OXTED (centre, Cieren Fallon) beats BATTAASH (right) ARECIBO (2nd right) and EXTRAVAGANT KID (red) in The King's Stand Stakes Royal Ascot 15 Jun 2021 - Pic Steven Cargill / Racingfotos.com

Top Draw Biases for the 2024 Flat Season

Over the past week I have finished collating thousands of stats, and crunching most of them, in order to be primed and ready for the new turf flat season, writes Dave Renham.

The first things I always update in the close season are draw statistics for each course and distance. If possible, I want to stay ahead of the crowd by noticing whether biases seem to be strengthening, weakening, or potential new biases are emerging. When analysing draw bias, I tend to focus on handicaps only with at least eight runners (generally the more runners the better). A good chunk of the data shared in this piece will be from 8+ runner handicaps only.

While draw bias may not have the overall impact it had twenty to thirty years ago, there are still enough edges in play to give shrewd punters a leg up. However, it is crucial to fully understand how strong any biases are and whether the market has compensated, or in some cases over-compensated. It has been two years since I last looked at draw bias on Geegeez so let’s crack on and review a selection of my recent findings and their potential ramifications.

 

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Ascot 5f to 1 mile (straight course)

The straight track at Ascot is one I keep a close eye on, not just year on year, but meeting by meeting, day by day. Draw biases seem to come and go at the Berkshire track and it is not always easy to predict how strong they will be and which part of the track, if any, will be favoured. Biases are most likely to occur in big field handicaps where the runners tend to split into two or sometimes three groups.

At the Royal Meeting in 2023 there were six straight course handicaps where the field sizes ranged from 26 to 30 runners. The first such contest of the week, the Royal Hunt Cup, produced the following result. The first ten finishers are shown:

 

 

Although the winner Jimi Hendrix was drawn in single figures the next six finishers were drawn in the 20s and eight of the top ten were drawn between 20 and 30. This race suggested that higher draws held a decent edge over middle / low draws. Now, just because one race displays a draw bias like this, we cannot be certain that this will be replicated in subsequent races during the same meeting. However, last year, by the end of the Thursday punters should have been fairly confident that there was a playable high draw bias, as the Buckingham Palace handicap that ended proceedings on the third day of the Royal meeting delivered the first five horses home from stalls 24, 23, 12, 21 and 22.

Indeed, this high draw bias was repeated in all three of the big field handicaps that took place on the Friday and the Saturday. For example, the first six in the Sandringham were drawn 25, 16, 18, 24, 20 and 29, while in the Palace of Holyroodhouse the first six finishers were drawn 25, 16, 17, 20, 27 and 29.

I mentioned earlier that draw biases at Ascot are not always replicated in subsequent races. This comes from watching and punting on many past Royal meetings. There have been times where the draw bias seems to have flip-flopped from race to race. Why this happens is not always clear. It could be that what appears to be a draw bias might in fact be down to a pace-based bias. As punters we need to make an informed judgement whenever we see what appears to be a draw bias at a specific meeting, to decide whether it actually is one or not.

The Royal Meeting, though, does provide the best opportunity to profit from draw bias at Ascot. Essentially, for me there are three ways I tend to play the draw at Royal Ascot on the straight course:

  1. Split the stalls into three and focus solely on that part of the draw from which I think there will be an advantage. If I am right, then by eliminating two-thirds of the runners, my chances of profiting increase considerably. I can take this view before any big field handicaps have taken place or I can wait for one or two to give me a steer.
  2. Wait for the first race or two and if one or both races have shown a strong bias, take the contrarian view and focus on what looks to be the unfavoured side. Bookmakers will be aware of the previous races and are likely to shorten up the expected ‘favoured’ side and push out prices of those drawn on the presumed unfavoured side. If the bias flip-flops, as mentioned earlier that it can do, then we have secured have excellent value. This is a risk-reward approach.
  3. Back horses on either flank – one high, one low. Or if the field is in the mid-20s or higher I often play two either side. Alternatively, I go one high, one low, one middle. This is a hedging approach and I probably use this method the most taking the view I have more options covered and can still get value prices backing three or four runners due to the big field sizes.

Certainly 2023 was high draw friendly at Ascot on the straight course. If we look at all handicaps across the year with 14 or more runners we see the following draw splits:

 

 

As can be seen, high draws dominated the win strike rate, the P/L bottom line, PRB, A/E indices and Impact Values.

Will high draws dominate in 2024? Only time will tell. However, with big fields we should be able to get some value prices especially if the draw turns out to be in our favour.

 

Brighton 1 mile

Two years ago, when I wrote a series of articles on the draw, I mentioned the 1-mile Brighton bias in the third article. At the time, I had not previously been aware of this bias. In that piece the draw data from 2016 to 2021 suggested that high draws held an edge with low draws being at a disadvantage. Looking at the 2023 figures for handicaps with 8+ runners we see the following:

 

 

Obviously, the sample size of eight races is tiny, but the PRB figures are especially potent in terms of suggesting a bias still exists. Indeed, combining last year’s results with 2022 we get a bigger sample and the same pattern:

 

 

So, in the two years since sharing the high draw bias with Geegeez readers, we can see nothing appears to have changed. In fact, one could argue the bias looks slightly more pronounced. There are two additional findings I would like to share. Firstly, horses drawn 11 and higher have a PRB figure of 0.65 over this 2-year period. Secondly, if you had permed the highest three draws in combination forecasts you would have secured an 18.63-point profit.

 

Catterick 5f

About 15 to 20 years ago Catterick offered draw punters two biases – a low draw bias on good or firmer, and a high draw bias on soft or heavy. These days, for whatever reason, the low draw bias on firmer ground does not seem to exist. However, when the going gets soft, higher draws still have an edge. This is because the ground is better the wider you go in the straight. There have only been seven qualifying races in the past two seasons, but the figures strongly favour high draws as the table below shows:

 

 

Five of the seven races have been won by high draws, with good correlation across the A/E indices, Impact Values and the PRB figures. A good example of how strong the bias has been under these conditions can be seen by looking at the result of the Millbury Hill Country Store Handicap which took place on October 25th 2022:

 

 

As you can see the first three home were drawn in the top three stalls, the first five home were drawn in the top five stalls, the top seven home came from the top seven stalls, and those who finished in the final five spots from 8th to 12th came from the lowest five stalls.

Going further back in time to give us a bigger sample (2016 to 2023), we see the following:

 

 

These figures indicate that soft ground bias at Catterick over 5f gives punters a playable bias to work with. Indeed, you could have backed the highest three draws ‘blind’ over these 28 races and secured a profit to SP of £27.00 (ROI +32.1%); to BSP it would have been £43.44 (ROI +51.7%).

Before moving on, let us look at a smoothed-out graph of stall positions based on PRB figures from soft/heavy 5f handicaps from 2016-2023 using the Geegeez metric PRB3:

 

 

This gives us excellent correlation with all the other stats for this C&D on soft/heavy clearly showing the bias.

 

Goodwood 7f

Goodwood was the first course I ever visited in terms of going racing and I fell in love with it then and still love it to this day. I have been there more times than all other racecourses combined. Back in the 1990s I made huge profits in 7f handicaps as horses closest to the inside rail enjoyed a massive edge. Course officials eventually cottoned on to the bias around 2005/2006 and they have managed to even the playing field to some extent since then. However, low to middle draws still tend to hold sway with very highest draws finding it difficult to win. If we look at the last two years the 8+ runner handicap splits are as follows:

 

 

During this time frame middle draws have edged it in terms of wins and have secured decent profits. Low draws have performed well in terms of places, and they comfortably have the highest PRB figure. Now some people looking at these stats will acknowledge that higher draws seem at a disadvantage, but they may dismiss it as a course where the draw bias is not potent enough to be of interest. However, I would like to compare the performance of horses drawn 1 to 6 with those drawn 7 or higher:

 

 

This data seems to demonstrate there has been a strong draw bias at work in the past two seasons. It also demonstrates that as punters it is worth analysing data in different ways to build the most accurate picture we can. This is especially true when we are looking at small to medium sized samples.

Before moving on here are the basic draw splits for Goodwood 7f handicaps (8+ runners) since 2016:

 

 

This longer-term data set shows that the bias is something that we do need to consider.  The value lies with lower draws as they have provided roughly 50% of all winners (from 33.3% of the total runners) although one still needs to find the right horse(s) as they are not profitable to follow blindly.

 

Gowran Park 7f

Over to Ireland now and the 7f trip at Gowran Park. This course and distance was highlighted in the same draw series of two years ago showing a decent low draw bias especially on good or firmer going. Since then we have had 15 more qualifying races similarly quick turf with the following draw third splits:

 

 

Those are strong figures, backing up the data shared previously. To save you having to scroll through past articles here are the 2016-2021 stats I shared then.

 

 

Again, we can see excellent correlation between both tables: not only have low draws enjoyed a strong edge, but higher draws have had a very poor time of it. In fact, combining all horses that were drawn 9 or higher in the past eight seasons under these conditions would have seen just six wins from 260 runners! Losses of 71p in the £ to SP just underlines the difficulty these higher draws have.

For fans of perming lower draws in forecasts, you would have made hay in 2023 thanks to one race. The first division of the Coast to Curragh Charity Cycle Handicap on 16th August 2023 saw The Fog Horn (drawn 1) win with Kodihill (drawn 2) coming second. A £1 reverse forecast on these two lowest draws would have yielded a monumental return of £976.71; the reverse exacta would have paid even more at an eye-watering £1674.50 return for a £2 stake.

Gowran Park is a course where I will be looking for draw-based opportunities in 2024.

 

Pontefract 1 mile

This mile trip at Pontefract has offered a strong low draw bias for many years now. Over the past two seasons there have 28 handicaps with 8+ runners, of which half of them (14) were won by one of the three lowest stalls. Here are the draw results for all stalls during this time frame:

 

 

These results clearly show the strength of the bias – just look at the PRB figures and the placed percentages for the lowest draws. If we include stall 4 with the bottom three stalls, we get the following splits in terms of placed percentages:

 

 

That is getting close to three times the number of placed runners from the inside four stalls. In terms of PRB figures the difference is equally significant:

 

 

My strategy over this track and trip has long been to focus on the lowest draws. I have tended to concentrate on stalls 5 or lower, with the lower the better. The good news from a punting perspective is that the market has still not adjusted fully and there remains some value to had with these lower draws.

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I hope this article has shown you that draw bias is still alive and well albeit at a handful of course and distances. This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully there has been enough here to give you some useful and profitable pointers for the season ahead.

- DR

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