The flat turf season has it’s last hurrah of the year this weekend with the November Handicap the big betting race on Doncaster's card.
I recently went through straight course biases at Doncaster, the home of the November Handicap, and if you want to remind yourself of my findings ahead of this meeting you can click here to do so.
This article will be concentrating on the round course though and I’ll be previewing the November Handicap runners as well.
Doncaster Round Course Pace Bias For The November Handicap
The pace data at Doncaster for both the 10f distance and 12f distance are both very similar so I am going to combine them here so that this information can be used for other round course races, including the British EBF Gillies Fillies’ Stakes on this card, run over 10f.
In big fields here (14 or more runners) it seems as though it is best of all to race prominently. The best win and place percentages are recorded for this run style (8.02% and 24.69% respectively).
The metrics for front runners give out some slightly contrasting data. The win percentage of 6.67% is bettered only by prominent racers however the place percentage of 13.33% is comfortably the worst performer. Given more data contributes to the place percentages it may seem wise to put more emphasis on this data.
The place percentage for mid division is only very marginally worse than that of prominent so it doesn’t seem to be any sort of disadvantage to follow this run style here however there is a drop off when it comes to hold up performers so it’s probably best to mark this run style down slightly when looking through each field unless the horse in question appears to have plenty in hand and/or there is a strong pace likely.
November Handicap Draw Bias
There wasn’t much variance in the data between distances as far as the pace bias at Doncaster on the round course was concerned but there does seem to be a slight shift when it comes to the draw bias at Doncaster so this time I will only be looking at the 12f distance over which the November Handicap is run.
The win data seems to suggest that ‘not low’ is best as 25 of the 30 wins have been scored by runners drawn either middle or high. The place percentage data is much closer and implies that middle is best of all with low and high both evenly matched - a far cry from the win data.
The PRB data could be most telling here given every runner contributes and this once again suggest middle is the best place to be. It’s not exactly a massive advantage as middle has a PRB of 0.53 compared to 0.49 for high and 0.48 for low, but there does certainly seem to be a bias towards those drawn in the middle.
It’s now time to look at the individual stall data to dig into this further.
Looking first at the place percentages, of the top fourteen stalls, the lowest six stalls are not particularly well represented (only 2 and 5 feature) although 2 does come out with the best over place percentage. In the bottom nine stalls for this metric, three of them are stall 4 or lower and three of them are stall 19 or higher. This is suggesting that the very lowest and very highest stalls could be a bit of a disadvantage which is why we’ve probably seen the middle stalls top most metrics in the low v middle v high comparison.
If you go through the individual PRB figures, nine of the top ten performers are stall 9 or above, which backs up the impression once again that despite low generally being perceived as the place to be around a bend, this probably isn’t the case here. Six of the worst eleven performers are stalls 8 or below.
This isn’t a huge sample so the PRB3 data is most reliable in giving us an overall idea of the best areas of the draw and this is represented in the line graph at the bottom of the image above.
In line with the rest of the data I have highlighted, the very best parts of the draw seem to be between stalls 9 and 18. The very best place to be drawn is probably in the mid to low teens to be precise.
These are only micro advantages though, stalls 2, 5, 7 and 8 all produce plenty of places over this course and distance so it’s not a case of ruling out the majority of the singles figures, or the draws that are 19+. If deciding between two or three runners on a shortlist it may be best to favour those drawn as central as possible though.
November Handicap Draw and Pace Combination
This heat map suggests that leading isn’t going to be a great tactic here, but it’s especially ineffective from a middle draw, which is statistically the place to be in general.
If leading isn’t a good run style for those drawn in the middle, what is? Prominent racers perform extremely well from middle draws, in fact they are seen to best effect of any draw/pace combination here. Mid division is next best for this draw followed by being held up.
If drawn low, there is very little difference in performance between being held up, racing in mid division or racing prominently.
It’s interesting to note that the best tactics for those drawn high are being held up. It’s certainly a case of the more patient ride the better for those drawn high, presumably those that aren’t dropped in suffer a particularly wide trip around the bend.
November Handicap 2021 Preview
As usual, I’d like to take a look at the pace map for this race first.
It looks like the pace is going to come from the very lowest and very highest stalls, courtesy of Whitehaven and Nuit St George. The latter was 3rd in this last year off a 6lb lower mark and a better draw so he could be up against it to reach the places this time around.
There are plenty who can lead in the centre but don’t necessarily habitually lead. It’s unlikely anything will be able to beat Whitehaven to the lead from stall 1 so the likes of Cardano, First Light, Skycutter and Wells Farhh Go should all be prominent as a minimum from their middle draws, and it’s worth noting that run style can be somewhat advantaged from that draw.
We know that the best run style for those drawn high tends to be held up so the main two from the high draws to make appeal on a draw and pace combination are Flyin Solo and Platinumcard, whilst Farhan and Prince Alex should also be considered.
A decent test at the trip seems likely given the softish ground (could be quite tacky with no rain in the more recent build up) and the presence of several pace angles.
It will need to be a decent pace to suit a few of the well fancied runners, notably Calling The Wind and East Asia. I liked Calling The Wind for the Cesarewitch apart from the draw and whilst he seemed to prove his speed for this trip two starts ago at Newbury, he’s gone up another 3lbs since then and might not be well enough handicapped over this trip in this company. East Asia bounced back to form with another win 10 days ago (his 4th of the season) and another 5lbs on his back might not be enough to stop him based on how he won that but he does need to translate all his progression this season to this trip (won on seasonal debut over 12f but off a 20lbs lower mark).
First Light has been the early favourite. He represents John Gosden who has won this race six times, including three wins since 2009. He’s one of three 3yos in this and the classic generation dominated this in the 90s and 00s (11 winners in that period) but they’ve managed just one win from 34 runners since 2009. This age group has the 5th worst place percentage since then, only 7yos have performed worse. It is the 4yos that have the clear best place percentage (23.26%) whilst 6yos are next best but some way off with just 17.5%. The best win percentage also belongs to 4yos.
The trainer name and record in this does seem to have had an effect on First Light’s odds. He won an Ascot handicap in July, a race that has worked out okay at best, and he followed that up with a very poor effort in the 14f listed race last time out. He wasn’t totally disgraced given his rating and the distance (he’d also been off for two months before) but he looks a poor favourite all things considered.
Sam Cooke was sent off just 7/2 for this race last year and is only 1lb higher this time around plus he arrives here in top form so he merits plenty of consideration. He seems to have finally learned to settle again in recent starts and he’s well drawn here but despite previously seeming suited to a soft surface, all his best form this season has coincided with faster ground so there are some questions to answer. It would be no surprise if he ran well but the ground has suddenly become a bit of an unknown for him.
Mr Curiosity could still be anything and he was backed last time out as if defeat was out of the question - and it was as he won by over 5 lengths. That was a poor race though over further and he's not guaranteed to be as well handicapped over this distance in better company. He's preferred to First Light at similar prices and would probably make a stronger favourite than that rival but opposable overall.
All of Global Storm’s best form has come at Newmarket so I’m happy enough to take him on, whilst I’ve always been a Rhythmic Intent fan and he was runner up in this last year but he threw in a bad performance last time out and his win in the Mallard Handicap has probably left him a bit high in the weights. He was behind Dark Jedi last time out over course and distance and that rival travelled like a dream that day only to get beaten late on by a well handicapped rival. He’s gone up 2lbs for that which makes life tougher but he could easily run into a place.
It will be interesting to see if first time blinkers can bring about a return to form for Deja, who is well handicapped on last season’s form but he’s been well off it this season.
The pair I am most interested in from a handicapping point of view (and this is a handicap after all) are Flyin’ Solo and Farhaan. Both are maybe drawn a little higher than ideal but have some good handicap form to their names and should still be open to more improvement.
Flyin’ Solo won one of the best handicaps of the season in April at Newbury over 10f - he’s subsequently a stone higher but the runner up has won off a stone higher mark and the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th have all won subsequently. He won a York handicap comfortably next time out on good to soft ground (the softest ground he has encountered) and having gone up 9lbs for that he’s looked just about in the grip of the handicapper since, albeit running pretty well in defeat.
Those runs might be better than they seem though.
At Windsor he was poorly placed as the race developed and the other five runners to finish in the first six all finished either 1st or 2nd shortly after suggesting it was a decent race. Then last time out he was 3rd in a race where the winner and 5th finished runner up next time and the 4th won shortly after. He picked up an injury in that race too, which is why he hasn’t been seen since.
The fact that he’s been gelded since suggests he could have more improvement left in the tank. This will be the softest ground he has encountered but his career best performance came on the softest ground he has run on so far and he’s by Roderic O’Connor whose offspring perform best from a place percentage perspective on either good to soft or soft ground. Flyin’ Solo’s sire was a heavy ground Group 1 winner himself.
Farhaan has been consistent this season, finishing runner up on four of his five starts this year. He excelled in soft ground on his final start as a 2yo but hasn’t had soft ground since and has probably run his two best races this season on the two races he’s had on good to soft ground. Those were a 2nd over 10f at Sandown, staying on well to be beaten just a neck, and also a 2nd in the Old Rowley Cup, generally one of the most competitive handicaps of the season. He's had a pretty light campaign, is very consistent and remains completely unexposed over this sort of test.
I can see both running very well and being amongst the places. Farhaan’s tendency to finish 2nd and the recent record of 3yos in this race is slightly off putting so preference would be for FLYIN' SOLO, representing 4yos who do so well in this. This being his first run since a slight injury is a bit of a question mark but he’s still had just 8 starts so should have plenty more left to give and there should be enough pace to carry him into the race. The fact that he comes here a fresh horse at the end of a long season could be what gives him the biggest edge.
East Asia and Calling The Wind should run well enough, possibly without being quick enough whilst Dark Jedi is another who should provide a decent run for each way punters.