Front runners are strongly favoured over Chester's five furlong course, amongst others Pic Steve Davies/

The Importance of Pace in 5f handicaps

This is my first article for and before I start I would like to share with you my racing background, writes David Renham. I have worked for the Racing Post as a Spotlight writer and the Racing and Football Outlook as a trends ‘expert’; I have also written several books, mainly on draw bias, back in the early 2000s. And I have been a tipster with some success – and some failures! In all, I have written over 700 racing articles for magazines, newspapers, and websites.

Matt asked me to write on an ‘ad hoc’ basis which suits me as I have a full-time job outside racing at present. I hope you will find my articles interesting, useful, and ultimately lead to some profitable betting opportunities. However, as we all know, making money from backing or indeed laying horses is not easy. You need a combination of many things I believe – hard work; a good understanding of what you are trying to achieve; some sort of specialism as I feel there is simply too much racing and too many horses to gain a handle on if you don’t specialise; and, last but not least, a bit of luck.

For this article I am going to discuss pace in a race. When I talk about pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race and the position the horses take up early on. One of the many useful aspects of is the pace section and the stats I am sharing with you in this article are based on the site’s pace data (found in the Pace tab on the racecard).

The pace data on Geegeez is split into four - Led, Prominent, Mid Division and Held Up. Let me try to explain what type of horse fits what type of pace profile:

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Led – essentially horses that lead early, usually within the first furlong or so; or horses that dispute or fight for the early lead;

Prominent – horses that lay up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);

Mid Division – horses that race mid pack;

Held Up – horses that are held up at, or near the back of the field.

So after each race all the horses are assigned points in regards to what position they took up early in the race. Leaders get 4, prominent runners 3, horses that ran mid division 2, and those held up score 1. Geegeez has over 1,059,000 runners’ pace comments scored, from a total of about 1,100,000. [The others are things like unseated rider at the start, or where there is no discernible pace reference in the comment].

If you click the pace tab on the website you are presented with pace data regarding the specific course and distance of that race, and pace data for each horse covering their last four UK or Irish runs. For this article I am concentrating on the course data and creating pace figures for specific course and distances – namely handicap races run over 5 furlongs. I have always been a fan of sprint handicaps and early pace in sprint handicaps generally gives a bigger advantage to front runners than races over longer distances. In addition to this, some courses offer a bigger advantage to front runners than others as you will see.

The first set of data I wish to share with you is the overall pace stats for 5f turf handicaps (minimum number of runners in a race 6):

Pace comment Runners Wins SR%
Led 3450 637 18.5
Prominent 9987 1078 10.8
Mid Division 3187 235 7.4
Held Up 8465 567 6.7

Horses that led, or disputed the lead early, have a huge advantage in turf 5f handicaps. So, if we could predict the front runner or front runners in each race we should be ‘quids in’, and indeed would be. Unfortunately, it is not an exact science and how best to do this I will leave for a future article.

Best performing 5f handicap tracks for front runners

My aim for this article is to show you the differences in the course figures for 5f handicaps and how some courses are more suited to early leaders/front runners than others. Here are the courses with the best strike rates (minimum 40 runners):

Course Front Runners Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Chester 88 31 35.2 120 3.38
Catterick 196 47 24 177.71 2.51
Hamilton 170 39 22.9 130.29 2.04
Beverley 197 44 22.3 167.29 2.51
Epsom 50 11 22 45.5 2.96
Nottingham 219 48 21.9 224.08 2.32
Leicester 88 19 21.6 60.75 1.91
Windsor 160 34 21.3 100.31 1.9


Chester has amazing stats for early leaders: the tight turning 5f clearly suits front runners and, when combined with a good draw, front runners are clearly hard to peg back. Another round 5f, Catterick lies second with excellent figures also. Keep in mind that the average strike rate is 18.5% for all courses over this minimum trip.

Worst performing 5f handicap tracks for front runners

At the other end of the scale here are the courses with the poorest stats for early leaders/front runners in 5f handicaps:

Course Front Runners Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Newmarket (July/Rowley combined) 88 12 13.6 -8.37 1.19
York 106 14 13.2 21 1.78
Haydock 146 18 12.3 -18.17 1.25
Sandown 119 13 10.9 -19.37 1.04
Yarmouth 96 10 10.4 -39.58 0.86
Ascot 98 8 8.2 -30.5 0.99
Doncaster 90 6 6.7 -32.5 0.81


It is interesting to see York in this list – York is often considered a decent front running track, but not according to our figures.


Chester performance by number of runners in race

Looking at Chester in more detail, we can split the data by number of runners:

Runners in race Front Runners Wins SR% P/L SP IV
6 to 8 36 18 50 90.5 3.65
9 to 11 35 11 31.4 23.5 3.22
12 to 14 17 2 11.8 6 1.46


Here at, data regarding number of race runners is calibrated slightly differently to my table, but you are able to change the figures on the site to suit your own personal requirements.


Overall performance by number of runners in race

As we can see from the Chester figures, the smaller the field size, the better it has been for front runners. The general perception of punters I believe matches the Chester data – in other words most punters believe front runners are more likely to win in smaller fields. It makes sense I guess as there are less rivals to pass the leader. However, is this really the case? Here are the data:


Runners in race Front Runners Wins SR%
6 to 8 1214 264 21.7
9 to 11 1205 223 18.5
12 to 14 624 106 17.0
15+ 407 44 10.8


The stats back up the basic theory, but a 17% win rate for early leaders/front runners in 12 to 14 runner 5f turf handicaps is a strong performance, especially when you take into account the likely prices of such runners. Hence, one could legitimately argue that the best front running value lies in the 12-14 runner range.


Best performing 5f handicap tracks for hold up horses

Of course, early leader/front runner stats are not the whole story when trying to build up a ‘pace’ picture of each course. We need to look at the stats at the other end of scale – those for hold up horses. Firstly a look at the 5f courses that offer hold up horses the best strike rates:

Course Hold up horses Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Yarmouth 195 27 13.8 -33.04 1.16
Bath 332 41 12.3 -9.5 1.1
Brighton 258 30 11.6 -68.97 0.89
Newbury 99 9 9.1 -31.92 0.82
Salisbury 66 6 9.1 -23.5 0.8
Leicester 178 16 9 -51.87 0.79
Carlisle 192 17 8.9 -55.25 0.82


Interestingly you would expect these courses to match those that have the poorest stats for early leaders/front runners (see above). However, only Yarmouth appears in both groups. Hence the importance of not just looking at the ‘led’ data in order to appreciate pace biases at particular courses.

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More materially, perhaps, all courses are firmly negative at SP, and most have an impact value of less than 1, meaning such types are less likely than horses with other run styles (1 meaning the same likelihood).

Worst performing 5f handicap tracks for hold up horses

Now a look at those courses with the worst strike rates for hold up horses:

Course Hold up horses Wins SR% P/L SP IV
Chepstow 187 10 5.3 -104.42 0.5
Musselburgh 746 39 5.2 -346.17 0.5
Ripon 200 8 4 -122.42 0.38
Redcar 307 12 3.9 -200.92 0.41
Catterick 473 18 3.8 -312.17 0.4
Epsom 113 3 2.7 -98.25 0.36
Chester 194 4 2.1 -160.5 0.2


Chester, Catterick and Epsom appear in this table – courses that appeared in the top 5 for front runners. However, once again the correlation between good courses for front runners / poor courses for hold up horses is not as strong as one might expect.

What can be said with a degree of confidence is that these tracks are graveyards for hold up horses and such runners make abject bets in the main.

Summing Up

So how should we use the data discussed in this article? There are numerous ways to do this, some of which I will elaborate upon in a future article. Ultimately however, it is important to appreciate the differences between each course and distance in 5f handicaps, especially their configuration and favoured run styles, points which should inform your betting when you decide to use pace data as part of your betting strategy.

For example, if you feel you have found two ‘nailed on’ front runners in two different 5f handicaps, at say Chester and Yarmouth, you need to appreciate that whoever front runs in the Chester race, has, according to past data, over 3 times more chance of winning than your Yarmouth trailblazer. Of course your ‘nailed on’ front runner might not lead early but that is not really the point I am trying to make!

I hope you have found this article interesting and potentially useful from a betting perspective. If you have yet to use the pace data on, I hope I have sown some seeds of interest and that you may start to think about how to incorporate pace handicapping into your betting armoury.

- David Renham

** You can read Part 2 of this series here **

Other Recent Posts by This Author:

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35 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    Hi Dave,

    Great piece, I look forward to reading more of the same in the future.
    What is the time span for your data?

  2. Jack S.
    Jack S. says:

    Always nice to have new blood… and the detail and depth of research are obvious…
    Looking forward to more … much more!
    Thanks David….

  3. betman
    betman says:

    Very interesting data. I wonder if combining Pace with SR would lead to even more clear figures. My own analyses indicates that SR is more important on short tracks so maybe a combination of a Leader with the highest SR on a short track is the road to profits?

  4. betman
    betman says:

    I should perhaps make it clear that by SR I obviously don’t mean Strike Rate but Speed Rating.

  5. Roman
    Roman says:

    Nice Article. Thanks for this insights. Are Gold Users able to run such queries to find angels like this? KInd Regards Roman

  6. Nigel
    Nigel says:

    Thanks for sharing that David, some very interesting stats there.

    Do you have any views or stats to show if certain jockeys perform better on front runners in 5f sprints than other jockeys?


    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      The likelihood is that they do, Nigel, and we’ll be able to dig into that in the not too distant future via Query Tool. For now, though, Dave’s overview data offers an excellent starting point, I hope.


  7. alan west
    alan west says:

    The site just gets better and better. So thanks to Dave for sharing , and thanks to Matt for bringing him on board.


  8. northern
    northern says:

    What a good article Dave. I will certainly be taking a closer look at 5f sprint handicaps during the coming turf season.


  9. petec2
    petec2 says:

    Does performance/ P & L/ IV improve if you take in to account those with apparent better draws ie front runners also drawn low at Chester?

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:


      Using our draw analyzer tool, you can view the combination of draw and run style (bottom of the view).

      Enjoy 🙂


  10. keithblundell29
    keithblundell29 says:

    Welcome Dave. Totally mesmerising. As one of Matt’s “Old boys who are passionate about racing” and a heavy going aficionado, the timing of your Turf 5furlong article will rouse me from my summer slumbers!!

  11. om0202
    om0202 says:

    Since becoming a gold member I’ve been interested in the relationship between speed and tracks. In the forum recently I posted a system on the relationship between top speed rated horses and sharp tracks. Interesting on the courses that were profitable it was over the longer distances that the top speed rated horse was profitable to follow. My theory is that the more bends there are the more suited the speedier horses are to these tracks.

  12. Martin Colwell
    Martin Colwell says:

    Hi, thanks for posting the article. I do enjoy 5F sprints as jockeys have no time to think too hard and try silly hold up tactics which they do over the longer trips.

    So an obvious micro is – Chester, 5F, up to 8 runners, stalls 1 and 2, leads or prominent as per Instant Expert. License to print money?

  13. Bob
    Bob says:

    Hello Dave Matt

    I would be interested to see what the figures were for single figure fields on the worst performing tracks mainly because looking at the tracks Ascot Newmarket Sandown York Haydock Doncaster all Grade 1 tracks who normally have large fields in these races as i think there may be an angle there

  14. Mick
    Mick says:

    Hi Matt,
    Can u tell me-do u provide a service where horses are tipped by yourself or your site when certain criteria is met-ie:Front runner at Chester and combined with a favourable draw/and jockey stats??
    Don’t get me wrong-information is here for everyone-but some people like myself just don’t have the time to trawl the stats daily due to other commitments.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Mick

      The short answer is no. There is a thread on the forum which looks at top SR in 5f races, but that’s not really what you’re asking.

      Geegeez is primarily a toolkit, though of course we do havev the excellent Stat of the Day, Race of the Day, and Placepot Pointers as tipping content; plus other threads on the forum with the same intent.


  15. john1987
    john1987 says:

    Excellent article. Really thought provoking and like everyone else i will be looking forward to the follow ups. Given that the ‘clickable link’ in the email this morning was to quote ‘How to win fortunes from betting in 5f handicaps’. That certainly helped me to decide whether to read it 🙂 and of course i suppose the word fortune has different and very personal interpretations for all of us. Just 4 weeks into my joining Gold i have already remarked to Matt that the big attraction for me is in the word ‘Value’, and on 2 fronts, 1. Endless inherent overall value opportunities in selections, and 2. in the cost/value of subscriptions. Once we get the follow ups to this one I look forward to adding this approach to my ‘armoury’ Many thanks Dave.

  16. mike sollitt
    mike sollitt says:

    Really enjoyed your article….just wonder how the draw would affect front runners at some tracks.
    Chester for example if drawn too wide may not be able to get across to lead.Look forward to
    your next article!

  17. general6969
    general6969 says:

    Personally great to see Dave writing again. Loved his articles on punterprofits and in the Racing and Football Outlook. Welcome back Dave.

  18. Dave Renham
    Dave Renham says:

    Thanks for positive comments everyone. Thanks to Matt for letting me share my thoughts and giving me the vehicle in terms of data to do some crunching. I will try and answer any questions on this thread in the next few days.

  19. heggahegga
    heggahegga says:

    That was a great read, thanks. Ill definitely be in the lookout for the follow up articles!

  20. banxsie
    banxsie says:

    I always rely on pace.However weight (difference between previous and current weights) is far more important.Differences in weight determine whether a race is easier or harder for the animal.

  21. jonneejon
    jonneejon says:

    Personally I think 5F sprints are too tricky. One mistake by horse or jockey and the race is lost…no time to recover.
    Speedy horses with a good draw are often very short prices. The main sponsors of big field handicap sprints are….bookmakers…nuff said. I am always willing to be proved wrong.

  22. Final Flight
    Final Flight says:

    Great Article – got me thinking about how to use this season. Bob’s point about the worst tracks for front runners had also made me wonder is it because (Yarmouth excepted) that they are G1 courses attracting better quality of runners who have the inherent ability to sit off the pace and come from behind which those performing at a lower level can’t do ?

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      That’s an interesting point, and it may be the case. Really not sure. I do think that Dave’s work, although it can be used as a general approach, may be best deployed as a starting point for closer scrutiny. Things like field size, pace contention and going are obvious factors which will have a bearing on the ability of the speed to hold up on the front end.


  23. Noel
    Noel says:

    Having been a long time student of pace I found this really interesting. Dave pointed out a couple of anomalies in the data, but one he didn’t mention was Leicester being good for both hold up and pace horses. I wonder if this is going/draw related as there does seem to be a draw advantage there when its soft or worse. Another pace related factor relates to horses drawn well at courses like Chester. Horses drawn in the inner traps, but inside speedsters have little chance as they essentially get completely cut off, they would have a better chance drawn out wide

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