This is the fifth instalment in a series of articles looking at pace bias in 5f handicaps, writes Dave Renham. In previous articles (the first of which is at this link, subsequent ones linked to from there) I have looked at a variety of angles including examining courses, as some offer a stronger front running bias than others; I have looked at the Geegeez pace ratings and how top rated pace horses have performed in terms of win percentages and profit/losses; I have also looked at predicting pace.
The Actual Front Runner
In this article I am going to focus solely on the actual early leader (front runner) of each race to see whether there are any patterns or decent angles that can be gleaned from the data. I have looked at 200 races once again focusing on handicap races with 6 or more runners. I have not used races where it was unclear who led early (this happens roughly 3 times in every 100 races). At this juncture, it is important for me to note that I term the front runner or early leader to be the horse that takes the lead within the first furlong. If a horse has led for 50yds and then is overtaken I assume the front runner to be the horse that took the lead after 50yds, not the horse that led just for 50yds. For the record in most sprint handicaps the horse that takes the lead in the opening strides is still leading after 1 furlong.
My first idea was to look at the leaders and what their position had been in the Geegeez pace ratings. To recap, horses on the Geegeez pace-card have their last four runs highlighted with the most recent run to the left and each horse has an individual total for their last four runs. 16 is the maximum score and 4 the minimum (this is assuming they have had at least 4 career runs).
To begin with I decided to split the runners into “thirds” like I have done in the past for draw bias. Hence in a 12-runner race, pace rated 1 to 4 would lie in the top “third” of the pace ratings, those rated 5 to 8 in the middle “third”, and those rated 9 to 12 in the bottom “third”. It should also be noted that I also adjust the pace positions when there are non-runners – for example in a 10 runner race if the 3rd highest pace rated horse is a non-runner, then the horse rated 4th becomes 3rd, 5th rated becomes 4th rated, etc. Here then are the figures where the leaders/front runners came from in the pace ratings broken into ‘thirds’:
|Top third of pace ratings||Middle third of pace ratings||Bottom third of pace ratings|
As you can see the early leader came from the top ‘third’ of the pace ratings roughly 7 races in 10; in addition horses from the bottom third of the pace ratings took the early lead just once in every 15 races on average. This is a positive result – perhaps the result we might expect, but it is good to see that the Geegeez pace ratings clearly help in terms of pinpointing the area where we are most likely to find the actual front runner. It is also interesting to note that in races of 12 or more runners the early leader came from the top third of the pace ratings just under 75% of the time; in races of 8 runners or less this figure dropped to 64%. This suggests, albeit with relatively limited data that using the pace ratings to try and find the front runner works best in bigger fields.
To add some more ‘meat to the bones’ I have split the pace ratings into halves rather than thirds and the table below shows the breakdown:
|Top half of pace ratings||Bottom half of pace ratings|
Hence, when you are trying to predict the front runner in a 5f handicap, the Geegeez pace ratings look the best starting point. If you can essentially narrow the potential front running candidates down to 50% of the field or less, you are giving yourself a much better chance of predicting the early leader.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, front runners in sprints over this minimum trip do have a huge edge – in this sample 22.5% of all races were won by the early leader and 51.5% of front runners made the first three. Hence the more often we can successfully predict the front runner the better.
In terms of the 200 early leaders in this sample, I next looked at their last two races and combining these last two pace figures (maximum of 8). Here are the findings:
|Pace total (last two runs)||Number of races ‘led’|
Thus, 70.5% of all leaders had scored 6, 7 or 8 points in total when combining their last two pace scores. This data has a similar pattern to the top ‘third’ data for the last four races, as one would expect.
Just imagine if you were able to predict the front runner in every race - you would make a huge profit. Indeed if you could achieve this correct prediction around 70% of the time I would estimate you would still make very healthy profit; remembering even if the horse you picked as the front runner does not actually lead, it can still win!
In my fourth pace article I noted that just under 40% of top pace rated horses did actually lead; I did not though look at horses that were 2nd or 3rd pace rated. This time I have, and in 146 of the 200 races (73%) the early leader had been in the top three of the Geegeez pace ratings.
As I hope you can see, the Geegeez pace ratings do give an excellent indication of pace set up in a race. Whether you use the top third method; the last two runs method, or the top 3 in the ratings method.
In Play Options
There are of course other punting options in terms of front running ideas. One such idea is to trade the front runner ‘in play’. The argument for this approach is logical – front runners lose around 3 and a half times more often than they win so why not trade? Horses that lead in 5f handicaps generally contract in price so why not try to make the most of this fact? Now you could trade to achieve a free bet – eg back the horse at 11.0 pre-race and lay in play at 6.0. If the horses loses you get your stake back; if it wins you have a winning bet at 5/1.
Another option for traders is ‘dobbing’ - dobbing is a term I came across a few years back – I am not sure where it originates from, but basically ‘DOB’ means ‘double or bust’. Essentially if our bet/trade is successful, we double our original stake, if it is not successful we ‘bust’ or lose our stake. It may be easier to explain by giving you an example:
Let us imagine you back a horse pre-race at 8.0 for £10; in order to create a potential DOB you try and lay at half the odds for double the stake – so a lay at 4.0 for £20. If the horse hits 4.0 or lower in running, your lay bet will be matched and regardless of the result you will win £10 (less commission). Here is the simple maths behind the two potential winning outcomes - if the horse goes onto win the race you get £70 returned from the ‘back’ part of the bet; you lose £60 on the ‘lay’ part of the bet giving you that £10 profit; if the horse does not go onto win, you lose your £10 stake from the ‘back’ bet, but gain £20 from the lay stake – again giving you a £10 profit. Naturally, if the lay part of the bet is not matched you will lose your £10.
There are other ‘in play’ trading methods/options/ideas when it comes to front runners, but I don’t want to get bogged down looking at too many of these. Suffice to say, front runners tend to contract in price; some see their price drop dramatically.
In relation to this, one thing I wanted to look at was at what point was the early front runner overtaken? The longer a leader leads over 5f, in general the shorter the price will become ‘in play’. Here are my findings:
|At what point was the front runner overtaken?||% of leaders|
|Not overtaken (led all the way)||22.5|
|Overtaken in final half furlong (within 110 yds of the finish)||14|
|Overtaken between the furlong pole and half a furlong from the finish||19|
|Overtaken 1.5f from the finish to the furlong pole||23|
|Overtaken between the 2 furlong pole and 1 and half a furlongs from the finish||13|
|Overtaken before the 2 furlong pole||8.5|
This should make pleasing reading for would be ‘in play traders’ – over 55% of front runners are still leading at the furlong pole; nearly 80% are leading 1.5 furlongs from the finish. There will be many of you reading this who have seen your horse lead at the furlong pole only to get swallowed up or beaten close home; perhaps now you have a trading option/idea which could potentially take away some of that pain in the future!
Actual front runners by odds
Finally, I looked at the prices of the horses that led early. Here is a breakdown:
- There were 61 leaders that started 5/1 or less;
- There were 52 leaders that started between 11/2 and 9/1;
- There were 51 leaders that started between 10/1 and 16/1;
- There were 36 leaders that started 18/1 or bigger.
So a relatively even split. Again this is almost certainly good news for ‘in play’ traders as there is excellent scope for trading front runners that start big prices. Indeed of those bigger priced runners (18/1 or bigger) 17 of the 36 were still leading at the furlong pole (a handful of these went onto win).
I hope you have found this article interesting and given you further food for thought. Maybe there should be a Geegeez competition next flat season to see who can pick pre-race the highest percentage of front runners in 5f handicaps. In fact it doesn’t have to be restricted to 5f races – maybe 5 to 7f races. Anyway, one for Matt to think about perhaps!
- Dave Renham