Dancing Star and David Probert win the Qatar Stewards Cup at Goodwood. 30/7/2016 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

The Importance of Pace in 5f Handicaps: Part 4

After hours, actually weeks of number crunching, I am able to share my most recent findings regarding pace in 5f handicaps, writes Dave Renham.

In this fourth article I have started to look in more detail at the Geegeez pace data focusing for the most part on the last four runs of each horse. Links to the first three articles are here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Horses on the Geegeez racecard have pace figures assigned to their last four runs, with the most recent run to the left. To recap the pace figures are split into four groups - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. Pace points are given to each group - led gets 4 points, prominent 3, mid division 2 and held up 1. Therefore totals can range between 4 and 16.

My focus for this piece has been 5f handicaps (turf and all weather) with at least 6 runners from 2017. There were 465 such races in total and at present I have manually collated data for 200 of these, from which I will share my initial findings. The plan next month is to complete the research and report back on the results for all the races. Handicaps are generally the best medium for this type of research because one is usually dealing with seasoned campaigners who have raced many times in their careers.

I have noted before that front runners have a significant edge in these short sprints and this is clearly seen from the pace figures of these 200 winners:

 

Pace figure of winner

4

3

2

1

Win % 25% 43.5% 8%

23.5%

 

As we can see 25% of all races have been won by the horse that took the early lead. Considering front runners made up around 13% of runners in the sample, we can say that front runners have won nearly twice as often as they should (25% versus 13%); this is assuming all horses have an equal chance in each race. Of course, that may not necessarily be the case, but the 13% figure is not going to be too far away from the true chance. For the record, prominent racers provided 40% of all horses so this pace bracket also win slightly more often than ‘one would expect’; horses that raced mid-division provided around 13% of all runners so have under-performed statistically, as have hold up horses who provided around 34% of all the runners.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, with such an advantage in 5f handicaps it makes sense to investigate ways of trying to predict the front runner. In the third article I looked at the most recent race only and the pace figure gained from it. This time I am going to look at the performance of the top-rated pace runners using the last four races.

In each of the 200 races I collated the pace figures for each horse by putting them in order of pace points, then looking to see from which pace position the winner came. I was hoping of course to see a bias towards the top-rated pace horses in terms of number of wins.

Here are the findings:

 

Pace rank

Wins

Races

SR%

1 26 200 13.0
2 21 200 10.5
3 26 200 13.0
4 31 200 15.5
5 23 200 11.5
6 17 200 8.5
7 21 179 11.7
8 10 153 6.5
9 10 127 7.9
10 4 96 4.2
11 7 68 10.3
12 2 48 4.2
13 1 32 3.1
14 1 22 4.5

15+

0 9

0.0

 

Hence the top-rated pace horse (the one with the most pace points) won 26 of the 200 races (13%). On the face of it this does look a little disappointing. It should also be stressed at this point that there may have been 200 races, but due to several of these having joint top-rated pace horses, there were in fact 266 horses that were top- or joint-top ranked.

That brings the win strike rate down to under 10%. Before you reach for the Kleenex, I do have some positive news. If you had backed these top-rated pace horses to level stakes, your 266 selections would have yielded a small profit to SP. Even better returns would have accrued if you had backed them at Betfair SP – at £10 per bet the profit after commission would have been just under £530. This equates to a return of about 20p in the £. Very satisfactory returns for what is essentially a simplistic method.

With a notable difference between the number of winning front-runners and the number of winners with the highest pace rank coming into the race, what these findings indicate once more is that predicting the front runner is far from an exact science. It is clearly not just a case of picking the horse in the race with the most pace points from their last four runs. What that table does seem to indicate though is that the more points you have the more chance you have of winning.

The top-rated pace horse did lead in nearly 40% of the races; the table below shows the run style of the top-rated pace horse in the reviewed races:

 

Pace Figure

Races

% of horses

4 – Led 105 39.5
3 – Prominent 106 39.8
2 – Midfield 23 8.6
1 – Held up 32 12.0

 

So those top-rated pace horses coming into a race have generally led or raced up with the pace, which is clearly what one would expect. However, when I started this series of articles I was hoping to find a method that would predict the front runner at least 50% of the time, if not 60%. Not around 40%! It is interesting to note that in the third article I found that horses that had led in a 5f handicap last time out, went on to lead in their next race 42.5% of the time. So perhaps the most recent race is more important than combining the last four when looking at pace figures, though in truth the difference in terms of the sample size is negligible.

My next port of call was to look at the actual pace figure gained by the top rated or joint top-rated pace horse. 16 (four pace figures of 4) is the highest pace figure a horse can achieve.

Here are the findings:

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4 race pace total (top rated horses only)

Wins

Runs

SR%

16 2 31 6.5
15 8 78 10.3
14 7 87 8.0
13 5 32 15.6
12 2 32 6.3
11 2 5 40.0
10 0 1 0.0

 

These figures suggest nothing particularly clear cut at this stage – however, when I have looked at all 465 races hopefully a pattern may start to emerge.

Before moving on I would like to discuss a theory. There is a perception that if there are two or more potential front runners in a race, then that race will be set up for a ‘closer’. The theory is that there will be a strong battle for the lead where the leaders essentially ‘cut each other’s throats’ – allowing a horse to come from off the pace and win.

I wanted to try and test this theory as best I could. I decided therefore in each race to work out the pace average of the top four rated pace horses. If the theory held any validity, then I expected the record of the top rated pace horse would be poor when the four horse pace average was higher. Here are the findings:

 

Top four rated pace average

Top rated pace runners

Wins

SR%

BSP profit to £10 stakes

ROI%

14 and above 48 3 6.3 – £220 – 45.8
13 to 13.75 77 5 6.5 – £193 – 25.1
12 to 12.75 69 5 7.2 – £232 – 33.6
11 to 11.75 51 7 13.7 + £363 + 71.2
9 to 10.75 21 6 28.6 + £320 + 152.4

 

It seems that this theory does hold water, although I appreciate that not all top-rated pace horses lead. Having said that most top-rated pace horses race up with the pace and thus are not coming from ‘off the pace’ to win. The races where the top four horses averaged 14 or above produced the lowest strike rate and the worst returns. Conversely the races with relatively low averages produced extremely positive returns.

I have also looked at the combined win and placed strike rates to see if they correlate with the win strike rates:

 

Top four rated pace average

Top rated pace runners

Wins / places

Win/placed SR%

14 and above 48 10 20.8
13 to 13.75 77 19 24.7
12 to 12.75 69 22 31.9
11 to 11.75 51 19 37.3
9 to 10.75 21 12 57.1

 

It is pleasing to see the win and place strike rates increase as the four horse pace average decreases – just like the win data showed.

This takes me onto the second theory where there is a perception that if there is just one ‘genuine’ front runner in the race, that runner has a good chance of getting a ‘soft’ lead and this increases their prospects of leading all the way. The table above seems to suggest when there is less ‘pace’ in the race, potential front runners have a better chance of winning. However, we cannot be sure that a race with, say, a top four rated pace average of 11 has a sole front runner. Consider the following two scenarios:

 

Scenario 1: Pace average of top four pace horses = 11

Horse A – 15

Horse B – 10

Horse C – 10

Horse D – 9

 

Scenario 2: Pace average of top four pace horses = 11

Horse A – 12

Horse B – 12

Horse C – 11

Horse D –  9

 

One way to perhaps test this ‘soft’ lead theory is to look at the gap between the top rated pace horse and the second top rated pace horse. Here are these findings looking at the performance of the top rated pace horses in each case:

 

Gap between top and 2nd rated

Top rated pace runners

Wins

SR%

BSP profit to £10 stakes

ROI%

0 126 10 7.9 – £364 –28.9
1 75 4 5.3 – £495 –66.0
2 44 7 15.9 + £323 +73.4
3 15 4 26.7 + £525 +350.0
4 5 0 0.0 – £50 –100.0
5 1 1 100.0 + £85 +850.0

 

This once again is not a perfect test because the top rated pace runner does not always lead! However, what it does seem to suggest is that the top rated pace horse has done extremely well when there has been a gap of at least 2 points between them and the second rated. I appreciate the data set is relatively small, but nonetheless the signs are good. I did look at the win and placed data here and the correlation was less strong – the problem perhaps is the data set for a gap of 3 or more is so small. I will revisit this after looking at all the races and share that data. [Alternative theory for lack of place correlation is that trail blazers are often binary types, who either win or drop out completely – Ed.]

For the final part of this article I want to look at the profile of the 200 winners in terms of pace. I initially looked at their four race pace totals and noted that 128 winners (SR 64%) had a total of 10-16 while 72 winners (SR 36%) had a total of 4-9. It seems therefore at first glance that the horses with higher pace ratings have outperformed those with lower ones. However, we can all manipulate data and hence we need to know how many runners were in each of the two pace brackets. Fortunately we have a relatively even split as the table shows:

 

4 race totals for all runners

Win SR%

% of actual runners in all races

Between 4 and 9 36% 48.5%
Between 10 and 16 64% 51.5%

 

To clarify this means that horses with a pace total of 10 or higher (from their last four runs) have won 64% of all races from 51.5% of the total runners. Hence, as we would have hoped, horses with higher pace ratings do perform better in 5f handicaps than lower pace rated horses. In reality if ‘pace’ made no difference whatsoever then these horses should be winning 51.5% of races not 64% - in reality, they are roughly 1.25 times more likely to win than statistically they ought.

So, it’s time now to start looking at the other 265 races to see whether the statistical patterns noted in this article are replicated over a bigger sample. At present we can make the following observations:

 

  1. Front runners have a huge edge in 5f handicaps
  2. Top pace rated runners (using the last four races) have a relatively low strike rate but have shown a 20% profit to BSP
  3. Top pace rated runners have taken the early lead around 40% of the time (led or raced prominently in just under 80% of races)
  4. Top pace rated runners have a much better strike rate in races where the top four pace rated runners produce an average of less than 12
  5. Top pace rated runners have a much better strike rate in races where they have a 2 point or bigger gap to the second pace rated horse
  6. Horses pace rated 10 win almost twice as often as those rated 9 or lower

 

- Dave Renham

 

 

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4 replies
  1. betman says:

    Hi – just wanted to (again) express my appreciation of these analyses. I find them incredibly interesting and useful. Please keep them coming. Great work!

    Reply
  2. Chris Jones says:

    Very interesting article(s), I have to admit I struggle to understand about pace but this has helped. Which do you consider is the more important when considering the pace in a race, the last 4 runs (i.e. at any distance) or the last 4 runs at the distance the race is being run at? I’m trying to put into practice what I have learned from your article and I’m looking at the 17:40 at Newbury. The second rated for pace, On A Roll, has only ever actually run once at 5f so would you still consider the horse based on runs at other distances, discard it or just forget the whole race and look for one where all runners have 5f form over at least 4 races?

    Reply

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