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Pace In National Hunt Racing

Pace In National Hunt Racing

by David Renham

In a previous article I looked at whether we could predict early pace in a race on the flat. The reason I did was due to the fact that over certain distances, early leaders have a massive edge in flat races. This article follows the same type of theme, “the importance of early pace”.

So does early pace have an edge in National Hunt racing? The answer is a definite ‘yes’ and let me illustrate this by showing you some stats –

a) In 2011 the early leader has won 24% of ALL chases. To put this into perspective if there was no front running bias in chases, front runners would have won only 12% of chases this year;

b) In 2011 the early leader has won 17.5% of ALL hurdle races. With hurdle races averaging a few more runners than chases, front runners should have won about 9% of hurdle races;

c) Going back to 2005, the early leader has won over 32% of chases at Ascot; this increases to 45% for novice chases;

d) Going back to 2005, the early leader has won 16 of the 51 handicap chases at Perth over 3m. This equates to a win percentage of over 31% with an average field size of over 10. This means that front runners are 3.2 times more likely to win than they would if there was NO bias.

So these initial stats should give you, the reader, a clear indication of the advantage there often can be by taking an early lead in a National Hunt race. The bias is less prevalent in bumper races, but front runners still win 1.6 times more than you would expect given a level playing field.

I am now going to delve deeper in course stats – earlier in the article I shared with you two course based stats, and the reason I did this is because I strongly believe that a course can make a big difference in terms of the success rate for front runners. The courses in the UK vary greatly in terms of their configuration and their topology. Some have tight turns, other have long sweeping turns; some have significant uphill sections, others are undulating, while others are fairly flat. Hence some courses will favour front runners more than others. The following table shows you the success rate of front runners at UK courses in novice chases** since 2005 (I have included all courses that have had at least 25 races):

Course Wins Races SR%
Fontwell 22 42 52.38
Newbury 15 34 44.12
Ffos Las 11 28 39.29
Newton Abbot 22 60 36.67
Hereford 10 28 35.71
Sandown 9 26 34.62
Cheltenham 24 72 33.33
Sedgefield 13 39 33.33
Worcester 8 25 32.00
Chepstow 10 32 31.25
Uttoxeter 10 33 30.30
Hexham 14 48 29.17
Bangor-On-Dee 15 52 28.85
Exeter 23 81 28.40
Wincanton 11 39 28.21
Warwick 14 51 27.45
Plumpton 9 33 27.27
Market Rasen 12 45 26.67
Aintree 11 42 26.19
Huntingdon 25 99 25.25
Ludlow 8 32 25.00
Kelso 11 45 24.44
Wetherby 10 41 24.39
Southwell 6 25 24.00
Leicester 9 39 23.08
Fakenham 10 45 22.22
Perth 11 50 22.00
Stratford 11 55 20.00
Carlisle 10 50 20.00
Kempton 6 36 16.67


The table has been ordered by strike rate and as you can see, all bar one course has seen a front running strike rate of 20% or better. It should be noted that novice chases tend to be small field affairs, so you would expect the front running percentages to be high. However, the strike rate should really average around 16% and hence the courses especially worth noting are those 11 courses that have produced a strike rate of 30% or more.

So courses can make a difference to the relative chances of a front runner in these races – let us see if distance does as well. So let us look at the performance of front runners in novice chases at various distances:

Distance Wins Races SR%
2m-2m1f 132 412 32.00
2m2f-2m3f 26 99 26.26
2m4f-2m5f 129 489 26.38
2m6f-2m7f 42 143 29.37
3m or more 107 390 27.44


The biggest edge for front runners in novice chases seems to be at 2m-2m1f – the shortest chasing distances. The reason for this could simply be it is easier to lead all the way over the shortest distance – this is certainly the case for flat races where leaders in 5f races do best. I cannot be 100% sure of the reason why 2m-2m1f offers the best front running edge in novice chases, but suffice to say we need to take note of it. From here is it worth combining the 2m-2m1f with courses to see the best combinations – I have included only those courses that have had at least 20 races (which cuts the options somewhat):

Course (2m-2m1f) Wins Races SR%
Newton Abbot 10 22 45.45
Sedgefield 7 17 41.18
Cheltenham 6 17 35.29
Aintree 7 20 35.00
Warwick 7 20 35.00


Therefore, novice chases over 2m-2m1f at these 5 courses look to offer the biggest front running edge.

Of course it is one thing highlighting course and distances where front runners have a decent edge; it is another to successfully pick the front runner before the race has started. The front running edge becomes somewhat redundant if you are unable to predict the front runner pre-race. Of course you could back IR (in running) after say the runners have jumped the first fence, but the IR market will almost certainly have cut the price of the front runner making the bet far less attractive. Hence, we need to find a way of predicting the front runner accurately. This is far from an exact science and the situation is similar to one I encountered in my September article where I used trainer data rather than horse data to try and predict the front runner. The problem with using horse pace data in that article, was the lack of it – 2yo maiden runners have had very few races and in some cases have never run before. Hence, determining/predicting a running style is nigh on impossible. This time around we are talking about novice chasers – chasers that have limited or no experience jumping fences. Yes most would have developed a running style over hurdles, but it does not follow that a front running hurdler will become and front running chaser. Thus, I am going once again to look at trainer data in an attempt to improve our chances of predicting the front runner in novice chases. This time around I am not going to use trainer pace figures (see September article), I am simply going to look at the percentage of runners that have led for each trainer. I am sticking to 2m-2m1f races and here are my findings:


Trainer Horse that led early Total Runners Front Run%
Brendan Powell 11 24 45.83
Donald McCain 14 33 42.42
David Pipe 9 23 39.13
Evan Williams 27 79 34.18
Nicky Henderson 22 67 32.84
Paul Nicholls 36 126 28.57
Philip Hobbs 17 66 25.76
Milton Harris 6 24 25.00
Paul Webber 5 21 23.81
Nigel Twiston-Davies 9 40 22.50
Peter Bowen 6 29 20.69
Alan King 10 53 18.87
Nicky Richards 5 29 17.24
P Monteith 6 37 16.22
Sue Smith 4 25 16.00
Ferdy Murphy 8 51 15.69
Henry Daly 6 40 15.00
John Quinn 3 22 13.64
Michael Chapman 5 41 12.20
Gary Moore 4 43 9.30
Robert Johnson 2 36 5.56
Charlie Mann 1 26 3.85
Jonjo O'Neill 1 52 1.92
Lucinda Russell 0 22 0.00


Some significant differences as we can see. 45% of Brendan Powell’s novice chasers take an early lead, compared with 1.9% for Jonjo O’Neill and 0% for Lucinda Russell. Indeed if we dig deeper we find some more interesting facts:

Brendan Powell – of his 24 runners, none of them were held up. Hence, all his chasers led or tracked the pace;

Donald McCain – 6 of his 14 early leaders went onto win; in addition he sent out 9 runners that were held up and all have been beaten;

Evan Williams – 9 of his 27 early leaders have gone onto win, but only 2 of his 22 hold up horses;

Paul Nicholls – 18 of his 36 front runners (50%) went onto win.

Nicky Henderson – 9 of his 22 front runners (41%) went onto win.

Phillip Hobbs - 9 of his 17 front runners (53%) went onto win. Of his 17 horses that were held up, only 2 went onto win (18%).

To conclude, it is clear there is an edge for horses that take an early lead in novice chases; even more so in shorter distance ones. Of course, predicting the early leader is difficult, but the trainer data should help you in this regard.

** - novice chases only (not including beginners’ chases)

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