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Running Styles - Pace Bias
For this article I am going to revisit the whole question of pace or running styles. For the last four or five years the question of “pace” in a horse race is something that has become quite a hot topic. In the Racing Post for example, it is not unusual to read such comments as “I expect the far side to be favoured as that is where the best pace is or “there is plenty of pace in the race, which could set the race up for a finisher”; or “**** could get a soft lead in front and hence might be difficult to pass”. Knowing how a race is likely to “pan out” in terms of a “pace angle” can give punters a valuable insight, which in turn can lead to that all important “edge” over your fellow punters. I have used the “pace angle” more and more in my favoured betting medium – sprint handicaps.
I have written in the past the advantage there is at certain courses over 5f for front runners / prominent runners. For this article I have focused on 6f turf handicap races with 10 or more runners to see if a similar situation arises. The reason for using handicaps with at least 10 runners is threefold – firstly handicaps are competitive by nature and should give the most accurate results, secondly bigger fields are more likely to run at a “true” pace, and thirdly there is less chance of a horse getting a soft lead in front.
The reason for the research is twofold – firstly I hope you find it an interesting angle to read about, and secondly from a selfish point of view it helps me gain an edge with my betting. Knowing courses which have a bias to front runners is clearly useful, as is knowing which courses suit hold up horses that come from off the pace.
This article hopefully explains the whole research process and how you need to dig deeper than simply looking at the initial raw figures / percentages. The data for the article is taken from the last eight full seasons – 2000 to 2007.
My starting point was to simply split all runners into three pace groups – I have used five in the past, but for this type of research I felt it certainly would save time if I concentrated on three main groups – these were:
Leaders – horses that led early or disputed the lead early;
Prominent – horses that raced behind the leader or leaders and close to the pace;
Held up – horses that were settled in midfield or at/near the back of the field.
My first task was to simply record which group won at each course. Here are the findings (fig 1):
This is a good starting point but we need to make it easier to quantify what the numbers actually mean. Hence, from here I decided to split the wins for each column into percentages to make it easier to compare and contrast different courses (see Fig 2):
An important point to make at this juncture is that there will be many more horses in the prominent and held up sections than in the leader section. Essentially only 1 or 2 horses can “lead” early – usually 1, but if 2 horses disputed the lead, or if the field splits into 2 groups then there would be 2 leaders. For all courses the percentage of runners for each group is shown in Fig 3:
Hence the prominent and held up groups produce virtually the same percentage of runners each time. Hence in a typical 10 runner handicap one would expect one of the following splits:
- 1 leader, with 4 prominent racers and 5 runners held up; or
- 1 leader, with 5 prominent racers and 4 runners held up.
The course percentage table (Fig 2) can now be more easily dissected as we can now compare the figures with the overall course percentages from Fig 3. Hence, if we look at Ripon as an example we have the following comparison:
This comparison shows the advantage front runners have and the disadvantage hold up horses have at Ripon over 6f. Essentially if there was no bias to any specific running style then the figures would be the same (eg. leaders would score 10.8% of the time). However, leaders at Ripon score 2.44 times more than statistically they should assuming a level playing field. Prominent runners also exceed the average percentage scoring 1.27 times more than expected, whereas, horses that are held up score 2.71 times less than expected. All in all, horses that race up with, or close to the pace have a significant advantage at Ripon over 6f. Hold up horses on the other hand, are at a big disadvantage.
Now those of you reading this that have a good grasp of statistics, will argue that the results of this comparison still need to be more accurate. You would be right as I was using the average course percentages. In order to be more accurate we need to take into account the exact numbers of leaders, prominent runners and hold up horses at each course and compare with the wins for each group. To do this I have divided the number of wins for each group by the number of runners in each group and converted the results into percentages. When looking at these percentages they may seem quite low, but remember we are looking at races with 10 or more runners so one should expect single figure win percentages.
The important aspect to look for in the final table is the comparison between the three groups. For example, sticking with Ripon we see the percentages are:
These figures clearly illustrate the pace bias at this course and distance with a big advantage to horses that lead and a big disadvantage to those who are held up. Here is the complete course comparison table (Fig 4):
This table now gives as accurate a picture of course pace bias in 6f 10+ runner handicaps as I can generate from the method that I have been using. Looking at figures it is clear that the majority of courses in this study favour horses that lead, with prominent runners next best, while horses that are held up are at a severe disadvantage. This should make sense as in sprint races with decent sized fields horses racing midfield or at the back need not only to have luck in running, but also need all of the horses in front of them to run more slowly than them at the business end of the race. Making up ground in a 2 mile race is much easier than making ground up in a 6f sprint.
In terms of making money – what all punters are really concerned with – how is this information useful? In the third paragraph of this article I mentioned this research helps me gain an edge with my betting. How I hear you ask? Well firstly there is the ‘in running’ angle. Knowing which course and distances strongly favour front runners means that I am in a position to back a front runner early in a race knowing that the horse is likely to be a value bet. In running punting is still not the favoured medium for the majority so let me discuss how I would utilize the pace information pre race. Perhaps it may be best to give an example:
The race I am going to look at was the 6f handicap at Warwick on 28th August 2006. Firstly let us look at all the runners and see whether they led, raced prominently or were held up on their last three starts:
Warwick shows a decent bias to front runners and hence looking at the runners in this race there was only one horse that had led in any of their last three races. The horse, Polish Index, had led in 2 of his last 3 races and in the third had raced in second just behind the leader. He was also drawn perfectly in stall 2 – one stall off the inside rail. Hence this horse was a genuine front runner, had a great draw to take advantage of his early pace, and looking at the opposition he looked to have no serious competition for the lead. He looked not only a dead cert to lead, but also looked like to have a fairly soft lead – in other words it looked unlikely he was going to be pressed early on and hence the jockey would be able to dictate exactly the pace he wanted.
Before the race the horse was incredibly priced at 14/1. The reason? I can only imagine that the concern was the fact the horse was dropping down in trip. He had raced over 7f last time out and won over 8f five starts back. However, he clearly had plenty of early pace and horses dropping down to 6f from 7f have a much better record than people think. It is not a negative in the least. Also he had run well last time finishing 4th at Yarmouth when trying to force the pace over 7f on a course and distance that does not favour front runners in the slightest. This last run therefore had been a decent effort and despite showing mixed form in the previous three races to that, he had won by 6 lengths five starts back in the same class. Hence the price of 14/1 looked far too big – he had a pace edge, a good draw and his best form over the past 5 runs made him very competitive.
The result? Polish Index led from the gates and won.
Of course not all races pan out exactly like this, but Polish Index clearly was a value bet.
So there you have it – using pace / running styles to pinpoint biases and potential good bets takes some time and effort….. BUT believe me it is worth it!
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