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National Hunt Pace Bias

National Hunt Pace Bias

Pace bias and/or running styles is something regular readers will know is an aspect of racing I often write about. For me it is still an area where an edge can be obtained, but you do need to do some hard work.

In this article I have looked at 2m-2m2f handicap chases since 2005. During these 1178 races there have been the following splits in terms of which running style has been successful:

Early leaders – won 21.4% of all races;

Horses that tracked the pace (eg. raced prominently, raced close up, etc) – won 48.7% of all races;

Horses held up in midfield or near the back early in the race – won 29.9% of all races.

Looking at the bare stats you may be thinking that prominent racers have the edge, but you need to remember that in each race the breakdown of say a 9 runner race would see just 1 early leader; 4 horses tracking the pace and 4 horses held up. Hence, it is the early leaders or front runners that actually have the edge in these races. Indeed front runners have provided only 13.2% of all runners, but they have provided 21.4% of the winners.

Hence being able to predict the front runner has become a bit of an obsession of mine as if you could predict it 100% of the time, my hypothesis is that you would achieve returns of £1.30 for every £1 wagered in handicap chases of 2m to 2m2f – this equates an ROI of around 30% and I am only working to SP on these predictive figures. To Betfair prices or BOG prices this figure would be nearer 55-65%.

It sounds easy doesn’t it? All you need to do is predict the early leader of a race / front runner and profits simply roll in. Unfortunately, as yet, I have not found an easy way to get this front running prediction to much higher than 50%. In fact, I doubt with even the most ingenious computer programming that it is possible to predict the front runner much more than 50% of the time - there are simply too many variables that come into the mix. With this sort of % figure for front running predictive success however, a profit can still be made, but it is necessary to look at other factors to try and increase profits. One way of doing this is by looking at course pace data. Courses vary in configuration and terrain and some courses are simply better for front runners than others. In the table below I have looked the breakdown of winners in terms of pace, at all the courses in Britain – three courses are not included due to very limited data - these being Ffos Las, Musselburgh and Fakenham.

Course Led win% Tracked pace win% Held up win%
Aintree 17.6 35.3 47.1
Ascot 40.0 40.0 20.0
Ayr 24.2 66.7 9.1
Bangor-On-Dee 24.3 32.4 43.2
Carlisle 14.3 57.1 28.6
Cartmel 17.6 47.1 35.3
Catterick 15.0 50.0 35.0
Cheltenham 17.4 43.5 39.1
Chepstow 13.3 43.3 43.3
Doncaster 26.7 40.0 33.3
Exeter 14.3 47.6 38.1
Folkestone 23.8 57.1 19.0
Fontwell 26.2 41.5 32.3
Haydock 15.8 52.6 31.6
Hereford 29.4 44.1 26.5
Hexham 24.2 48.5 27.3
Huntingdon 24.2 39.4 36.4
Kelso 22.2 52.8 25.0
Kempton 28.6 64.3 7.1
Leicester 26.3 47.4 26.3
Lingfield 22.2 72.2 5.6
Ludlow 18.2 31.8 50.0
Market Rasen 25.8 45.2 29.0
Newbury 6.3 68.8 25.0
Newcastle 12.5 62.5 25.0
Newton Abbot 10.0 74.0 16.0
Perth 14.3 45.7 40.0
Plumpton 19.2 57.7 23.1
Sandown 21.1 36.8 42.1
Sedgefield 23.5 47.1 29.4
Southwell 14.3 65.7 20.0
Stratford 27.3 34.1 38.6
Taunton 25.0 41.7 33.3
Towcester 18.2 47.7 34.1
Uttoxeter 37.0 25.9 37.0
Warwick 16.7 37.5 45.8
Wetherby 28.0 56.0 16.0
Wincanton 22.5 52.5 25.0
Worcester 22.9 52.1 25.0


As you can see courses do vary markedly – Ascot for example has seen 40% of wins for front runners, whereas Newbury has seen just 6.3%. I tend to focus on courses that have a front running win% of 25 or more and I have ordered these below:

Course Led win%
Ascot 40.0
Uttoxeter 37.0
Hereford 29.4
Kempton 28.6
Wetherby 28.0
Stratford 27.3
Doncaster 26.7
Leicester 26.3
Fontwell 26.2
Market Rasen 25.8
Taunton 25.0


In terms of my personal betting, these courses are ones I tend to focus on when betting on what I think is going to be the most likely front runner. I also use Lingfield and Ayr, as both these courses are very poor for hold up horses and above average in terms front running wins.

Hence I focus primarily on 13 courses for my front running handicap chase bets – using these courses should increase my winning strike rate. As long as I continue to hit close to 50% in terms of predicting the leader then there is a good chance of making long term profits with my approach.

Going back now to the predicting the front runner – here is a summary of how I go about it:

  • I create pace figures for each horse over their past 6 runs. I give 5 points for horses that led early in a race; the lowest figure I give is 1.5 for horses that were held up at the back early. This gives me some raw figures to work as a starting point;
  • Any horse with a high pace figure is considered as a potential front runner;
  • Horses with high pace figures are looked at in more detail in terms of their pace/running style in these latest 6 runs;
  • I check all the runners to see how many times they have led early in the past 6 runs. This is just in case a horse has recently switched its style of running from a held-up style to a leading style, especially if it has shown improvement when switches to more forcing tactics. These runners would probably still have a lowish pace figure so I want to make sure that I don’t miss anything;
  • I look at the jockeys as certain jockeys take an early lead more often than others. For example, Tony McCoy does not tend to lead very often in these handicap races, whereas Paul Moloney has led early in 10 of his 23 rides;
  • I look at the trainers in the same way. Nigel Twiston-Davies for example prefers his runners to race close to or up with the pace;
  • The number of runners clearly can make a big difference. A horse leading a 6 runner race may have little competition for an early lead; however a 15 runner race will almost certainly see more competition for an early lead.


As with anything in life, the more you ‘put in’, the more you tend to ‘get out’. I will personally continue to work hard at my pace research because it does actually seem to pay dividends.

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