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Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Chases

In this fourth and final part of my investigations into run style bias in National Hunt racing, I'll look at the effect of pace, or run style, in non-handicap chases, writes Dave Renham.

The previous three parts can be found below:

- Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdles
- Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Hurdles
- Run Style Bias in Handicap Chases

Run style is all about the position a horse takes up early in a race. Here at geegeez there is a pace section which splits the early positions of horses into four groups. The groups are called Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. Each group is also assigned a numerical value starting at 4 for led, and then 3 for prominent, 2 for mid division and 1 for held up. Essentially, ‘led’ means horses that led the race early, also known as front runners; ‘prominent’ equates to horses which race close up behind the leaders; ‘mid division’ refers to those racing in the middle portion of the field; while ‘held up’ covers the cohort close to or right at the back of the pack.

For this piece I will look at races with seven or more runners – for the other articles I used eight as my cut off, but non-handicap chases too often have smaller field sizes so I wanted to increase the overall data set. Indeed, despite including seven-runner races, in recent seasons the average number of qualifying races per year has been less than 100. That's quite a difference from the 2009 season when there were 226 qualifying races. Note also that hunter chases have been included in this dataset.

Overall Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Chases

The first set of figures I wish to share with you are the overall run style stats for all National Hunt non-handicap chases in the UK from 1/1/09 to 31/7/21. These have been sourced from the excellent Geegeez Query Tool:

 

There is a definite advantage to early leaders / front runners here, with prominent racers notably second best. Horses that race mid division or are held up have remarkably similar records, both poor in relation to those campaigned more forwardly.

The strike rates for each run style section have stayed extremely consistent over the last 12 years or so, as the following bar charts illustrate. As with previous articles I have split the non-handicap chase data into two in order to compare 2009 to 2014 run style results with those for 2015 onwards. The bar chart below compares the win strike rates (SR%) over these time frames:

 

The difference in percentages is not significant when factoring in the reduced field sizes, so we can reasonably expect these run style patterns to continue in the coming season and over the coming years.

Onto the A/E values now and their comparison over the two time frames:

 

Again, there is very good correlation within the respective run style groupings.

The general pattern is clear, so let's drill down into different areas to see what differences, if any, there might be. With the data being consistent enough across the two halves of time I will analyse these areas over the whole period (Jan 1st 2009 to July 31st 2021).

 

Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Chases by Distance 

I have split all race distances into three groups, as I did in the previous instalments in this series: the groupings are 2m 1f or less, 2m 2f to 2m 6f, and 2m 7f or more.

2m 1f or less

 

The shorter distance races seem to accentuate the front running bias. In addition hold up horses perform more poorly than the 'all distance' group. The stronger front running bias can be appreciated more clearly perhaps by comparing SR%, A/E values and Impact Values (IV) between these 2m1f or less contests with races of 2m2f or more:

 

Let us now split the last two groupings up and you will see they are similar, still giving an edge to front runners:

2m2f to 2m 6f

 

2m 7f or more

 

One factor to keep in mind in non-handicap chases is that there can often be a significant ability bias; that is, the horses at the front are frequently a good bit better than some of those at the back.

 

Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Chases by Course

Let's move on to specific racecourses. The problem when slicing data to the course level is that sample sizes are quite limited, especially when focusing on specific course and distance combinations.

Only twelve specific course and distances have hosted thirty or more qualifying races during the period of study. These are the strongest front running biases from that small group:

 

Chepstow 2m 7f or more

At Chepstow they tend to race over 3 miles exactly (officially, at least). Twice in the last 12 years they have raced over further. Here are the run style splits by strike rate:

 

Leaders seem to have enjoyed a huge edge at the Welsh venue. The A/E values back this up from a betting perspective:

 

Front runners enjoy an A/E value of over 2.00 (2.16) with all other run styles falling well below 1.00. 

 

Exeter 2m 7f or more

At Exeter they race over 3 miles only. Here are the front running strike rates:

 

While not as strong as the Chepstow bias, it is still far more beneficial for a horse to be ‘on the front end’. Moreover, the prominent racer stats are strong, too, suggesting that this is not an easy C&D over which to come from off the pace. A/E values for the same now:

 

Again, we see good correlation, backing up previous observations. There is a less striking disparity between front of pack racers and later runners than at Chepstow's longer distance, but it is still comfortably the difference between long-term profit and the poor house.

 

Cheltenham 2m 4f and 2m 6f

Combining these two trips across the two courses (New and Old) at Cheltenham shows that that even with the fiercely competitive racing, and the individual track nuances, front runners remain the value:

 

As you might have come to expect the A/E values mirror the above run style split:

 

These are the three strongest course and distance run style biases I could find with big enough datasets. There will doubtless be others but some 'flyers' will need taking due to the small samples.

 

Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Chases by Race Class

With such limited useful data at the course level, I decided to explore alternative areas. Class of race is something I have analysed before in relation to run style, but never in non-handicap chases. I decided to split the class of race into three groups, namely Classes 1 and 2, Classes 3 and 4, and finally Classes 5 and 6 (including the majority of hunter chases). Here are my findings for strike rates:

 

Now this is interesting. The orange bars, showing Class 3 and 4 run style results, clearly indicate at this class level the front running bias is at its strongest. Looking at the lowest class group (5 and 6) there is a front running edge but it is somewhat diminished. The highest Classes (1 and 2) have very similar figures for front runners and prominent racers. Those forward groups still have the edge on hold up horses but the bias is less potent than with the Class 3 and 4 group.

There are many ways one could interpret these findings. I am going suggest the following.

Firstly, in Class 1 and 2 races, these are often more competitive and hence it may be harder for front runners to repel later running challengers with a touch of quality. In Class 5 and 6 races, I surmise that front runners have less ability and, as such, are unable to sustain their pace throughout the whole race, thus fewer end up winning.

Finally, then, Class 3 and 4 races may then be the sweet spot, with horses that lead early having enough ability to see a race out while being faced with slightly lesser calibre rivals compared with Class 1 and 2 contests.

The above is, of course, just one interpretation and I may be wrong. Racing, and particularly analysing and betting on racing, is as much about opinions and theories as it is cold hard data.

 

Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Chases by Field Size

My next port of call was to look at field size to see if smaller or bigger fields had any bearing on run style stats. I have again split the results up into three groups – races with 7 or 8 runners; those with 9 to 11 runners; and those of 12 or more runners.

For field size one needs to look at A/E or IV values rather than strike rates. Strike rates give an inaccurate comparison as seven-runner races are going to produce higher strike rates across the board than, say, twelve-runner races. I've used A/E as it offers an indication of market potential, higher numbers (above 1.0) leaning towards a suggestion of future profitability.

The bar chart below compares each section.

 

The data suggest that there may be less of an edge to front-runners in mid-sized fields (9 to 11). Unlike with the class data, I cannot offer a ready explanation for why this might be the case. I had expected smaller fields to do quite well in terms of front runners due to the limited competition numbers wise, but I had not expected bigger field races of 12 or more runners to be on a par with 7- or 8-runner races, however.

 

Run Style Bias in Non-Handicap Chases by Going

I wanted to study the going to see if faster or slower ground conditions made a difference. Here, I have split the data in two – firstly good going or firmer; secondly good to soft or softer. The bar chart shows the findings. The blue bars are good or firmer; the orange good to soft or softer:

 

One could argue there is a slightly stronger front running bias in softer conditions, as well as it seeming to be harder to win from the back or near the back (held up) when the turf is wet. However, the differences are relatively small so I'm not fully confident that this is the case.

 

Trainers showing a Front Running Bias in Non-Handicap Chases

Let's finish off by looking at trainers' front-running percentages. Below is a table highlighting the percentage of runners from a given trainer that front run. This type of information can be very useful when trying to work out which horse might lead early in a race, especially when there is little evidence in the form book. Here I have included those trainers with at least 50 runners under the conditions (7+ runner non-handicap chases, 2009 to end July 2021) :

 

There are some huge variations!

Donald Mc Cain’s runners lead over 39% of the time, just about four out of every ten runners; and Rebecca Curtis also seems to favour the front running option: not only do 31% of her horses take the early lead but 30% of those which lead have gone onto win their respective races.

 

Run Style Bias in National Hunt Racing Overall Summary

Looking at the four articles in this series as a whole, I hope readers can see the unarguable edge that front runners have in National Hunt racing. It is true that some front running biases are stronger than others, but in every article, thanks to a bit of extra digging, useful angles and stats have emerged to be deployed throughout the autumn, winter, spring and beyond.

If you have never personally researched run style angles or ideas, I really recommend doing so. Geegeez gives you the tools to unearth profitable pace/run style angles that very few other punters know about. And the great thing is, gathering and crunching data on Geegeez is a quick (and, dare I say it, fun!) process. Gone are the days of scrolling through formbooks and looking at one race at a time.

When you do find something interesting, or if you have any ideas you’d like me to research, please post them in the comments below.

- DR

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdle Races

This is the second instalment in my latest series on run style bias in National Hunt racing. After analysing non-handicap hurdles last time, it is time to move onto handicap hurdle races.

Pace, or the running styles of horses, has long been an area of interest as any bias can potentially give us an edge when analysing a race. It is still an area that many punters ignore, and the longer that goes on the better as far as I am concerned!

Apologies for the regular readers of these pieces, but for new readers I must give a quick explanation of pace (or run style, which for our purposes are interchangeable) and how Geegeez can help you.

The first furlong or so of any race sees the jockeys try to manoeuvre their horses into the early position they wish them to adopt. Some horses get to the front and lead (referred to as front runners); some horses track the pace just behind the leader(s); other horses take up a more middle of the pack position, while the final group are held up near to, or at the back of the field. Geegeez racecards have a pace tab which is split neatly into four sections which match the positional descriptions above. So we have: Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets are the scores that are assigned to each run style, which for a mathematician like myself are really helpful as I can make easy comparisons between different runners, courses, trainers, jockeys, etc.

As with my previous research I have only looked at races with eight or more runners – this avoids many falsely run races which are more likely to occur in a small field scenario.

The first set of data I wish to share with you is the overall run style dataset for all handicap hurdles races in the UK from 1/1/09 to 31/7/21. I have used the Geegeez Query Tool for all my number crunching – the pace section on Geegeez is another area on the site where you can gather individual course run style data from:

 

These figures are far more even than we saw in the non-handicap hurdle research. In non-handicap hurdles we saw front runners (early leaders) win roughly 18% of the time, form the smallest run style group. Here, though, leaders have won only around 12% of the time. That is to be expected given the generally more competitive nature of handicaps when set next to non-handicaps. Further, before we write off a leader / front running run style bias, it should be noted that the A/E figures still give front runners a positive market edge (1.06), as does an impact value (IV) of 1.35 - meaning early leaders are winning about a third more often than the overall population of handicap hurdlers.

That said, it is clear that the front running bias is weaker in handicap hurdles compared with non-handicap hurdles.

The success for each run style section has stayed extremely consistent over the last 12 years or so, as the following bar charts illustrate. I have split the handicap hurdle data into two 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:

 

That's an amazingly strong positive correlation across all four categories in market influence (A/E) terms.

 

Comparing the strike rates give us a similar picture of consistency:

 

Now it is time to start narrowing down the stats into different data sets to see whether any stronger edges emerge. With the data being consistent across the years I will review the following over the full time period (Jan 1st 2009 to July 31st 2021).

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdles by Distance

Let us first look to see if race distance affects the strike rates or A/E values. I have split race distances into three parts as I did for the previous article: the groupings are again 2m 1f or less; 2m 2f to 2m 6f and 2m 7f or more. Here is a comparison of strike rates within each group:

 

These are a remarkably consistent set of figures for each run style group, regardless of distance.

Below are the Actual vs Expected (A/E) figures*.

* A reminder that you can read about all of the metrics we publish on geegeez.co.uk in this article

 

Once again, there is correlation across the board: perhaps slightly poorer front running stats for the longer distances, but that is probably not statistically significant. All early leader / front running A/E values are in excess of 1.00, which is noteworthy.

 

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdles by Course

The second area to analyse is by racecourse.

Normally I like to concentrate on positive front running courses but to give readers more useful information I feel it is also worth sharing the course records where front runners perform relatively poorly. These tracks have all seen front running win strike rates of under 10% in the past 12 seasons, which may only partly be explained by field size:

 

We need to be wary about Cheltenham’s low figure as this is skewed by the fact that the average field size there has been a huge 16.5 runners. Hence, as front running tracks go I would liken it to Wetherby – below average, but nowhere near as poor as the raw strike rate performance implies.

Moving onto to the positive courses in terms of front running (early leaders) performance, and below is a look at those tracks with a handicap hurdle race front running win strike rate% greater than 13%:

 

14 courses make the list and I want to compare this list to the course list with the highest front running A/E values, with the hope (and expectation) of seeing most of the courses in both graphs:

 

As can be seen, 13 of the 14 courses appear in both graphs / lists – Leicester and Ayr are the ones to appear just once. This is extremely positive, implying the run style advantage to those who go on from the outset is still not fully factored into the market (insofar as it is predictable before the race begins - nobody said this was an exact science!), and it makes sense to look at a couple of these courses in more detail.

Bangor on Dee

Bangor-on-Dee tops the front running list in terms of strike rate and lies second when comparing A/E values. You may recall from the first article in this series that Bangor also topped the front running charts in non-handicap hurdles over 2m 1f or less. I did not look in detail at other distances at Bangor in that piece but I can reveal that the 2m4f trip in non-handicap hurdles saw a front running win strike rate of 32.6 % with a huge A/E value of 1.79. This add further confidence to the very positive looking handicap hurdle data here.

Let me break the Bangor handicap hurdle data down. I am going to be looking at percentage of winners from each run style section. Here is how the percentage split looks for all courses. This will help us when trying to appreciate the strength of any bias:

 

Over this trip the front running bias is moderate – the percentage figure for winning front runners is 16% compared to the all courses average figure of 15%. The one group that has performed above the norm here is the mid division group – 23% of the winners at Bangor compared with 18% for all courses.

Over two and a half miles, we see a big difference with front runners winning roughly a third of all races: 33% compared with the overall course average of 15% is a very significant finding and a very strong looking front running bias.

 

Onto the longest Bangor hurdle distance now of three miles:

 

Again, a decent enough front running bias over this trip. 22% of all winners have been front runners which gives them a solid edge of around 50% on the average front running strike rate at all courses across all distances. The A/E value for front runners over this trip is an attractive 1.66.

At Bangor therefore, potential front runners over 2m4f and beyond are definitely worth noting.

 

Ascot

I was quite surprised to see Ascot as giving front runners such a clear edge in handicap hurdles. I had perceived Ascot handicaps to be very competitive and thought front runners might actually struggle. However, at all distances Ascot’s front runners perform extremely well. Below are the two mile data:

 

23% of two mile Ascot handicap hurdle races were won by front runners – remember the average all courses figure stands at 15%. The A/E value is strong at 1.68.

 

I have lumped the intermediate 2m 4f and 2m 6f data together as they are similar distances and give us a bigger collective data set:

 

There is a stronger edge here with 27% of races won by front runners and fully 60% won by front runners or prominent racers. The front running A/E value is a huge 1.83.

 

Over the longest Ascot hurdle range of three miles, the figures are thus:

 

Again, there is a really solid front running edge (A/E 1.70) and, related, it seems harder for hold up horses to prevail (22% strike rate compared with the all courses average figure of 32%).

 

I have one final stat to share regarding Ascot handicap hurdles: fancied front runners, whose price was 6/1 or shorter, won 15 of 41 races. If you had been able to predict that these 41 horses would lead early, backing all of them would have returned you an impressive 88p in every £1 bet. Oh, for a crystal ball!

 

Other strong course / distance front running biases

Below is a list of other course / distance combinations where front runners have done especially well in recent years:

Sedgefield 3m 4f

The marathon distance of 3 miles 4 furlongs at Sedgefield would not necessarily be a track and trip where you’d expect handicap hurdling front runners to thrive. However, the stats suggest otherwise – the bar chart below compares the win strike rate percentage for each of the four run style categories:

 

Front runners have enjoyed a massive edge, backed up by a huge A/E figure of 2.26. It also can be seen that hold up horses have a miserable record showing that is extremely difficult to make up ground here over this distance. Most lower class marathon handicap hurdlers lack a gear change: who knew?!

 

Haydock 3m

Not quite as strong a bias as the Sedgefield one, but a significant advantage to the front again nonetheless:

 

Front runners with this kind of strike rate coupled with an A/E of 1.92 is not to be sniffed at!

 

Cartmel 2m 1f 

The final course/distance combo to share graphically is Cartmel's 2m 1f win strike rate, which demonstrates another strong looking front running bias:

 

Front runners in this context have produced a very satisfactory A/E value of 1.63.

 

Sticking with Actual vs Expected, there are five other course and distance combinations whose A/E value for front runners is in excess of 1.50 – they are:

Catterick 2m

Ffos Las 2m

Newbury 2m and 2m 1f

Exeter 2m 1f

Musselburgh 2m 4f

 

Those are well worth noting, and may provide a starting point for your own Query Tool research should you feel so inclined.

 

Hold up horses

For fans of hold up horses, there is a handful of course and distance groupings where the late runner A/E sneaks above 1.00. The A/E values are in brackets in the table below:

 

In races at these tracks and over these distances, front runners do not enjoy the advantage, conceding that to hold up horses. For the record, the Lingfield Park data in each grouping is very small indeed so caution is advised.

 

Run Style Bias in Handicap Hurdles: Summary

To conclude, front runners enjoy far less of an edge in handicap hurdle races when compared with non-handicap hurdles, but there are still a number of courses (and/or specific course/distance combinations) where we need to be aware of a possible edge.

Elsewhere, there is a smaller number of track/trip combinations that tend to favour hold up horses.

Knowing how a race may pan out from a running style perspective is always an important factor to consider, and the knowledge of any potential biases a significant bonus. Hopefully the information above, allied to specific race pace maps found on this website, will give you a leg up with your handicap hurdle betting.

- DR