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More Pace Research
More Pace Research by David Renham
For this article I am going to revisit the whole question of pace or running styles with focus being on front runners. For the last four or five years the question of “pace” in a horse race is something that has become quite a hot topic. In the Racing Post for example, it is not unusual to read such comments as “all the pace is high so I expect high draws to prevail” or “there is plenty of pace in the race, which could set the race up for a finisher”; or “**** is the only confirmed front runner and hence could get a soft lead in front”.
Knowing how a race is likely to “pan out” in terms of a “pace angle” can give punters a valuable insight for a variety of reasons:
1. Some course and distances do strongly favour horses that front run / race up with the pace; likewise there are plenty of others where front runners really struggle. Knowing this information can give you the extra confidence to back a selection, or indeed steer you clear of another.
2. Knowing how a race is likely to be run in terms of how much pace there is the race makes it easier to spot horses that may get a soft lead for example. Horses that get a soft lead have a much better chance of winning as their jockey should be able to set the ideal pace from the front. Conversely you may have a race with 3 or 4 confirmed front runners. In this case, the chances are that the front runners will go off too quickly as they try to dominate each other, and hence the race is often set up for a horse coming from off the pace.
3. In big field straight course handicaps where the field splits into two distinct groups, there is sometimes an ‘advantage’ to one side in terms of pace. With confirmed front runners or pace setters on one particular side, there is more chance of a truly run race and hence one would expect the side with “better pace” to generally out perform the other. Unfortunately this is not an exact science but it can give you some useful clues.
4. Front runners over shorter distances tend to trade lower “in running”; likewise hold up horses tend to trade higher “in running”. Knowing what running style a horse has can give you an “in running” edge over other traders.
Therefore, understanding pace / running styles can give you a useful advantage over fellow punters. However, for many, pace / running styles do not enter calculations when having a bet. Hence, for those of us who use this approach, we still should have an edge over the majority.
My theory about pace bias is similar to draw bias – it works best in handicaps and it works best when there is decent number of runners. Hence for this research I have concentrated on handicaps only with 10 or more runners.
Before moving on to the main focus of this article let me share the following information you. To give you some idea how well front runners do at shorter distances, it should be noted that in 10 or more runner handicaps front runners win around 23% of races - that is nearly 1 race in 4. Hence, if you back in 5f handicaps you must always respect the most likely front runner. Indeed, if you were Mystic Meg and able to predict the front runner before every 5f handicap you would make an absolute fortune by backing all of them! However, this is not possible of course, although with some research you certainly have a good chance of the predicting the front runner in at least 50% of 5f sprints.
Conversely, it should come as no surprise that as the distance increases front runners start to find it harder to make all the running. Indeed over 1m 4f or more in 10 or more runner handicaps, only 9.8% of front runners manage to last home. Now, the main focus of the research for this article is to pinpoint those course and distances where front runners struggle – hence I expected that there would plenty more longer distances than shorter ones! As an “in running” punter as well as a traditional one, this course and distance knowledge would help me in terms of laying poor value front runners.
We have already seen the difference between the winning percentage for front runners at 5f compared to 1m4f or more. Taking all distances into account, front runners win roughly 15% of races in 10 or more runner handicaps. I decided I would look for course and distances where the front runner won less than 7% of the time. In addition, I decided to work out the percentage for the first three home – the idea being that if this figure was surprisingly high, then I would treat the raw win percentage with more caution.
The list has been compiled in alphabetical order and data has been taken from 1997 to the present day:
As you can see I have grouped some distances together as certain courses displayed a similar bias over a particular distance spread. Not surprisingly there is only one 5f course and distance in the list; indeed there are only 5 course and distances that are less than 1 mile. The majority are longer distances as we would have expected.
Southwell on the all weather over 2 miles has been the worst course for front runners with just 1 runner from 108 managing to make all the running! This looks a license to print money from a laying “in running” perspective.One idea would be to wait for the relevant race to start; see how the first half of the race unfolds and then lay the leader (assuming it has led all the way to that point). Now laying is fraught with danger at big prices, but 47 of the front runners at Southwell started 10/1 or shorter. Indeed none of them won so even at a very conservative £2 a lay, you would have made a tidy £94 before commission; at £5 a lay this would have increased to £235 before commission. This laying idea looks to be a valid one here at Southwell, as well as at all the other course and distances in the list. I personally would be looking to lay all front runners after a few furlongs as long as a) they have taken the lead immediately or within the first furlong; b) their price was not too big to begin with; and c) the price had not drifted out considerably from the last show.
Of course when trading “in running” everything moves quite quickly so when a horse takes an early lead, you may not have any idea what price the horse traded at just before the off. To counteract this, you should open a window up on your computer with the betting from a traditional bookmaker. Once the front runner is established you can see what its last price was at the bookies and if you add around 20% that will give you a decent estimate of what price it was on Betfair at the off. From there you can go back to concentrating on the horse / race and the Betfair screen.
One advantage of this strategy of laying front runners is that the horse in question rarely trades too much higher in running that its initial price at the off. In addition, the longer the horse leads, the shorter the price tends to become, so timing the lay is naturally quite important. In long distance flat races you may see little change in price for a considerable time so be prepared for that scenario. Of course in an ideal world we would lay the front runner at the shortest possible price before it starts go backwards. This is impossible however, and if you are too greedy there is a chance you will miss your opportunity as the horse gets passed earlier than you had expected. Once a leader is passed the price will then often go through the roof and it is not worth laying at huge odds just in case the horse rallies and gets back in front.
If the horse you layed still manages to “make all”, then the chances are it would have been layed at a price even shorter than the starting price which will limit any losses in the long run. It is not an exact science, but with practice it is definitely an area where money can be made as we are talking about roughly 1 horse in 20 managing to make all the running at the course and distances highlighted.
Of course, as stated near the beginning, this information is not just for “in running” punters, it can be utilized in traditional betting. One idea is to try and predict the front runner before the start of the race.
Hence in order to try and predict how the race will be run you could produce individual horse pace figures using the following scoring system:
5 points – for comments like “made all”, “made most”, “led for 4f”, etc.
4 points – for comments like “tracked leader”, “prominent”, etc.
3 points – for comments like “in touch”, “chased leaders”, etc.
2 points – for comments like “held up”, “midfield”, etc.
1 point – for comments like “behind”, “raced in last”, etc.
I use the last three races awarding points for each horse, depending on the formbook comments they have earned (see above), and then calculate an average for each horse. For example, a horse that has “held up” in both his last 2 races, but “chased leaders” in the third, would get a pace figure average of 2.33 (2+2+3 =7; then divide by 3).
When you have your set of figures for each horse, you are in a position to try to decide which horses are most likely to lead. Ideally you would have one horse on 5.0 and the remainder under 3.0 – that would usually be a pretty clear cut case, but of course these situations are rare to say the least. Once I have the 3 race pace averages for each horse, I tend to look at the horses that have the highest pace figures in more detail. I look back at their last 10 races to get a better overall “feel” about their running style. That combined with the basic pace figure for each horse usually gives a strong enough indication of which horse is most likely to lead. Of course, you may wish other factors to be taken into account such as draw position and class of race before deciding upon the most likely front-runner.
Once deciding upon the most likely front runner, or indeed front runners one option then is to lay the horse or horses before the start. Habitual front runners tend to always try and front run and if they cannot for some reason (usually a quicker front runner), they tend to expend too much energy trying to do. Hence, I would not worry if there were two or three potential front runners in a race as it should increase the number of solid laying opportunities. The course and distances in the table favour hold up horses and hence horses that race close to the leader tend to struggle also.
If you are not a layer, you may want to consider the following idea. Imagine a 12 runner race where you have pinpointed 3 genuine front runners. You decide to rule all three out as statistically their chances of winning are slim and hence look to back one of the other 9 runners. The chances are that the winner will come from those 9 so you are using you pace and course understanding to narrow down the candidates thus giving yourself a better opportunity of finding a winning bet.
The ideas from this research are not endless, but there are several avenues to explore. Indeed, one such avenue was looking at horses that had won from the front at any of the course and distances in the table. My theory was that if a horse had made all the running, then they must have run incredibly well against a strong negative pace bias. With that being the case, maybe they were worth backing again next time out? The results showed that of the 173 qualifiers, 31 went on to win again next time out – a strike rate of just under 18%. That was extremely positive, and backing all runners would have made a small profit of £582 to £100 level stakes. Clearly not a fortune, but it was pleasing that the idea showed promise. Indeed, I then decided to focus on course and distances where the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed percentage was under 25% - the idea being that I was now focusing on those where front runners fared the worst. The figures now start to look very interesting – 28 wins from 139 runners (SR 20.1%) for a profit of £2607 to £100 level stakes.
My argument would be that this idea of backing past winners could be developed further – for example does it make a difference if only concentrate on winners that raced at course and distances next time that actually favoured front runners? My gut feeling is that it would improve matters further, but that research is for another time. There’s only so much time in the day, and only so much you can write in one article!
I hope you have found the article interesting – I certainly have and I will continue to develop my pace / running styles understanding over the coming months.
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