This is the first in a new series of articles where I will examine the performance of certain trainers over the past few seasons, writes Dave Renham. I will be using data from 1st January 2016 to 31st December 2021 giving us six full seasons to examine (UK racing only). For this piece my focus will be two-year-old races and I have used the Geegeez Query Tool as the sole source to gather the initial data. All profits / losses have been calculated to Industry Starting Price. Therefore one would expect that we could significantly improve upon the figures by using early prices, Best Odds Guaranteed and / or the exchanges.
Many punters latch on to specific trainers or groups of trainers as trainer patterns are quite a popular strategy for trying to beat the bookies. And there's logic in this: like all of us, trainers are creatures of habit, and follow a similar path year in year out. They generally stick to the same training methods, have favoured jockeys that they use where possible, know which races to target, and so on. This offers at least a reasonable chance that future results will correlate with prior ones. Let’s dig into the stats.
Trainer Performance in all 2yo races
First, let's look at all 2yo races. Below is a table for the top 20 trainers in terms of win strike rate (minimum 150 runs across the six seasons):
These are ordered by strike rate and it is no surprise to see that a good proportion of the top trainers in the country are present. Only five of them have made a blind profit to SP, which is to be expected. For the record, yards of the Crisfords, Beckett, Palmer and the Charltons also nudged into profit if using Betfair SP.
Charlie Appleby’s record stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of strike rate, his 30% strike rate with 2yos over six years being remarkable.
If we order by the A/E index, a measure of the perceived sustainability of profitability, then we get the following top 20:
Six of the trainers in the top 20 two-year-old strike rate table appear here as well. However, we have a much more mixed bag of strike rates as A/E indices focus on ‘value’. Any A/E index higher than 1.00 indicates the trainer gets more winners than expected which is why 10 of the 20 trainers in the list have been profitable to SP. 17 of the 20 would have been profitable using BSP.
Charlie Appleby's 2yo record
Time to drill down into a couple of individual trainers starting with that man Charlie Appleby. Firstly let us compare his strike rate performance by season:
These figures are relatively consistent considering the type of races we are dealing with. Appleby made a profit at SP in 2017 and 2020 – the years with the highest strike rates. Also in those two years the A/E index went over 1.00 both times.
In terms of the sex of Appleby's 2yo runners, he has been more successful with males as the table below shows:
A higher strike rate by about 18% relatively and 5% in absolute terms, and much better returns - losing just 2.5 pence in the £ - on male runners is noteworthy. The A/E index and the IV figures also give male runners the edge. Why this is I am not sure; what is interesting though is that I had a quick look at Appleby's three-year-old data and males out-perform females there in virtually identical fashion. I am always hoping for these supporting elements when performing this type of research.
Appleby’s runners tend to start on the short side, in other words near the head of the betting market. This pie chart illustrates this neatly:
Nearly half of his 2yos - 396 runners out of 813 (49%) - have started favourite. Just 96 runners (12%) started 4th or bigger in the betting. The breakdown of top three in the betting versus 4th or bigger is also worth sharing with you:
It looks prudent to avoid any Appleby 2yo that starts 4th or bigger in the betting, with significant losses of nearly 60p in the £ having been incurred. Conversely, the Godolphin trainer has gone close to breaking even at Industry SP with horses that started in the top 3 of the betting lists.
The Shadwell Stud sire Dubawi is a popular one when it comes to Appleby 2yos. This stallion has been responsible for 121 of the 2yos in Moulton Paddocks stable over the past six seasons. These 121 horses have run 254 times for Appleby in 2yo races, registering an impressive 89 victories, a 35% strike rate. Backing all Appleby Dubawi 2yo runners would have seen a break even situation at Industry SP. For the record, when we look at these 121 individual horses, 70 of them managed to win at least one race (58% winners to runners).
Aidan O'Brien's 2yo record
Let’s dig down a bit into the Aidan O'Brien stable next. Remember, we are looking only at UK form and, clearly, O'Brien sends over from Ireland many of his better 2yos, the majority of which race at either Newmarket or Ascot. Indeed, Newmarket runners account for more than half of his 2yo runners on these shores. What caught my eye the most was his record when contesting the top two tiers of race, namely Group 1 or Group 2 prizes. His record in both read as follows:
These are eye-catching strike rates considering the competitiveness of such races, and there is a commensurately excellent return on investment in both.
I also looked at O'Brien's performance in terms of market rank. His favourites have done extremely well, but what was interesting is that when comparing 2nd, 3rd favs etc, there is not that much in the figures:
By way of comparison, the second favourite strike rate for ALL trainers is close to 21%. O'Brien's is down at 15.15%, whereas I would have expected it to be nearer 25%.
Before moving on, I would be wary of backing any O'Brien 2yo that had any type of headgear (blinkers, tongue tie, etc). 39 of his runners raced in headgear in the six years of study but only five won. Backing all of them would have yielded a loss of just over 38 pence in the £.
Non-handicaps versus handicaps
So far I have not split the data into non-handicap and handicaps. This is mainly due to the fact that non-handicaps account for roughly 80% of all 2yo races. Also, for many of the top performing 2yo trainers, this 80% figure tends to be higher. For example, 93% of Charlie Appleby 2yos have run in non-handicaps; and others at 90% or more include Roger Varian (93%), Sir Michael Stoute (95%) and John Gosden (94%). Hence for the remainder of this article I will be narrowing my focus only slightly to focus on the large non-handicap subset.
[The second article in this series will look at some of the 2yo handicap data]
Non-handicap performance by race distance
Juveniles have a ceiling in terms of how far they can race in Britain, the reason being that they are young horses in their first season of racing. They generally have not built up the necessary stamina to tackle longer distances. Here is a graph showing the breakdown of 2yo non-handicap races in terms of distance – it looks at the percentage of races run at each distance:
This shows us that 83% of all 2yo non-handicaps are contested over seven furlongs or shorter. A mile and a quarter, ten furlongs, is generally the longest distance 2yos have to race, but there has been a race at Kempton in December of the past two years over 1m3f. One of the pair was won by a 100/1 shot and the first four home in the other were priced at 22/1, 50/1, 9/1 and 50/1!
It should also be noted that for the first two full months of the two-year-old season (April and May) races are primarily over the sprint trips of 5f and 6f. Indeed there have been just five 7f races run in May over the past six seasons. Races of a mile-plus don’t properly kick in until August.
It's time to break trainer juvenile non-handicap performance down by distance now. I am going to split the distances into three: 5 to 6f (including 6.5f); 7f to 1m; and 1m 1f or more.
2yo non-handicaps over 5-6 furlongs
So, sprint distances first. In the chart below the top 15 trainers are shown, in terms of strike rate. The data is restricted to trainers who have had a minimum of 70 runners in the sample period:
Charlie Appleby tops the list once again and his runners actually made a tiny profit at Industry SP (ROI 1.25%). Others trainers to make a blind profit were Owen Burrows, Clive Cox, Andrew Balding, Martyn Meade and Ralph Beckett. Let's now look at the A/E indices for these 15 trainers, which will help to show the trainers who have proved the best value:
Six trainers have exceeded the 1.00 value benchmark, while three trainers have low figures - Saeed bin Suroor (0.79), Roger Varian (0.81) and Hugo Palmer (0.8). In ROI terms, bin Suroor runners lost 36 pence in the £, Varian’s lost 26p in the £, and Palmer’s runners lost 29p for every £ staked.
When examining most racing statistics we need an overall view – strike rate, ROI%, A/E indices and Impact Values need to be used in conjunction with each other.
2yo non-handicaps over 7f to 1 mile
In general, these longer distances are contested by better 2yos so it will be interesting to see how individual trainers fare. Again I have used 70 runs as a minimum threshold to qualify. Let’s look at the top 15 trainers by strike rate first:
In terms of profitability, only the Charlton stable have made a blind profit and barely at that. Perhaps this shows the overall competitiveness of 7f-1m races. Moreover, just two have hit over 1.00 in terms of the A/E index (the Charltons and David Simcock).
Sticking with the Beckhampton Stables yard of Harry and Roger Charlton for a moment there are three further statistics I want to share. Firstly, when saddling the favourite in these races they have won an impressive 22 races from 40 (SR 55%) for a profit of £12.37 to £1 level stakes (ROI +30.9%); secondly, when his runners start second favourite they have also made a profit thanks to 10 wins from 28 (SR 35.7%) for a profit of £7.50 (ROI +26.8%); and thirdly, 2yos that race at Newbury in 7f-1m non handicaps have done well winning 12 races from 45 (SR 26.7%) for a profit of £35.41 (ROI +78.7%).
Of course, it is extremely useful knowing which trainers have the best records, but it is also worth looking at those trainers with the poorest records. Here are the trainers with the lowest strike rates in 7f-1m 2yo non-handicaps:
Although a couple of these trainers have made a profit, this is down to a random big priced winner or two; in general, the figures for these trainers are very poor. Hence I personally would avoid them in such contests.
2yo non-handicaps of 1m 1f or longer
With these races making up less than 4% of 2yo non-handicap races in the UK, it means we have limited data to work with. Indeed, only seven trainers have had 40 or more runners at these longer distances in the past six seasons. For the record here are their stats:
That man Charlie Appleby is impressive once more, while the Gosden and Johnston stables have had the greatest number of runners but neither has been profitable to follow.
Individual trainers: comparison by distance
I thought it would be interesting to end this article by comparing the data for all trainers who have had at least 50 two-year-old runners in both 5f to 6f non-handicaps and 7f to one mile non-handicaps. It should be noted at this point that 7f-1m races have a slightly bigger average field size: 9.3 runners on average compared with 9.0 for 5-6f races. Hence this will have a small effect on trainer strike rate comparisons. For that reason, I will not only compare strike rates, but A/E indices and Impact Values too.
The right hand three columns compare the short trip data with the longer trip data by creating a ratio of one to the other. The greater the number above 1.00, the more sprints are favoured; the smaller the number below 1.00, the more longer races are favoured. For example, Andrew Balding won 1.35 times as often with his five- to six-furlong juvenile non-handicappers as he did with his seven furlong to mile ones; while David Simcock won 0.87 times as frequently (i.e. his 7f-1m non-handicap runners won at a higher strike rate than his 5f-6f equivalents).
Taking these distance data into account may assist when analysing 2yo non-handicaps races in the future.
There are some trainers who clearly perform better in 2yo non-handicap sprints as compared to 7f-1m races. A handful stand out to me when it comes to having a real edge in sprints compared to longer races – they are Jane Chapple-Hyam, Paul & Oliver Cole, Marcus Tregoning, Owen Burrows, Clive Cox, Ismail Mohammed, Stuart Williams, Jedd O’Keefe and David O’Meara. In terms of an advantage in the longer races there is not too much to go at: perhaps Sir Michael Stoute would be one to note but it is a marginal preference rather than a very strong one.
I hope this article will prove useful when evaluating 2yo races in more detail. My next piece will share more facts and figures relating to trainers and two-year-olds. Until then...