WESTERN JO Ridden by Jonathan England wins at Hexham 14/10/17 Photo John Grossick / Racingfotos.com

The Importance of Pace in ‘Speed’ Handicap Chases

After writing five articles on 5f turf handicaps it seemed sensible, as we were heading into Autumn, that I would start looking at pace in National Hunt racing, writes Dave Renham.

For readers who have not read my pace articles before I will precis what pace in a race means.  When I talk about pace my main focus is the initial pace in a race, and the position horses take early on. geegeez.co.uk has a pace tab for every race and the stats I am sharing with you in this article are based on the site’s pace section data.

The pace data on Geegeez is split into four – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets are the pace scores that are assigned to each section.

For this article I am concentrating on course data and creating pace figures for specific course and distance combinations – my focus for this piece is handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter. In some research 7 or 8 years ago, I noted a bias to front runners in these races – not as strong as some flat race front- running biases, but a bias nonetheless.

The first set of data I wish to share is the overall pace stats for handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter (minimum number of runners in a race 6):

Pace comment Runners Wins SR%
Led 1936 362 18.7
Prominent 4145 608 14.7
Mid Division 1423 144 10.1
Held Up 4459 388 8.7

 

We can see that horses which led or disputed the lead early have a notably higher strike rate in these handicap chases. Prominent racers have a good looking record too, while hold up horses tend to struggle.

Another way to illustrate the data is through Impact Values – the best explanation of an impact value or (IV) is one I read many years ago in a book by Dr William Quirin, called Winning at the Races. He stated that impact values “are calculated by dividing the percentage of winners with a given characteristic by the percentage of starters with that characteristic. An IV of 1.00 means that horses with a specific characteristic have won no more and no less than their fair share of races”.

To help explain IVs further let us use the ‘led’ stats in this article to illustrate the idea. As can be seen in the table above horses that have led early have won 18.7% of these races.

Summing all of the pace data, there were 1502 winners with a pace score* from a total of 11963 runners with a pace score which gives an overall win percentage of 12.56%.

If we divide 18.7 by 12.56, then, we get the impact value for leaders – this gives us an impact value of 1.49.

*Pace scores are derived from in-running comments. In about 5% of cases it is impossible to discern the early position of a horse from its in-running comment

Here are the impact values for each pace category:

Pace comment Impact Value
Led 1.49
Prominent 1.17
Mid Division 0.81
Held Up 0.69

 

Using either win percentages or the slightly more sophisticated Impact Values give us the same overall picture: in handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter there is a clear advantage to a more prominent running style – the closer to the lead early, the better.

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As when I looked at 5f flat handicap pace data, there are significant differences in the course figures for these contests too with some courses being more suited to early leaders/front runners than others. Here are the courses with the best strike rates (25 front runners minimum):

 

Course Front Runners Wins SR%
Hexham 68 24 35.3
Taunton 39 13 33.3
Huntingdon 42 13 31.0
Lingfield 32 9 28.1
Wincanton 40 10 25.0
Plumpton 45 11 24.4
Sandown 46 11 23.9
Ludlow 82 19 23.2

 

For the record, Haydock’s strike rate for front runners was 38.9%, but there were only a handful of races (14). Now let us look at the courses with the best impact values which should give a more accurate measure of front running bias:

 

Course IV for Front runners
Hexham 2.96
Taunton 2.42
Huntingdon 2.31
Cheltenham 2.29
Lingfield 2.05
Hereford 1.93
Ludlow 1.81
Wincanton 1.80
Carlisle 1.80
Catterick 1.70
Sandown 1.68

 

The order is similar, but Cheltenham appears in 4th place in this list compared with a lowly 23rd placing on the SR% list. The simple reason for this is that chases of this type at Cheltenham have many more runners on average compared to all other racecourses. This perfectly demonstrates why Impact Values are so important and statistically meaningful.

Hexham’s front running bias is very strong – indeed it should be noted that hold up horses have a dreadful record there winning just 6 of the 56 races from a total of 174 runners (IV 0.29).

At the other end of the scale here are the courses with the poorest stats for early leaders/front runners in handicap chases of 2m 1½f or shorter:

 

Course Front Runners Wins SR%
Newcastle 44 6 13.6
Bangor 38 5 13.2
Ayr 55 7 12.7
Musselburgh 25 3 12.0
Southwell 94 11 11.7
Wetherby 50 5 10
Aintree 43 4 9.3
Newbury 40 3 7.5
Ascot 48 2 4.2

 

Very poor figures on the face of it for Ascot, Aintree and Newbury. Again, though, the impact values will provide a more complete picture. The table below shows courses that have a front runner IV of less than 1.00.

 

Course IV for Front runners
Newcastle 0.98
Musselburgh 0.96
Ayr 0.91
Southwell 0.91
Aintree 0.90
Wetherby 0.72
Newbury 0.58
Ascot 0.36

 

It provides further evidence that the Ascot figures for early leaders are indeed very poor, but interestingly hold up horses have not dominated at this course. The impact value for hold up horses at Ascot has been 0.91 – it is prominent runners (horses that track the pace) with an IV of 1.62 that have had most success in such races at Ascot.

This article to date has focused on front runners. Now I want to try and give a more rounded profile for each course. To do this I have created course pace averages as I did in my second article on 5f flat handicaps. I create course pace averages by adding up the Geegeez pace scores of all the winners at a particular course and dividing it by the total number of races. The higher the average score, the more biased the course and distance is to horses that lead or race close to the pace early. Here are the data:

 

Course Total Races Course Average
Hexham 56 3.18
Taunton 32 3.03
Ludlow 67 3.01
Sandown 32 2.97
Wincanton 30 2.97
Carlisle 36 2.92
Newton Abbot 69 2.86
Huntingdon 32 2.84
Lingfield 24 2.83
Haydock 14 2.79
Hereford 26 2.69
Plumpton 37 2.68
Southwell 64 2.64
Exeter 22 2.64
Leicester 40 2.63
Towcester 47 2.62
Kelso 72 2.60
Perth 32 2.59
Uttoxeter 54 2.59
Sedgefield 80 2.59
Worcester 99 2.59
Ffos Las 18 2.56
Chepstow 45 2.56
Catterick 35 2.54
Stratford 53 2.51
Doncaster 21 2.48
Newcastle 37 2.46
Bangor 30 2.43
Warwick 23 2.39
Cheltenham 35 2.37
Ascot 32 2.34
Wetherby 35 2.34
Market Rasen 12 2.33
Ayr 43 2.33
Aintree 31 2.32
Newbury 31 2.32
Musselburgh 20 2.30
Cartmel 36 2.17

 

It can be argued that these pace averages give a greater overall pace ‘feel’ to each course – it remains clear though that Hexham and Taunton are two courses where there is a very strong pace bias, early leaders there being more than three times as likely to prevail.

Being able to predict the front runner in handicaps chases of 2m 1½f or shorter at these two courses and, to a lesser degree, at Sandown, Wincanton and Carlisle – should provide a number of value betting opportunities this season. There are other courses that offer a strong edge too, of course, but these stand out particularly.

I hope this article has been of interest and as with most things in life, the more you ‘put in’, the more you tend to ‘get out’. I will personally continue to work hard researching pace angles because it has the potential to really pay dividends.

- Dave Renham

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9 replies
  1. FGR says:

    By placing more emphasis on proven front runners you can transform the Geegeez pace ratings and make them even more accurate than they are now.

    Reply
  2. colsinit2win says:

    Very good article and spot on shout from Matt in the email about the 2.30 at Hexham! Normally, a horse with a strike rate of 1-34, I would avoid like the plague, but fair play…

    I look forward to the next instalment later in the week

    Keep up the great work guys…

    Colin

    Reply
    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks Colin. The second article, later in the week, is on a separate subject; but still useful for the season coming. I’m looking forward to sharing it.

      Matt

      Reply
  3. Rotund legend says:

    I enjoyed the article and I do like to see a front runner go off in a chase, jump well and get the rest of the field on trouble. What is the impact of going on the performance of front runners? Does heavy going make it easier or harder to go off in front?

    Reply
  4. RedFlag says:

    I agree with Jules comment entirely. I appreciate the time & effort Dave & Gee Gees put into this type of content, it’s superb.

    Reply
  5. om0202 says:

    A simple system using the 8 best tracks from the article with the top speed rated horse, G/F – Soft, 8 – 11 yos, 9/2 – 16/1, less than 2m 2f would have given the following for the last 5 years; runs – 119, wins – 26, S/R – 22%, P/L – 1.03. Not many bets but nice profit.

    A possible for the systems portfolio?

    Reply

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