This is the fourth article in a series in which I have been looking at run style bias, writes Dave Renham. This piece follows on from the previous one with focus once again on two-year-old races. As with the rest of the series, the data for this article cover the last eight full seasons from 2014 to 2021 (UK racing only). Every 2yo race during this time frame has been collated.
For those of you who have read my previous articles, you may want to skip the next few lines as I will be explaining run style for any first time reader. Run style is concerned with the position a horse takes up early on in the race. 'Early' in a race normally means within the first furlong, sometimes the first quarter mile or so.
We split these early positions into four groups:
Led (4) – horse that gets to the front early (known as front runners). Usually you get one early leader, but occasionally you get more than one horse disputing the lead;
Prominent (3) – horses that race close to the front; right behind the leader(s);
Mid Division (2) – horses that settle mid pack in the early stages;
Held Up (1) – horses who begin their race at, or near the back of, the field.
The number in brackets is the run style score that is assigned to each section. These numerical scores help with certain types of analysis.
Each Geegeez racecard has full run style history on the Full Form tab, and the last four run style figures for each horse on the Pace tab. Pace and run style are often used to mean the same thing. This gives us useful past data with more experienced runners. Obviously some 2yo horses will have less data as they may not have run four times. This hopefully is where the trainer run style insights shared in this article will prove their worth.
I have used the Geegeez Query Tool once again to get the data and then used the power of excel to analyse it in more detail.
In my previous article the primary focus was seeing how often 2yo runners of individual trainers took the early lead (in % terms). This time I am looking, to begin with at least, at the success rate of trainers when their 2yo runners take an early lead.
Benchmarks: Overall 2yo strike rates by run style
To begin with I want to look at the average win percentage strike rates for all trainers / runners in terms of run style. In other words what percentage of front runners / early leaders win on average, what percentage of prominent runners win etc. Here is the breakdown:
These raw strike rate percentages show a striking run style bias. A huge 23%, almost a quarter, of 2yos win when they take the lead early; and early leaders are over four times more likely to win than any individual hold up horse, who barely win at more than one in 20. The average UK two-year-old field size across the period was a touch greater than nine runners per race, which equates to an average winning strike rate of about 11%.
If we examine the A/E and IV values too we can see that these correlate strongly with the overall strike rates above:
The message is clear, and one that we have seen consistently during this series of articles – early leaders comfortably outperform prominent runners, who in turn outperform midfield runners, who outperform hold up horses.
Run Style Performance by Race Distance in Two-Year-Old Races
Generally we have seen in the past that the shorter the distance the better the performance of front runners. This is the case here, too, but the difference between sprints (5-6f) and races over 7f-1m is smaller than I had expected. As we get to 1m1f+ the overall success rate does drop off a bit, but it is still high compared to the average win chance of each runner.
Strike rates, returns on investment, A/E values and Impact Values all show a correlation as the distance increases. There are far fewer longer distance races and it seems that front runners do not offer a profitable avenue once you get past a mile.
Hold Up Horses
As we now know, 2yo runners that are held up have poor strike rates, but their chance of success improves a little when we get to 1m1f+:
As a collective, though, hold up 2yos are ones we should avoid like the plague regardless of race distance.
Best Front Runner Trainers in Two-Year-Old Races
Let us now look at the trainers who had the highest strike rates with their 2yo front runners during this eight-year time frame (minimum 40 runs / top 25 trainers):
This table illustrates why I am doing so much research into run style. The Win PL figures once again show how profitable front runners are, and that trying to find the optimum way of predicting them is something all punters should aspire to.
Saeed Bin Suroor tops the list with a very impressive strike rate from his front runners, and that improves furthre to 53.2% (33 wins from 62) with horses priced 3/1 or shorter. bin Suroor's front runners at Newmarket have won eight from 14 with another four runners placed: that's limited data but was interesting to me, nevertheless.
The other main Godolphin trainer, Charlie Appleby, has also seen great success with fancied runners – his front running favourites have won 78 from 141 (SR 55.3%). He’s been less successful with 2yo front runners priced 13/2 or bigger with just 1 win from 30 runners.
And the Gosden stable coupled with a certain Frankie Dettori on board is a potent 2yo front running combo with 20 winners from 36 (SR 55.6%).
Best Hold Up Trainers in Two-Year-Old Races
Overall, as one would expect, the best hold up records are poor in relation to the front running stats. However, here are the trainers with the best 2yo strike rates for hold up horses (minimum 80 runs / top 15 trainers):
Only three of these 15 trainers made a profit with their hold up horses, and generally the returns are very poor and the strike rates modest at best. Compare that with all bar three of the top 25 front-runner trainers making a profit!
It is worth noting that many of these trainers are associated with horses expected to show more at three years of age and, as such, are more likely to be quality animals racing over the longer two-year-old distances and on a learning curve - and therefore not rushed from the starting stalls.
Best Front Runner Trainers with favourites in Two-Year-Old Races
It was noted in the third article in this series that favourites were more likely to lead than any other market position in 2yo races. Nearly 27% of all 2yo favourites led early in the study period. Hence the performance of favourites when they led early is worth noting, especially when linked to individual trainers. Below is the list of the top trainers in terms of win strike rate with front running 2yo favourites (minimum 25 runs / top 20 trainers):
There are some very high strike rates as you might expect, but it is pleasing to note that all bar one trainer would have proved profitable at starting price with such runners.
So if you can find a 2yo favourite from one of these trainers that you think may lead early, then you potentially have a great bet. Of course the horse is not guaranteed to lead – always the tricky part, that!
However, at least we know that, as favourite, the chance of this happening is around the 27% mark without using any other factors to help with our decision.
In fact, my previous article did highlight two of the trainers above in terms of the chance of their favourites leading. To remind you, favourites from the Johnston stable led 53.1% of the time, while favourites from Archie Watson’s stable led 46.9% of the time.
It makes sense to offer a much longer list of trainers in terms of the percentage chance of their favourites leading. So, painstakingly hand cranked (but worth the effort, I feel), here they are:
For me, the more statistics I am aware of, the better. And there are huge differences in the frequency of front-running favourites by trainer, as can be seen.
Being aware of how successful a trainer is likely to be with a front running two-year-old is one thing, but if the horse's chance of actually leading is low then this obviously reduces the chance of a successful front running bet! Roger Varian, Richard Fahey, Ed Dunlop, Ed Walker, Aidan O’Brien, the Charltons, David Simcock, Stuart Williams and the Meades are trainers that rarely send favourites out to the front, so this may be noteworthy when any of these saddles a 2yo market leader.
Front Runners by Race Class in 2yo races
To finish with I want to look at 2yo front running data in connection with class of race. Firstly an overview of front running strike rates in two-year-old races by race class:
The figures are fairly uniform with the exception of the highest level, Class 1 races, where it has been harder for front runners to win. This makes sense in that the quality of opposition is as good as it gets, and the edge front runners typically enjoy at lower class levels is likely to be eroded by the ability to accelerate of their top tier rivals.
A quick look at the Impact Values now as this helps even out any anomalies connected with potential differences in number of runners per class group:
Class 1 races again come out as the least successful for front runners, which is not surprising based on the previous chart. The drop in Class 3 Impact Value is also which is worth noting, such races often having a smaller average field size (slightly fewer than eight runners per race, compared with an average of between 8.7 (Class 4) and nearly 10 (Class 1 and Class 6) for other race classes). The other class groups have very similar figures.
I have shared a huge amount of data in the first four articles in this series, all of which is important to help us have a greater appreciation of the importance of run style, and a stronger motivation for trying to predict run style. Each set of data has its own merit, but combining them all is where the edge over other less informed punters is likely to occur.
In the final part of this series looking at trainers and run style, I will be doing some laser-focused research on the entirety of the 2021 season.
Until then, happy punting.