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Pace Angles For Profit On The All Weather


A perennial problem for all punters is finding strategies from which to produce consistent profits. As soon as one profitable avenue opens, it is not long before it closes.

Take draw bias for example. Ten to fifteen years ago, the “draw experts” had a really significant edge over the majority of punters; the main reason being that draw bias was not fully understood, and in some cases not even reported. Indeed, at that time, many punters would have had little or no knowledge of draw bias whatsoever. With no racing channels available in homes, and little if any literature on the subject of the draw, the draw experts at the track were much more aware of biases than the average punter. Hence they stayed “ahead of the crowd”, especially when it came to tracks with more subtle biases - for example due to going considerations or positioning of the stalls. These draw punters would also have been in the best position to notice any change in bias, which does happen at some courses from time to time. All this information would have been extremely valuable to the draw expert and it is clear that the prices of well-drawn horses were greater during this period with fewer punters “lumping on”.

Draw bias has been a “hot” flat racing topic for the last ten years or so due to much more media coverage. Hence, the public are much more aware of draw bias and most punters now take this into consideration when making their bet or bets. With more public awareness, the prices of well-drawn horses have started to contract and hence some, if not all of the value has diminished. Add to that rail movement from course officials and “recreational watering”, and draw experts are left with very little margin for error these days.

The aim of this article is to find a strategy that has the potential to remain profitable for not just now, but hopefully for a few years to come. It is not a new idea, but is one that I believe is under-used and under-rated. The strategy is based on “early” pace and finding all weather course and distances that favour either front runners, or horses held up for a late run.

Wolverhampton

My starting point was to work out a “pace average” for each distance at Wolverhampton. I calculated this “pace average” by giving each winner a “pace score”, and then dividing the total of the pace scores by the numbers of winners. The scoring system was thus:

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.

Therefore, the higher the average pace figure, the more likely the race was to be won by horses that raced up with the pace.

The Midlands track was re-laid with a Polytrack surface in the summer of 2004, and hence I have used data from October 2004 to September 2006. I have used handicap races with 10 or more runners. The reason for using handicaps with at least 10 runners is twofold – firstly handicaps are competitive by nature and should give the most accurate results, and secondly bigger fields are more likely to be run at a “true” pace.

The table below gives a pace average for each distance at Wolverhampton:

Distance

Number of races

Winning

Pace average

5f

54

3.31

6f

84

2.98

7f

105

2.82

1m1f *

178

2.60

1m4f

60

2.63

1m6f or more

50

2.52

* 1m 1f results cover two distances - one just below 1m 1f and the other just above 1m 1f.

In order to help readers interpret the table, it should be stated that the average pace figure for each race is around 2.55. This figure is calculated by adding up the pace figures of all the horses in all the races, and finding their average. This is necessary so that we can compare the winning pace averages against this base figure. Hence, the results indicate that over 5 furlongs, horses that race close to the pace have a definite advantage, with a winning pace average of 3.31 (well above 2.55 base figure). However, this advantage tends to diminish as the distance increases.

This theory is backed up when we look at the success of front runners (horses that led early in the race, and led for several furlongs):

Distance

% of winners for front runners

5f

18.5%

6f

14.3%

7f

14.3%

1m1f *

8.4%

1m4f

13.3%

1m6f or more

2.0%

It can be seen that front-runners have been very successful over 5 furlongs with a success rate close to 1 win in 5. Compare this to the success of front-runners racing over 1m 6f or more with just 1 win from the 50 races studied.

Strategy to implement – from this research I believe there is one sound betting strategy that can be employed in an attempt to make consistent profits at Wolverhampton.

Backing a front-runner over 5f – with an 18.5% strike rate for front-runners, this looks a sensible strategy. The problem of course is predicting the front-runner before the race. My personal approach is to produce individual horse pace figures using the same criteria as I use for calculating the course pace averages. Using a horse’s last three races, I award between 1 and 5 points depending on the formbook comments they have earned, and then calculate an average. For example, a horse that has led in both his last 2 races, but was “held up” in the third, would get a pace figure average of 4 (5+5+2 =12; then divide by 3).

These figures can then be used to try to decide who is going to front run. Of course the horse with the highest pace figure is not guaranteed to lead, and other factors like the draw come into account. Hence, let us look at an example from earlier this year with a 5f handicap run at Wolverhampton on 27th February 2006. It was a 12 runner race and the pace figures for each horse were as follows:

Mountain Pass 5.00

Almaty Express 4.33

Canadian Danehill 4.33

Hammer of the Gods 3.67

El Potro 3.33

Fizzlephut 3.33

Caustic Wit 3.00

Gone ‘N’ Dunnett 2.67

Rover Fever 2.67

Mambazo 2.67

Domirati 2.00

Namir 1.00

Horses with a pace figure of over 4.00 must have led in at least one of their races and therefore, this race seemed to have three potential front runners – Mountain Pass (5.00), Almaty Express (4.33) and Canadian Danehill (4.33).

Further inspection of their recent runs showed that Mountain Pass had led in each of his last three runs, but all the races had been maidens. Maidens are generally much less competitive than handicaps and hence easier for a front runner to lead. This detail, coupled with the fact this was Mountain Pass’s first handicap race, made it less likely he would lead. He also was drawn in 7, whereas Almaty Express and Canadian Danehill were drawn nearer the inside rail in stalls 4 and 2 respectively. Hence it seemed more likely that either Almaty Express or Canadian Danehill would lead.

It was difficult to split the pair and decide which horse would lead, but there were two additional factors that helped with that decision. The presence of Darryll Holland on Almaty Express was a positive as not only does he ride well from the front, the last time he had ridden Almaty Express, the previous August, the horse had won making all the running. Another fact in Almaty Express’s favour was that he was a genuine 5f sprinter, whereas Canadian Danehill raced between 5 and 7f. Therefore, Almaty Express looked the most likely front-runner, and that would have proved a sound decision as Almaty Express not only led early, he “made all” winning at the juicy price of 14/1.

Of course, races do not always pan out as well as this, and as we have seen, according to the stats the front-runner will win only 18.5% of the time in these 5f races. However, with a bit of hard work, (calculating the horse pace averages, taking into account the draw and other factors), punters will put themselves in a position where profits can be made. If you had correctly predicted the front runner in all the 5f handicaps at Wolverhampton since October 2004 (10 or more runners), you would have made an 18.33 point profit (+33.9%) at SP. This is assuming you had backed every single one of course!

To help one profit further, no horse drawn wider than 8 managed to “front run” and win. Hence if your research pointed to the most likely front runner being drawn 9 to 13, then you could have confidently left the race alone. That would have eliminated several losers, increasing profits in the process.

An alternative approach would be to bet “in running” and wait for the first furlong to be run and back the leader with around 4 furlongs to go. The advantage of this is that you will virtually always pick the right horse (the front runner); the disadvantage would be that you might have to take a slightly shorter price about the horse in question.

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For those readers who are lucky enough to be able to bet “in running” on a regular basis, another strategy that should make money at Wolverhampton is by laying the front-runner in races at 1m 6f or more. With a 2% strike rate for front-runners, one could consider watching the first two furlongs of a distance race at Wolves and simply laying the front-runner.

To illustrate even more how the front-runner struggles at these distances look at the finishing positions of the 50 front-runners: P, 7, 9, 7, 12, 7, 2, 13, 5, 11, 7, 5, 9, 12, 11, 11, 7, 11, 11, 12, 5, 8, 5, 12, 11, 11, 10, 3, 9, 7, 2, 8, 6, 9, 2, 5, 11, 10, 1, 12, 8, 2, 8, 7, 10, 11,12, 9, 10, 2.

Only 7 horses have finished in the first three, while 21 have finished tenth or worse.

One advantage of laying the front-runner “in running” is that usually you can lay the horse in question at lower than SP. Hence profits should be enhanced further.

Southwell – the Nottinghamshire track is the only all weather track in this country whose surface is fibresand since Wolverhampton’s switch to polytrack in 2004. Fibresand rides deeper than polytrack and the perception is that it is difficult to come from off the pace at Southwell due to the “kick-back”. The focus for this research has once again been 10 or more runner handicaps and the data is taken from January 1st 2003 to the present day.

The table below gives a pace average for each distance at Southwell:

Distance

Number of races

Winning

Pace average

5f

63

3.41

6f

86

3.14

7f

68

2.84

1m

131

2.98

1m3f-1m4f

69

2.75

1m6f or more

31

2.74

The average pace figure for each race at Southwell is around 2.64. As mentioned earlier, this figure is calculated by adding up the pace figures of all the horses in all the races, and finding their average. As we can see, the winning pace averages for each distance are all higher than the base average of 2.64. Therefore, simply by comparing the averages, it can be seen that horses that race closer to the pace do better at Southwell than those that do not. An immediate indication that the “kick-back” theory mentioned earlier is a sound one.

Hence, the results indicate that over 5 and 6 furlongs, horses that race close to the pace have a significant advantage, with winning pace averages of 3.41 and 3.14 (well above 2.64 base figure).

This theory is backed up when we look at the success of front runners (horses that led early in the race, and led for several furlongs):

Distance

% of winners for front runners

5f

15.9%

6f

16.3%

7f

4.4%

1m

6.9%

1m3f -1m4f

5.8%

1m6f or more

6.5%

It can be seen that front runners have been very successful over 5 and 6 furlongs with a success rate around 1 in 6. As the table shows, front runners find it tough to “make all” in races of 7 furlongs or more.

Strategies to implement – earlier in the article it was noted that profits could be made by simply backing the front runner in 5f handicaps at Wolverhampton. Profits could be enhanced by ignoring potential front runners drawn 9 or higher as Wolverhampton’s left-handed track favours low drawn horses. The “art” of predicting the front-runner was also discussed above. This is not an exact science, but by following some general guidelines, it becomes much easier. This approach of backing front runners “blind”, could be implemented again at Southwell, but this time there are two distances, (5 & 6f), where potential profits await. Indeed, you would have made a 116.5 point profit if you backed every front-runner over 5 and 6 furlongs since 2003. That equates to a profit of over 78%. Backing the front-runner over sprint trips at Southwell is clearly a viable option, but I am going look at alternative ways of securing profits at Southwell.

1. Laying hold up horses over 5f “in running” – in order to appreciate how difficult it is for horses to come from well off the pace over 5f at Southwell, let me give you a breakdown of the pace figures achieved by all the winners:

58 winners achieved a pace figure of 3, 4 or 5;

5 winners achieved a pace figure of 2 or 1.

Hence, of the 63 races, only 5 winners came from horses that raced the first part of the race in “midfield” or around / at the back of the pack. That equates to a success rate of 7.9%. Now, the idea of laying horses can still frighten punters, but in order to show the potential of this idea, we need to first look at how a typical 5f race might pan out. Let us imagine a 13-runner race, and after a couple of furlongs the race might be shaping up thus:

1 horse leading; 3 horses racing prominently just behind the leader; 3 horses in the front rank of the “chasing pack”; 3 horses in the middle of the chasing pack; 3 horses racing at the back of the field.

Using my pace figure scoring system, the average for this race would be 2.69, so matches well with the 2.64 base figure for all Southwell races. This conforms to a fairly “typical” race-shape. Now, let us look at the potential of this laying idea:

According to the past results only 7.9% of horses win these races with a pace figure of 1 or 2. In the above example, six of the 13 runners that have that mountain to climb – those racing in the middle of the chasing pack or those at the back of the field.

With the average number of runners in a 5f handicap at Southwell being 13 (handy that), one can see that on average six horses in every race will have a combined 7.9% chance of winning the race. Not one horse then …………….. six horses! This gives us, the punter, six potential laying opportunities in one race! In other words - six chances to win. Sounds easy, but of course this poses a problem. Imagine, if we are going to try to lay these horses “in running”, we need to be able to lay six horses in a very short amount of time. Is this possible? Possibly, depending on the speed of your computer, your fingers, and your speed of thought; but it is not a strategy that many of us will get close to mastering. Not only do you need to lay the correct horses, you need to match at a price you are happy with, and an amount you are happy with. With a 5f race taking around 1 minute from start to finish, this gives you approximately 12 seconds if trying to lay all six horses mid-race. Therefore, it seems sensible to pursue a slightly different strategy.

One option is to cut the number of horses you are going lay mid-race. Attempting to lay three runners is a more realistic target and the potential for profits are still huge if you are able to do this on a regular basis. Let us crunch some numbers:

Let us assume you have been able to place three lays per race for 63 races. This would total 189 lays. We would expect just 5 of those bets to have been unsuccessful; the other 184 would have been winning lays. The starting prices of the five losing lays in question were 9/2, 11/2, 13/2, 14/1 and 20/1. Even if you were forced to lay at SP +50%, a profit of around 108 points would still have been achieved (before commission). I have assumed that all five losing lays came out of the 189 horses in question –of course some, or indeed all of them, could have come from the 189 horses you did not lay. However, it is always wise to look at worst case scenario when looking at laying ideas.

The sceptics amongst you will argue that even trying to lay three such horses per race will be difficult to achieve. More from the point of view of getting the bet matched at a price you would accept than the “speed” factor. This might well be true, but with the percentages strongly stacked in your favour, one would be unlucky not to make a profit on the lays that you were able to get matched.

2. Laying hold up horses over 5f using pace figures – an alternative method would be this. Before the race, try and predict how the race will be run by producing individual horse pace figures using the same criteria as I use for calculating the course pace averages. This method was discussed last week, but here is a quick recap. I use the last three races awarding between 1 and 5 points for each horse, depending on the formbook comments they have earned, and then calculate an average 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 be “held up” nearer the back of the field than the front. Here is an example of a race held on the 8th March 2005. The prediction for how the race would “shape up” was as follows:

FRONT

Roxanne Mill 4.33
Byo 3.33 
Monte Major 3.33 
Mynd 3.33
Blueberry Rhyme 3.00 
Awake 2.66
Gone´N´Dunnett 2.33 
Far Note 2.00 
Sir Sandrovitch 2.00
Imtalkinggibberish 1.67 
Embassy Lord 1.33

REAR

Imco Sasihill 1.00 
Lualua 1.00 
Sea the World 1.00

The five horses with pace figures of less than 2.00 stood out as the ones to concentrate on. These were the most likely horses to race nearer last than first in the early stages of the race. The plan therefore would be to look to “lay” some, or all of these horses before the race. If they raced as expected, the chance of one of them winning was slim. Here is how the race actually panned out in terms of their “mid-race” positions. The five potential lays are bolded:

FRONT

Roxanne Mill 
Byo
Blueberry Rhyme 
Awake Gone´N´Dunnett 
Monte Major 
Mynd 
Imtalkinggibberish
Lualua
 
Sir Sandrovitch

REAR

Imco Sasihill 
Far Note 
Sea the World 
Embassy Lord

Three of the five raced at the back, while two of them raced virtually in the middle of the pack. A fairly pleasing prediction and therefore the outcome of the race should come as no surprise:

1st Byo; 2nd Gone´N´Dunnett; 3rd Sir Sandrovitch

The five horses highlighted before the race all failed to finish in the first three, while the first two raced near the front the whole way.

Whichever method you choose, (laying “in running”, or laying before the race using pace figs), the statistics indicate that you should make sound long term profits. Yes, there will be the occasional “reverse”, and when laying one needs to appreciate the potential losses can be great. Hence, punters should “lay” within their means, and not try to be too greedy. With anything from one to six horses to make potential gains, sensible stakes should be the order of the day.

There is one final option to throw into the melting-pot. How about considering using a combination of both methods? Work out the horse pace figures before the race and be prepared to lay these horses as early as possible “in running”. Knowing which horses are likely to be near the back early on in a race should help with the sharp decisions required for laying “in running”.

For the non-layers out there, I will reiterate that the viable alternative at Southwell would be to back the front-runner over not only 5f, but 6f as well. This can be achieved by backing early “in running”, or by using your horse pace figures as a predictive guide………………. or of course, a combination of them both!

Lingfield – the surface at the Surrey track was originally equitrack, but the switch was made to Polytrack in Autumn 2001. The focus for this research has once again been 10 or more runner handicaps, and the data is taken from January 1st 2003 to Septmeber 2006.

The table below gives a pace average for each distance at Lingfield:

Distance

Number of races

Winning

Pace average

5f

35

3.29

6f

113

2.91

7f

172

2.84

1m

128

2.91

1m2f

156

2.51

1m4f-1m5f

104

2.20

2m

34

2.76

In order to help readers interpret the table, it should be stated that the average pace figure for each race at Lingfield is around 2.50. Once again, as with Wolverhampton and Southwell, the 5 furlong trip seems to offer front-runners / prominent racers an advantage. A figure of 3.29 is easily the highest in the above table of winner averages and well above the overall average of 2.50.

The table below shows the success rate for the front-runner at each distance and as expected front-runners over 5f are the most successful. That was the case at both the other courses studied and is perhaps not surprising – we might expect it to be more difficult for an early front runner to maintain its position and win over longer distances:

Distance

% of winners for front runners

5f

14.3%

6f

12.4%

7f

9.9%

1m

12.5%

1m2f

6.4%

1m4f-1m5f

2.9%

2m

2.9%

The performance of the front-runner at 1m4f or longer is poor – just 4 wins from 138 runners. Similarly the 1m 2f trip sees the front-runner win only around 1 in every 16 races.

The general perception is that Lingfield is a course where front runners struggle, and this is borne out by the figures. Although there is a lower strike rate for front runners over longer distances at all 3 AW courses, Lingfield is certainly the lowest at 2.9% for 1m4f+ compared to 6% for Southwell and 8% at Wolverhampton. Similarly over the sprints - front runners are less successful at Lingfield with the overall strike rate being 12.8% compared to 15.9% and 16.1% at Wolverhampton and Southwell respectively.

This is further borne out by the overall winning pace averages - Lingfield is the one that least favours horses that race prominently (race up at or near the front). The figures below show the average pace score across all winners at all distances for each course:

Course

Winning Pace average

(all distances)

Southwell

3.00

Wolverhampton

2.77

Lingfield

2.72

Strategies to implement – we now need to consider how best to utilise the information from Lingfield in order to give profitable opportunities. The option of backing front-runners, a method advocated earlier in the piece, is probably viable over 5f. However, there are two different approaches that look to offer a better return:

1.  Laying front-runners “in running” at 1m4f or longer – it has already been noted that only 4 horses from 138 runners have led from start to finish in races of 1m4f or longer at Lingfield. The starting prices of these horses make interesting reading – 13/8, 6/5, 11/2 and 9/4. All the winners were fairly short prices, which from a laying point of view is what we want to see. Laying front-runners in long-distance events is considerably more straight-forward than backing them in sprints. One idea is that we wait for the race to start; see how the first 3 or 4 furlongs unfold, and then lay the horse that is leading “in running”.

One advantage of this strategy is that the horse in question should be trading at a lower price than when the race started. Hence, if the horse 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 further limit any losses. Applying this method since 2003, the profits for laying 1 point at SP would have been 123.67 points. That equates to a remarkable percentage profit of 89.6%. Of course, it may not be that easy – if two or more horses are challenging for the lead it is possibly best to leave the race alone; likewise if the front-runner is a big outsider, and the price does not seem to be shortening, again it is probably best to leave the race alone. The alternative method mentioned already in this article would be to try and predict how the race will be run by producing individual horse pace figures (see above). 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. Whichever method you use, should hopefully give you a fair chance to profit from laying these front-runners.

Of course past results are no guarantee of future performance. However, both the low strike rate of front-runners, and the low pace average for the winners, (especially at 1m4f-1m5f), gives plenty of cause for optimism for the coming years.

2. Backing horses that have run well against a “pace bias” (in future races) – it has already been established that horses that front-run over longer distances at Lingfield struggle to win. Therefore a strategy that could be employed is to look for horses that have gone close to winning when racing up at the front. These horses can be said to have run well against the course “pace bias”, and it could be argued that they are worth following in subsequent races. The idea therefore, would be to back these runners in their next three starts stopping at a winner. One might ask why three races? Why not just their next race? Well, this idea is similar to backing horses that have run well against the draw bias and my experience suggests that a strategy of waiting for a maximum of three subsequent runs has proved to be optimum. Hence, it seems logical to follow a previously successful avenue of research.

Initially, I decided to look at horses that had finished second over 1m4f or more, having “led” for most of the race. However, since 2003, there had only been 11 qualifiers, and despite the system showing a profit, I felt I needed to expand the thinking slightly. I decided therefore to add two new rules. Firstly I included qualifiers over 1m2f, as front runners had a poor record over that distance as well as the longer distances (a 6.4% strike rate); and secondly I included horses that had raced just behind the leader for the majority of the race. Using the form book I looked for comments such as “chased leader”, “presser leader”, or “tracked leader”. I double-checked all these qualifiers by closely analysing all the race-reading comments, and it became clear that all these runners had essentially raced in second place. Hence the strategy is:

1. Look for horses that finished second at Lingfield over 1m2f or longer.

2. Note horses that had led or been ridden in second place for the majority of the race.

3. Back all qualifiers for their next three starts stopping at a winner.

The results were:

Qualifying horses 44

Bets 102

Wins 22

Strike Rate 21.6%

Profit +41.85 points (to 1pt level stakes)

%Profit +41%

The system still produces a limited number of qualifiers, but it has shown a reasonable enough return. One extra fact worth noting about this system was that there were numerous placed efforts including a second at 16/1, and thirds at 20/1 and 25/1 respectively. This gives added confidence that the system will continue to perform well in the future.

Using and interpreting race-reading comments has been the backbone of this article. The formbook race-readers do an excellent and accurate job, but these days, with the Racing Channels on satellite TV, it is possible to do this type of research from the comfort of your own living room using your video/DVD player. It could be argued that this would be the most effective way to study how races are run, and if the time is available, it could be time well spent. In theory this would lead to more detailed comments about each runner.

For example, a horse that gained the following form book comments “chased leaders; hampered 2f out; faded final furlong” gives some information, but if watching the race might give a clearer picture: ”slightly slow into stride; 4th after 1f; remained 4th until 2f out; went 6th when hampered; recovered back to 4th just inside final furlong; faded to 7th.” And of course, the more detailed the comments, the more they can be utilised in the future.

Many of us of course, do not have the time to go to such lengths in terms of researching potential future winners. The good news of course is that the potentially profitable strategies discussed in this article can all be implemented by simply using the expert race-readers in the press.

In order to stay ahead of the game, it is important to be receptive to new ideas, and I hope this article has given food for thought. All weather racing may still not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it should give punters an excellent opportunity to make some money for some time to come.








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