2yo Run Style Trainers: Charlie and Mark Johnston are among the trainers who habitually send their horses to the front. Photo Healy Racing / Racingfotos.com

Trainers and Run Style: Part 1

In this article I will be looking from a different angle at run style bias, which regular readers will know is an area of research in which I have a deep interest, writes Dave Renham. As I have discussed in previous articles on the subject, knowing how a race is likely to play out in terms of a potential running style angle is useful for us as punters. It might point us in the direction of a value bet or, just as importantly, help us swerve a losing bet that we would have otherwise backed had we not realised there was a negative in terms of run style.

I have written several run style articles to date on Geegeez covering numerous angles, but as yet I have not looked at trainers in any depth. This article, then, will start to address that omission as I will look at some general stats for trainer regarding the run styles of their horses.

The reason I have decided to look at trainer data is that a good proportion of handlers will tell their jockeys how they would like them to position their horses early in the race as part of their general instructions; hence past trainer run style data could be informative.

I have looked at eight calendar years' worth of data (2014 to 2021) including both turf and all weather racing in the UK. As a starting point I have looked at all races (handicaps and non handicaps) with six or more runners (all distances).

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Before delving into the nitty gritty, for new readers especially, allow me to explain what is meant by run style. Essentially, run style is the position a horse takes up early on in the race, normally within the first furlong, which often defines its running preference. geegeez.co.uk has created some powerful resources to look at run style in the Tools tab. Specifically, either the Pace Analyser or the Query Tool can be used to do this type of research. Running style is often linked with pace because the early pace shown by horses in a race determines their early position. Thus, for many, the words run style and pace are synonymous.

The stats I am using for this piece are based on the site’s pace / run style data. These data on Geegeez are split into four sections – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets is the run style score assigned to each section. These are really helpful as you can drill down into them to help build a picture of how important run style can be.

Below is a basic breakdown of which type of horse fits which type of run style profile:

Led – horses that lead early, horses that dispute the early lead. I refer to the early leader as the front runner;

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

Mid Division – horses that race mid pack or just behind the mid-point;

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


Which trainers' horses lead early the most?

As a starting point let us see which trainers saw their horses take the early lead the most (in % terms). I have included trainers who have had at least 200 runners over this 8-year period:



As a useful comparison, the average percentage of all horses that lead, or share the lead, early is around 13.2%. The trainers with the highest percentages are leading up to and more than twice as frequently as average and, as we've previously established, an early lead is a general advantage; so these men and women are definitely worthy of further investigation. Let's consider some of them.


Eric Alston

Eric Alston trains a smallish string near Preston, Lancashire. His breakdown in terms of percentage of run style across all four run styles looks like this:



We can see Alston is a big fan of horses running close to or up with the pace – over 70% of all his runners have either led or raced prominently. To show how unusual this is let us review Alston’s figures against the overall numbers for all trainers:



There is a clear disparity here, with only 20.3% of Alston's runners having been held up, compared with 36.6% for trainers generally.

Being handily placed is all well and good, but only if horses are capable of winning from there. Alston’s front runners have done well when fancied, generally if they have been in the top six in the betting. We might expect fancied runners to fare best, of course, as a general rule of thumb. Below is a breakdown of Alston's front running performance by odds rank:



As can be seen from the table above, just two wins from 96 runners were when his front runners have been ranked 7th or higher in the betting market.

The final Alston stat I wish to share in this article is his record with front runners in 5f races. He has an extremely good record as you can see:



More than one in four of Eric's five furlong front runners have won which is a very positive situation. Of course, we know that we cannot easily predict front runners pre-race but we also know that this trainer's horses typically run from the front - and, further, we have the excellent Geegeez Gold pace maps to show how much contention there might be for the early lead - so it's perfectly possible to find likely front runners most of the time. Racing, and betting on it, is an inexact science, as we all know.


Charlie & Mark Johnston

Mark Johnston now shares the licence with his son Charlie, a partnership which started on Jan 1st 2022. So, when using Geegeez’s Query Tool for races before 2022, you need to remember to include M Johnston. Firstly, in relation to this powerhouse yard, let's take a look at the breakdown in terms of percentage of runners across all four run styles:



There's a very similar profile to our first trainer, but with a slightly higher combined percentage for front runners and prominent racers as a single group. No fewer than 73% of all Johnston runners showed one of those two run styles in 6+ runner races over an eight year period! The following table, taken from the Pace Score section on the Query Tool, shows perhaps why the Johnston stable tend not to hold their runners up:



Hold up horses have been successful for the Johnston team just 6% of the time, with losses equating to a huge 60p in the £1. Returns drop steadily from top to bottom as you can see.

Below is a breakdown of front runner performance by track for the Johnstons. As can be seen, there is a big difference when we compare the courses at the top of the table with those at the bottom:



No surprises to see Ascot and Newcastle low down, with neither course particularly suiting front runners. Thirsk at the bottom is a surprise, however, although only 30 runners is a smallish sample and hence the figures may be skewed a little. There are some very strong figures at the top of the table: if a potential Johnston front runner appears at any of Beverley, Southwell, Brighton, Catterick and Carlisle we need to take note! [N.B. Southwell performance was based on the previous fibresand surface, so a degree of caution is advised on the new tapeta layout for now]


Tom Dascombe

A quarter of Tom Dascombe’s runners took the early lead in the study period and the first table to share illustrates the difference in success for these early leaders by gender:



In general male horses slightly outperform female ones when it comes to front running stats but the difference is marginal. However, this is a significant difference, which is hard to explain without knowing whether there are any idiosyncrasies when it comes to training fillies. The prices of the male runners were a bit shorter on average, but not enough to make such a big difference to the bottom line. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues in the coming years, especially with Dascombe having relocated from his Cheshire yard and essentially restarted in Lambourn.

Looking at Dascombe front runners broken down by age we see something interesting when examining their strike rates:



2yos have the best strike rate by some margin. Considering how inexperienced 2yos are this is an impressive performance. When we analyse what would have happened if we had backed all Dascombe front runners, the 2yos would have produced the best returns across the age groups:



Find a Dascombe 2yo that will take the early lead and the stats are nicely in our favour, such runners having returned just over 38p in the £.

Before moving on, it is also worth noting that Dascombe’s front runners across all age groups have performed exceptionally well in sprints with a 23.2% win SR% for races from 5f to 6f; for 7f or further the win percentage diminishes to 14.8%. That's still pretty good considering the shorter the distance the easier it is to lead from pillar to post.


Which trainers' horses lead early the least?

Not all trainers are keen for their runners to take an early lead. Below is a list of the trainers with the lowest percentages in terms of horses that led early in UK flat races of six or more runners between 2014 and 2021:



If you are looking for a front runner, it is unlikely to come from any of these stables.


Trainer Run Style Averages

In order to give us a more complete picture, I have produced some trainer pace / run style averages, using exactly the same methodology that I have previously created course and jockey pace / run style averages in the past. I simply add up the Geegeez pace points for a particular trainer and divide it by the number of runners. The higher the average the more prominent the trainer’s horses tend to race. I have also not only given each trainer an overall pace average, but separate non-handicap and handicap averages, too. To qualify for the list, trainers needed to have had saddled at least at least 100 horses in non-handicaps and 150 in handicaps. As a baseline figure, it is worth knowing that the average pace / run style average for all trainers stands at 2.23.

Most trainers have similar figures but a few - such as Shaun Harris, Sir Mark Prescott, Ed De Giles, Mark Walford, Neil Mulholland, and Christine Dunnett - demonstrate quite a difference between the two. Go figure! 😉 The right hand column shows the difference in average run style score between non-handicap and handicap runners. A negative score implies trainers whose horses that are campaigned more forwardly in handicap races than non-handicaps (say, while working towards an opening rating, for example)...

The list below is extensive!



How, or indeed if, one uses the information in this article to aid personal betting is, naturally, down to the individual; for me, as someone who is often looking to predict the front runner in a race, this trainer run style data is extremely informative. Previous run style articles have noted that huge profits could be made at certain distances if you could consistently predict the horse that is going to take the early lead. Adding trainer data to other factors such as the recent run style profile of each horse, a longer term horse run style profile, the draw and the jockey will all assist in building up the best pace and positioning profile of a race that we can.

In the next article in this series I will delve deeper into trainer run style data. Until then, thanks for reading.

- DR

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6 replies
  1. Monsieurbernie
    Monsieurbernie says:

    no surprise to see johnston near the top! but we all know about that… alston was surprising though

    wonder how much of running style is down to jockeys, maybe those are the ones to do with running style more than trainers, know you have done a piece on this before.

    will hugo palmer’s runners style now change?! can see it happening now moved into dascombes yard…. kingscote a well known front runner jockey too

    • Dave Renham
      Dave Renham says:

      Monsieurbernie – I think many trainers make the call but it is still up to the jockey to follow instructions. Johnston is a case in point – he definitely has the call. There are some trainers that will leave certain rides up to the jockey, but ultimately trainers whose horses show a specific run style show that style across all jockeys.

  2. shell62
    shell62 says:

    Very good read and will help finding potential winners. Lot of work involved to get all these figures hats off to you, always trying to find a hedge and this will help finding future winners. Always worth a read cant wait for more.

    • Dave Renham
      Dave Renham says:

      Thanks shell62 – glad it was useful. Working on a second article which is throwing up more interesting things (I hope!). Dave

  3. Jake
    Jake says:

    already had a couple of winners. Johnston at Beverley over the weekend and Alston had a prominent/leader horse win today at Redcar

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