With the 2020/21 National Hunt winter season on its final lap, focus switches to the start of the flat turf campaign, writes Jon Shenton. It’s my favourite time of the racing calendar, I love the initially unfamiliar optics of watching flat horses on turf for the first fortnight or so of April before settling down into the drumbeat of the campaign. With the original lockdown commencing in March 2020 and the subsequent hiatus of racing I’m determined to enjoy this period more than ever!
This edition is going to focus on a trainer whose predominant efforts are on the level. He was stable jockey to the ubiquitous Mark Johnston, notching nearly 300 wins before retiring from the saddle at 21 after struggling to maintain a jockey’s weight, primarily due to being a hungry six-footer. I am of course referring to Keith Dalgleish. Based in Carluke in South Lanarkshire it’s another (accidental) focus on a yard operating in northern climes.
Dalgleish is a serious proposition under all race codes; however, to keep with the season, this article will concentrate on his flat turf runners. With c.4000 runners on the level since 2011 (the usual date used as a starting point in this series) there is plenty to get stuck into. For clarity, no data from the embryonic 2021 season is included in this piece; so that’s ten years, 2011 to 2020.
Keith Dalgleish Market Overview
We start, as has become customary, with performance by Starting Price.
There is a definite concentration of strong performance at the sharper end of the market, as indicated by the greener bandings. Immediately, through a quick scan of the table it appears as though horses sent off at 4/1 or shorter fare marginally better than break-even across the board.
The graph above illustrates how Dalgleish entries are outperforming their peers consistently for the price bandings up to 4/1.
This isn’t at the cost of higher priced runner performance, however. The orange line almost perfectly follows the market average (blue) data through prices up to 20/1. The orange spike in the 22/1 to 40/1 category suggests an occasional propensity for a lively outsider, too. Dalgleish is a trainer who generally outperforms the market across all prices (super short prices notwithstanding, where there are limited data). However, if the money is down his is a team about which to sit up and take notice.
This is helpful to know, not only in deciding whether to back Dalgleish entrants, but also when fancying a runner from another yard that is taking on a warm Dalgleish runner.
Briefly zooming in on the 4/1 and shorter cohort, those who have read a few of my musings over the past couple of years will know that I’m partial to differentiating potential angles by last time out performance. I especially monitor and check for trainers for where a “bad” last run bears limited indication of the likely outcome of a horses chance this time. Analysing the Dalgleish shorties in this way is a case in point.
The strike rates are marginally stronger for those that failed to place on their last track and, more notably, SP performance is also clearly enhanced for that same cohort: this is a demonstration of how market forces can pull a price to being a value proposition where there isn’t the comfort blanket of a good run last time.
Having highlighted the most fancied runners from the yard, for the rest of the article I’m going to use 14/1 as a price cut-off, at least initially. As yard performance is more than reasonable across the larger price bands there may also be value to be attained there.
Keith Dalgleish by Flat Turf Race Type
Sifting through the numerous flavours of flat racing in relation to Dalgleish offers several strong pointers for potential onward utilisation. The table below displays the groupings as per horseracebase classification.
Before proceeding, ideally some of the groupings requires further explanation (for example non-handicap is a mix of Group, listed and conditions stakes) but given the data volumes I’m going to bypass.
There are two interesting immediate takeaways from this data. Firstly, performance in nursery handicaps is very obviously in the lower tier by comparison to the other race types for this yard. However, conversely, Maiden and Novice performance is excellent. A simple hypothesis is that the Dalgleish team must broadly focus on getting horses ready early in their careers, resulting in potentially penal marks for their initial forays into the handicapping ranks.
For those with longish memories, you may recall that my very first article for Geegeez was based on Mark Johnston. That was written in August 2018, where does the time go? Here it is for posterity and perhaps a few still useful pointers.
Despite a reticence to review my first baby steps into writing, I include it as there is a clear focus of MJ on the same type of races, namely maidens and novices (with a par record at best in nursery races, too). Circumstantial evidence perhaps, but evidence nonetheless that the former apprentice has learned from the master of Middleham.
Delving further into these races by analysing the number of previous career runs the horse has experienced paints a picture worth committing to memory.
Whilst debutants have a fair to middling record for Dalgleish, with roughly one-in-nine prevailing and a third placing, the record in relation to a horse’s next venture to the course (one previous career run) appears to be on the essential items list. These horses, certainly in data terms, appear to make a huge leap forward from their racecourse bows. That win rate improves by nearly three times, with comfortably over half hitting the frame.
Rummaging in the long grass, the record at Ayr of second time Dalgleish starters is 8-from-19. However, nothing materially bends the general assertion that a Dalgleish second time out animal is worth forensic examination irrespective of circumstance.
I thought it would be a fascinating exercise to evaluate these runners from the last couple of turf seasons a little more thoroughly, the rationale being an attempt to assess the improvement (or otherwise) of these runners between debut and second runs. Accordingly, this little beauty / monstrosity (!) below was constructed painstakingly one Sunday morning. It’s a good idea to locate your sunglasses before your eyes scroll downwards!
For the record, I’ve included all horses that started at 16/1 or shorter in terms of price within this section.
Essentially, this table shows every second time out runner (on turf) from the stable from the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. I hope it’s reasonably straightforward to follow but the basis of the info is a simple comparison between the RPR’s recorded for each horse’s first two visits to the track. They are recorded in columns RPR1 and RPR2. The victorious animals on their second run are marked in bright yellow, horses finishing in the top three are indicated by a rather more subdued hue of the same colour. Fourth, or worse are in plain old white.
The graph below shows the same data in terms of the variance between the first and second run in terms of RPR. The numbers along the bottom axis equate to the ‘No.’ column on the table above.
It is clear that in general there is a significant level of improvement between first and second run. Of course, this would be expected of most trainers as a horse will learn from its first day at big school but based on these results the implication is that Dalgleish is better than most.
Interpreting this further isn’t straightforward, and no doubt your views are equally as valid as mine but here are a couple of my own key takeaways.
- If a Dalgleish horse runs well on debut, it seldom regresses on its next run. Every horse that finished in the first three on debut attained at least as good a position on their next start.
- If a horse has a moderate (or poor) run on debut there is an incredibly good chance that there will be significant improvement next time. The bottom four in terms of debut RPR performance all upped their game (in terms of RPR, numbers 21-24 in the table/graph above) next time, with Tatsthewaytodoit and One Bite improving by over 30.
This is a good example of where data can be a trusty friend and support an ostensibly more daring approach to punting, giving confidence to sometimes overlook the market view. After all, it only requires one or two days in the sun to glean a profitable edge. Having backed some of these myself, I can attest that early prices are also significantly more attractive usually. I’d advise (especially if you’re a BOG recipient) that getting on early is a good idea. The danger of doing this is that you may end up backing genuine no-hoper material, but the upside more than accommodates that.
To solidify confidence in these data, I thought it worthwhile to check the entire period back to 2011 in terms of evaluating how horses performed on their second run based on how far they were beaten on debut. The info is quite surprising, but reassuringly useful.
This attempt at an infographic (lol) illustrates how far the horses were beaten on their first run, with the info in the boxes demonstrating performance on their second outing. It doesn’t seem to matter one jot by how far the yard’s runners are seemingly outclassed, they come back brighter next time. As you might expect, the aforementioned punting boldness has been historically well rewarded, particularly where the horse dropped out of the back of the TV on debut; indeed, arguably the further the better based on this info, with an A/E of 1.97 from 59 runs, 16 winners and an ROI of 80%.
Keith Dalgleish in Nursery Handicaps
These races represent the two-year-old division of weight for ability, that age group’s initial foray into the cut and thrust of handicap racing. They are the natural next stop for most horses after two or three runs in maiden or novice company.
As previously noted, Dalgleish’s record in such races pales in comparison to his performance in other categories.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that searching for potential value is a lost cause: the devil, as always, is in the detail.
The above table denotes clearly that there is some potential in a Dalgleish first time ‘capper within this division. If a price filter of 7/1 or shorter is applied (convenient, no doubt) then the record of the yard is 11/42 with a 61% ROI. Basically, there have been no first-time handicapping nursery winners at 15/2 or greater from 25 darts. That may not be earth-shattering intel, but it is a demonstration that writing off a yard based on a macro level data set is not always the right thing to do.
Keith Dalgleish: General Handicapping
Soldiering on with the progression through a typical lifecycle of a racehorse into the general ranks of handicapping, the below insight demonstrates the yard’s performance by age of animal.
Immediately, the eye is drawn to the record of three-year olds in comparison to the rest of the age groupings. By all measures this cohort outperform their other younger or older counterparts. In fact, historically by backing all three-year-old handicap runners from the yard a tiny profit would have been attained. That’s borderline remarkable considering it encompasses 790 runners.
Evaluating three-year-old handicap performance by race class provides further insight.
Evidently, the numbers for basement Class 6 racing are a fair way below the more progressive grades. I have referred to this subject previously, my view being that with the lowest class racing there is generally nowhere else to go with such moderate animals. Some yards have proportionately more of these than others and, whilst some teams have learned to farm such contests efficiently, others run in them with plenty of no-hopers as there simply are no lower grade alternatives. Whilst Dalgleish has a perfectly respectable strike rate of 13% at the Class 6 level I would not be interested from an angle point of view.
Ignoring the C6’s, there are 103 wins from 537 runners in the five higher bands, returning 15% to SP with an A/E of 1.17. That’s not too shabby at all. If I were constructing a “backing blind angle”, I’d probably advise playing only when a single figure price is available. Horses between 10/1 and 14/1 inclusive are 9/132 and result in a 10% loss.
Keith Dalgleish by Course
I’m not going to delve too deeply into track data as there is seemingly little to get excited about. Unsurprisingly, Team Dalgleish trains a keen focus on runners in Scotland with generally competitive numbers, the vast majority of their flat runners appearing at Ayr, Hamilton or Musselburgh.
A similar perspective exists for Trainer / Jockey combinations, too, and I’m going to bypass analysis of that this time, especially as the recently retired from the saddle Phil Makin claimed the lion’s share of rides.
As usual, I hope you’ve gained a better understanding of a specific yard by reading this trainer profile. I’m particularly looking forward to tracking those second time outers. More generally speaking, allow me to wish you good luck and fingers crossed for a productive summer for all of us.