should be run to suit but whether or not his hold up run style will allow him to get involved is a big question mark.

I’m finding it very difficult to make a case for much else, for varying reasons, but one does standout for me at a price of 100/1 at the time of writing with a couple of bookies. Naval Commander ran in a hot race at Sandown last season on ground that was probably a bit soft, on a day where he was a bit too patiently ridden to feature. He was 6th and those in front of him that have continued to race this season have rated 18lbs, 16lbs and 13lbs higher. Naval Commander is just 1lb higher here.

He did win on his next start after that Sandown run. That was his seasonal debut this year in June. At Ascot on his next start he was third – the winner and runner up both won next time out and the 4th has been beaten by a short head since. He was then 6th, beaten a length and a half at York – the winner, runner up and 7th have all won since and the 3rd and 4th have placed since. His only run since was a close third at Epsom when not getting a clear run. He’s still lightly enough raced to prove better than his current rating. I’m not convinced this horse should be any bigger than 33/1 and even at that price I’d have made him a small bet. First time cheekpieces could do anything to him but it’s worth remembering first time blinkers did the trick for Majestic Dawn last year.

All things considered I’m probably sweetest on Naval Commander as well as Astro King and Anmaat. I can’t completely rule out Astro King based on a draw of 17 and then strongly fancy Anmaat from stall 22 but Anmaat is just about on the cusp of how low I’d be willing to go whilst Astro King is unfortunately a bit too low for me (and a shorter price than Anmaat). So my two against the field would be ANMAAT and NAVAL COMMANDER, both each way, at around 12/1 and 100/1 respectively.

Hot Form at Chester

There are a trio of horses that are interesting from a hot form perspective in the 2.35 at Chester on Saturday which is a 7f handicap.

Muntadab’s course and distance success (from stall 8) two weeks ago has been well boosted since with the 2nd, 3rd and 7th all winning next time out. The 5th and 6th also reoppose here but they were well enough beaten to not be of interest here. Muntadab is only 2lbs higher here and is much better drawn in stall 2. He’s unlikely to get quite as easy lead this time though.

The Kodi Kid was an eyecatcher in that race and he’s previously run in hot races at Chester already this season. He’s not entered here but is one for your trackers.

Mossbawn’s last two wins at Thirsk have both worked out well, particularly his latest victory. The 3rd, 4th and 7th have all won since whilst the 5th, who reopposes here, was 2nd on his next start. That 5th, Strongbowe, did best of those held up when behind Mossbawn and he should be marked up for that. He’s 3lbs better off than Mossbawn for a 1.5 length defeat and he should get closer this time around.

Muntadab, Mossbawn and Strongbowe are all well enough drawn and should all be prominent if reproducing their run styles from last time out. I’d be surprised if all three didn’t run well and there is perhaps a tricast, or at the very least a decent single amongst them. Slight personal preference would be for Mossbawn who is lightly raced and on a roll but Muntadab does have that important Chester form.