In my first two articles in this series revisiting run style bias in National Hunt racing I looked at run style bias in hurdle races, handicap and non-handicap; for this third piece I will perform a similar study on handicap chases.
What I mean by pace (or run style) is the position a horse takes up early on in the race, normally within the first furlong or two, which often defines its running preference. The first few seconds of any race see the jockeys manoeuvring their horses into the early position they wish them to take up. Sometimes, of course, the horse has other ideas (!) and you may see a horse being restrained as it wants to press forward but the jockey is keen to hold it up. Horses ‘fighting for their head’ often pay the price later in the race as they have used up too much energy fighting their jockey early.
geegeez.co.uk has created some powerful resources and the "pace" section is probably the one I personally use the most. The stats I am sharing with you here are based on the site’s pace / run style data. These data on Geegeez are split into four sections – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets is the run style score that is assigned to each section. Below is a basic breakdown of which type of horse fits which type of run style profile:
Led – horses that lead early, usually within the first furlong or so; or horses that dispute or fight for the early lead (e.g. "pressed leader"). The early leader is often referred to as the front runner;
Prominent – horses that lie up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);
Mid Division – horses that race mid pack or just behind the mid-point;
Held up – horses that are held up at, or near the back of the field.
Overall Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases
As with the previous two articles - which you can read here and here - I have only looked at races with eight or more runners: this avoids many falsely run races which often occur when there are small fields. The first set of data I wish to share with you is the overall run style stats all National Hunt handicap chases races in the UK from the beginning of 2009 to the end of July 2021, a large dataset of around 65,000 scored runners*:
*the run style of some horses is indeterminate from their in-running comments; such horses are excluded from the sample
As I mentioned last time, it is important to be aware that the number of runners in each run style group differs: prominent and hold up categories usually have more runners within their groups. 'Leaders' is the smallest group as usually you only get one early leader in this type of race, occasionally two when there is a battle for the early lead. Hence although raw strike rates have significance, it is more important to look at the Impact Values (IV) and the A/E index (Actual winners/Expected winners). More information on these IV and A/E metrics can be found here. If you're not familiar with them, I'd strongly encourage you to check out that article: it may just change the way you look at racing form!
Looking at the table we can see that the early leader goes on to win approximately one race in every six, which is a solid performance, and leaders clearly have an edge as a whole. Prominent racers have proved the next most successful group of runners. These figures are very similar to the hurdle results we saw previously. Hence, as with hurdle races, when betting on handicap chases we should be looking for horses that potentially will lead or at least race close up to the pace.
The run style bias has remained relatively consistent over the last dozen years or so as the following bar charts show. I have split the handicap chase data into two time periods in order to compare 2009 to 2014 results with those for 2015 onwards. The bar chart below compares the A/E values over these time frames:
There is excellent correlation across all four run style categories showing that the profitable edge to front runners has remained consistent over the years, perhaps even increasing in more recent years. Comparing strike rates give us a similar picture:
Before moving on I would like to share with you the front runner performance data in handicap chases (8+ runners) by year.
I have discussed in previous articles how being able to accurately predict the front runner(s) would be a license to print money – this illustrates the point perfectly – just look at the Win PL (and EW PL) column(s)! Unfortunately, as discussed in some of my previous run style articles, predicting the front runner is far from an exact science – however if one could find a method where you could correctly predict it around 65 to 70% of the time, that would almost certainly suffice for long term profitability. I am fairly certain this figure is impossible to achieve if trying to find the front runner of every single race; however, some races are easier to predict than others pace wise and if you concentrated on a select few races it may well be possible. Remember, these returns are at starting price. Better could be achieved using exchange prices.
Answers to me and Matt on a postcard, please, if you are able to achieve the pace predicting ‘holy grail’! [Though I suspect you'd keep that to yourself!]
Let us now start narrowing down the stats into different datasets to see whether the front running bias is stronger or weaker under more specific conditions. With the data being consistent across the years I will analyse these areas over the whole time period (January 1st 2009 to July 31st 2021).
Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases by Distance
Time to see if race distance affects the run style biases at all in handicap chases. I have split race distances into three groups as I did for the previous pieces: the groupings are 2m 1f or shorter; 2m 2f to 2m 6f; and, 2m 7f or further. A comparison of strike rates within each run style group first:
As we can see there is little discernible difference in the run style data by distance in terms of strike rate. Leaders enjoy a strong edge at all distances while hold up horses struggle regardless of the length of the contest.
Onto comparing the A/E values now:
An excellent correlation once more showing that, regardless of distance, front runners enjoy a strong (and profitable) edge.
Finally, a look impact values:
Again, unsurprisingly given the previous two charts, the Impact Values continue showing a similar linear pattern: the closer to the front of the race a horse is in the early strides, the more likely it is to win.
Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases by Course
Next stop is to analyse which courses seem to have the strongest front running bias. I analysed the highest front running strike rates and the highest A/E values to come to a consensus. If a course made the top ten of either list it made it onto my final list. Overall 12 courses made one of the two the final lists, and those eight courses noted in blue bold font were in the top ten in both:
Let's look at some of these courses in more detail.
Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases at Doncaster
Doncaster has shown the strongest front running bias at the 2m 4f trip. The stats are quite remarkable and I had to triple check the data to make sure I was correct. There have been 28 races with the following run style splits:
As you can see 15 of the 28 races (54%) were won by horses that led or contested the lead early. Below is a pie chart showing the percentages of winners to races across each run style section.
What you also have to remember is that early leaders provided just 14% of the total runners. Hence, runners taking the early lead provided 54% of the winners from just 14% of the runners.
Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases at Hexham
Hexham’s figures for front runners are particularly strong at the shorter distances. They race at both 2 miles and 2 miles 1 furlong and the combined run style stats are as follows:
These figures indicate how vital it is to be on or close to the early pace at Hexham over these distances. 40 of the 47 races were won by early leaders or prominent racers which equates to 85% of all races. It is also worth noting that if the favourite or second favourite led early they went onto to win 13 races from just 22.
Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases at Perth
The majority of Perth handicap chase races are run over 2m4f or 3 miles. They do race over 2 miles and very occasionally at longer than 3 miles, but I want to focus in on the distances that have decent data sets. Over 2m4f there have been 52 qualifying races and over 3 miles there have been 73 races. The two charts below compare strike rates and A/E values at these two distances and as you can see the run style bias is virtually the same for each:
Perth, at these two distances, offer a strong front running bias and one that we should be able to continue to take advantage of in coming seasons.
Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases at Plumpton
The Sussex course of Plumpton favours front runners strongly at 2m1f and 2m4f, but at distances of 3m2f or more there is no edge at all.
The strike rate for front runners at the two shorter trips is more than double compared with the marathon handicap chases. A/E values show the same pattern with high figures of 1.91 and 1.87 for the shorter distances and just 0.88 for the longer trip.
Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases at other tracks
There are some courses and distances that do not favour front runners in handicap chases and here are a few stats which should steer you away from what you may have thought were potential betting opportunities:
- Over 2m / 2m 1f Chepstow has seen just 1 win from the front from 30 races;
- Over 2m2f to 2m6f Ffos Las has seen just 3 front runners prevail from 53 races;
- At Musselburgh the strike rate for front runners is the lowest of all courses with a figure of just 8.8% over all distances (SR% of under 6% at distances of 3 miles or more);
- At distances of 3 miles or more only four courses have seen more combined winners for horses that raced mid division or were held up, compared with combined winners for leaders / prominent racers – these were Aintree, Newcastle, Plumpton and Worcester.
Jockeys showing a Front Running Bias in Handicap Chases
Next I want to look quickly at jockeys and to specifically peer at those who go to the front more than the norm. Below is a table of the top ten jockeys in terms of percentage of front running rides compared with all rides. Hence if you had 1000 rides and went to front early in 200 of them your FR% would be 20%.
To give some context, the average figure for all jockeys stands at 13% in terms of leading early.
Charlie Deutsch not only likes to lead more than most, but his strike rate on such runners is impressive at 22.7% (A/E 1.52). Nico De Boinville and Harry Cobden are also worth mentioning as they are both very successful when taking the early lead.
De Boinville’s figures are as follows:
He is a jockey who seems to excel when close to or up with the pace. In contrast his record on horses that come from off the pace is poor.
Meanwhile, Harry Cobden’s figures are similarly impressive.
These numbers are, I think, quite enlightening.
Before moving away from jockeys I wanted to mention a stat that unfortunately is not relevant for today, but is one worth sharing, because to me it emphasises how good a jockey Tony McCoy was. When he was riding in handicap chases his win strike rate on horses that raced mid division / held up was just under 15%. The average figure for all jockeys whose runner had an early position in the back part of the pack stands at a measly 7%.
Trainers showing a Front Running Bias in Handicap Chases
The final section of today's article shows trainers' performance with front runners. Here are the trainers who have the best win strike rates from front runners – the chart below includes all trainers with a SR% in excess of 20%:
There are some big names here including Messrs. Henderson, Skelton, Hobbs and O’Neill. Seeing Jonjo O’Neill on the list is interesting because he rarely sends his runners out into an early lead as the pie chart below clearly illustrates:
I am not sure why O’Neill favours hold up tactics so much as he is more than twice as successful in strike rate terms with his front runners compared to his hold up horses. It might be that some owners prefer their runners patiently ridden...
It is clear that some other trainers have a greater understanding of the importance of early run style, as illustrated by the stats for Donald Mc Cain and Charlie Longsdon:
There are boundless possibilities in terms of researching micro-angles from run style in handicap chases, this article only scratching the surface to that end. Hopefully this article has again demonstrated that if you are not considering run style when making your selections, it might be a very good idea to start doing so. I also hope you are inspired to use the Query Tool on Geegeez to crunch some data and find your own pace / run style angles.
Thanks for reading,