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Starting Points For National Hunt Racing
It is nearly two and a half years since I wrote a betting article, or indeed did any meaningful horse racing research. I know it is a cliché but really how quickly does time go as you get older? It really does only feel like only a few months ago when I was churning out article after article after article! Having written four books and over five hundred articles over the years I must admit it is good to back and I thank this excellent publication for publishing my ‘comeback’ piece! I always have enjoyed writing articles and even more so the hours of the research phase that goes with it. I plan to write several more over the coming weeks and months so here goes:
When I began the research phase though it did feel a little like starting from scratch so that gave me the idea for the article. What if you were attempting to bet on horse racing for the first time? Where would you start? What races should you bet on, etc, etc. At this juncture I should stress that I do vehemently believe that in order to profit from any type of betting you do need to specialize in some way. I used to bet solely on handicap sprints when I punted regularly and ran my own tipping service. I don’t think it matters what one focuses on, but if you try and bet on too wide an area I believe it really becomes difficult and hence harder to make profitable.
With the National Hunt season soon to get into full swing it made sense to focus on this sphere for this piece. I have broken the research and article down by looking at potential betting angles for different race types. I have looked at all National Hunt data from 2014 and 2017 using the latest system builder software on the excellent www.horseracebase.com site. This four-year period gives us plenty of data to work with. I have calculated profits/losses based on a simple £1 win bet scenario.
Let us start with handicap hurdles – for many this is possibly the hardest betting medium for National Hunt punters – certainly from my point of view I have steered clear of handicap hurdles, but for some it will be their main avenue of profit. I personally find them difficult because over 70% of them are class 4 or lower, so the animals running in these races are potentially inconsistent, and hence difficult to predict. Meanwhile the higher level races often have big fields and seem ultra-competitive. However, when I started digging a little I found something that surprised me. Favourites in handicap hurdles actually boast a decent enough record in recent times – over the 4 years of study they produced 1320 winners from 4648 runners (SR 28.4%) for a relatively modest loss of 6.3% to SP. Indeed backing at Betfair SP would have virtually produced a break-even situation (a loss of just 1.5% to be precise). Indeed, when I started looking into handicap hurdles in more detail it was clear that the market really was a good indicator. The top four in the betting account for 75% of all the winners and backing bigger priced horses really does look a quick way to losing all your bankroll. Backing all horses 5th or bigger in the betting would have yielded a 30% loss to SP.
Hence a good starting point for handicap hurdles is simply the betting market – I would focus on the top four in the betting and go from there. For the ‘lazy’ punter you may want to consider a simple system that involves backing any horse from the top four of the betting who have failed to finish in the top five on any of their last three runs. Recent form is an area punters set great store by and hence there seems to be some value in these animals as I guess the prices are slightly bigger as a result. Indeed you would have yielded a 10% profit at Betfair SP over the past 4 seasons from just under 1000 selections. One caveat to this system is that a qualifier must have completed the course at least once in their last three starts.
Having mentioned the word ‘system’ I think it is worth pointing out that I have never followed systems ‘per say’. However, I have used the basic system idea as a mechanism to help narrow a field down. For example in the heady days of strong draw bias, before it was well known by punters, bookies and courses alike, I used the simplest ‘system’ in the world as a starting point, which was drawing a line through half of the field in account of their poor draw. From there I would look at other factors to help settle on a selection or selections. I know a lot of people are not system fans, but whether you stick to them rigidly or use their ideas as a short-cut, there is definite merit in them. I am sure if you asked Nick Mordin he would agree with me – he seemed to be fairly successful using, or at least writing about them. Before moving on I also should mention that I have never been one who worries about backing more than one runner in the same race. If you think two horses are value in the same race then why not? Likewise if you are a system follower and it throws up two selections – back them both!
The next race type I wish to look at is novice hurdles. Now the market really does dominate these races as they tend to be less much competitive affairs than handicap hurdles. However, the world and his wife know this fact and hence favourites tend to start at tight/short odds. Favourites will win around 48% of races and losses have been relatively small over the past four seasons if you had backed every single one. For punters who need to win regularly due to confidence factors, then one could do worse than focusing on these favourites. However, for the majority of us we are looking for a little bit more value. One area I have looked at that looks promising is simply by looking at official BHB ratings. Looking at the table below, we can see a significant difference. I have shown the figures for profit/ROI using Betfair SP:
Horses with a BHB rating of over 110 are roughly three times more likely to win than those rated 110 or under. Not only that if you back all horses rated 111+ they would have almost broken even over this four year period. In addition to this, with around 1000 qualifiers a year on average, this is a decent pool of runners to be working with. Now I mentioned earlier that recent form is an area that is still potentially overbet and once again here this seems to be the case. If you ignore horses that finished 1st or 2nd LTO and focus on the 111+ rated horses that completed the course finishing 3rd or worse LTO, the figures make fairly decent reading. 298 winners from 1391 qualifiers (SR 21.4%) for a profit to Betfair SP of £156.91 (ROI +11.3%).
It is also worth noting that horses rated 111+ have performed better at the shorter distance novice hurdle events – at distances under 2m4f they show a BSP ROI of just over 6% compared with -8% for longer distances. I would however, be wary of using this angle as I cannot see why this might have happened. I always like to have a premise that is backed up by my findings.
Moving now onto handicap chases which is probably still my preferred betting medium for National Hunt racing. When I first studied racing back in the early 1990s I read a stats based book and one of its ‘systems’ or shortcuts was that in handicap chases one should focus on the top 5 of the weights and the top 5 in the betting. The book suggested that any horse who appeared in both sectors was worth very serious consideration. 25 years ago I did test out the theory and it certainly found a good number of winners – not surprisingly it didn’t quite make a profit, but in those days there was no Betfair and BSP to help boost potential gains …. or at least restrict losses! In fact, you could do worse than following this simple ‘system’ even today. In the last 4 seasons backing all qualifiers would have secured a strike rate of close to 18% with losses to BSP of only 2%. As a starting point or narrowing down the field idea it does have merit and with over 14,000 qualifiers during this period, one would hope that with a bit of extra time and effort, this could be turned into a profit. Unfortunately my stats book has disappeared from my collection, probably during one of my house moves. However, it was a decent read for its time and I would love to remember what it was called and try to find it on Amazon or ebay.
It is still clear that the horses carrying more weight in handicap chases continue to hold sway and is not a bad starting point anyway. Horses from the top five of the weights since 2014 have secured 3022 wins from 19916 winners (SR 15.2%) for a loss to BSP of £735.94 (ROI -3.7%). The top 5 in the weights are around 1.6 times more likely to win than horses 6th in the weights or lower, so there is a definite bias towards the higher handicapped runners. Added to that backing all horses 6th or lower in the weights would have doubled your losses.
What position horses finished on their most recent start again is worth further scrutiny for the same reasons as mentioned earlier in the article – once again if we ignore horses that finished 1st or 2nd LTO and focus on the top 5 in the weights that completed the course, we see losses trimmed to BSP to around 1%.
Onto to the next race type – novice chases (inc. beginners chases). As with novice hurdles traditionally these can be rather uncompetitive with favourites winning a significant percentage of races. Indeed, in the past four seasons backing the favourite would have yielded a very small reverse – 743 winners from 1893 runners (SR 39.2%) for a loss of £41.20 (ROI -2.2%). The market really does control this type of contest with 78% of all races being won by horses from the top three in the betting. These horses would have lost you 5p in the £ over the past four seasons compared with losses of 14p in the £ for horses 4th or bigger in the betting.
I have included novice handicaps within these results and if we focus solely on non handicap races the favourite win percentage hits 50%. However, losses are slightly greater losing around 3p in the £. The top three in the betting win a massive 89% of all races losing just 4p in the £.
The market bias is so strong that if I was going to be betting in novice/beginner chases, I would be focusing my attention on the top three in the betting regardless of whether it was a handicap or non handicap contest. Digging a bit deeper, it seems worth looking at these runners in respect of what type of race they ran in last time – be it a chase, a hurdle race or a bumper/turf flat race (see table below):
As we can see there would have been a very small profit for horses that raced over hurdles LTO – I am fairly certain this will be down to punter or indeed bookmaker bias. Most people I guess would prefer a chaser to have raced over fences LTO, not hurdles – hence there is this slight prejudice. Because of this horses that raced over hurdles LTO must start at slightly bigger prices than those who ran over fences – they have virtually the same strike rate after all.
Again it is LTO position that is worth further exploration and a profit of 14p in the £ can be made by focusing on the top three in the betting who finished 6th or worse in a hurdle race LTO. Again one should concentrate on those horses that did complete the course last time.
So there we have it – hopefully this article has pointed you in the right direction for the four main race National Hunt race types. Clearly market bias has been highlighted here on several occasions and one perennial problem for many punters is that you cannot be 100% sure how the final market will look. However, betting forecasts, early markets and Betfair are a good guide, and if you have to bet early in the day you will need to use one of these options. Good luck and next month I will be looking at the all weather and crunching some more data.
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