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Sprint Handicap Preparation for the New Flat Season
In this article I am going to share with you some of the latest findings of my research into sprint handicaps. As regular readers know, for many years I have plied my racing trade tackling those “impossible” looking all age sprint handicaps. The reason I became interested in these races is purely down to draw bias. Equating draw bias I found quite straight forward using a purely mathematical approach, and for many years I had great success. For the past 14 months or so however, I have moved onto other projects, but I am now finding I am actually missing the focus on these sprint handicaps. I have always believed you need to specialize and despite the changing face of draw bias, I feel there is still plenty of money to made in all aged sprint handicaps. Indeed, I proved this point on a personal level last year. Last turf flat season I personally backed 30 horses in sprint handicaps and found 11 winners. Prices ranged from 2/1 to 20/1 and I made a profit of 43.9 pts to 1 pt level stakes – that equates to a return of nearly 150%.
At the end of the season I decided to evaluate why these bets had gone so well. Firstly, you have to appreciate that to be successful you not only need a sound selection method, but you need some luck from time to time. Hence, the first reason for success last year was luck. Horses that won by a neck could easily have been beaten by neck. Secondly, having only 30 bets in what amounted to around 7 months, meant I had been very selective; waiting patiently for the best opportunities. Now, I think I could easily have doubled or even trebled the number of bets, and that is my plan for the forthcoming season. I was busy doing many other things last year and hence part of the reason for having very few bets was the time factor. I definitely missed some opportunities, but this is not worth dwelling on. We have all missed opportunities; we have all not seen a horse running that we were planning to back next time out, (and of course the law of sod means that it usually wins when we miss it!!). Thirdly, I had started to take much more notice of other factors in sprint handicaps – age, fitness, class, running styles, etc. In order to stay ahead of the competition, it is so important to keep developing your methods. If you stand still, the “crowd” will soon catch up, and in some cases pass you.
So what will 2008 bring? Well, as always I am feeling remarkably positive at this stage of the year. My plan is to incorporate sprint handicap bets in my racing trends service. The trends service has for its first year focused solely on big meetings and big races. Hence there can be gaps of up to 2 or 3 weeks without a bet. Incorporating sprint handicaps bets as well will give the service more of a feel of a daily service. Will it be successful? Who knows? I will be backing all my selections to decent money so whatever happens, it will not be for the want of trying!
So what I have I been doing this winter? One thing I have doing is grappling with the question of “class”. This is one of the hardest aspects of racing to get to grips with IMO. What I have started to do is look at class of each race in more depth. Instead of looking at the class number of the race, eg 5, or the class range eg 0-75, I have been looking at whether it makes more sense to add up the official handicap marks / ratings (ORs) to create an average OR for the race concerned. The reason for doing this is perhaps best illustrated by giving an example.
Let us look at two different class 6 all age handicaps that were run last year; they were both 0 to 65 contests with one being at Goodwood and other at Ayr. The runners and their handicap marks are shown below:
So we have two similar events on paper; two big field class 6 handicaps for horses rated 65 or lower. HOWEVER, the Goodwood race was by the far the better class race. The average official rating for the Goodwood race was 57.4 compared with 50.9 for the Ayr race. This equates to an average difference of 6.5 for each runner. I believe a difference of this size is considerable, and when analyzing these races it is clear to me that horses that ran well in the Goodwood race should have been given much more credit than those that ran well in the Ayr race. Indeed, the Goodwood race was more competitive for another reason – the first six runners finished within 1¾ lengths of each other; the first six home in the Ayr race finished within 4 ½ lengths of each other.
This is all very well, you might be saying, but does it really have relevance to future races? YES I believe it does! The following stats seem to comprehensively back up my hypothesis. Let us look at the next three runs of the horses that finished in the top six in both races – Goodwood runners first:
Matterofact – came third upped to class 5 next time out, and then won next race at Lingfield (class 5);
What Do You Know – won next time out at 7/2 when upped in class at Kempton (again class 5);
Harrison’s Flyer – finished second twice in his next three starts (actually won on fourth start);
Cosmic Destiny – won on third next start at 4/1 (also won twice more later in season);
Musical Script – finished 3rd next time out but failed to win on next two starts:
Quality Street – won on third next start at a price of 12/1.
Hence of the six, four of the six won within their next three starts. Now let us look at the Ayr top six finishers:
The History Man – finished third next time out and then won at 5/1 (class 6);
Conjecture – finished placed next time out but failed to win in the two subsequent starts (failed to win rest of season);
Sir Loin – unplaced on next three starts. (Raced 12 times in 2007 after Ayr race and failed to win);
Legal Set – finished 7th, 3rd, and 7th on next three starts. (Raced 11 times in 2007 after Ayr race and failed to win);
Highland Song – finished 2nd in a seller next time out, but failed to win either of next two starts (still has not managed to win since the Ayr race);
Whozart – finished 14th, 8th and 3rd on next three starts.
Of the Ayr top six finishers, only the clear cut winner The History Man went on to win at least once in his next three starts. The results of subsequent races clearly show the difference in quality of the two races. Indeed if you backed all six runners in their next three starts (£10 win stakes) stopping at a winner, you would have made a profit on the Goodwood runners of £97.50; whereas you would have a made a loss of £111.00 on the Ayr runners! Hence if you had backed the Goodwood runners you would have been £208.50 better off than if you backed the Ayr runners. Quite a difference and this makes me feel that working out average ORs for handicap races should be a positive addition to my overall race reading.
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