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Pace In A Race Revisited
Pace In A Race Revisited by David Renham
I have not written about my favourite racing angle ‘pace’ for a while so I felt it was time to revisit it. For any new readers I’ll just go back over a few points I have mentioned in articles before. The data for this article has been taken from last three full seasons of flat racing (’08-’10).
In terms of pace/running styles, I tend to split all runners into three – those who take the lead early/dispute the lead early; those who track the pace; and those who are held up in midfield or at the back of the pack. I believe that 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 some 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.
Front runners – as noted above some courses favour front runners. The following table looks at all courses with a breakdown of wins for front runners (L) and their respective strike rates:
In general these strike rates are excellent because what you need to realise is that front runners make up only 11% of all runners – considering they win on average 19% of all flat races, it is clear that front runners do have a significant advantage.
Going – I have now moved on to seeing if the going improves or decreases the chances of front runners. Here are the findings:
When researching this I expected to find a pattern with front runners having more of an edge the softer it got – however, the good to firm or firmer figures scuppered that theory! The figures do indicate however that on the all weather there is less of an advantage to front runners / early leaders, (especially on Polytrack).
With more of a front running bias to front runners on turf, the remaining stats in the article will be concerned with turf ONLY races.
Class (turf) - I have looked to see if the class of race makes any difference to the chances of front runners:
There definitely seems to be a pattern here with the highest class of races seeing a reduced strike rate for front runners. This is perhaps not surprising as the more competitive the race is, the more likely the front runner will get challenged by more runners. The easier time of it a front runner has in front the more likely it is to hang on and win.
Distance (turf) – I have split distance up into races of 1 mile or less and races of 1m 1 furlong or more. I have also looked at handicaps and non handicaps separately to see if there is any difference there:
With handicaps designed so that all horses should theoretically finish in a straight line, it should come as no surprise that front runners are less successful in handicaps. They are generally more competitive than non handicaps and hence the front runner is likely to experience more challenges (as noted in the class section). In addition, shorter distances favour front runners more, with non handicaps of 1 mile or less being won by the front runner on average once in every four races.
Number of runners (turf) – I have split the turf races into different bands in regards to number of runners. It should be easier to lead all the way in a small field so let me look at the findings to see if this is the case:
There is a clear pattern here and follows logic – which makes a nice change in betting! Front runners therefore are far more dangerous in small fields – of course prices will reflect / compensate for this.
Predicting the front runner – If you could predict the front runner 100% of the time before the race you would make a fortune. However, predicting how the race will be run in terms of pace/running style is not an exact science. Indeed, it is hard enough predicting the front runner 40% of the time in certain races, let alone 100%! One option is that one could produce individual horse pace figures using a scoring system in an attempt to help pinpoint the most likely front runner. One such system I have used previously is this (apologies if you have heard me mention this before but many readers would not have seen this):
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.
From there I used the last three races awarding points for each horse, depending on the formbook comments they have earned 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. In an ideal world there would be 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, jockey and class of race before deciding upon the most likely front-runner.
Being able to predict the front runner on a regular basis should help not only one’s ordinary betting, but “in running” betting also. Front runners tend to shorten in price, more especially over the shorter distances. This gives traders arbing options, which theoretically gives them a winning bet regardless of the final result. Essentially they back a horse pre race (let say the most likely front runner), and then hope to lay the horse back for more money at a shorter price. If you can predict the leader enough times, then there is mileage in making profits this way.
2yo races (turf) - The points method for pace in a race discussed earlier works best with more experienced horses. So what does one do if you are trying to predict the likely pace scenario in a 2yo race? My theory is you look at trainer data. The reason behind this theory is that I believe that 99% of trainers ultimately make the decision how their 2yos should be ridden. 2yos are the babies of the racing world and all trainers have a responsibility to ‘look after’ them in their first year of racing. Hence, they will be keen to issue precise instructions to jockeys in relation to how they want them to be ridden. Knowing how a 2yo is likely to be ridden ‘pace wise’ could give you a huge edge over the majority of other punters betting in the race.
Hence let me look at the trainer percentage of 2yos that led early in a race. I have focused on trainers that had 50 runners or more. To give you a guide, in all 2yo races, the percentage of horses that led early in a race was 11.8%. This table looks at trainers whose runners led early much more than the ‘norm’.
Those trainers with percentages over 20 are roughly twice as likely to send their 2yos out into an early lead. Hence, couple this with a good draw and there is potential once more for “in running” punters to take advantage of this as prices of these leaders will contract quickly once the race is underway.
Anyone who watches a lot of racing will know that trainer Mark Johnston likes his horses to run up with the pace more than most trainers. Hence, it should come as no surprise that he is high up the list with over 23% of his 2yos taking an early lead in a race. Indeed of that 23%, over 32% managed to go onto win – this is an excellent win%. This helps to demonstrate the importance of early pace in 2yo races.
It definitely is an advantage for 2yos to race up with the pace, but some trainers either do not appreciate this, or they are keen just to give their runners a simple 2yo education to racing, by running them midfield or at the back in their first few starts.
For the record, here is a list of trainers that rarely send their 2yos into an early lead:
It is quite remarkable to note that only 1 of Mark Tompkins 201 runners in 2yo races has led early! Indeed this may explain why his 2yos have lost over 54 pence in the £ over the period of study. Ed Dunlop is one of more well known trainers in the list and he clearly does not really target 2yo races losing 63 pence in the £ on all 2yos over the last 3 years.
This article has looked at pace and running styles and I hope it has given you some food for thought.
Some Further reading on the subjet at link below
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