Top 2yo trainers: Archie and Hugo have very different approaches

Trainers and Run Style: Part 5

For this final article in my trainers' run style series I am going to share with you some extremely detailed analysis from 2yo races during the 2021 season, writes Dave Renham. It may be only one season, but it covers more than 1100 races and over 10,000 runs, so there is plenty of data to dig into.

Before delving into the stats, for new readers let me quickly 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 or two, which often defines its running preference. has created two excellent resources to look more closely at run style. These are the Pace Analyser and the Query Tool which can both be found in the in the Tools menu. Running style and the word 'pace' are often linked because the early pace shown by horses in a race determines their early position. Therefore some punters and indeed pundits see run style and pace as interchangeable.

The stats I am using for this piece are based on the site’s pace / run style data. This data on Geegeez are split into four sections –

Led (4) – front runners; horses or horses that take an early lead;

Prominent (3) – horses that race close behind the leader(s);

Mid Division (2) – horses that race mid pack;

Held Up (1) – horses that race at, or near the back of the field early.

The number in brackets is the run style score that is assigned to each section.

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OK, onto the flesh and bones of the research. To start let us look at 2yo debutants – juveniles having their first ever racecourse run.


Two-Year-Old Run Style: Debut runs

Here is the breakdown for 2yo debutants in terms of percentage distribution across all four run styles:



As the chart shows, nearly half of all two-year-olds making their debut are held up, either by accident or design, with less than 6% taking an early lead. This is perhaps what one might expect as on debut horses are inexperienced and 'green', and it may take time for the 'penny to drop' on that first racecourse outing. Further, many debutants will be racing against horses with previous race experience which will have an effect.


Two-Year-Old Run Style: Second career start

Juveniles on their second career starts produce a completely difference picture compared to the debut stats:



The chart highlights the vast difference in running style when we compare second career start stats to debuts. Over 16% of all runners now got to the front early and more than half, 53.5%, led or raced prominently. Compare that to 2yo debut figures noted earlier – just 5.6% for horses that lead on 2yo debut and only 29.6% for combined lead / race prominently horses.

The third start figures correlate closely with the second start ones as can be seen below.



When looking at data from fourth career run onwards, the run style splits don’t really change much, with the groups as follows: led 16.5% of the time; 33.7% for prominent racers, 20.3% for mid pack runners and 29.5% for hold ups.

What we need to take from this data is that juvenile run style shape remains similar from second career start onwards; however debut data is completely different; that's something we must take into account when trying to predict how a 2yo race will pan out in terms of run style (assuming the race includes one or more debutants).


Two-Year-Old Run Style: Debut run style – does it influence follow up run? 

Let us now consider whether the run style shown by a 2yo on debut influences their second run in any way. Looking at juveniles that led on debut in 2021 (eg. gained a 4 on the Geegeez pace tab) gives the following:



If a horse has the speed to lead on debut, which we know is relatively rare from previous data, their chance of leading next time is high at 36%; in fact exactly 75% of horses that led on debut, led or raced prominently on their second career start. Those are much higher figures for front runners than the average we saw earlier – on average remember horses led on their second ever run 16.3% of the time, and led or raced prominently around half the time; here the led figure is more than double that, and the prominent figure 1.5x. Keep that in mind when assessing debut leaders.

So what happens on the second run if a horse has either raced prominently, midfield or been held up on debut? I have combined the stats on one graph for ease of comparison. The key parts of the graph are at either end – showing what percentage of horses led on their second start (on the left), and the percentage of horses that were held up on their second start (on the right).



The debut run style has a clear bearing on second start run style. As we can see, 2yos that were held up on debut led just 11.6% (about once every nine starts) in their second race, whereas 32.4% were held up once again.

The chances of leading on second start reduces from 36.4% where the horse led on debut, to 22.1% where it raced prominently on debut, to 15% when it raced mid-division on debut, down to that held up debut figure of 11.6%.


Two-Year-Old Run Style: Led on both of their last two runs

I next wanted to explore the run style figures for 2yo runners that had led on both of their previous two starts. This included all occasions when this occurred so it includes horses that led on debut and their second start; likewise it includes horses that may have led on, for instance, their fourth and fifth starts as a 2yo in 2021. Here are the findings:



Almost nearly 42% of 2yos have gone on to lead when they had led in both of their prior two races; and more than 80% led or raced prominently – given what we know from earlier articles about the value of a front rank position, that's powerful insight.

This ‘led’ figure increases to an impressive 56% when we focus on 2yos that had previously run at least five times (and led in last two starts prior).


Two-Year-Old Run Style: Held up on both of their last two runs

We have looked at the run style data for horses that led twice in a row; now a look at 2yos that were held up in both of their last two starts.



Predictably enough, perhaps, there is a complete reversal of what we saw with those juveniles which had led on both of their last two starts. Horses that were held up in consecutive runs saw just 45 of the 591 runners lead next time (7.6%) while 261 horses (44.2%) were held up once again.

I think all the data we have looked at so far shows that past run style data for 2yos is an important indicator of what a horse's future run style will/could be. Ultimately, the run style stats gathered already for this article validates why Geegeez shares past run style/pace data on their racecards.


Two-Year-Old Run Style: Individual trainer performance

I want to expand this research by looking at some 2021 run style data for individual trainers in 2yo races.

In some cases the sample sizes are relatively modest, but there are arguably still enough data for each trainer to build up a potential profile to how they handle their 2yos from a run style perspective in their early races.

There are three tables I wish to share. The first shows the 2021 data for two-year-old debut runs, focusing on run style breakdown by percentage:


Two-Year-Old Run Style: Debut run (2021), trainer run style breakdown

 [minimum 30 runs on debut]



As might be expected given the debut stats we looked at earlier, the ‘led’ column has very low percentages generally. It is only really Mark (and Charlie) Johnston and Archie Watson who seem to drill their debutants to go to the front on a regular basis (Johnston had 25 of his 98 debutants go to an early lead, Watson 7 of 30).

Five trainers, on the other hand, have percentages under 3% namely Hills, Gosden, Fahey, Varian and Easterby. Of course, a number of those trainers are playing a longer game of nurture and education with what might be valuable three-year-old prospects down the line; nevertheless, it is highly instructive for us as punters to be aware of - and able to put a number on - the differences.


Two-Year-Old Run Style: 2nd career run (2021), trainer run style breakdown

This next table shows the run style percentages by trainer of two-year-olds on their second starts:



Horses learn a lot from that first racecourse run, and that is reflected a big change here for most of the trainers. However, a few trainers still seem to be averse to allowing their runners too much front end speed latitude. The Charlton stable is one, not surprisingly (see article 3 of the series for further details), but Roger Varian and Richard Fahey also rarely send a two-year-old to the front on their second start.


Two-Year-Old Run Style: 3rd career run (2021), trainer run style breakdown

Earlier in the article we saw that second and third career starts had a very similar statistical breakdown in terms of run style breakdown; let’s now examine if that has been the case for individual trainers:



The Johnston stable on both second and third career starts sent over half of their runners into an early lead (50.6% on second run, 59.2% on third) during the 2021 season.

At the other end of the scale, the Charlton yard have seen nearly 60% of their runners race mid-division or at the back of the field early in their third starts. Patience is a virtue for this team.

In general, when it comes to a two-year-old's third career start, this cohort of trainers is more likely to send their charges to the front early. Richard Fahey, however, is still not that keen (from a decent sample size of 53 runners). Michael Bell and Richard Hughes have low percentages also but in truth they have relatively small sample sizes of 18 and 24 respectively; that said, they are also both fine exponents of handicap first-timers, and it may be that it doesn't suit the plan for these runners to be too handy early doors on their final mark-qualifying run!

Those three tables should be excellent starting points for anyone interested in trying to predict trainer run style in a 2yo race (assuming it is the horses’ first, second or third career start). However, for those of you who would like to compare the chances of an individual trainer’s horse leading in any one of their first three starts as a 2yo, I have combined the led percentages in two graphs thus:



The remaining trainer figures are shown below (it would have been far too crowded to put all the trainers on just one graph).



And that concludes this fifth and final part of the trainer run styles series. What I hope the series has demonstrated is that different trainers really do have different approaches when it comes to the likely run style of their horses. This article in particular has also shown that past pace data when taken ‘generally’ is a decent indicator of future run style. And you can get this all on the Geegeez racecards - if you're not a subscriber already, here's a link to get a £1 trial month >

To close, here are five more stats that I uncovered from the 2yo data taken from the 2021 season:

  1. 2yos that led LTO (any career start) led again next time 33.2% of the time;
  1. 2yos that were held up LTO (any career start) were held up again in their next race 36.9% of the time;
  1. Horses that were held up on their first three career starts led on their 4th start just twice from 61 qualifiers (34 were held up again which equates to nearly 56% of runners);
  1. Horses that were held up on three consecutive starts (at any time as a 2yo) saw just 6 of 149 lead next time (4%);
  1. Trainers Hugo Palmer, Simon Crisford and Sir Mark Prescott did not have enough individual data to appear earlier, however they sent out 80 2yo debutants between them in 2021, none of which took the early lead!

Good luck, and thanks for reading.

- DR

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3 replies
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. mrplow
    mrplow says:

    A bit off topic but how often would you review the query parameters, you have? For Example, value loses it allure when people notice and jump on.

    • Dave Renham
      Dave Renham says:

      It is a bit like how long is a piece of string? If possible you want to look fairly regularly at all parameters as well as time scales. No easy answer – just like racing; never easy!


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