Horses pass a few spectators watching the Behind Closed Doors action in the Old Park Wood Handicap Hurdle at Cartmel. 26/7/2020 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

The Importance of Course/Distance Form in NH Racing

As the title suggests, in this article I will look at horses that have previously won at the course, over the distance, and over course and distance. My findings apply to UK National Hunt racing only, and I have looked at the last eight full years, from 2016 to 2023.

The perception of many punters is that course form is important; likewise, a majority see it as a positive if a horse is proven over the distance. Let's see what I can dig up!

Course winners

Let me start with course winners. Courses in the UK are not uniform – the topography of every track is different. There may be some courses that are the same or very similar circumference, but in terms of gradient at different points, soil composition, undulations, finishing straights, and so on, they are all at least reasonably different. Likewise, hurdles and fences are placed in different locations depending on the course which again helps to make each course unique.

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I want to begin by comparing the strike rates of course winners with horses that have not won at the course (non-course winners). Both win and each way figures are shown:

 

 

Course winners clearly perform better both from a win and a win & placed (each way) perspective. In terms of returns to SP, course winners still fare better although one would have lost 17p in the £ backing all of them. Non-course winners lose around 50% more at just under 26p in the £. At Betfair SP, however, there is just a penny (1%) in it.

Looking at the non-course winner group first, if we split them by: 1 -  those who have previously run at the course, and 2 -  those who have not run at the course previously, then we see that those who have never raced at the course have been slightly more successful in win percentage terms – 11.6% strike rate compared to 10.8%.

The question I now want to ask is can we find a subset of course winners that might prove profitable to follow? This seems very unlikely based on the overall data. However, below are some of the angles I delved into. Firstly, I looked at the differences in terms of number of course wins. The graph below illustrates individual win percentages by number of course wins:

 

 

The strike rates are relatively even. The highest strike rates are seen at either end of the spectrum (1 win only, and 5 or more wins).

The '5 or more wins' group is the smallest by some margin (312 qualifiers) but it did make a profit at SP and, therefore unsurprisingly, at BSP. A couple of reasonably priced winners were the main cause of the profits, but it should be noted that there was a BSP profit in six of the nine years, and five profitable years using Industry SP.

One could argue that using course wins alone might not be the best comparison. For example, ythere might be a horse that has won let’s say three times at the course from four attempts, while another may have won three races from 20 attempts. So I thought it may be prudent to look at the course win percentages for horses to broaden the picture. Here are the findings for all horses that had won at least once previously at the course:

 

 

This paints a pleasing picture for fans of course winners: as the graph indicates, the better a horse's course win percentage, the better the performance in terms of success. When we consider returns, those horses with the lowest course win percentages have struggled, incurring losses of 15p in the £ to BSP in the '1 to 10%' group and 11p in the £ for '11 to 20%' group. Meanwhile, the other groups combine to lose only 5.5p in the £.

Again though, we have to be aware that this approach also has flaws. For example, a horse could have a previous 100% course win record by racing at the course just once. Another horse with a 100% record could be four from four. Any data must always be scrutinized properly as no data set is perfect.

Before moving on to distance winners I want to examine some output for individual courses. To do this I am going look at course A/E indices for horses that have won at least once at the relevant track. Here are the courses with the ten highest A/E indices*.

*You can read more about A/E here 

 

 

These are strong figures. Out of these ten NH tracks, backing all course winners would have yielded a blind BSP profit at five of them (Cartmel, Perth, Newcastle, Kelso, Hexham), with the other five making only very small losses. It seems that past course winners can generally be seen as a positive when returning to one of these ten venues.

Distance winners

It is time to switch the focus on to distance winners. As with the course winners section, I will start by comparing the strike rates of distance winners with horses that have not won at the distance (non-distance winners). Both win and each way figures are shown once more:

 

 

These figures correlate closely with the course data shared earlier. In terms of returns to BSP the distance winners have also performed better, losing only 4p in the £ compared to 8p for non-distance winners.

Let me next look at the strike rate in terms of number of distance wins. Here are the splits:

 

 

As with the course figures, five or more distance wins comes out with the highest win strike rate. Not only that, but the group also made a blind profit to BSP, although two winners priced 41.49 and 31.48 skewed the figures a little. For the record, horses with exactly four previous distance winners broke even at BSP. It does seem therefore that numerous wins at the distance (say four or more) is more a positive than a negative.

Let's now look at distance win percentages, as I did earlier for course winners. Here are the findings for all horses that have won previously at the distance in terms of their overall career win record at the relevant distance:

 

 

We have the same upward slant once more. The higher a horse’s win percentage at the distance, the higher the win rate.

When viewing all the data, it seems therefore that distance winners are better investments than non-distance winners. It also seems that multiple wins at the distance or a high win percentage at the distance can generally be taken as positives.

Course and distance (C&D) winners

Finally, it makes sense to review the performance of course and distance winners. A quick note, a horse can have been a course winner over a different trip, and a distance winner at a different track; such horses would not be considered a course and distance winner for these purposes: we are looking specifically at winners over today's course and distance in combination.

To be absolutely clear, we are looking at horses with Eleven Eleven's CD profile, not those with Absolute Dream's C,D profile.

 

As previously I will start by comparing the strike rates of C&D winners versus horses that have not won over C&D (non-C&D winners). Both win and each way figures are shown once more:

 

 

These are the highest win percentages we have seen for the ‘winner’ group to date. However, the returns to BSP for C&D winners is only marginally better than for non-C&D winners. Therefore, the market seems to have made an appropriate price adjustment.

Onto the win strike rate in terms of number of C&D wins. Here are the splits:

 

 

It should be noted that only 357 horses managed three or more C&D successes during the time frame, with only 116 of those achieving four-plus. However, if we look at C&D winners who have won at least three times previously they have combined to make a profit of £24.49 (ROI +6.9%) to Industry SP and £68.88 (ROI 19.4%) to BSP. It looks, then, as though horses that have won at least three times over course and distance are worth a second glance from a punting perspective.

It is C&D win percentages next, and it will be interesting to see if we have the same sloping graph / correlation as we had in the two previous graphs of this type:

 

 

The trend is up, as previously, although the 51-70% group spoils the party somewhat by dropping below 14.5%! The 71% to 100% group again performs best in terms of win percentages, hitting close to one victory in every five runs.

Let's look at some individual course data now. To change it up a bit I am going to look at the performance of all courses in terms of past C&D winners running again at the course.

It is easier to fit into a table than a graph so that is the plan. I can share more data this way also. Courses are listed alphabetically with positive A/E indices (0.95 and above) shown in green and negative indices (0.79 or lower) shown in blue. Profit / losses have been calculated to BSP less 5% commission:

 

 

Seven of the 11 green courses managed a blind profit to BSP, (Fakenham, Ffos Las, Hereford, Hexham, Kelso, Newcastle, and Wincanton),and Taunton broke even. If you backed all previous C&D winners at these 11 courses (2016-2023) you would have returned a BSP profit of £184.35 to £1 level stakes (ROI +5.7%).

Combining these positive courses once more - this is how the annual figures worked out:

 

 

As can be seen, five of the eight years were in profit, and the three losing years were far from disasters losing 1.3p, 2.8p and 5p in the £ respectively.

Therefore, the data suggest that any past C&D winners declared to run at these eleven courses (Cartmel, Fakenham, Ffos Las, Hereford, Hexham, Kelso, Newcastle, Perth, Stratford, Taunton, Wincanton) should at least be shortlisted.

Now, as I have said many times, I am merely reporting on past data and we cannot be sure any of these findings will be replicated in the same way in future. However, just for fun I checked the 2012 to 2015 data for the same eleven courses to see how prior C&D winners had fared. The results were 364 winners from 2095 runners (SR 17.4%) for a BSP profit of £124.24 (ROI +5.9%). It seems therefore that these courses may offer past C&D winners an ‘edge’ over non-C&D runners.

Finally, let me share some trainers who have performed well with previous C&D winners when comparing their performance against their non-C&D winners. Eight trainers are listed in the table below comparing their win percentages for the two respective groups:

 

 

These eight all perform notably above the norm when it comes to past C&D winners. Not surprisingly, six of the eight have produced blind profits to BSP with their C&D winners. Here are their individual figures for previous C&D winners:

 

 

It should be noted that most of the qualifiers have been in the shorter to medium price range and hence the stats are not badly skewed. The A/E indices are generally strong, too. It will be interesting to see how these trainers fare in the near future with their prior C&D winners.

 

Summary

In conclusion, previous course winners, distance winners, and course and distance winners each win more often than their non-winning counterparts. As a rule, they also seem slightly better value, although the market has unsurprisingly adjusted well, as it tends to do for any material factor. Ultimately, whilst blind profits are not on offer here - who knew?! - I would view these 'contextual' past winners as more of a positive than a negative when evaluating a race.

- DR

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4 replies
  1. waywardlad
    waywardlad says:

    This is really good information – well done Dave!
    You have incorporated trainers for the C&D winners, which is very useful.
    Would that also work for reviewing course winners? One of my favourite ploys is looking at long distance travellers, but would this work the opposite way? Given a lot of the top-10 tracks for course winners are North of Manchester, do trainers local to those tracks do particularly well? As an aside, I note Peter Bowen is top of the list of trainers to follow: he does particularly well with staying hurdlers and chasers – could that be a sub-group with an even better strike-rate?
    All the best, Ian @ Wayward Lad

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