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Pace Bias On The Sand
With the turf flat season a distant memory and the end of March still seemingly a long time away, punters who enjoy their flat racing have all weather racing to keep them busy over these long winter months. With Chelmsford, Dundalk, Kempton, Lingfield, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton, there is a constant diet of all weather racing available.
A perennial problem for all punters is finding strategies from which to produce consistent profits. As soon as one profitable avenue opens, you do not have long to take advantage of it before it closes. Take draw bias - twenty 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. Now of course bookmakers and most punters are savvy to draw bias. In addition to that course officials are constantly trying to find ways of evening out any draw bias at their tracks. Watering systems having improved and the water is spread far more evenly across the track than it was in the past; rails are moved; while some courses constantly change the position of the stalls.
Hence I am always looking for angles which are still not fully understood by the betting fraternity and one of these is something I have written about in some detail in the past – namely pace. When I talk about pace my main focus is early pace in a race and position the horses take up early. In general most races settle down after about 1 furlong once the jockeys have positioned their horses where they want and so I am focusing on that point.
My starting point was to work out a “pace average” for specific distances / course and distances at the all weather venues. 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. I use the in running comments from the form book to generate my scores and the scoring system is calculated as follows:
5 points – for comments like “made all”, “made most”, “led for 4f”, etc.
4 points – for comments like “tracked leader”, “pressed leader”, “prominent”, etc.
3 points – for comments like “chased leaders”, “tracked leaders”, “in touch” etc.
2 points – for comments like “held up”, “raced in midfield”, etc.
1 point – for comments like “behind”, “raced in last”, “in rear”, etc.
Therefore, the higher the average pace figure for the course and distance, the higher the chance races will be won by horses that raced up with, or close to the pace. Now I am not saying this scoring system is perfect, and you have to read and understand the comments carefully, but having spent many years researching it in the past, this is the most accurate method I have found, and certainly one I understand the best.
Past research from 5 to 10 years ago suggested I should focus on the shortest distance of 5 furlongs, as traditionally this sprint distance has favoured pace horses over hold up horses. In the past I had tended to focus on handicaps of 10 or more runners, but with average field sizes seemingly on the decline I decided to include 8 and 9 runner handicaps too. Hence, let us look at the pace averages for each of the all weather courses over 5 furlongs (8+ runner handicaps). I have looked back to the beginning of the 2015 season in order to provide us with a decent amount of data to work with:
6 of the 7 courses have produced similar statistics, with Newcastle the clear exception, and in order to help readers interpret the table further, it should be stated that the average pace figure for each race averages out at around 2.72. This has been calculated by simply adding up the pace score of each horse relative to their ‘in running’ comments, divided by the number of runners in the race. I did this for all 400+ races to produce this 2.72 figure. Therefore, this is the base figure that one should use when looking at the course and distance winning pace averages. These results indicate that over 5 furlongs, horses that race close to the pace have a definite advantage at 6 of the 7 courses as their C & D averages are well above the base figure of 2.72. The figures suggest the reverse for Newcastle where it seems a slight advantage to race from further off the pace.
The million dollar question of course is how should we use this information and does it give us a potential edge? Successful betting is all about getting an edge – it is not about how many winners you back (although that may help), it is about finding value. Finding a true 3/1 shot that is priced up at 4/1 – that is value …… and it is those types of selections that will make you money in the long run. Pace data on the other hand tends to give us an overview – there is no simple system that can be employed; no one idea that will guarantee profits. You may need to put some hard yards in but I will endeavour to give you a head start by discussing the main idea I look at – namely trying to predict the front runner.
With a pace bias prevalent over a specific course and distance we can be fairly confident that front runners will win their fair share of races. If we ignore Newcastle, the other six all weather courses have seen front runners win 24% of all 5f handicap races (8+ runners). This is a powerful statistic when you appreciate that virtually all races have just one runner that sets the pace at the front, and with an average field size of 10 in the sample, front runners in reality should only win around 10% of the time.
It would be easy money if we could simply predict the front runner in every race – if you had managed this feat at the 6 courses during the period of study, you would have made a profit to Betfair SP of £6850 to £10 level stakes with a return on investment close to 200%! The problem of course is that predicting the front runner before the race is extremely difficult and definitely not an exact science. 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 horses’ last three races, I award them points depending on the formbook ‘in running’ 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). Once I have created figures for all horses in the race, I will obviously focus on the highest scorers and from there try and make an informed judgement. Of course the horse with the highest pace figure is clearly not guaranteed to lead, and other factors need to be looked at. There may for example be several horses with high pace figures in the race making a choice potentially even more difficult. You can of course look further back to runs previous to the last three to help you – this will give you a longer term in terms of their running styles. The draw (see later) and where other pace horses are drawn also needs to be taken into account as it can make a difference. I also check the jockeys focusing especially on whether there has been a change of jockey from their last three runs. If a horse has raced up with the pace in its last three races with jockey A, I would rather jockey A to still be on board rather than a change to Jockey B.
Using the last three runs to try and pinpoint the front runner was advocated by Nick Mordin in his book Winning Without Thinking. Although this book was published in 2002 the idea had even at that time been around for many years. His calculation was different to mine - he suggested Professor William Quirin’s ‘speed points’ method which was as follows:
Four points for any of the three races where the horse led before halfway;
Two points for any of the three races where the horse disputed the lead before halfway;
One point for any of the three races where the horse was prominent before halfway.
Mordin states this simplistic approach is the best method he had ever found for predicting the front runner. The more often we successfully predict the front runner the better, but even if your prediction does not front run, the chances are they will race close to the pace in the early stages and we know that these runners still are more likely to win than horses that race midfield or at the back early on.
Back to my research findings as I also wanted to look at whether the pace bias /front running bias was stronger when there were less runners in the race? One might expect this, but is this the case? The theory behind it is a fairly obvious one I think – less runners so less challengers to the front runner and hence more likely the front runner wins. There is a counter argument however, which would that with more runners, horses coming from off the pace would have more horses to pass and have potentially more traffic problems hence again giving front runners that edge. Let’s see which theory is correct! We are going to look at the pace bias stats for all winners at the 6 all weather courses highlighted earlier, broken down by number of runners in a race. All course data has been lumped together and I have combined races with 11 or 12 runners to give us a better sample size, as well as races with 13 or 14 runners:
The results do surprise me as I was expecting the first theory (smaller field bias) to be ‘proven’– in fact the results seem to indicate the opposite that the pace bias is a little stronger with more runners. This is only one part of the story however and I wanted to look at the front runner winning percentages too – here are the findings:
These results are fairly level although the 11-12 runner races saw an unusually high percentage of front running winners. What seems clear however, is that we cannot assume pace bias is stronger and / or it is easier to win from the front in smaller fields – certainly at the 5 furlong trip at least. We should take this as a positive I feel as we seem to have a decent pace edge regardless of the number of runners in a race.
Before I finish there is a little bit more research I want to share with you. The stats in this article has shown how much an advantage front runners can have over 5 furlongs and that ultimately the more often we can predict the front runner the better. I have always assumed that when a 5 furlong race occurs around a bend that the inside drawn runners are more likely to lead than those drawn wide. However, I have never checked the theory until now. I decided to look at the stats for 5 furlong handicaps at Wolverhampton where the lowest drawn horses are drawn next to the inside rail. There have been plenty of sprint races at Wolverhampton giving us a good sample size. The stats at Wolves indicate that horses drawn in the inside three stalls (normally draws 1, 2 and 3) are twice as likely to lead as horses drawn in the widest three stalls (36% versus 18%). A good starting point but this is just one course and one sample, so I decided to look at Kempton and Lingfield as well to see if this pattern repeated. I am glad to say it did and both courses produced an even stronger ‘inside bias’– 50% of the races at Kempton saw one of the three inside drawn horses lead the race early compared with 13% for the horses drawn in the widest 3 draws. Meanwhile at Lingfield over 40% of races saw one of the lowest three draws lead early compared with around 16% for the three widest drawn horses.
To conclude – in the next three months there will be plenty of 5f handicaps (8+ runners) at Chelmsford, Dundalk, Kempton, Lingfield, Southwell and Wolverhampton. Our focus should be trying to predict the front runner in such races, or at worst picking horses that will race in the front half of the pack early on in a race. Picking these ‘pace’ horses will give us an initial shortlist of runners which should produce a good percentage of winners. Using the draw info I have collated, coupled with other form reading methods one should be hopeful of finding profitable selections to kick start our 2018 campaign against the bookies!
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