As we move into the Autumn it is time to switch attention to pace angles and biases in National Hunt racing and specifically at individual National Hunt courses, writes Dave Renham.
As I have noted many times before, when I talk about pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race and the position horses take up early on. The racecards on this site have a pace map for each race, as well as a tool to research pace bias, and the stats I am sharing with you in this article are based on the site’s pace data.
The pace data on Geegeez are split into four groups – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets is the pace score assigned to each group.
For this article I am concentrating on data going back to 2009 and, unless otherwise stated, on races of eight or more runners. Again the main focus will be handicap races, but often I will dip into non-handicap data too. Newton Abbot is the first course to be coming under the spotlight.
The course is a tight 1m2f oval with longish straights and is considered to be sharp in nature. The hurdle course has five obstacles, two of them in the home straight. One of the five hurdles is jumped on the first circuit only:
The chase course has seven fences with three flights quite close together in the back straight and 2 further flights in the home straight.
Newton Abbot Hurdle Pace Bias
They race at four distances over hurdles at Newton Abbot: 2m 1f, 2m 2½f, 2m 5½f and 3m 2½f.
Our first port of call is the shortest of the four distances.
Newton Abbot 2 miles 1 furlong Handicap Hurdle Pace Bias
Here is the handicap hurdle breakdown (8+ runners):
We have a level playing field here: hold up horses (the '1' group) are a slight disadvantage, but it is relatively minor.
Newton Abbot 2 miles 1 furlong Non-Handicap Hurdle Pace Bias
In non-handicaps the picture is slightly different as we can see:
Front runners have a much better record in terms of win percentage and Impact Value, but before we get too carried away the A/E values across the board suggest there is no real value in front runners. This is because generally such races are less competitive and often those at the front tend to be the more fancied runners. This simple graph shows a pictorial comparison of A/E values in non-handicap races. The pace values are on the horizontal axis.
I have looked in more detail at these non-handicap races in terms of ground conditions. When the going is fast (good to firm or firmer) things look like this:
There are only 19 races in the sample but there emerges a pace bias, with front runners clearly doing best. Prominent racers have a reasonably good record also, while horses positioned mid-division or held up early seem to struggle. Despite the sample size being small, there is good correlation between the SR%s, EW%s, A/E and IV figures which gives me more confidence in the hypothesis.
When we look at the data on softer ground (good to soft or softer) the picture is quite different:
We have 25 races with softer underfoot conditions and it points to the complete reverse of the fast ground output. The bar chart below offers a pictorial comparison of the A/E values. The blue bars represent firmer ground, the orange softer ground.
In summary, the most interesting pace angle in non-handicap hurdles at 2m1f seems to be connected with the going. Firmer ground seems to favour pace horses; softer ground seems to favour horses that are patiently ridden, more especially those that race midfield (though the place percentages mean the softer ground arena is less concrete).
Newton Abbot 2 miles 2½ furlongs Handicap Hurdle Pace Bias
It should be noted that when analysing this trip on Geegeez using either the Pace Analyser or the Query Tool, you need to set the distance parameters to 2m2f to 2m4f. This is because within those tools races beyond two miles are grouped together in quarter mile distance brackets.
Here is the handicap hurdle breakdown (8+ runners):
As with the minimum distance handicap hurdles, we see a fairly even spread of run styles with no edge to any particular group.
Newton Abbot 2 miles 2½ furlongs Non-Handicap Hurdle Pace Bias
In non-handicaps the pattern is similar with no clear edge to any pace section; however, hold up horses have really struggled as the table below shows:
A 2.1% strike rate for hold horses with a very low A/E value of 0.35 suggests we want to avoid these runners at all costs. The place percentage is also well below other run style groups.
Newton Abbot 2 miles 5½ furlongs Handicap Hurdle Pace Bias
There have been 113 races over this trip since 2009, so this represents the biggest sample to date:
A bigger sample and a very consistent set of results: the A/E values range between 0.81 to 0.87, while the strike rates - both win and place - are similar also. There is little to report then pace wise, although when the going gets soft or heavy, (which is rare at Newton Abbot as the vast majority of their meetings are run between April and September), hold up horses have won 6 of the 14 races.
Newton Abbot 2 miles 5½ furlongs Non-Handicap Hurdle Pace Bias
Non-handicap races over this trip are less prevalent (49 in total) and here are the pace stats:
In such races there seems to be a slight edge for front runners, but it is not a potentially profitable angle. Those coming from the latter half of the field have a poor record which, as previously stated, may be at least in part to do with a relative ability limit.
Newton Abbot 3 miles 2½ furlongs Handicap Hurdle Pace Bias
On to the longest distance for hurdle races at Newton Abbot and at this range there have been just handicap races (48 with 8+ runners in total). Again due to the use of distance range brackets when looking on Geegeez you need to select races of between 3m2f and 3m4f to catch all the qualifying races:
At this longer trip, front runners have a clear edge and you would have made a small profit if backing them blindly at SP. The A/E value of 1.3 is a decent one, although we need to be slightly careful as the place percentage is less impressive/consistent.
Newton Abbot Hurdle Pace Bias: Summary
At Newton Abbot over hurdles you generally have to dig a little bit to find pace angles. In my opinion these are the four most promising:
- In non-handicap hurdle races over 2m1f, front runners have the advantage on good to firm or firmer going.
- In non-handicap hurdle races over 2m1f, horses coming from off the pace have the advantage on good to soft or softer ground, more especially those that race mid division.
- In non-handicap hurdle races over 2m2½f, horses that are held up are at a big disadvantage.
- In handicap hurdle races over 3m2½f, front runners have a solid advantage.
Newton Abbot Chase Pace Bias
They run over three distances the shortest of which is just more than two miles:
Newton Abbot 2 miles ½ furlong Handicap Chase Pace Bias
There are not many races in total but here is the breakdown for handicap races with 8 or more runners:
From this small data set it appears that horses that race up with or close to the pace have an edge. This is a common trend across most courses for handicap races over a shorter distance. Hold up horses have a very poor record with a win strike rate of just 3.45% and an A/E of just 0.28).
Before moving on I thought it would be interesting to compare the A/E values in 2m1f handicap hurdle races with 2m ½f handicap chases. The blue bars are handicap hurdle, orange are handicap chases:
The upward sloping nature of the orange bars helps to illustrate the much stronger pace bias that exists to front runners in handicap chases than hurdlers at this shorter distance.
At Newton Abbot, handicap races over this distance often see smaller fields so below are the handicap data for seven runner or less handicaps too.
We see a similar trend here, though the pace edge is not as strong in races with fewer runners.
Newton Abbot 2 miles ½ furlong Non-Handicap Chase Pace Bias
In terms of non-handicaps at this distance there have only been 2 races with 8 or more runners. Instead, below are the data for 7 runner or less races:
Front runners enjoy a strong edge here and have proved profitable to follow. Of course, as mentioned elsewhere previously, predicting the front runner is not an exact science so making blind profits from front runners is not as straight forward as first appears.
Newton Abbot 2 miles 5 furlong Handicap Chase Pace Bias
A decent number of handicap chases have been run with 8 or more runners at this distance since 2009. Here are the stats:
An edge again exists for horses that race up with or close to the pace. Hold up horses have a poor record again and l would steer clear of horses that have tended to rate further back in recent races.
Newton Abbot 2 miles 5 furlong Non-Handicap Chase Pace Bias
As with the shorter distance there have been a limited number of non-handicap chases at 2m 5f so I have lumped all the data together without the usual field size threshold:
Front runners have a fairly good record, but when looking at the A/E values things seem relatively even across the board.
Newton Abbot 3 miles 2 furlong Handicap Chase Pace Bias
The longest trip at Newton Abbot now (8 + runners / handicap chases):
Front runners and those racing prominently have the clear advantage at this distance and, in general, you want to be handy. There is a good correlation across win and place strike rates, profitability, A/E and IV values.
All 11 wins from front runners have occurred in races on good going or faster and the bias is clearly stronger on better going. The A/E value for front runners confirm the strengthening of the bias as it stands at a very impressive 1.87 on quicker turf.
Newton Abbot 3 miles 2 furlong Non-Handicap Chase Pace Bias
For non-handicap races there have been only eight races with 8 or more runners so I will again look at all non-handicap races at this distance, without the field size restriction:
28 of the 30 races (93.3%) have been won by horses that raced close to or up with the pace. However, it should be noted that these runners have provided just under 70% of all the runners. All in all though it looks far more preferable to lead early or race prominently.
Newton Abbot Chase Pace Bias: Summary
For chase races at Newton Abbot the four strongest findings pace wise are:
- In handicap chases over 2m½f, front runners have a fair edge, while hold up horses are at a big disadvantage.
- In non-handicap chases over 2m½f (all races – no restriction on number of runners), front runners have enjoyed a strong edge.
- In handicap races over 3m2f, front runners enjoy an advantage and in general the closer to the pace the better.
- In non-handicap chases over 3m2f (all races – no restriction on number of runners), being up with or close to the pace bestows an advantage.
Some Context for the Newton Abbot Pace Bias Data
What is seen when researching pace in National Hunt racing is that there is normally a stronger front-running pace bias in chases when compared to hurdles. This is the case here at Newton Abbot.
Before I finish, stats in isolation - for example, just one racecourse - often benefit from the painting of a bigger picture. In this case, it is useful to know where Newton Abbot’s figure sit in relation to all UK courses.
Below is a graph which compares the A/E values for for front-runners in handicap chases at Newton Abbot against the overall front-runner A/E averages at all UK chase courses. The three distances are compared in the same graph:
As we can see Newton Abbot’s figures for the shorter and longer distance are around the average figure for all UK courses. The 2m5f trip, however, shows front runners perform below average at the South Devon track.
I have also compared the each-way strike rate figures between Newton Abbot and all UK courses to help further build an overall picture. The A/E figures deal with winners and it is worth looking at all horses who have managed to win or be placed:
In term of win and place runners combined we can see that, over 3m2f, Newton Abbot front runners perform well above the UK average. Once again they perform notably below the average at 2m5f, while at 2m, they are marginally below the average.
As a pace biased course, Newton Abbot lies somewhere in the middle when compared to all courses in Britain. Despite it not having the strongest edges, this article has still highlighted a few angles worth keeping a close eye on.
Good luck when having a bet at the next Newton Abbot meeting.